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Dennis Quaid takes a run at horror and at Bill Clinton in new films

Roger Moore
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)

When the going's good, even potential bad news can seem a blessing. And things are going swimmingly for Dennis Quaid these days.

His last film, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA," had some of the worst advance press of any movie this year.

"It's fun to be a part of something that a lot of people are worked up about," he says diplomatically. Yes, Quaid, who plays General Hawk in the film, saw the rumors and "biggest flop of the summer" predictions: "I read everything." But "Joe," a franchise action film based on the toys and the TV cartoon about those toys, has earned over $140 million in the U.S.

"We destroy Paris in it," Quaid jokes. "People are going to want to see that!"

No, he's not the A-list leading man he was 10 years ago; film scholar David Thomson maintains he was always "second string," without "the crust of vanity" but with a character actor's "edge" and "need." Quaid, 55, still does good work in ensembles ("The Express," "Vantage Point," "Flight of the Phoenix") and still finds interesting leads ("Smart People"). And at this stage of his career, he's not shy about hunting for hits — movies whose box office might boost his quote, extend his career.

"Pandorum," his latest, opening Sept. 25, has possibilities. With its resemblance to "Alien" and other claustrophobic sci-fi films, it could click with two audiences — sci-fi and horror.

"I love the paranoia that this (spaceship) setting gives it," Quaid says. "Two guys from the crew wake up from cryo-sleep on a spaceship that's probably five miles long. HUGE. When you wake up, you don't know who you are, where you are or what you're doing. Nobody's there to tell them. And they can't open the door to their sleeping chamber, try to contact somebody elsewhere on the ship, just to figure out how to open the door and get out.

"It's a horror film, a psychological thriller, very 'Twilight Zone.' It's a myth, a story that points toward a deeper truth within ourselves that we have no words for, really, about who we are when we strip away all those trappings of our day to day existence. You have this story that you can enjoy as a horror tale or a thriller. But the reason it scares you is that it points to yourself, to who you are in this life."

It's not Quaid's only foray into horror. "Legion" is due out in January. Strangers stranded in a truck stop in the desert Southwest face the Biblical end of the world.

"Well, that's a very kind of a very well-done first class drive-in zombie movie," he says, laughing.

The big acting job on his plate now is the one he spent the summer at his Montana home prepping for, a movie now filming. "The Special Relationship" is about the historic and personal connection between Britain and America as embodied by Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and Bill Clinton.

"I've been eating everything that isn't nailed down," Quaid jokes. That was his preparation — putting on Clinton's weight. And watching a lot of video of the former president. "I think I'm ready for it. I've got the voice. Just got to keep working on it and see where we can go with it.

"I had a relationship with Bill Clinton when he was in the White House. He was the smartest person I've ever met, and that's the key to him. He's just a really really bright guy. A tough role, a challenging one. He's never really been done in a movie, except in parody (John Travolta in "Primary Colors"). Travolta did a good job on him, but Clinton's from Arkansas, I'm from Texas. I think I've got him."

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


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