NEW YORK – Asked how it felt to narrate the audiobook of “The Right Stuff,” Dennis Quaid slipped right into character.
“Who’s the best narrator you ever saw? You’re looking at him,” the actor said with a laugh during a recent telephone interview, invoking a signature line as the grinning astronaut Gordon Cooper in the 1983 film production.
Released this week by Audible.com, the new edition of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 prize winner about the early years of the space program is Quaid’s first time as an audio reader. He called the experience “daunting,” explaining that the book’s 400-plus pages were more than he had remembered, and a pleasure on many levels. He loved the spark of Wolfe’s prose style, the chance to relive the making of the film and the chance to play, at least in one medium, all of the characters.
With film credits including “Great Balls of Fire!” The Big Easy” and “Traffic,” Quaid says “The Right Stuff” is his favorite. The Oscar-nominated film was directed by Philip Kaufman and also starred Ed Harris as John Glenn, Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager and Fred Ward as Gus Grissom. Wolfe had great memories of meeting Cooper, with whom he formed a long friendship, and Yeager, who one night sat with cast members in a Holiday Inn and told the “whole story, his story, the stuff that wasn’t in the book.”
Quaid is known for getting caught up in a role, like learning piano while playing Jerry Lee Lewis in “Great Balls of Fire!” And “The Right Stuff” helped renew a longtime fascination with flying and space travel, dating back to Quaid’s childhood in the Houston area. During “The Right Stuff,” he learned to navigate a plane and eventually got a pilot’s license.
His current acting projects include “I Can Only Imagine,” which comes out in March, and playing fellow Texan George W. Bush in the FX series “Katrina: American Crime Story.” He has no other audiobooks in the works, but has some ideas should anyone suggest he record another.
“Mark Twain – ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ” he says. “Some authors lend themselves to audiobooks better than others. It’s the rhythm of the speech, and I think Twain would be great to read.”