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Issue Date: July 26, 2009
In this article:
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"I don't want to trade who I am now."

Lorrie Lynch talks with actor Dennis Quaid about his movies, his young family, and friendship with a certain ex president

Cover: Dennis Quaid
"Everything I went through made me who I am."

Dennis Quaid is the poster child for a roller-coaster life, with its big ups (as Hollywood's steamiest leading man married to its sweetest leading lady, Meg Ryan) and even bigger downs (drugs, a bitter divorce).

Now, at 55, Quaid is on a markedly different roll, smooth and settled. Life includes a new young family, plenty of work -- he has two new movies coming up -- homes in three states and a clear-eyed future. Heck, even his handsomely chiseled face is getting better with age.

"I'm a late bloomer," the actor admits, sipping a Diet Coke at cocktail hour on a hotel patio in Beverly Hills. He's here to promote his new movie, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," an action-adventure film based on the popular toy that opens Aug. 7.

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Much of the man Quaid is today came about in the past six years. It all started one night in March 2003 in Austin. Quaid was there making "The Alamo," and during an evening on the town, his best buddy, actor Brett Cullen, called him to a restaurant to meet Kimberly Buffington. It's unclear whether there was a reason beyond "she was really hot," but Quaid turned up for the date, found a "beautiful, smart, classy" woman 18 years his junior, and that was it. He courted her while he was there in her hometown for the following six weeks; they married on July 4, 2004.

After his messy, headline-making divorce from Ryan, was he purposely looking for someone who wasn't in show business? "Yes," he says, without hesitation. But not because of the pressures on couples when both partners are famous. "It comes down to schedules more than anything else," Quaid says, talking about the challenges for actors raising children. Movies are often made on location, and "somebody has to be home. Once kids are not babies, they need to be home for school."

These days, Quaid's life is baby-centric. Twins Zoe Grace and Thomas Boone, now 20 months, nearly died after they mistakenly received a drug overdose in the hospital after they were born. The Quaids, who used a surrogate to carry their twins, negotiated a settlement with the hospital, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. A separate suit against the drug company is pending.

Today, Quaid says his toddlers are healthy: "She's very much a girlie-girl, and he's like a linebacker." But is fatherhood the second time around -- Quaid has a 17-year-old son, Jack Henry, with Ryan -- any easier?

GI Joe movie
Quaid and Channing Tatum, left, in the G.I. Joe movie

"Easier, and it's harder, too," he says. "You don't freak out at every sniffle and every trip and fall. It's not such a shock, changing diapers and getting up in the night. But it's harder because there's two of them. One's going one way, and the other's going the other. You go from man-to-man to zone defense."

At the opposite end of the parenting spectrum, Quaid spent spring break visiting colleges with Jack. He and Ryan share custody and live near each other.

On the job, Quaid is back to doing what he does best. "He's one of those all-American kind of guys," says G.I. Joe director Stephen Sommers. Quaid plays the macho Gen. Hawk, commanding a squad of action fighters that includes Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans up against a leather-clad Sienna Miller as the villainess.

"My generation grew up on a lot of movies that featured Dennis as an all-American hero," echoes Christian Alvert, who directed Quaid in Pandorum, a horror thriller opening in September. "I needed a guy who grounded the movie."

As Hollywood's go-to guy for all things American, Quaid next takes on the role of a U.S. president in an HBO movie. It's a part he finds especially daunting, given its subject: Bill Clinton.

He says he's "terrified" about playing the ex-president -- a friend he has yet to call to discuss the movie. He has packed on a good 25 pounds (he shows off a bit of a potbelly forming over the belt of his jeans) and jokes about doing it the way Clinton gained weight, eating "a lot of those chicken tenders."

The actor has fond memories of a weekend he spent with Clinton in 1999, during the president's tumultuous second term in office. He tells the story this way:

"I went there for a screening of a movie, then he asked me to stay over to play golf. Hillary was out of town and not much was going on, so it was just the two of us in the White House.

"We got in the motorcade, got a couple of Subway sandwiches and went to the golf course. ... We came back to the White House and watched the basketball playoffs. We talked about everything. It was a great time."

It's not hard to imagine the two kicking back together. Quaid offscreen is as much of a guy's guy in real life as he is onscreen. He has a darn good 6 handicap and plays 18 holes of golf every day that he's not working, sometimes with chum and Dinner With Friends co-star Greg Kinnear. He has a rock band, the Sharks, just for fun. He rides horses. And he's qualified to fly jets, although he hasn't kept his license up to date.

It's ancient history now, but there was a time when his personal pursuits included his addiction to cocaine. He doesn't shy away from discussing the past -- he went to rehab before he married Ryan and had Jack -- although he speaks about it carefully. "Certainly, I stunted myself in many ways," he says. "I wasn't present. I didn't make really good decisions."

But he has no regrets. "Everything I went through made me who I am now," he says, "and I don't want to trade who I am now."

Cover story photograph of Dennis Quaid by Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY

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Quaid's fave 4

He has made about 60 movies, but these are his favorite.

The Right Stuff (1983) "It was like being a kid, becauseI grew up in Houston, and I wanted to be an astronaut. I learned to fly -- I got my pilot's license. The whole shoot was heaven. I never wanted that one to end."

The Big Easy (1987) "I loved the New Orleans experience. That whole feel and the music experience in that is pretty amazing."

The Parent Trap (1998) "I was king of the car pool line after that."

The Rookie (2002) "The movie's about second chances. It mirrored my home life at the time."

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