Interview Dennis Quaid

The biggest-budgeted movie ever produced at Germany’s UFA, Fritz Lang’s gargantuan Metropolis consumed resources that would have yielded upwards of 20 conventional features, more than half the studio’s entire annual production budget. And if it didn’t make a profit at the time — indeed, it nearly bankrupted the studio — the film added an indelible array of images and ideas to cinema, and has endured across the many decades since its release. Metropolis had many sources of inspiration, including a novel by the director’s wife, Thea von Harbou — who drew on numerous existing science fiction and speculative fiction sources — and Lang’s own reaction to seeing the Manhattan skyline at night for the very first time. There are some obvious debts to H.G. Wells (who felt it the silliest of films), but the array of ideas and images can truly be credited to Lang and von Harbou. In the somewhat distant future (some editions say the year 2000, others place it in 2026, and, still others — including the original Paramount U.S. release — in 3000 A.D.) the city of Metropolis, with its huge towers and vast wealth, is a playground to a ruling class living in luxury and decadence. They, and the city, are sustained by a much larger population of workers who labor as virtual slaves in the machine halls, moving from their miserable, tenement-like homes to their grim, back-breaking ten-hour shifts and back again. The hero, Freder (Gustav Froehlich) — the son of Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), the master of Metropolis — is oblivious to the plight of the workers, or any aspect of their lives, until one day when a a beautiful subterranean dweller named Maria (Brigitte Helm) visits the Eternal Gardens, where he spends his time cavorting with various ladies, with a small group of children from the workers’ city far below. They are sad, hungry, and wretched looking, and he is haunted by their needy eyes — something Freder has never seen or known among the elite of the city — and by this strange and beautiful woman who tells all who hear her, workers’ children and ruler’s offspring, that they are all brothers. He follows her back down to the depths of the city and witnesses a horrible accident and explosion in the machine halls where the men toil in misery. Haunted by what he has seen, he tries to confront his father, only to find that the man he loves and respects believes that it is right for the workers to live the way they do, while he and his elite frolic in luxury. Freder decides to do something about it, but he must first learn more, and also locate Maria. With help from Josaphat (Theodor Loos), Fredersen’s recently dismissed office manager, he goes below again and takes over the job of one of the workers, in order to find Maria. Meanwhile, Fredersen is concerned about the rumblings of unrest among the workers, and his son’s sudden interest in their plight; he assigns Slim (Fritz Rasp), his investigator, to follow Freder. Meanwhile, he goes for advice to an old acquaintance, the inventor C.A. Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). Rotwang once was a rival to Fredersen for the love of the woman Hel, who married Fredersen and died bearing his son, Freder. Rotwang still feels the loss, but he is a cunning and practical man, and is willing to help his old friend, but not before showing off his latest creation — a robot that he has modeled in the image of his beloved Hel, that he may have her again. Rotwang answers Fredersen’s question by taking him to the catacombs below the modern city, where they see Maria preaching the gospel and counseling patience, in the hope that a Mediator — who will be able to reconcile the head and hands of society (i.e. the ruling and working classes) — will come among them. Fredersen will hear none of it, and sees the need to break the workers’ resistance and destroy Maria’s influence among them. He arranges with Rotwang to make his robot creation into a duplicate Maria (which requires his kidnapping her), and to send her out among the workers to incite them to violence, so that Fredersen can use force against them. But he doesn’t reckon with Rotwang, who despises Fredersen and his ruling class, and has commanded the robot to obey his orders and follow a plan that will destroy the city, both above and below ground. Fredersen also doesn’t reckon with his own son Freder, who not only believes in what Maria is preaching but is beginning to see himself as the Mediator, and is right in the midst of the conflagration when the workers’ uprising starts. Soon, fires and floods spread, threatening to doom the children of the workers, abandoned in their parents’ frenzied attack on the machines, and the city of Metropolis faces an impending disaster of biblical proportions. Meanwhile, the now-mad Rotwang tries to reclaim his lost Hel, and Maria and her evil robot twin are both stalked by crowds of workers driven to a murderous rage. When it was premiered in Germany in January 1927, Metropolis ran 153 minutes when pro

At first, Dennis Quaid wasn’t sure that he was the right actor to bring a pompous, dishevelled college professor to life on the big screen. Fortunately, an hour-long meeting with first time feature director Noam Murro changed his mind.

In ‘Smart People, the 54-year old Quaid plays  Lawrence Wetherhold, a man who has lost sight of the passions that once drove him – teaching and his family. Years after her death he’s still suffering the loss of his much adored wife and his teenage children – playing  by Ellen Page (of Juno fame) as the over studious Vanessa and Ashton Holmes as the rebellious James – have retreated into their own worlds.

Smart People is a  bittersweet romantic comedy about the complexities of family life and love. talks to the ever so smart Quaid about the film, his role and working alongside some of Hollywood’s contemporary greats.

Q: What did you like about ‘Smart People’?

A:  It was a small movie but such a great script and with the people who created it and the director, I wanted to be on board with and it was a little bit like gorilla filmmaking because we shot it in 29 days. I love shooting that way, to tell you the truth. My least favourite part of filmmaking is sitting in my trailer.

