Despite the bomb dropped by his ex-wife earlier in the day, Dennis Quaid greets a visitor wearing his familiar ear-to-ear grin. No shrapnel wounds, no obvious trauma.
In fact, on the same morning that Meg Ryan's much-discussed In Style magazine accusations are hitting newsstands, Quaid seems downright chipper. Chatting on his cell phone, the star of "The Express" is preoccupied not with spin control or accusations of infidelity, but his tee time. He even rescheduled the day's interviews so he could squeeze in a round of golf at one of the high-dollar courses near his Paradise Valley hotel suite.
"Thanks for understanding," he tells the visitor, with utterly convincing humility.
The actor's hell-or-high-water resolve to hit the links begs the question: Is it a coping mechanism? Or does he simply not care that Ryan is exhuming the bones of their dead marriage for public display?
More of the latter, probably. After all, Quaid remarried after divorcing Ryan in 2001, and is the father of twin infant children (whose life-and-death struggle last year after receiving an accidental drug overdose received heavy tabloid coverage). Moreover, unlike Ryan, his career appears in excellent health. After "The Express," a weepy sports melodrama in the spirit of "Brian's Song," the actor has high-profile projects stacked throughout the next two years.
One could make the argument that Quaid is entering his prime as a performer. He certainly has more dramatic credibility than he did in his almost-matinee-idol 1980s heyday ("The Right Stuff," "The Big Easy"). After all, could an '80s'-era Quaid have played the closeted husband in "Far From Heaven" (2002) or the ego-tripping academic in "Smart People" (2008)? Age has corrupted his boyish twinkle, and allowed - or forced - the 54-year-old actor to take on more artfully-flawed characters.
"I'm having a lot more fun than I did back in the '80s," Quaid concedes. "Back then I was that guy who was just one hit movie away from being 'the deal.' Now I don't feel that pressure. I feel like I've come into my own."
Still, Quaid hasn't completely disavowed his old roguish charm. He even flips it on a couple of times in "The Express," playing grizzled Syracuse head football coach Ben Schwartzwalder, a segregation-era taskmaster who coaches late Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) to greatness.
Quaid says it was Schwartzwalder's wrong-headed crustiness - and subsequent journey toward enlightenment - that appealed to him.
"By today's standards, you'd probably call him a racist," Quaid admits. "He wasn't out there campaigning for civil rights, he thought the whole civil rights issue was an annoyance. And the drama in the movie ultimately comes from the segregation issues that existed at the time."
Quaid gleaned insight into the coach's character by talking with former Syracuse football great (and Schwartzwalder protege) Jim Brown, whom he met while filming Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday" (1999). Ultimately, he says the film is less about scoring touchdowns than "living your life gracefully, to its fullest effect."
The actor speaks more humorously of his work in director Steven Sommers' upcoming "G.I. Joe" movie, describing his character, General Hawk, as a cross between "Patton and Hugh Hefner."
"It's an interesting time right now," says Hollywood's new go-to authority figure. "To be honest, I'm just grateful to still be around."