TORONTO—Dennis Quaid looks like a classic old-time western movie star, and as he stands in a downtown Toronto hotel room waiting to talk about his new movie, At Any Price, the star of movies like The Big Easy and Far From Heaven gives off a distinctly larger-than-life vibe. He even has western-movie-star blood in his veins. “My third cousin was Gene Autry.”
His role in At Any Price, which was written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, is classic movie-star stuff: Willy Loman as farmer. At the suggestion of parallels to Death of a Salesman, Quaid’s eyes brighten: “That’s exactly what Ramin and I started out to make, made in the end, and [he] had it in mind when he wrote it.”
The movie, which opens Friday (May 10) and also stars Zac Efron as Quaid’s rebellious race car–driving son, feels like it’s about the spectators in Friday Night Lights.
“It’s not your kind of traditional American hero, and, to me, it [harked] back to films that I loved in the ’70s, pictures like Scarecrow and Fat City and Badlands. But it also really spoke to what’s going on, I think, in America today, you know, with the economic crisis that everyone is experiencing and everybody having to really kind of redefine what is the American dream. There’s no clear definition of what that is anymore.”
Quaid said he could relate to the story because while he grew up in a Texas suburb, “my grandfather was a farmer and I’d spend summers with him.”
Asked how he ended up acting, Quaid explains that he was always drawn to acting, partly because his dad was a frustrated performer and partly because he kept introducing him and brother Randy to professional actors. “Then I’d go to movies when I was a kid and I’d come out feeling like I was John Wayne or Steve McQueen or whoever, you know? And especially Steve McQueen. And I got serious about it in college. My first week in college, there was this great acting teacher. His name was Cecil Pickett, and he taught acting as a craft, and he gave me the greatest gift. I was 18, 19 years old and I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
Despite his movie-star vibe—or maybe because the pictures really are getting smaller—about the time he was shooting At Any Price, Quaid signed on for the TV series Vegas—playing Sheriff Lamb (a real-life sheriff who helped rebuild the city from 1960 to 1980). The appeal to Quaid is that TV today tells the kind of stories that the movies he loved used to tell.
“What’s going on in television reminds me of what was going on in movies in the ’70s, where the inmates have kind of taken over the asylum. And they’re doing a lot of interesting things that I myself want to watch on television. And movies like At Any Price are kind of few and far between. The studios are just giving more of their tent-pole remakes of, you know, what’s been successful before. And to tell the truth, I really don’t find it all that interesting.”