The Massie Twins recently had an opportunity to sit down with acclaimed actor Dennis Quaid to discuss his latest film “The Express,” along with his role as General Hawk in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” and even the Oscar-nominated “The Right Stuff.”
Massie Twins: How does The Express transcend the sports film genre?
Dennis Quaid: When I’m going to do a sports movie, it has to be more. It has to be more than just a football movie, it has to have something universal that people can relate to and identify with. Like the Rookie, it was a baseball movie, but it was really about second chances in life and I think with The Express, while it’s dealing with racial issues of that time, it’s really about living your life gracefully and facing the challenges, which Ernie Davis definitely embodied.
MT: How did you prepare for the role of Ben Schwartzwalder?
DQ: I saw some film of him and while I don’t really look like him, I feel a responsibility when I play a real person to capture their spirit and to play them honestly, not idealistically. But my main resource was Jim Brown. He was a friend of mine already as we did Any Given Sunday together and he’s a very straight talker. He told me about his relationship with Ben, which was abrasive and contentious at times, but he had a deep respect for the man as well, and he told me the way it really was, his times there, the atmosphere in the country and at Syracuse. He was also very close with Ernie Davis.
MT: How familiar were you with Ernie Davis’ story before you made this movie?
DQ: I knew the name but I didn’t really know the story. When I read a script it’s the only time I get to be an audience member, the first time experience with that story, and it had a profound impact on me. It hit me in the heart and the gut. Ernie Davis came along at a time before the civil rights movement really started to bubble up and I think maybe that’s one of the reasons his story has been lost for a time. Had he lived, I think he would have had an even more significant impact on the movement.
MT: Will General Hawk in the G.I. Joe movie be anything like Ben Schwartzwalder?
DQ: (laughs) No, General Hawk is a little bit more light-hearted. He’s more of a combination of General Patton and Hugh Hefner. Supermodels are his aides-de-camp.
MT: So in real life are you more like General Hawk or Schwartzwalder?
DQ: I am not like either of them. (laughs) But it was a lot of fun to do, and I can tell you that knowing is half the battle.
MT: The football scenes really felt authentic to the times. How long did it take you guys to film those scenes?
DQ: That was filmed all throughout the shoot, interspersed. Allan Graf was really the director of all the football. He did Any Given Sunday as well, and Friday Night Lights. I’ve known him for about 30 years. He paid a lot of attention to making sure he really got the era right, and he had to re-teach the players there to block with their shoulders and not their helmets and things like that to really get the old-school technique that was taught back then.
MT: We were talking about Sam Jackson earlier and how he’s in pretty much everything. What influences your choices in both roles and frequency?
DQ: Actually I have been working like Sam Jackson for about the past two years, it’s just that there’s been a lag time between the films coming out. Just wait, soon you’re gonna say “He’s such a whore. He’s in everything.” (laughs) But I’ve got The Express, G.I. Joe, and I did a movie called Pandorum and there’s another film called Legion. They’re all very different films, and the only reason I’ve been working like that is because this has been a very fruitful time for me. The scripts have really been there and very different, and I’m really enjoying working now more than I did in my twenties.
MT: Any plans to get into directing and writing?
DQ: Yeah. I’ve written a movie that I’d like to direct, but it’s not worth talking about until after I make it and then we’ll be back here to talk about it. (laughs). And then you’re gonna say “Are you ever going to stop working? You’re in everything.”
MT: Do you ever go back and take a look at your older films, like The Right Stuff?
DQ: Well, The Right Stuff is a very, very special movie for me because that was really like being a kid again, because I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid, and I grew up in Houston, “Space City.” I got a pilot’s license for the film and I went flying with Chuck Yeager who was on the set the entire time. It was great. That’s one of those movies that you’ll be channel surfing, and there it is and you kinda just sit back and watch some of it.
MT: I heard you recently had twins.
MT: Twins are the best.