When Dennis Quaid first found out he’d be spending four months filming in the African desert, he had his doubts.
“I was really hesitant about coming up here to tell you the truth, because it’s all sand,” he said during a break in shooting for a remake of the 1965 action adventure “The Flight of the Phoenix.”
“But it turns out to be a really great place. The people are fantastic, and there’s a lot to do.”
The movie, set in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, is being filmed in the colorful Namib dunes, south of Swakopmund, a pleasant palm-lined seaside resort full of restaurants and outdoor cafes.
Quaid is staying in a luxury beachfront home. On his way to and from the set, he zips up and down the dunes on a quad bike provided by the producers — something, he said, “they are probably regretting.”
In the film, Quaid’s plane crashes in the desert, and the survivors try to build a new aircraft from the wreckage.
“It’s a really great story. It’s a story of hope and survival,” he said in between quick bites of lunch — curry, samosas and nan bread — in his trailer. “It was one of my favorite movies as a kid, actually.”
But when he had another look at the original, starring James Stewart, he noticed there was little action and few special effects.
“As far as today’s standards go, there’s a lot more that can be done,” particularly with the plane crash and sandstorms, he said.
The remake uses four different planes and makes liberal use of pyrotechnics.
Quaid is in costume, which consists of stubble, a deep tan and a pair of dirty flight pants. The 49-year-old actor seems relaxed and is in excellent physical shape, which he credits to working all day in the sand.
“You just can’t move that quick. It’s hard on your back at the end of the day,” he said.
A different world
While this isn’t the first Hollywood production to come to Swakopmund, the movie has created a stir in the small southern African town. Quaid regularly appears on the front pages of local newspapers, and residents swap tales of cast sightings.
Prime Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab visited the set to welcome the cast and crew.
John Moore (“Behind Enemy Lines”) is directing the movie. Filming started in November, with a break over Christmas, and continues through February. The film will be released later this year.
Quaid’s career — which includes starring roles in “The Right Stuff,” “Far From Heaven” and “The Rookie” — has taken him to many parts of the globe, but this is his first time in Africa, and he’s made a point of seeing the country.
The actor was struck by the devastating effects of AIDS in a nation where 22 percent of the 1.8 million people live with HIV.
“One in four babies here is pretty much born with it,” he said. “I think the whole world should be doing more to fight AIDS.”
Quaid has donated medical equipment to an ambulance service and is scouting for children’s hospitals that could benefit from funding from a charity he works with, International Hospitals for Children.
His only regret has been being so far away from home. A large Texas flag waves above the Houston native’s trailer, and CNN is always playing in the background.
His 12-year-old son, Jack Henry, from his former marriage to actress Meg Ryan, joined him recently on the set. Now, he said, he has everything he needs.
“I’m really grateful for that,” he said.