‘Truth’ Star Dennis Quaid Remembers How He Used Variety to Land Early Roles

Dennis Quaid First Time in Variety
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

Dennis Quaid appears in the Dan “Rathergate” film “Truth” and stars in Crackle’s art-world drama “The Art of More,” bowing Nov. 19. Before his breakout in 1979’s “Breaking Away” the young Texas transplant was living in a cramped Hollywood apartment, flipping through Variety for audition notices. In 1976, he landed a part in the Jim Bridges coming-of-age drama “September 30, 1955.”

What do you remember about your first year as a struggling actor in L.A.?

I got here in ’75. I had a list of agents for SAG, and I sent my picture to all the agents, and I got turned down by all the agents. So I turned to Variety for the “Films in the Future” column. It would list (upcoming movies) and the casting directors. I started calling all the casting directors, and nine out of 10 would say no, but one would say yes, and that’s how I learned to do interviews. One casting director was Geno Havens. He called an agent, and that’s how I got an agent. That’s how I found “September 30, 1955,” because of “Films in the Future.”

What was your reaction when you saw your name in Variety after being cast?

I was making progress. That was for sure.

What was that first day on the set like?

It was one of the most exciting days of my life. We were shooting in Arkansas, and Gordon Willis was the cinematographer, and I remember the cameras were really big back then. When they were coming in, it wasn’t even a closeup, but the camera felt so close. It was very intimidating at first, very unnatural, but I got used to it.

What was the pay?

It was $750 a week — that was kind of the minimum back then. And it was great. I was living on about $50 to $60 a week from unemployment insurance in an apartment with two other guys, so I felt like I was on easy street. I lived over on Alta Loma just off La Cienega and Sunset, next door to the Sunset Marquis. It was one bedroom and three guys: one on the bed, one on the couch, one on the floor. And we’d rotate.

Did you think you’d have a long, successful career?

I was always optimistic. When I started out, all I wanted to be was a working actor. At that time, there were 30,000 actors in the Screen Actors Guild, and I think less than 1% were working on a day-to-day basis. And I was determined to be one of those 1%.

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