Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
I don’t want to jinx anything, but as I write this, the Seattle Mariners are about to end their 21-year playoff drought. Probably. This put me in mind of baseball movies, and the time I interviewed Dennis Quaid for his G-rated Disney picture, The Rookie. A Mariners cap makes a cameo appearance in the interview, so I’m including the interview, originally published by The Herald in 2002 here. It’s not a revelatory conversation or anything, but it will recall a time when people could smoke during interviews.
Dennis Quaid and Jim Morris
Dennis Quaid came to the area recently to publicize his new film The Rookie, in which he plays baseball pitcher Jim Morris. When I interviewed him in his hotel room, he was sitting with the real Jim Morris, whose remarkable, unlikely story (a return to pro ball after years of complete obscurity) is told in the film.
Quaid didn’t mince words when it came to one of the key elements in the movie. “I didn’t want to look like a little girl throwing,” he said, shaking his head.
You see those movies, Quaid mused, with Hollywood actors pretending to be baseball players, and looking none too athletic. “I haven’t really played since Little League,” he said, “so I got a Dodger pitcher to come to my house and work with me for three months.” Morris, an amiable, beefy guy who looks like an Everyman, concurred that Quaid got it right. “Major League players are a tough audience,” Morris said. “They watch baseball movies, and they’ll pick it apart if it looks hokey.” In the end, Quaid found himself in the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers, throwing about 200 pitches for the cameras. And, he noted, not hurting himself in the process.
Quaid is as lean and cowboy-like in person as he is on screen. Politely asking if anybody would mind if he smoked a cigarette, and wearing a casual-but-cool wool cap worn backwards, he spoke in a relaxed style. (A Mariners cap lay nearby; he was collecting baseball caps in different cities on his tour.)
A native of Texas, he was pleased to return to his home state to film The Rookie, which was shot in and around Austin. “It’s a culture I find really interesting, that I understand. The state is so vast, desolate—and the people stand out in relief to that. And the director, John Lee Hancock, is a Texan. I like strong directors, and I scoped that out before I signed on to the film. We made Texas a character in the film. There are references to The Last Picture Show and Hud. It has that look.”
The pitching instruction for the movie was nothing new for Quaid, whose career has been marked by playing real people: he learned how to fly when he played astronaut Gordon Cooper in The Right Stuff, and he picked up piano when he played maniac rock and roller Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire. When he essayed the sickly Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp, he became alarmingly skeletal by losing weight.
“I know how I’d feel if somebody did my life story,” Quaid smiled. “But this time I had Jim there on the set all day.” Quaid could check in with his real-life counterpart if anything didn’t feel authentic. For a scene in which Quaid, as the high-school coach, gives his kids a pep talk, something was missing. Morris supplied the reality of what happened, and they put it in the movie right then and there.
The Rookie is one of Quaid’s best roles in years, and one can’t help but guess that he relates to the main character. The movie’s a comeback of sorts for the actor, whose private life (a marriage, and a tabloid breakup, with Meg Ryan) has somewhat eclipsed his career of late.
“The emotion and sentiment you feel in the movie is earned,” Quaid said quietly. “You’ve gone on a journey with the guy, and you feel like you’ve really been there—instead of the music manipulating you. I find that sappy when they do that. The movie’s about second chances. All of us can relate to that.”
September 30, 2022
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.