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Willow

Dennis Quaid ('The Express') Dennis Quaid ('The Express')

'A New Train Of Thought'

Finding Forrester star Rob Brown steps into the cleats of Heisman Trophy-winning gridiron giant Ernie Davis in director Gary Fleder's inspirational sports docudrama.

As a young boy reared not far from the northern Pennsylvania state line, Davis dreamed of blasting through the end zone and scoring a triumphant touchdown while fans rose to their feet and cheered. When Davis later became a star running back for the Syracuse Orangemen, his dreams were finally on the way to becoming a reality.

Under the wing of coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid), it seemed as if there is nothing that could stop Davis from entering into the annals of sports history; even during an era in which the civil rights movement was just gaining momentum, this fledgling gridiron giant never once doubted his ability to rise to the top.

When Davis was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after being drafted into the NFL, however, his will to survive soon eclipsed his dreams of success.

Chatting recently with star Dennis Quaid, we first wondered when he looks for a project now, is it because he feels he's more of an actor now than a movie star trying to prove himself in a business where the pressure is always on? Dennis Quaid "Yeah. Exactly. I'm not trying to be something. I'm just doing really the things that come along that I'm really interested in doing. And, you know, that includes supporting parts, and doing leads, and - you know, all kinds of different types of movies."

With 'The Express,' was it just the idea of doing something that meant something to you, or was it an emotional response to the overall material that attracted you? "It was an emotional response that I had to express. It - it hit me in a place, like I said, where I don't have any words. It's - and it's about more than just football."

Why this movie in particular? "It was the story. I didn't really know about Ernie Davis to tell you the truth. I'd heard his name but I didn't really know about him or Ben Schwartzwelder before. I read the script and the story hit me. The script hit me right in the gut and the heart, a place where I really don't have words. It's inspiring. Also, it's about more than football. Even if you don't like sports, I think there's something in it for you because it is an inspiring story."

"You take 'The Rookie,' movies that I do that are sport movies, they have to be about more than the sport. They have to transcend the sport. The Rookie was about second chances in life. The Express really I think is about living your life gracefully. If God's grace is bestowed upon you, you live your life to its full effect. Ernie Davis really embodied that."

I understand you didn't do much research, you had Jim Brown as a kind of a template for that. What did he tell you about your character, this character that was able to fuel your performance? "Well, he told me about Ben Schwarzwalder's military experience in World War Two, which he brought to his coaching technique, about how obsessed he was, and single-minded, about football and how contentious his own relationship was with Schwarzwalder, when it came to racial issues I think at the time. Ben really didn't understand or really care to understand what was going on in the country outside of his world of the football field, so they butted heads quite a few times over that."

"After seeing the film - at the same time Jim thought he was a really good coach, and made him better and everything. And after seeing the film, he said he really had a newfound respect for Ben. Which I thought was quite something, because he kind of realized the perspective, what he was going through."

Could you identify with the kind of tunnel-vision aspect of Ben's personality? "At times in my life, yeah, sure, being single-minded. Certainly I'm kind of an obsessive person, that when I find something I like to do, I pretty much focus on that. Like golf. And - you know, my passions in life."

Has golf been an ongoing passion of yours, or is it a recent? "Well, I started playing 18 years ago. It's funny, when I quit cocaine, I started playing golf," he laughs.

So tell us about your upcoming 'G.I. Joe' movie "Yeah, well, I think it's good to mix it up. For me, I mean. But one thing I have had is to try to do as many different types of genres, and as many different types of characters as I can. You know. And I think it's part of my strength, and maybe part of my weakness, as well, in a business sense."

"Because, you know, it's - maybe you kind of don't know what you're ever really gonna get in my films. But I think it's good to keep remaking yourself, in a sense. As an actor, or as any kind of artist, every couple of years. To keep it fresh."

I recently saw a picture of General Hawk online. What was it like wearing that costume? "Being Hawk Abernathy? It was really a lot of fun. It was sort of like playing a cross between General Patton and Hugh Heffner. He had supermodels as his aid du camps with briefcases. He'd say, "Knowing is half the battle"."

Do you get to say that in the film?! "Oh yeah," he laughs.

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