Jack Quaid’s cinematic debut was a hated role in a major movie. The son of Hollywood’s ultimate 1990s power couple Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, Seabiscuit director Gary Ross casted the young Quaid as Marvel in the first Hunger Games film in April 2011, at the age of 19. As one of the film’s repugnant antagonists, Marvel mercilessly kills the film’s most beloved character, Rue. Because of the fanfare surrounding the film’s source material, written by Suzanne Collins, Quaid said that upon his casting, filmmakers warned him that fans may spit on him in the streets.
As far as we know, no saliva has been hurled in his direction—at least not as an emotional response to that film. Instead, in the years following his big-screen debut, Quaid has appeared alongside industry veterans in a steady flow of wide-ranging and credible films and TV such as Just Before I Go (directed by Courteney Cox), HBO’s Vinyl (co-created by Martin Scorsese), SXSW darling Tragedy Girls and Comedy Central’s Workaholics. Now, with Steven Soderbergh’s Southern heist flick Logan Lucky making good with critics (a handful of Golden Globe nominations seem likely), Quaid is about to make audiences forget he ever starred as a villain in one of the biggest film franchises in history.
Or at least he’ll go down trying; as he explains in his Playboy Conversation with Contributing Writer Bobby Box, he may never escape Marvel’s shadow, and that’s okay. Box talked to Quaid just as he began a weeks-long press tour to promote Logan. “If Seth Cohen were a real guy, it might be Jack Quaid,” says Box. “Jack was probably the class clown; he’s the guy his friends depend on for a good laugh. From beginning to end, his voice was expressive and honest but never gave away too little or too much. He spoke in detail, but never revealed anything that may get himself in trouble (and there was no lack of effort on my part to get some juice.) He’s also not ignorant to the fact that as a straight white man, he doesn’t experience the same hardships someone else might—a level of self-awareness that is unfortunately rare and almost never seems genuine. In Jack’s case, it does.”
Critics are posturing that the West Virginia-set Logan Lucky serves as a sort of commentary on modern America. While Quaid, who’ll next appear in the film adaptation of the 1980s video game Rampage, prefers audiences to connect those dots, what he says about his future aspirations is telling of his sense of responsibility: “As a celebrity, you need to actually go out there and try to change things,” he says. “A real way to do that is through art and movies that shine a light on something that can open people’s minds.”
You’ve worked with many lauded directors who’ve been in Hollywood for a long time, from Hunger Games’s Ross to long-time HBO helmer Allen Coulter (Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos). How was Steven Soderbergh different from other directors?
He works extremely fast, which was scary at first. I was like, “What if I don’t nail it on take one or two?” Eventually, I came to like the pace. You obviously trust Soderbergh when he says we have the shot. He did things I’ve never seen any other director do, like take the day’s footage and go directly into an editing suite in our hotel and cut the movie together right there, that same day. He would occasionally invite the cast to see footage and we would watch the movie with chunks missing. One day I watched footage and was like, “It’s six p.m. and we’re watching something we shot this morning.” It was crazy.
In typical Soderbergh fashion, Logan Lucky flaunts a massive A-list cast and one of the best ensembles of the year, with Daniel Craig, Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Hilary Swank, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough and Katie Holmes. What was auditioning for this role like?
To this day, it’s one of the strangest ways I’ve found out about a role. [Soderbergh] doesn’t audition people. I was at a party and somebody told me I was going to be in a Soderbergh movie. I was like, “No I’m not? You’re clearly talking to the wrong person.” The next day I called my manager like, “Can you check on this for me?” Fifteen minutes later he said it’s true. I had the script in five minutes. As soon as I read it I said yes, but I would have said yes regardless. It’s something that will never happen to me again. It was so weird.
Any idea where or how he spotted you?
I heard it was because I had a certain look. I guess that means I can appear white trash-ish? [laughs]. Other than that, I really have no idea.
How did you handle being on set with so many high-profile actors?
I was intimidated at first, but then you realize they didn’t get to where they are by being jerks. I learned a lot from watching. I remember a scene in the movie where Channing and Adam first see my brother and me at the county fair. I was hesitant about improvising lines because I didn’t want to disrespect anybody. So I went up to Channing and was like, “Hey, you’ve worked with Steven before [on Magic Mike]. Is improvising okay?” He said, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” That freed me up.
You were born and raised in Los Angeles. What did it take to transform into your character Fish Bang, brother to Daniel Craig and a bona fide redneck from West Virginia who truly believes he understands computer science when he doesn’t even understand Twitter?
We watched this documentary called The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, produced by Johnny Knoxville. It follows the Whites family, who are from Boone County, where most of the movie is set. That’s where we took inspiration for our accents. They’re an outlaw family, so they’re similar to the characters in the movie.
Soderbergh doesn’t audition people; I heard I got the role because I had a certain look. I guess that means I can appear white trash-ish?
How long did it take you to nail the accent?
