Jack Quaid reminds me of someone.
As I watched him move through a handful of scenes in the pilot episode of Amazon’s “The Boys,” I kept thinking he was a mix between Joshua Jackson and Adam Brody — a touch of Pacey Witter’s confidence with a dash of Seth Cohen’s humor.
Then, I succumbed to the blatant realization that he just looks a lot like his famous parents.
“Yes, that’s how genetics work,” Quaid told me as we joked about his uncanny resemblance to his mom, Meg Ryan, and his dad, Dennis Quaid, over the phone this week. “I’ve heard some people say I’m a 50/50 split, and I’d agree with that. I’m pretty much down the middle.”
Despite being the son of Hollywood’s rom-com queen and her actor ex-husband with the mega-watt smile ― the two ended their 10-year marriage in 2001 ― Quaid said he wanted to earn his own way in the industry. Using his privilege to climb the ladder was not something he wanted to do.
After he turned 18, Quaid began auditioning for roles and was eventually cast as a “glorified extra” in 2012′s “The Hunger Games,” his first feature film. In the dystopian franchise based on Suzanne Collins’ books, he played Marvel, the District 1 tribute responsible for killing fan favorite Rue (Amandla Stenberg) during the 74th Hunger Games. “No matter what I post on Instagram now, there’s at least one comment that’s like, ‘You killed Rue!’ Yup, I know. And I’m officially really sorry,” he said. “But I didn’t really kill her!”
After that villainous role, Quaid went on to shoot a ton of short films before landing supporting roles in Martin Scorsese’s short-lived HBO series “Vinyl” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky.” This year, however, seems to be a turning point for the future leading man.
In June, Quaid and Maya Erskine earned solid reviews for their crackling chemistry in the indie rom-com “Plus One,” in which they star as friends who agree to be each other’s dates to a summer’s worth of weddings. Now, Quaid is set to steal every viewer’s heart in “The Boys,” based on the very graphic comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, which tells the story of a world where superheroes exist but are corrupted by their celebrity status.
Quaid plays good guy Hughie Campbell, an electronic store employee who is thrust into a world of violence after a personal tragedy leads him to Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), a Machiavellian antagonist whose goal is to wipe out an elite group of superheroes called The Seven, controlled by Madelyn Stillwell (a fantastic Elisabeth Shue) of Vought International. “The Boys” is daring and vulgar, cringeworthy yet delightful. Creators Eric Kripke, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg push the boundaries of superhero fatigue by saturating the show with brutality, off-color humor and chaos.
And, oddly enough, it works.
“It’s not trying to take down franchises as much as it’s trying to subvert expectations and talk about the culture around all of that,” Quaid said. “We talk about absolute power corrupting absolutely. We talk about the Me Too movement. And we talk about them in surprisingly real ways, considering it’s a show where people can fly. It has a deeper meaning and relevancy, but is also trying to entertain as much as possible.”
Below, Quaid talks more about what drew him to play Hughie in “The Boys,” his life as a celebrity kid and what his parents taught him about being an actor.
I saw you charming the hosts on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Today Show” this week, just living your best life.
[Laughs] Living my best life in clothes I’m never in in real life, so it’s been good. It’s been nice.
A nice few weeks for sure with “Plus One” and now “The Boys.” How are you feeling in this moment?
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I’m just trying to take this all in and have at least one moment each day to be grateful for where I’m at. I just feel really good to be a part of two projects that I genuinely care about and like talking about, especially “The Boys.” The cast is so bonded at this point now that we’re going into a second season, and I’m just so thankful I have this job. It’s been amazing.
A Season 2 before Season 1 even debuted! What was it like for the cast to hear the show was going to continue?
It was incredible, and we were all just super excited. I was doing a photo shoot on the street in LA, and Erin Moriarty — who plays Starlight — saw me, pulled up in her car and just screamed that we had a Season 2 at me. So that’s how I found out.
