Reel Talk is NME’s weekly interview feature with the biggest names in film and TV
The Rock. Daniel Craig. Martin Scorsese. Mick Jagger. For a skinny, self-professed geek who’s “obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons”, rising actor Jack Quaid has some very alpha male friends.
He met Dwayne Johnson while co-starring in creature feature Rampage (“I had a freeze moment of: ‘This isn’t real, I’m not looking at the real world right now’”). A small part in heist thriller Logan Lucky led to him “headbanging” at a Car Seat Headrest gig in Atlanta with literal James Bond – “Daniel Craig basically said, ‘Hey I got tickets to the show, do you guys want to come?’ It was maybe one of the best nights of my life.” More recently, he’s struck up a bromance with action stalwart Karl Urban (The Lord of The Rings, Dredd) – his co-star on Amazon Prime Video’s hit superhero series The Boys, which returns for a second batch of episodes later this year.
Premiering only six months ago, Amazon’s action-packed comic book show quickly became one of their most-watched titles ever. Set in a fictional society where “supers” are controlled by a global company, The Boys differs from the current crop of deadly-serious Marvel properties thanks to its unique mix of adult comedy and violence. Quaid plays Hughie, a ‘normie’ without powers who fights back against the corrupt superheroes after one accidentally kills his girlfriend.
“It was an insane moment in my life,” he tells NME during a friendly, joke-filled chat. “I was working with all these people I’d admired for so long and I just felt incredibly lucky to be there.”
As much a newbie as he was, Quaid didn’t let the occasion get to him. In fact, he went some way to stamping his authority on-set with a bit of mischief-making. “Karl Urban and I got into a prank war about cake!” he says. “It’s a long story but basically you get someone a cake and then sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them even though it’s not their birthday. It’s a very light war, I’ll admit, but I got Karl back because he did it to me first, and then I released a video of Karl ‘getting caked’, as I call it. I even wrote a song called ‘You Got Cake’d’ too!”
He still lives in fear of Urban’s retaliation, but Quaid says he couldn’t have asked for a better guy to go on this journey with. “We had this bromance and he definitely feels like my older brother,” he says. “He’s taught me so much. He’s the nicest possible dude and so talented. Come on: The Lord of The Rings, Star Trek, Dredd? He was carrying that movie even with half his face covered [by the helmet]. That’s so cool!”
Luckily for Quaid, no one’s breaking up Hughie and Butcher (Urban’s no-shit-taking vigilante character who helps his friend take on the supers) any time soon. In fact, The Boys was commissioned for a second season before the first had even aired – and the cast wrapped the new episodes just before Christmas.
“The Boys season two still has those big, bombastic and insane moments, plus a lot more action,” says Quaid of what’s in store for the next series. “I’m biased, but it’s better than season one, fans are in for a huge treat.” What about Hughie? “At the start of this season, Hughie is still reeling from the events of season one,” says Quaid, referring to the tense finale which saw him cut and run on girlfriend Annie, aka Starlight, member of elite (and mostly corrupt) superhero outfit The Seven. “He has to go underground in the end to try and cut himself off from all of the things that he loves, particularly Annie. He’s really missing her, but the world keeps getting worse and more problems arise and he has to come out of hiding. He starts this season in a very low place.” He adds: “But if you loved the tone of the first season, you’re definitely in for more of the same.”
That’s just what the fans – and Quaid himself – want. More swear-filled, bloody fight scenes for them and more lead action for him – especially after 10 years of supporting parts opposite huge stars. If you look at Quaid’s background, you’ll see he’s always been destined for much bigger things.
Born and raised in LA by 1980s romcom power couple Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, he spent most of his childhood on movie sets, loading up on junk food from the catering department. They divorced in 2001, when Jack was nine, but by then he’d already been bitten by the acting bug.
“They were neither encouraging or discouraging,” says Quaid of mum and dad’s attitude towards his early work. “I think they wanted to let me try it out on my own, so I did a play [at school] and I really got the bug. I loved the sense of community. When I was 13, I got my first laugh on stage [in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’] and I thought: ‘Woah, this is great. I wanna do this forever’.”
After signing up to every production his private high school offered, Quaid jetted off to New York University where he studied Experimental Theatre at Tisch School of the Arts. Notable alumni include Alec Baldwin, Adam Sandler, and a pre-Lady Gaga Stefani Germanotta. While there, Jack set about climbing the greasy pole of Hollywood talent agencies. No lying about in his pants smoking weed for this student.
“I auditioned for stuff during my spring break and The Hunger Games was one of them,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m gonna get this.’”
