Talking with Randy Quaid -- The actor has been working overtime with roles in ''Quick Change,'' ''Days of Thunder,'' and ''Texasville''

Randy Quaid has come a long way since his gig as Snafu the clown at Houston’s AstroWorld. ”I wore a big hat, big shoes, and a hoop coat,” Quaid remembers of a high school summer job. ”Kids would come and kick me in the nuts.”

This summer’s activities have been a lot more pleasant. Quaid, a golfer with a six handicap, took some time off to work on his swing while his malleable mug has been dividing and multiplying on movie screens across the country. In Quick Change he plays Loomis, the basket-case pal of a bank-heisting Bill Murray. In Days of Thunder he’s Tim Daland, the slick-haired race-team owner. And when Texasville — Peter Bogdanovich’s long-anticipated sequel to 1971’s The Last Picture Show — opens in September, Quaid will reprise his very first movie role as Lester Marlow, the dork who escorted Cybill Shepherd to a nude swimming party.

Clearly, the guy’s had a busy year. ”There was one week when I was making three pictures,” Quaid, 39, says with a Texas languor that makes the implementation of such a schedule tough to envision. ”I was doing Cold Dog Soup (a cold dog that went straight to videotape) in the morning, reshoots of Martians Go Home in the afternoon, and then at the end of the week I went to Colorado for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Now Quaid, in a Manhattan hotel suite that’s serving as his home away from home, is relishing his own vacation. ”I may not do another movie for…months,” he says. But, he mentions, he will be doing a TV series. He just signed on to star as the high school headmaster in ABC’s as- yet-unscheduled half-hour comedy show, The Principal, featuring Jonathan Winters as Quaid’s father. Reticent to take on the grind of a series, Quaid says he ultimately decided to join the new venture (produced by Carsey-Werner, the team responsible for both The Cosby Show and Roseanne) because ”Winters was one of my childhood heroes. I like the subject matter, and they offered me lots of money.” As his Matsuda and Armani sportswear suggests, Quaid admits he likes ”to live well. I can’t say I sacrifice all for my art.”

So it’s not surprising that when it came to signing up for one of his summer movie roles, the title Quick Change had a promising ring right from the start. ”Bill Murray sent me the book,” says Quaid. ”I turned it down. I didn’t like the part. A year later he sent me the script. I turned it down. I didn’t like the part. He sent me the rewrite. I turned it down. I didn’t like the part. Finally Bill said, ‘What would make you do this movie?’ I said, ‘This much money.”’

In retrospect Quaid would have played Loomis ”for free. Almost.” Not only did he get to barf noisily into one of his gloves as a whining faux bank hostage, but he also got to work with Murray and Geena Davis. ”We’re three of the tallest actors in Hollywood,” says Quaid, who is six four and a newly trim 210 pounds.(His dietary credo: If you can keep it out of the house you can keep it out of your mouth.) ”It was great. We could look each other in the eye.”

After 33 movies, Quaid says he can still look himself in the eye as well. ”There are a couple of clunkers,” he admits, ”but I’m pleased with most everything I’ve done.” As a spin through any video store will show, his range is impressive. Quaid has done horror (Parents), drama (Fool for Love), Westeens (The Missouri Breaks), and comedy (Caddyshack II and National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, in which he plays the part for which he’s best known: Cousin Eddie, the freeloader from hell). Included in the clunker category is something called Sweet Country, in which Quaid plays a leering Chilean soldier — with a curious French-Texan accent. ”It was shot in Athens,” Quaid says. ”I wanted to go to Greece.”

”Randy can do anything,” says director Bogdanovich, who organized his Texasville shooting schedule to accommodate the only five days Quaid had free to give him. ”He’s a natural. As a character actor he’s at an awkward age to play a leading man, but he’s going to be great when he’s in his 50s.” Texasville costar Cybill Shepherd agrees: ”Randy has a rare combination of great comedy and great drama.”

So far Quaid’s eccentrics have out-box officed his straight men, but he has earned plenty of respect for his dramatic performances. His hapless sailor role in 1973’s The Last Detail, with Jack Nicholson, won him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. And his TV portrayal of Lyndon Johnson, in 1987’s LBJ: The Early Years, put him up for an Emmy.

Quaid grew up in Houston, where he shared a room with his younger actor brother Dennis until he was 14. The two appeared together as one of the brother duos in the 1980 Western The Long Riders and in a 1983 Off-Broadway production of Sam Shepard’s True West. Despite the fact that the onstage fisticuffs occasionally went into round two in the dressing room, ”We were always tight,” Randy says. ”Still are.”

Meanwhile, they are scheduled for a different kind of collaboration in September, when Randy will play best man at Dennis’ wedding to Meg Ryan. It’s a return engagement of sorts. When Dennis was late for Randy’s wedding last fall to Evi Motolanez, Meg stood in as best man.

In addition to a wife, that ceremony earned Randy center stage. ”I’ve played leads and I’ve played supporting roles; it doesn’t much matter to me.” Pause. ”Well, I like playing leads. You get more screen time, you get more money, and you get the girl.”

Which is what happened when Quaid was shooting the low-budget Bloodhounds of Broadway with Madonna in 1989. Motolanez was his driver. ”We met on the first day of shooting and got engaged at the wrap party,” Evi says, who also had a cameo in Cold Dog Soup.

Randy’s next moment will be in the upcoming Texasville, the set of which he likened to a high school reunion. Until then, Quaid and Evi are being joined by his daughter from a previous marriage, Amanda, 7, at their house in Montecito, Calif. When Amanda is at her mother’s home in New York, she and Randy talk on the phone regularly, and Amanda’s nighttime ”reading” includes an audio tape dad made of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. Quaid is considering buying her a fax machine ”so we can do homework together.”

This winter they can compare their school schedules. Aside from The Principal, Quaid is developing a Cousin Eddie spinoff movie and considering a sequel to his Johnson role, LBJ: The Later Years. ”But I think he should wait ’til he’s 60 for that,” Evi says. ”Otherwise it’s a lot of makeup talking.” She also thinks they should wait to have a family. While Quaid shouts from another room that he’d sure like to have some more kids, she says, ”I’m only 26. It’s a little farther down the road.”

Quaid’s not complaining. ”I always dreamed this would happen to me,” he says of his success. ”I’d like to do a stage play and win an Academy Award. But I could pretty much live with this,” he adds, sinking into an easy chair, ”for the rest of my life.”

Quick Change
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