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‘The Express’: Play by Play Q&As

[IMG:L]The Express tells the true story of Ernie Davis, the first black college football player to win the Heisman Trophy, from two perspectives: First from Ernie himself (Rob Brown), and then by his coach, Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid). Davis broke social boundaries playing for Syracuse University in the ’60s, against racial tensions that threatened to escalate off the field. Reflecting on the lives of Davis and Schwartzwelder, Quaid calls the plays and Brown executes the moves to bring the story to life.

Play #1: The Inspirational Blitz

Dennis Quaid: “I didn’t really know about Ernie Davis, to tell you the truth. I’d heard his name but I didn’t really know about him or Ben Schwartzwelder before. I read the script and the story hit me. The script hit me right in the gut and the heart, a place where I really don’t have words. It’s inspiring.”

Rob Brown: “Most inspiring to me is [Davis’] effect on people. There are people my age–I’m 24–in Syracuse with anecdotes about Ernie that were passed down from their parents and so forth. It sticks with them until this day. I think the most inspiring thing is the fact that people look at him as such as example. People would think about things and say, ‘Well, what would Ernie do in this situation?’ I find myself doing that even up until this point I think I’m more mature as a function of getting to know Ernie a little bit.”

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[IMG:R]Play #2: The Racial Injustice Stiff-Arm

Dennis Quaid: “I remember the segregation and the racism which was certainly more overt in the South of that era. I grew up in Houston and I remember separate restrooms and drinking fountains. Black people sat in the balcony of the movie theater with separate concession stands. My generation I think started to question that and certainly the Civil Rights movement came long and it really started to bubble up. But that was the way things were.”

Rob Brown: “Things I complain about today, after being put in that situation on set is, like, man, I really have nothing to complain about. So I just feel as though if Ernie could overcome those odds and such adversity in the late ‘50s and throughout his life then I really have no excuse. I should succeed despite any adversity I face today. Stop whining.”

Play #3 The Biographical Research Man-to-Man Defense

Dennis Quaid: “I was really trying to go for Ben and capture his spirit. He was a real person and I feel a responsibility to try to capture his spirit. I mean, I’ve been around enough football games and been around enough coaches to kind of know the routine. I had really great access. The best you could get was Jim Brown. He was a friend of mine from when we did Any Given Sunday together. He’s a straight talker and told me what Ben was like and his own relationship with Ben where they really kind of butted heads quite a few times, and also helped recruit Ernie.”

Rob Brown: “Mostly just watching game film actually, because there’s not much media on Ernie. It was kind of a curse, but it was kind of a gift because there’s no blueprint. I think the thing that’s daunting is just the responsibility associated with the role to him, his family, to Syracuse, to the Brown’s organization, to Jim Brown–definitely don’t want to get him upset–but with that responsibility I took it on because I figured it was a dream role and it was an honor to walk in his shoes for a minute.”

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[IMG:L]Play #4: The Character Arc Running Sweep

Dennis Quaid: “Therein lies the conflict I think in the film. By today’s standards, I think [Schwartzwalder] would be labeled a racist. I think he was a man of his times. I think most white Americans would be labeled racist based on what the attitudes were back then. We tried to approach the question of race and segregation that existed. We tried to approach it honestly and not be so politically correct about it. He was a complex person. He was a groundbreaker in the sense that he was one of the first coaches to actively recruit African-American players to his team. But it wasn’t any kind of sociological reason or anything like that. They could play. Yeah, he evolved. I think more than anything else, it was because of the personal relationship that he had with Ernie. I think Ernie changed him.”

Rob Brown: “What I want [audiences] to get is just general knowledge of Ernie. I just want to generate that interest of Ernie because everyone knows about Jackie Robinson. Nobody knows about Ernie. I didn’t know about him, and I played college football. In a lot of ways, he’s responsible for whatever success I have as a college athlete. I just want people to know about Ernie’s story, like a lost history lesson. He looked at people as if race didn’t exist. You couldn’t deny him just like you couldn’t deny him the Heisman.”

Play #5: The Sports Metaphor Fake Out

Dennis Quaid: “Certainly people that I’ve talked to who really don’t care about football, especially women, seem to find something in the story because it’s an emotional story. It’s about more than football. Even if you don’t like sports, I think there’s something in it for you because it is an inspiring story. The Express really, I think, is about living your life gracefully. If God’s grace is bestowed upon you, you live your life to its full effect. Ernie Davis really embodied that.”

Rob Brown: “Football is football and that’s all fun for me. I just wanted to be prepared, so whenever I work I just try to be as prepared as possible. Even for auditions I just like to think that I’m so prepared that I have to book it. So I treated this no different. I just wanted to be prepared every day I worked.”

[IMG:R]Play #6: The Co-Star Bonding Golf Crossover

Dennis Quaid: “Some reporter was asking Rob about who was the better athlete, me or him. He said, ‘Oh, come on, there’s no question.’ So he asked me and I said, “Well, tell Rob to meet me on the first tee.’ I took Rob out, he’s got a lot of natural ability. He’s going to be good. I think I got him hooked.”

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Rob Brown: “I have a healing blister on my thumb because he took me out with Dr. Gross and Jim Beheim to the golf course last week. I’d never played before and it’s a wrap for me now. I’m hooked.”

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