I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t shocked to see Dennis Quaid playing an abusive father who could only be described as a monster. I’ve lost count of how many times I watched Quaid light up the big screen playing charismatic and loving characters . How can you not fall in love with his trademarked smile?
Don’t expect to see him flashing his one-of-a-kind smile a lot in I Can Only Imagine. However, when he finally smiles it’s worth the wait.
Quaid co-stars in I can Only Imagine which is inspired by Greenville, Texas resident Bart Millard who is the lead singer in the popular group MercyMe. Quaid plays Bart’s father, Arthur Millard, who is the inspiration of the song “I can Only Imagine.”
I had the chance to sit down with Quaid to ask him about his experience and share the reasoning behind why he took on such a difficult role.
An Exclusive Interview with Dennis Quaid
What’s it like to play the “bad guy”?
“To play a bad guy in a film is usually the most fun. It’s fun to play when it like it is in a comic book.” Quaid said.
“This is a true story and in this story I don’t see Arthur as a bad guy. I see him as a person who is a product of his own circumstances growing up. To play an abusive father who was described by Bart as a monster. Which is who he was for most of their relationship. For me that was difficult. I won’t say I was hesitate to take the role.”
A powerful story
Quaid admits even though he is a Christian, he never heard the song “I can Only Imagine” before the script landed in front of him.
He describes how it happened, “They sent the script and the CD. I put the CD aside and read the story. I read the script as an audience member. I experienced the story. That is why I did it. It was such a powerful story.”
After reading the script, Quaid sat down with Bart and heard his whole story.
“He is very brave to tell his story.” Quaid said.
“It’s a story of redemption after walking through hell and fire for both of them. I was so touched.”
His first time listening to “I can Only Imagine”
After listening to the CD, Quaid said, “I see why it’s the biggest Christian song there ever was.”
Quaid adds, “When you hear the song, you aren’t listening to Bart’s story. It touches you and becomes your story. A lot of people took the song as you were talking to Jesus and that you could be talking to Jesus. You don’t really have to be a Christian to make it personal to yourself. I hope that audiences feel the same way about the movie.”
Breaking the chain
This film focuses on abusive parents and the effects it has on children. Though at times it can be gut wrenching to watch, Quaid offers hope.
Quaid adds, “I think that many abusive parents were abused children. You add to that your own life experience. Your stunted dreams and you transfer your life experiences to your children. When it comes to abuse, you carry on that chain. This movie is a wonderful story because it’s true and Bart and Arthur were able to break that chain through divine intervention and human willingness.”
Quaid shares his own personal experience with abuse through his Dad who ultimately broke the chain.
“My Dad was a fantastic dad who was a frustrated actor. He was the key reason that my brother and I became actors. He was not an abusive dad. He wasn’t very good at getting the switch out to tell you the truth. He himself was somewhat an abusive child himself or should I say ignored for what ever reason by my grandfather.
My Father broke the chain of that with his own Dad. I have a lot of respect for him for that.
I remember walking into a place with him when I was twelve. My grandfather was in there and he hadn’t seen him in a long time. My father said “hi” to him. My grandfather did not know who he was. My father made light of it but I could see the hurt.
He didn’t pass that on to my brother and I.
You have to become your own father. Which is what happened to Bart. For Bart that became Jesus. He became saved and so did Bart. That is what changed their lives.”
Sharing a love of music with Bart
If you didn’t know, Quaid also has his own band and that love of music made it easy for him and Bart to relate to one another.
“Music is what started this story. Everyone has a hole in their heart about something in life. The song is a song about hope and inspiration and what it will be like after. I wrote a song twenty- five years ago named “On My Way to Heaven” for my mother. I never finished it. During the shooting of the film, I finished writing it. It was missing the bridge. I did not finish it in time for it to be on the soundtrack which is okay because it’s Bart’s story. However, they are going to add the song to the DVD release.”
How does Quaid feel about Bart watching him act out his father?
“I imagine it was very tough for him to watch his life being played out.
I wanted to get it right for him first. Then, everyone else.” Quaid said.
I can Only Imagine hits theaters March 16. Buy tickets now.
I Can Only Imagine Teaser Trailer
About I Can Only Imagine
Based on the incredible true-life story that inspired the beloved, chart-topping song, I Can Only Imagine is a song that brings ultimate hope to so many… often in the midst of life’s most challenging moments. Amazingly, the song was written in mere minutes by MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard. In reality, those lyrics took a lifetime to craft.
Although he found faith at a young age, life wasn’t easy for Bart. He leaned into an active imagination and his love of music as escapes from a troubled home life. As he grew older, Bart turned to football in hopes of somehow connecting with his abusive father. But a career-ending injury—combined with the vision of a teacher who saw unlimited potential—set Bart on a musical pathway. Chasing a dream while running from broken relationships with his father and Shannon, his childhood sweetheart, Bart hits the road in an old, decrepit tour bus with his new band MercyMe—named for his grandmother’s favorite expression. With the guidance of a grizzled music-industry insider, the band begins a journey none of them could ever have imagined.
Directed by the Erwin Brothers, I can Only Imagine stars Dennis Quaid, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer, J. Michael Finley, Madeline Carroll, and Cloris Leachman.