We met actor Dennis Quaid who stars as the adult Ethan in the movie, “A Dog’s Purpose,” which opens Friday. We met him at the Sirius XM Radio studios in Manhattan.
You have starred in many movies in your career. How is “A Dog’s Purpose” different from others you have worked on?
Well, for one thing, my co-stars [they were dogs], although actors can be animals themselves! The dogs were just great to work with. It was great having a dog as a co-star for so many of the scenes. It was like improvisation. You may have something in the script, but, dogs can understand English but they can’t read. They can’t always follow the script and I like that, too. It turns out being better because dogs are so in the moment and that is what a lot of acting is all about.
Have you felt fully confident in your career, and what was your most embarrassing moment?
I have not always felt fully confident in my career or in life. Starting out, I was wondering if I was going to make it. Like everyone else, but I had fortitude and just did it anyway. I learned how to get over being embarrassed. The first couple auditions I had, I would go to interview for parts and I would just look at my shoes. I realized, “Hey! I better say something.” If I didn’t have confidence, I would at least pretend I had confidence until . . . I did have some. I still don’t have it all the time. Before going on stage or starting a movie, I have the feeling of fear and stage fright comes up. But, I consider that to be a good thing because fear is a really good motivator. It makes you have to do something about it. It also gives you energy. I take the fear and I focus it and use it. The most embarrassing thing that has happened to me is I farted on camera in front of the crew. So, there it is, I finally admitted it.
Who was one of your favorite actors to work with in your career?
Meryl Streep was fantastic to work with [“Postcards from the Edge”]. She is great actress but she is also a really great person. She is not pretentious or anything. When they say, “Action” she is right in it and when they say “Cut” she is right out of it and just back to talking again. Gene Hackman, he is someone you guys probably don’t know, he played my dad one time. Getting to work with my heroes and be around them is a pretty amazing thing.
How were you able to relate to the story in the movie, “A Dog’s Purpose”?
The story always brings me back to the story of my dog when I was a boy. She was my companion and sometimes the only friend I had because we moved so much. She was always there for me. And dogs teach you about the wonderful feeling of being alive because they are in the moment all the time. That is why I did the movie and why I think it is a great film to see.
Do you have any comments about the video with the dog?
Yes. That video was a scam and it is a shame, actually. It’s a shame that people would do something like this for money. That is what this person did. He shot this video and he edited it and he manipulated it. He waited 15 months until the movie was coming out, and then he sold it to TMZ. If he was so concerned about dogs, why didn’t he come out the very next day? I was on the set, and I would not be on the set — I would walk off if animals or people were being abused. I saw all the footage that was shot that day and talked to the people that were there, and I wouldn’t be out here promoting the movie and supporting it if I had felt that the animal had been abused. That dog you saw, what they didn’t show, is that he had been in the water about seven or eight times that day already. They had to keep him on the leash because he wanted to get in the water and jump in the water. He had been trained for it, he loved it. He was to jump in the water, a person was drowning, supposedly drowning. They put a toy in the person’s collar that the dog loved. He would jump in the water and go over and get to the person and grab him by the neck and then swim to the other side. He had already done it about eight times. Dogs get tired or they lose focus so they put him in another place in the pool and you think you are looking at a dog that is scared and doesn’t want to go into this really violent water, which it wasn’t. What I see after seeing everything is a dog that doesn’t want to take a bath for the eighth time in a row. What you don’t see, right beneath the water, is that the handler has a platform that the dog is standing on. There are several platforms that are in the water that the dog can just go to and stand. He is not being dangled by his neck, he is with a trainer who knows what he is doing. There are two divers with scuba gear in the water at all times, plus another trainer in the water. The dog goes to the end of the pool and you think the dog is drowning and nobody is doing anything about it. Well, I saw the footage where the dog gets out of the water and shakes himself off and he is happy and ready to do whatever, he is not a traumatized dog. They are still investigating to find this person. It would be a shame because it is such a beautiful story about dogs and about unconditional love and relationships people have with dogs. I know from being on the set that the dogs were always treated with respect and care and compassion. There was an American Humane Society person on the set, even the very day, and everybody really looked after the dogs. There was no abuse of any dogs, I know that for a fact.
What would you be doing if you were not in the film business?
Actually, I think about that every time I finish a job, actually. I think, “What am I going to do now?!” If I didn’t get into this, I would probably be a musician. Before I got into being an actor, which was when I was 18 or 19, I wanted to be a veterinarian. So I decided to work with actors who were also animals. But I would have probably been a musician. I just didn’t want to work for a living. That’s why they call it playing music. That is why they call it a screenplay. I always tell my kids, I don’t care what it is that you do, but find something that you love to do and then figure out how you can get paid for it and you will have about a third of your life handled.
We saw that you were in “Jaws 3.” Did you ever get scared while filming it?
No, not much. There was one time I went in with the dolphins. We filmed that with the dolphins in Sea World in Florida. A fun time was going in with Beluga whales. They are just as sweet as can be. They are like big puppies.