Aidan Quinn plays former President Theodore Roosevelt in the new HBO...

Aidan Quinn plays former President Theodore Roosevelt in the new HBO Max miniseries "The American Guest." Credit: Invision / AP / Charles Sykes

Future president — and future Long Islander — Theodore Roosevelt was born 163 years ago Wednesday in Manhattan. After spending childhood summers in Oyster Bay, he bought land there, moving into his newly built home, Sagamore Hill, in 1885 and living there until his death in 1919.

Now a National Historic Site, Roosevelt's Long Island home is among the locations seen on the recently debuted HBO Max miniseries "The American Guest," starring Aidan Quinn ("Desperately Seeking Susan," "Avalon," TV's "Elementary") as Roosevelt. The four-hour, Brazilian-made miniseries chronicles Roosevelt's 1913-14 expedition with that nation's Col. Cândido Rondon to explore the Rio da Dúvida ("River of Doubt") in the Amazon basin — eventually renamed Rio Roosevelt in his honor.

Quinn, 62, who had spent six grueling months in the Amazon shooting 1991's "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," says his roughly 2½ months there in 2018 for "The American Guest" were easier, but that nothing in the rainforest is easy.

"I mean, everything in there is being eaten alive — something is devouring something at all times," he recalls. The production stayed at an eco hotel — one designed to minimally impact the natural environment — where "you each have your own thatched hut, but all that's between you and the jungle is a screen. The Capuchin monkeys used to watch me showering while they're stealing all the bananas in the morning. And the capybara, these 165-pound rodents, used to wake me up at night as they were ripping the bushes asunder, tearing them up and eating them."

Once, Quinn says gamely, "I nearly stepped on a coral snake getting out of the shower. Another night, walking to dinner, I nearly stepped on a jararaca, which is another deadly, poisonous snake. People would get stung by scorpions all the time on the set."

Playing Roosevelt was its own challenge "because everyone has a visual image of him. So I had to gain 25 pounds. And I kept looking at those prominent teeth, thinking there must be some way I can have a dentist make [a prosthetic]. We found a dentist in Sao Paulo, and I brought her an 8-by-10 [photo] of him laughing, and she did a great job."

Roosevelt's voice, Quinn says, had "this strange-to-us mid-Atlantic accent of the highly educated" of the time. "There are four or five recordings of him giving speeches that I was able to listen to, even though, because they were on a windup Victrola, they may not be the exact pitch. But I was able to get the rhythm of his speaking."

The two-time Emmy nominee lives upstate with his Hicksville-raised wife, actor Elizabeth Bracco ("The Sopranos"), sister of actor Lorraine Bracco. She declined to accompany him, having done so "30 years ago while I shot 'At Play in the Fields of the Lord.' " She contracted dysentery and was flown home. "No," Quinn says with a rueful chuckle, "she was not keen to come to the jungle again, no."

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