The casting of Lawrence Wetherhold was so key to SMART PEOPLE that it happened early on, while it was still in the earliest stages of development. It was always clear that the character Mark Poirier had so carefully crafted would require an actor of great versatility, as well as courage. After all, Wetherhold is not an easy man in any sense of the word. He can be devastatingly bright or overwhelmingly bitter, haughtily self-important or deeply vulnerable, an unapologetic curmudgeon or a fragile man in need of love- no easy group of characteristics to explore in a singular performance rife with both comedy and poignancy. But when Dennis Quaid's name came up, everyone was intrigued by the idea, including Quaid.
Quaid's roles have truly run the gamut -- from a high school baseball coach in The Rookie to a high-powered attorney in Traffic to a 1950s husband hiding his homosexuality in Far From Heaven to an out-of-touch United States President in the comedy American Dreamz.
Yet, Lawrence Wetherhold was like no role he'd done before. And, despite his rather towering set of flaws, Quaid was rather touched by him. “He's a true curmudgeon and a grouch,” Quaid readily admits. “But he's also someone who's really dead inside at the beginning of the story. He might be extremely intelligent by his own account, and by others, but at the same time, he's an emotional idiot. He doesn't know how to just live life, how to embrace life.”
“Lawrence is someone very different from myself, except for the grouch part,” Quaid jokes. “He's very sedentary and lives entirely in his head and I'm much more of an extrovert, so it was hard at first to envision myself in the role. But the story was so good and that's what really attracted me. It's a very human comedy and it got to me.”
When Quaid later met with director Noam Murro, the actor still wasn't quite sure if he was right for the role, but their conversation sparked his interest even more. “I listened to Noam's ideas and they intrigued me. He really knows a lot about human behavior and in talking to him I started to think about how sometimes people do have very inappropriate reactions to life and I decided I wanted to explore that through Lawrence and not be at all conventional,” he explains.
Delving into both the humor and the heartache of Wetherhold's emotional disasters ultimately became the M.O. of Quaid's performance. His preparation included gaining 25 pounds to mirror Lawrence's lumpy, gone-to-pot physique and even giving up smoking just prior to production so that he would arrive on the set as irritable and edgy as possible!
Once the character began to come to life on the set, the filmmakers were amazed that Quaid had ever balked at the role. “I thought it was really perfect casting,” says Michael London. “We could have cast a sort of obvious East Coast, Ivy League, snobby type but that would have been a lot less interesting because we've seen that so many times before. Instead, Dennis brings something new, a more populist American presence that broadens the scope of the film.”