That sounds like it’s out of a rom-com.
It’s like, straight-up, does that ever happen?! But it was great, amazing news and we’re just all happy to be back.
Talk to me about Hughie Campbell. What was it about this role that made you go after it?
I relate to Hughie in a lot of ways. I love his relationship with Billy Butcher ― it’s a fun older brother, little brother relationship, but in a demented way. And I love his relationship with his dad [Simon Pegg] and with Starlight, which is in complete contrast to the relationship he has with Butcher. I love that he’s just a normal, average dude in a certainly not-average situation, and he’s a part I’ve always wanted to play. In my career, I’ve played a lot of — I call them “The Great White Ships,” people who are trying to antagonize the main character in some kind of way. So I like that I get to play an actually sympathetic character for once in my life! That was really nice.
Hughie is slightly insecure, a self-confessed James Taylor fan who gets wrapped up in this unbelievably violent tirade against these beloved superheroes. Did you automatically think, “I have to play this role”?
Totally. I wasn’t aware that it was based off a comic book, originally. I just thought someone took the world as it is now and inserted superheroes into it. It was just a great script from Eric Kripke, so I thought, “I have to be a part of this. If not Hughie, just some guy on the street waving at A-Train [Jessie T. Usher] or Homelander [Antony Starr]. Just get me in the show! I don’t care how!” And then to audition for not only Eric but Seth and Evan was super nerve-wracking. I’m huge fans of theirs and “Supernatural” and “Superbad” and all that stuff, so I’m still pinching myself. I can’t believe it happened.
You mentioned that the show is based on a comic book, yet it’s very much a clapback to what’s happening in our world and even in the industry these days — superheroes and Disney/Marvel box-office hits. What’s your take on what “The Boys” is trying to say?
It’s interesting because Eric Kripke always says that when he spoke with Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson about the comic, they were saying, “Well, we were really fascinated by what happens when the worst of politics meets the worst of celebrity.” And at the time, they were like, “Crazy idea, right?” And now we have a reality show president, and it almost feels like our world and the world in the show are getting almost a little too close in a lot of ways. But I do think we talk about things that need to be talked about.
Truthfully, there are some lines that make me cringe as a woman, but then it switches misogyny on its head with things like full-frontal male nudity or by showing Madelyn’s new motherhood woes. Eric Kripke has found an interesting way to balance out his self-professed vulgarity.
He definitely does. With a show called “The Boys,” you definitely need to equalize that with as much girl power as possible, and I think we have that in spades. And yeah, it does have a lot of vulgarity and it’s super bombastic and insane, but I do think that what’s going to surprise people is the amount of heart and relatable storylines. It’s a surprisingly deep character study of everybody ― not just the good guys, but the bad guys, too. I think it’s going to take a lot of people off guard.
In the pilot episode, we see Starlight face an uncomfortable situation with one of the superheroes, The Deep [Chace Crawford], who sexually assaults her. It’s a powerful scene, setting the tone for the show’s big picture. What if the superheroes aren’t really the good guys?
I like getting a different take on the superhero genre and one that we haven’t really seen done quite like this. I’ve always been a huge superhero fan, and I like that this wasn’t a parody show exactly, but it’s trying to ask, “OK, if superpowers were real, what would the world look like?” And I thought this is probably the most realist version of it, barring a few crazy things that happen. I love the fact that I got to be in a superhero show, but not only that, a super unique one.
Do you kind of credit Seth and Evan, too, for playing a role in pushing the boundaries but with a bit of humor?
Absolutely. I think they get a lot of credit for being “the funny guys,” which they definitely are, but I think a lot of people overlook that they’re just incredible storytellers as well, and they definitely had input on this entire project. They were there the entire time we shot the pilot, which was just amazing to have their insight. And, yeah, I think they definitely helped us reach new levels, for sure.
You did say Seth Rogen was a bit of a hero for you, so was it nerve-wracking to work with him? You did grow up on sets, of course, so you might be used to seeing some heroes walking around.
