For anyone who lived through the Clinton administration, Dennis Quaid’s performance in HBO’s May 29 “The Special Relationship” just might evoke a shiver or two. Although he doesn’t – by conscious choice – look like a twin of William Jefferson Clinton, he inhabits the role of the 42nd President down to the set of his mouth in angry moments.
And yet, Quaid admits, “I was kind of shocked when they asked me to do the role. It just seemed such a daunting task – getting the voice, the mannerisms.” However, he tells us, “I have a philosophy that sometimes you should do the thing that frightens you most, because it’s probably the thing you need to do to overcome your fear. Fear is a great motivator.”
The hardest part was “just capturing his spirit,” says Quaid. “I didn’t want to do a Saturday night skit of him. I wanted to make him into a human being. I was lucky I had four months to prepare,” he adds.
Quaid, who’s had his own relationship with Clinton — including several rounds of golf – admits he’s thought quite a bit about how the ex-Commander in Chief will feel about his portrayal and the film in general.
“Better me than Darrel Hammond,” he says with a smile. Then, more seriously, he adds, “I’ve seen the movies (playwright/screenwriter) Peter Morgan has done before – ‘Frost/Nixon,’ ‘The Queen…’ I felt they were empathetic portrayals, that I could understand these people a little more after seeing them. That was obviously an attraction. At the same time, I know certainly there are certain part of my life I wouldn’t want to have made into movie, and I understand the sensitivity involved in having those portrayed,” adds Quaid, who knows what it’s like to go through the tabloid grinder via the all-too-public ending of his marriage to Meg Ryan and his substance abuse problems of the 1980s.
“The Special Relationship” focuses on the relationship between Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (again played to perfection by Michael Sheen), and does go into the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment. Quaid says, however, that “I think I have a lot more respect for him now than I did before playing him. He was already the smartest man I’d met. What he was able to accomplish in his Presidency is really remarkable – even during the scandal.”