A man's man

Sexy leading man Dennis Quaid talks about surviving drama club, what went wrong with Meg, and playing a married gay man in Todd Haynes’s acclaimed new film, Far From Heaven

BY Alonso Duralde

October 15 2002 12:00 AM ET

Some studio mogul
or other once said that Clark Gable was a star because
he was a man whom men wanted to be and women wanted to be
with. Dennis Quaid exudes that same sort of easygoing
appeal. Ever since he was discovered by gay director
James Bridges for his 1978 death-of-James-Dean saga,
September 30, 1955, Quaid’s charming
smile, manly mien, and general guy-next-door oomph
have made him a dependably charismatic leading man in
movies as far-ranging as The Right Stuff, Postcards
From the Edge,
and The Parent Trap. While the
tabloids hovered all over the 2001 breakup of his
decade-long marriage to Meg Ryan, Quaid has had a
succession of great roles in Traffic, Frequency, The
Rookie,
and HBO’s Dinner With Friends.

This fall Quaid
appears in a role that’s unlike anything he’s
ever played before—a 1950s suburban husband
tormented by his inability to control his homosexual
longings in out auteur Todd Haynes’s Far From
Heaven.
Quaid’s Frank Whitaker seemingly
has it all—perfect wife Cathy (Julianne Moore),
two adoring children, even a maid and a gardener. But his
outwardly perfect life begins to crumble when Cathy
discovers him making love to another man, leading her
to turn to their “Negro” gardener,
Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), for friendly, platonic
support. Small-town, small-minded gossip soon follows.

Far From Heaven is a stylish and captivating homage
to the postwar melodramas of director Douglas Sirk,
whose lush Technicolor films, often starring gay icon
Rock Hudson (Written on the Wind, Magnificent
Obsession
), also inspired queer director Rainer Werner
Fassbinder. Sirk’s passion for exposing the
hypocrisy of rigid social convention makes his movies
a natural source for Haynes’s razor-sharp
storytelling—Haysbert’s gardener in Far
From Heaven,
in fact, is almost a direct copy
of the character Hudson plays in Sirk’s All That
Heaven Allows.
Over Cokes at the Toronto Film
Festival, the Houston-born Quaid had a lot to say
about the role and about the many gay men he’s
known over the years.

Was it ironic at all that you were playing what, in a
Sirk movie, would probably be the Rock Hudson
character as a man who…?

The thing is, I don’t play the Rock
Hudson character. Dennis Haysbert really plays the
Rock Hudson character. But it was a very different type
of role for me. I ate it up.

And you really committed to the role.
I thought it was a very interesting type of situation
this character was in. I have friends in my life who
were trapped in the exact same thing, actually.
Certainly back in the ’50s, I think it happened a lot
more. I remember there was a girlfriend of mine back in high
school whose father was in the closet and finally came
out. I’ve known about two or three others in my
life that I’ve been friends with and this happened
to.

Was there anything tangible for you to draw from their
experiences in making this film?

Yeah. Sort of the emotional pain that they went
through and the whole process of coming out and
turning their whole life upside down. I sort of
related it to my own life—trying to finally
just…finally surrendering to who you are.

And who are you?
[Chuckles] Well, you are who you are, and
you can’t deny who you are. That’s the
thing. Maybe you don’t know who you are—I
don’t think any of us really do, and
it’s a process—but we certainly know what
we’re not when we’re living that way.
And that’s an impossible way to live.

What was happening in your life that you realized
wasn’t working?
Well, for me, it was drugs. It was cocaine, which I did
for 15 years. I’ve been off that for 12 years.
To me, that was sort of living a lie.

Cocaine sort of encourages that kind of behavior.
Yeah. But as far as—I’m not gay
myself—but as far as playing this character, it
was, for me, one thing. We’re attracted to whomever
we’re attracted to. We can’t help loving
the people we love, and we can’t help being
attracted to what we’re attracted to.

But when it came to the shooting day of
“You’re kissing this guy all
afternoon,” was that tricky?

It turned out to be kind of funny, to tell you
the truth. When we first started the scene, like the
first kiss, it was like we really wanted each other in
sort of a very passionate way, which is really kind of like,
I guess, two linebackers butting heads.
[Laughs] So Todd had to come over and go,
“Hey, guys—it’s a ’50s screen
kiss.” So we had to tone it down a bit.

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