By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
Dennis Quaid is back in the '60s. The Express casts him as Coach Ben Schwartzwalder of Syracuse University, who recruited running back Ernie Davis. Quaid says it's just a coincidence that films keep casting him in decades past.
Dennis Quaid Rides The Express
"I keep getting put there for some reason," said Quaid. "I've done a lot of movies in the '50s and early '60s for some reason. I don't know why."
Ernie Davis broke boundaries just by playing in away games in the deep south. Ultimately he was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.
"Really, in a way, the movie speaks I think to today and where we still are yet to go. When Ernie picks up that bottle at the end and says, 'You see this bottle? It has no label on it.' He didn't start out to be the best black running back. He wanted to be the best running back."
Quaid admits that he looks little like the real Schwartzwalder. One way to capture his spirit was to set aside that trademark Dennis Quaid grin for one movie.
"Just trying to capture the spirit of Ben, Ben was not really a big, open, happy go-lucky guy actually. He was pretty obsessed and serious, so I was asked not to do it in this."
Audiences may see Schwartzwalder as the affable supporter of Ernie Davis. That may just be their attachment to Quaid. "I don't even really see Ben as all that likeable. I wouldn't call him likeable myself. I think he was maybe redeemable but I also don't think actors can really get away from their persona too much sometimes. I think whenever you watch an actor, they're really there because of who they are. No actor really loses himself in a role. It's still their persona. Even John Malkovich. He's an incredible actor but it's still like you love to see him get pissed."
Growing up in Houston, Quaid understood the religion of football in the deep south. "By religion I guess it's because they're obsessed by it. It's really kind of a rite of manhood or a rite of passage. You have to go out for the football team, which I tried to do and got laughed off the field. I was a late bloomer. That's really how I wound up in the drama room after that. They are crazy about it."