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 14 2002 11:00 PM ET

You used to always hear about agents telling their
clients not to play gay roles.

No, my agent wanted me to do this role. I
don’t know if that really exists anymore. In
fact, I’ve seen this sort of progress in some
people’s careers. Greg Kinnear is also a good
friend of mine, and that role [in As Good as It
Gets
] did great things for him. I mean, gay people
play straight people, so why can’t straight people
play gay people? Like I say, for me, it’s all
love and it’s all part of the human experience.
And maybe it’s been done before, but I haven’t
seen a story where the guy is married with kids and in
the closet.

It hasn’t been shown a lot, and certainly not
portrayed this way, in the trappings of a melodrama.

I think that one thing that Todd did—and
what really made this film—is that you can tell
people this situation, these characters, and what the
movie’s about, and you start to laugh because it
sounds like a tongue-in-cheek situation, that you
might be parodying Douglas Sirk, but [Haynes’s]
tone was done with complete sincerity. He had sensitivity to
what the characters were going through. That’s what
attracted me to it to begin with; I knew that when I
read it.

Did making this film change your point of view of gay
people at all?

No, not really, ’cause I’ve had
gay friends throughout my life. In fact, when I was in
high school, my two best friends were gay. I was the first
straight person they came out of the closet to. I kind of
went through it with them telling their parents and
all that. This was back in the ’60s in Texas,
so it was a really shocking thing. One friend, his father
threatened to kill him—an “I gave you life, I
can take it away” sort of thing. And the other
guy really struggled with being straight; in fact, he
got married and had kids, his wife knowing that he was
[gay]. He tried to be bisexual at one point in his
life, and now he lives with his lover, and he’s
still very much a devoted father and everything. But he
worked it out.

As a parent yourself, have you thought about if you have
to have that talk if your son comes out?

We’ve had that talk.

Really?
Yeah. My son is 10, and kids know more than they used
to. I guess back when I was growing up, it was just
sort of kept hidden away, but Jack, with him
it’s an open thing. There are some people that are
homosexuals, that are gay and they like guys, and some girls
like girls, and we have friends who are like that. So
he’s been around it. Everything’s fine.
In fact, the other day he said, “How do you know if
you’re gay?” I said, “Well, let me ask
you a question: Are you attracted to girls, or are you
attracted to guys?” “Well, I’m
attracted to girls.” “Well, then
you’re not gay.”

Pretty cut-and-dried.
Certainly, if a child of mine turned out to be gay or
whatever, it wouldn’t change the way I love
him. But at the same time, I think it’s harder
to be gay in this world than to be heterosexual. For one
thing, I feel that it starts out with some shame in it
because society is geared that way, to make you feel
like it’s something you shouldn’t be. And I
think that’s what I kind of felt with my character
too—he was a person who was really in deep
shame about his behavior, especially because back then
there was no one to talk to about it, so there was this
secret life going on. I know that’s what I had
when I was doing blow all the time. I had this secret
life, and the way to overcome that shame was really to
have everything blown out of the water and really face
it.

Growing up in Texas, did you have the perception that you
could be gay and be a “man’s
man” as well?
Well, I’ve always been around gay
people—in drama, stuff I was in in high school.
So my family was probably worried about me. I didn’t
really have a girlfriend until I was 17.

That’s late for Texas. The joke is that high
school has a Head Start program for
gays—it’s called drama club.

We called them “drama mamas” in
Texas.

In the early part of your career, did you get hit on by directors?
Well, I remember at first I had a door-to-door
salesman’s job—I was about 17—I
used to get hit on a lot. And of course, in college dramas
there’s always—I got hit on quite a bit. My
friends were like, “Don’t you want to
just try it? I mean, how do you know? Haven’t you
ever been attracted to a man?”
[Laughs]

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