It took a couple sessions with our vocal coach, who gave me a lot of great tools. She wrote out my dialogue phonetically. There is a kid, Derek Whites, in The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, who I based my accent on because we were more or less the same age. So she made tapes of him and I’d listen to them over and over again. It was a lot of me in the car talking to myself in the accent, reading street names and signs.
Variety’s review of the Logan Lucky says the film paints a picture of President Donald Trump’s America without directly addressing it. Do you think your character would be a Trump supporter?
If anything, he’d be the guy campaigning for Deez Nuts. He’d be like, [imitates southern accent] “I like the guy, Deez Nuts. I like his methods.” He might know ‘all the Twitters’ but he only follows WWE wrestlers. I don’t think he’s political, and he probably can’t vote. He’s definitely not registered.
As someone who’s 25 years old, how would you say the 2016 election has affected your generation?
Most of us in Southern California were upset with the results. I hoped the outcome of Donald Trump winning would be something positive in the sense that, if Trump was elected, it would be a kick in the ass for us to go out, march, protest, sign petitions and get active. It’s an opportunity to be better people. And I hope that comes out of it. But it’s been weird. I don’t feel great as an American, knowing that he’s representing us, especially with what recently happened in Charlottesville.
I hoped the outcome of Donald Trump winning would be something positive in the sense that, if Trump was elected, it would be an opportunity to be better people.
You don’t shy away from politics on social media. Do you think it’s important that celebrities use their influence for political advocacy?
I think so. A lot of it has to do with the art that celebrities make. If anybody is hurt by what’s happening, there can be a piece of art that heals. However, a lot of the influence has to do with action being more powerful than words. As a public figure, you need to actually go out there and try to change things. Don’t just talk about it on social media. A real way to do that is making art and movies that shine a light on something that can open people’s minds.
Youth advocacy and activism is at an all-time high in the age of Trump. Why do you think that is?
It’s about what Trump represents. I’m a straight white guy–and I acknowledge that some of the negative effects of his presidency don’t necessarily affect me–but I remember I was in a bar on the night of the election thinking it was going to a celebration. I was there with my girlfriend and a lot of her friends, some of whom were gay or people of color, and I saw them break down. It was heartbreaking. People really felt scared that night. Nobody should feel that way.
Heretofore, your most recognized role was Marvel in The Hunger Games. Do you have any horror stories from how fans of the series approached you in public?
When the movie first came out I had a lot of people like, “You killed Rue!” When I posted anything on Instagram—not even Hunger Games-related—there would be at least one comment asking why I killed Rue. I understand it’ll be a thing that follows me for the rest of my life.
I recently realized it might go longer than that, because I have a sister who just turned 12 and is now at the age where she can watch the movie. As soon as she saw it she was like, “I’m so upset with you. If you ever come to my school there’s going to be a lot of kids who are also very upset with you.” As long as the movie stays popular, there will be wave after wave of kids who hate me. Before my sister saw the movie, she had no idea. Now she’s like, “Why did you do that?! Why did you kill the most adorable character?”
Well it’s true. You did.
I did. I done did it.
In March, it was announced you’ll be in the film adaptation of the classic arcade game Rampage with Dwayne Johnson. Can you give us any details about your role or the film?
I don’t think I can give away too much, but I loved working with Dwayne Johnson. There’s also Jason Liles, who plays the main ape, George, who was incredible to work with. You forget that he’s a guy in a motion-capture suit. He did everything so well; you begin to empathize for him as a gorilla. One day he invited me to the Atlanta Zoo and we visited the gorilla exhibit. He would go there every week to study the gorillas for a couple hours. It was fascinating. I’ve always been a fan of the Planet of the Apes movies and to see how it all works was incredible.
I see you do a lot of live performances. Word has it you’re working on a one-man show about a partying wizard?
I’m very glad you’re asking about this! I’m very happy Party Wizard is in Playboy now. A while ago, I lived with one of my best friends and we’d throw costume parties. One of them was medieval/fantasy. It’s not a theme I love. I don’t watch Game of Thrones. So I was like, I’ll just go with a wizard with a not-so-great costume from a store. Then I put on sunglasses and dressed him up like a party wizard and I thought it was a lot more fun. Under the costume I wore cargo shorts and a fishing vest and in each of the pockets I hid a mini bottle of alcohol and I would go up to somebody, distract them with one hand, and with the other hand I’d be reaching into my fishing vest and pull out Patron or something and be like, “Expecto Patron!”
People were inebriated enough to where they believed real magic was happening and it became a thing I started doing at parties. It was so dumb. But then I started coming up with a backstory for him. I’ve written it. I’m in the middle of filming little segments that will be screened throughout the show. It’ll be a 45-minute show that’s basically a TED Talk about why partying is important and how it can save the world.
Do you have any interest in writing for film?
I write a lot. I’m in a sketch group called Sasquatch; we put a lot of stuff up on YouTube and we’re supposed to make a movie in the fall. We wrote a script for that. So that’ll be a dream come true. I really want to star in a movie I’ve written and I guess I’m on my way to doing that. If this Party Wizard thing delivers, we could have a film deal on our hands.
Logan Lucky is in theaters August 18.