Dennis Quaid digs his heels into a potential seven-year role - and he couldn't have picked a better introduction to TV land, writes Michele Manelis
Veteran film actor Dennis Quaid is starting his TV career at the grand old age of 58 in Vegas, a cowboy and gangster crime series set in Sin City during the 1960s.
Quaid, best known for movie roles in The Big Easy, Great Balls of Fire and Wyatt Earp, plays Ralph Lamb, a former military cop-turned-rancher and sheriff who's based on the real-life Vegas icon of the same name.
He stars opposite tough-nut actor Michael Chiklis, who plays his nemesis, Vincent Savino, a Chicago mobster who relocates to Vegas in a bid to take over the casino town.
The move to TV sees Quaid join a growing litany of film actors who have turned to gainful employment on the small screen. "I've been circling television for about two or three years now because I really like what's going on. It provides the kind of stories that I used to like to see in movies that aren't really happening anymore," he explains. "I love Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire, and this [Vegas] fits in with that kind of quality writing."
He's right - Vegas has a good pedigree, having been created by writer Nicholas Pileggi, the man behind the scripts for Martin Scorsese's Mob movies Goodfellas and Casino.
"With [Pileggi's] resume and the fact I'd be playing opposite Michael, what more do you need to say yes to a role? Plus, it's fun to be on a horse," he smiles. "I'm actually using my own horse."
And Quaid says TV veteran Chiklis, known for his work in The Shield and most recently, No Ordinary Family, has been helping him ease into unfamiliar territory.
"Michael's a workhorse, he is made of iron, he just never stops. It's been great for me because he knows a lot more about television than I do and he's given me a lot of great advice. I've gone to him for counsel many times on entering into this new world."
Chiklis has been a fan of Quaid's since he saw his 1983 film, The Right Stuff, about an elite group of astronauts. "I love that Dennis will goof on things and even blow a take just for a laugh. It's fun. It keeps things light on a set," he says.
Of course, the world of cowboys and gangsters set against a Western backdrop is nothing new, and to a degree Quaid is faced with a hefty task in reinventing the genre.
"Well, it was about creating a character that's based on an icon in American culture, rather than a genre. There is a whole lineage that goes with that, not to mention that I'm playing a guy who's still alive. Ralph is 85 years old and still living in Vegas.
"When I first met him, I thought he was kind of a cross between John Wayne and Chuck Yeager. He's a throwback to that era, the 60s," he says. "You know how people keep their hair stuck in an era that was their time? Well, he's still there, as is his language and way of relating to people."
He seems to have great affection for Lamb. "Yes, but I still would not want to lock fists with this guy. He's pretty tough, as well as knowing how to put the charm attack on you," he smiles. "He's still a cowboy. He's a fourth-generation rancher."
For his age, Quaid is still a handsome bloke and looks fit - which is just as well because Lamb is always up for a fist fight or two (because it wouldn't be a Western without them). In one of his first scenes we see Quaid putting his dukes up and busting some butt in retaliation for a plane flying over his herd and sending them running scared.
"Yes, I put my braces on and get out of my wheelchair," he jokes. "It's funny, though. I've done hundreds of fight scenes for so long in my career but I have never been in a fist fight outside the movies in my life," he says. "It's fun until somebody gets hurt, and then it's not fun anymore."
Quaid enjoys the prospect of playing Sheriff Lamb for a potential seven-year run. "I would love it. There's lots of interesting stories to tell," he says.
And as far as the city of Las Vegas goes, what does Quaid make of Sin City? "I think, like a lot of people, there was a time when I'd go there about every three months to play blackjack. But I always had a rule: 'Never stay more than 56 hours in Vegas.' Don't ask me why, but that rule works."
Who: Dennis Quaid
What: First TV role as former cop-turned-rancher and sheriff Ralph Lamb in Vegas
Past films: The Right Stuff (1983); The Big Easy (1987); Great Balls of Fire! (1989); Wyatt Earp (1994); Traffic (2000); Far From Heaven (2002)