No, no, no. I still get very much starstruck. I was very starstruck by Simon Pegg. He is a real hero of mine, and the fact that he got to play my dad is absolutely nuts because in the original comic book, Darick Robertson drew Hughie modeled after Simon Pegg, circa “Spaced” — because that was out around the time — and having him in the show is a nod to that. I love that I got to work with one of my heroes, and he’s the nicest possible guy and I learned so much from just watching him. It was incredible.
Yeah, there was a little “Star Trek” reunion happening with Simon and Karl Urban. And now you were just cast in the animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks.”
I know. I got to tell them at our Tribeca premiere, like, “Hey guys, I’m animated but I’m kind of there with you! I’ve joined the Star Forge.” But as a nerd, we shot this before I got cast in “Lower Decks,” so when I was on set, I got to take in this beautiful reunion, and it was, indeed, beautiful.
Karl Urban’s out here in all these franchises and action movies. But I’ll always remember him as Éomer in “Lord of the Rings.”
Totally. I mean, he’s a part of, like, eight different franchises and they’re all amazing, so it’s hard not to nerd out when you’re around him.
You were in a big franchise, too — “The Hunger Games,” of course. You were briefly in it, but I’m sure you got a lot of hate for playing Marvel.
That’s what I’m talking about! I was the Great White Ship. It’s just still surreal to me that I got to be a part of that franchise and this show. What are the odds?
“Hunger Games” was your first role, correct?
Yeah. I thought my first role would be, like, the best friend in a rom-com, but it turns out I was a child murderer in a dystopian future. So that was a surprise! It felt like summer camp, you know? We were all around the same age, and it didn’t feel like that big of a movie when we were making it, even though we were looking around at all the sets and they were ginormous. But it was insane to be a part of something that people already knew about before we were done shooting it, because the books had been so successful. People are still, to this day, upset that I killed Rue in that movie, though.
“Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid’s Son Kills Beloved ‘Hunger Games’ Character.” I can see the headlines now.
“He’s the villain!” Exactly. I don’t think that’ll ever go away. And it’s totally fine if it doesn’t. I’ll embrace “The Hunger Games” fans forever.
It seems you wanted to find your own way into this industry, not using your famous parents as an “in.” Can you talk about your career path and that choice to take the reins?
I always bring it back to middle school when I was in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I was playing Nick Bottom, I got my first laugh onstage and I was like, “Yes, I want to do this.” I realized through that experience that I truly loved doing this, and if you truly love something, you want to get as good at it as you can. First off, my parents wouldn’t let me do that ― abuse my privilege in that way. But also, I just didn’t want to get ahead that way. I wanted to be as good as I possibly could, and I’m still learning and trying to be better every day. I feel like it’s not worth it if you’re not trying or expecting everything to be handed to you, because you have to work your ass off to be good at what you do.
Were your parents ever against the idea of you being an actor at all? Were they cautious about you joining the industry?
No. I think, if anything, them being actors proved to me that it was a sustainable career choice at a certain point. They were both genuinely having so much fun doing what they were doing that they never discouraged me or encouraged me. It was just like, “Oh, this is what he wants to do? Well, OK.” They weren’t really positive or negative on it, but they’ve always been super supportive.
Name your favorite Dennis Quaid movie and your favorite Meg Ryan movie.
Ooohh. Uh, favorite Dennis Quaid movie, probably “The Right Stuff.” I love that movie and I think he’s so good in it. And then my mom, I have to go with “When Harry Met Sally.” That’s just incredible.
And “You’ve Got Mail,” I have to say.
Or any of them, yeah!
I like “The Parent Trap” for your dad, to be honest.
Yeeeahhh! I’ll say that for my dad, too. That’s a tie, for sure. I love that movie.
“The Boys” is out now on Amazon Prime. This interview has been edited and condensed.