Q: How involved were you?
A: I was very involved. It’s a collaborative effort and number 1, I owe so much to Mark Poirier who wrote such a fantastic script because I really didn’t have to do a lot of research or add a lot or find some sort of movie logic in order to make a story, it was all there and very smartly written. Noam is a first time director and I’ll tell you the truth when they offered me this part I was considering not taking it because I couldn’t see myself in it. I don’t usually get offered things like this and I thought there were some people out there who were more obvious choices who could do such a great job with it. But I was intrigued and I went to meet with Noam and we spent an hour talking, not much about the script or the movie, but I found him such an intriguing guy that I wanted to spend some time with him working on this.

Q: The character is so completely different from the kind of men you’ve done before. Was it that you couldn’t see how you would find him?

A: Yeah, and I’m not really the literary sort at first glance. I just had to find his inner life and what led me to that was my own life, where I’ve stumbled before. I worked from the outside in and I started putting this guy together, physically at first. I didn’t have time to gain the weigh so I wore a fat suit for the role. They put a tire around the middle section of myself because this is a guy who is sleepwalking through life and hasn’t paid any attention to taking care of himself or grooming himself all that much over the past ten years. He has the beard, which is a coat of armour on his face and things started to come together with it.

Q: Was the fat suit uncomfortable?

A: Yeah, it was, it was like gaining 25lbs to tell you the truth. I put it on every day and you have to zip yourself into this thing and it would be hard on your back, because you are carrying around all that extra weight, plus it gave me quite a wedgie up my backside which in the end really helped me out with the role.

Q: How was it to work with Ellen Page?

A: She did this right before Juno so she was an unknown quantity at the time but it was obvious from the first day of working with her that this girl is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Her and Thomas together on screen are fantastic.

Q: And Sarah Jessica Parker?

A: Sarah was fantastic. She came on three weeks into the film. We actually started the film without her role cast although she looked like she was going to do it and she came on in the middle of the movie when she started her part, which was a daunting task because everybody else was already on board and we already had a way of working and she just jumped right in with both feet.

Q: You’re very busy right now….
A: I did four (films) in a row last year. I did Vantage Point, Smart People, and another film called The Horseman, which I call a horror movie with heart. And then another film, The Express, a big studio film which I would liken to a film I did called The Rookie, and it’s written by the same guy. Sports movies are at their best when they are not really about sport, I think. This is really about racism in this country.

Q: What do you do when you’re not working?
A: Basically my day Monday through Friday is take my older son to school, drop him off, and go right to the golf course, get out there with my mates, go pick him up from school, come back and spend some time with my kids, the twins.

Q: How did you first get into acting?
A: Well, that was one reason. But I think it’s in the family. My great grandfather was a Vaudevillian, my father was a frustrated actor, and my third cousin is Gene Autry. It’s kind of in the blood.

Q: You’ve made some memorable movies. Do you have good memories of The Big Easy?
A: Oh I have great memories of that film. That began my love affair with New Orleans and I’ve kept going back there for the past 25 years and I just love the whole feeling of that town. That town will come back after Katrina, it will just take time. The Big Easy was a wonderful time for me.

Q: Do you know when you are a making a film like, say, The Right Stuff, that it is going to be special?
A: All you know is that it feels special when you are doing them, while they are happening. The real satisfaction I get out of my work is when I’m doing it. Afterwards, it’s either diluted or I feel a little separated from it. Certainly it’s nice to be recognised for one’s work and if they do well you feel downright giddy about it. And if they don’t do well at the box office, I’m not going to tell a lie, it can be disappointing as well. But it’s while you are there. But The Right Stuff, which is considered a classic, now, when it came out it, was a bomb. It came out at election year and at that time John Glen was running for president and I guess some people felt like it was going into the classroom for a history lesson, they didn’t really recognise it for what it was. And it was three hours long and daunting but later it took on a life of its own.

Q: Do you find it easy to watch yourself or are you very self-critical?
A: I’m kind of immune at this point to myself to a certain extent. The first time I actually see a movie that I’m in it’s hard for me to watch it and have a feeling about it. I myself see right through my own performance, I really don’t get what people dig in it to tell you the truth because I’m watching it and remembering the day we did it and what was going on around that. I have to see something twice to really watch it.

Q: And does that apply with Smart People? Because you’ve created a character so totally different from yourself, do you still see yourself in there?
A: Oh once again, I just go, ‘I don’t get it.’ (laughs). I’m just gratified that some people do. I’m not going to be falsely humble, I really do think I’m good at what I do. I’ve been doing this for a while and I love doing it but at the same time I’m really not my best critic.

Q: Noam is a first time director. How did he do?
A: He was incredible. I was almost not going to do the part, to tell the truth, because I couldn’t see myself in the part and I couldn’t understand why they wanted to cast me. It was a first time director and I just didn’t know. I met with him in New York and spent an hour talking and hardly talked about the film, really. He was such an intriguing guy and it was his take on life, I thought he’d be an excellent director and I knew he wouldn’t be middle of the road. I love strong directors, actually.

‘Smart People’ is in Irish cinemas Friday.