In the audition, he says, candidates were asked to “choose your weapon” from a selection of foam props, including nerf guns. “I chose this spear which wound up being the weapon my character uses in the movie. I made some amazing friends and it gave me so much experience. I’d been on sets before, but none that were mine in any way, or that I was actively participating in. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.” It was only a minor part with one line, but the role of Marvel (forever hated for the cold blooded murder of fan-favourite Rue) would help Jack snag meatier parts down the line.
For the time being though, Quaid would have to make do starring opposite his new heavyweight buddies in small supporting bits, usually as “privileged white guys who put down the main character, subtly hinting that they’re better than them in some way,” he says. “Those roles were fun, but every now and then I thought: ‘Oh man, I’m a nicer guy than people think I am!’ In Rampage I did that, The Hunger Games and also Vinyl.”
Of all his pre-The Boys jobs, HBO’s 1970s rock and roll epic is Quaid’s most notable. Cast as – you guessed it – a snarky white dude who feels sorry for himself, it allowed him to spend time with two pop cultural icons – Martin Scorsese and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Both produced Vinyl – which was cancelled after a season – with Scorsese directing the pilot, but it was the loose-hipped singer that caused the most havoc on-set.
“Mick Jagger was there a lot,” says Quaid. “I would never be ready for him. He would appear out of nowhere, shout “Great scene!” and then just walk away. I was like ‘Holy shit!’ It almost scared you.”
At this moment, Quaid proceeds to do his best version of Jagger’s faux-cockney drawl, directly into NME’s ear. “Graayyytt seeeenn! Graayytt seeennn!” It’s not unlike the 1960s pinup, but perhaps has more in common with the impressions of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip. Close, but not total satisfaction.
On meeting Scorsese, however, Quaid is more reverential. “The best bit about [working with Scorsese] was when he would just tell stories about growing up in New York. Everybody would just stop and listen. I’ve never seen that since, when everyone stops working in a job where time is money, to listen to this amazing story straight from the director’s mouth.”
Given his recent superhero fare, and Scorsese’s well-publicised disdain for spandex-clad multiplex fodder – would his idol still approve of him? “I’d be really interested to know what he would think of The Boys,” says Quaid. “Maybe he would dig it on a gore-level alone.”
Unfortunately, Quaid doesn’t follow up his comments with an impression this time – party pooper – but maybe that’s because he’s scared to offend. Perhaps he’s eyeing up Leonardo DiCaprio’s spot at the top of Scorsese’s cast list. After all, he only deals in main roles now, like that of Ben in Plus One.
Released in the US last summer – just before The Boys debuted – and due in UK cinemas next Friday, Plus One is a wacky romance about two longtime single friends (Ben and Alice, played by kooky sitcom regular Maya Erskine) who agree to be each other’s plus one (Ding! Ding! Ding! It’s the title!) at every wedding they’ve been invited to. Similar to the date-night-ready flicks his parents used to churn out on the regs, this charming, low-budget indie is up there with the best of the genre – witty, heartwarming and a perfect cosy Sunday night watch.
Together with The Boys, Plus One makes up a double whammy of major roles for Jack. Finally, after much time spent on the fringes, he’s stepping out of the shadow of his mega-famous family – and into the spotlight.
“I love my parents. I’m also a huge fan!” laughs Quaid. “But it is nice when people start to get to know you for your own work as well. It doesn’t bother me, but sometimes in interviews people tell me how much they loved The Right Stuff [Dennis’ 1984 astronaut biopic] or whatever, and they look at me like I had something to do with it. I wasn’t even a concept yet! I get credit for a movie that came out even before I was born!”
So far, he’s managed to bite his tongue and not snip at the many talk show hosts fishing for dirt on his relatives. But it’s early yet, he’s got plenty of years on the publicity circuit to get through first. Unless, of course, he takes a different direction – say, into comedy?
He’s definitely got the chops for it. In fact, Jack’s fans are so keen to see more of his whimsical side that Reddit is stuffed with suggestions for his next role. One in particular has racked up hundreds of upvotes – socially inept paper salesman from The US Office, Dwight Shrute, even though no film version is currently in the works. “Oh my god, yes I’ve seen a lot of that,” says Quaid. “Look, I’ll do it, I’m game. I haven’t got the phone call yet, but I’m there. I 1000% get why people say that. Rainn Wilson, who I’ve never met even though everybody says I look like him, posted a photo of himself as a teenager [on social media] and it’s very similar to me. It’s almost uncanny. So I get it and I am on board. If they make ‘Young Dwight’, I’ll be interested.”
Could the Internet have snagged Jack his next leading role? Watch this space, but after the success he’s had over the past 12 months, you wouldn’t bet against it. He’s part of the club now.
‘Plus One’ arrives in UK cinemas and on digital February 7
Design: Simon Freeborough