Why 'Plus One' Star Jack Quaid Thinks Every Rom-Com Should Start With an Escape Room (Exclusive)

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Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images

Jack Quaid has turned 27, which means at any point now he will enter that phase in life -- "wedding fiesta," as he calls it -- when seemingly everyone you know decides to get married. That barrage of nuptials, which dominates so many peoples' late 20s and early 30s, is the backdrop for the actor's new romantic comedy, Plus One, about best friends Ben (Quaid) and Alice (PEN15's Maya Erskine) who agree to be each other's dates for 10 weddings over the course of one summer.

Though the fiesta has yet to begin for Quaid, starring in Plus One taught him an important lesson for when it does. "Weddings can be a hotbed for your anxiety," he told ET by phone. "Especially if it's somebody that you've known for so long and they're taking this huge life step. It makes you reflect on your own life, and whether that's a positive or a negative thing, it can be pretty high stakes, even if you're someone in the periphery of a wedding,"

"I do feel a little bit more prepared now that I've done this movie, even though they were all fake weddings," Quaid added. Here, he opens up about his chemistry with Erskine, starting his career after The Hunger Games and the possibility of acting opposite his parents, Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid.

ET: How did Plus One come to you? Was it the script that came your way and you picked it out of a pile, or how did it all manifest itself?

Jack Quaid: I wish I picked it out of a pile. I wish it was like, there was a pile of scripts, I closed my eyes and I touched one and then it turned out to be it. (Laughs.) This came to me, you know, through my representation, and I took a look at it and I just immediately loved it. And then what drew me in even further was that the directors, Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer, we just all clicked immediately and meeting Maya, we all did an escape room for our first official meeting with the four of us. That was great, because it was a wizard-themed escape room, and it's really hard to be, like, a self-serious actor when you're using wands to solve puzzles.

What about that escape room experience set everything in motion? That is a very specific first introduction to someone. What about that made you say, "Yeah, I want to do this"?

Oh, I had already decided I wanted to do it by that time. I get how the way I said that made it seem that somehow the escape room was the audition for them. I'm like, "If we can get out of this escape room, I'll do the movie." No, I wish I could meet every cast that way, just through something that's very silly and fun and bonds you together because you escape the room. We actually did it.

Well, congratulations. That's great.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Were you specifically looking to do a romantic comedy, or was this a situation where it happened that the best script was a romantic comedy?

I try to look for good material, I think, and that's all you can really ask for. No matter what genre it's in, if it's good writing, it's good writing. That's the best it can get. If the words you're saying are easy to say, you're golden.

And Plus One is a more than that, but it at the center of the story it is a romantic comedy. I'm hesitant to call it a rom-com, because they often get a bad rap. The perception of rom-coms is still that they're viewed as less than.

Sure.

To me, that's all wrong. But what about this script and the way the story was executed do you feel elevates the movie? It's a very unique, kind of gritty, modern take on the romantic comedy tropes, I suppose.

I think you said it really well. I think the movie almost becomes a romantic comedy in the middle, but before that it's a buddy movie and I really liked that. It's not like it's a complete genre shift like -- what was the movie with George Clooney and the vampires? It's not a From Dusk Till Dawn genre shift. But that's something Maya and I talked about a lot while we were shooting is that at its heart, it's really a movie about friendship. These are two best friends who ultimately make the realization that "the one" can just be a person that you want to spend as much time with as possible.

I think that's what separates it, because you can have somebody you love, but finding someone you love that's also your best friend is kind of the best it can get. I feel like that is a more modern, more realistic take on the rom-com genre. [And] I like that it is kind of picking apart the rom-com genre, but it's not a parody or a spoof or a, you know, "You think we're going to do this trope but sike!" The way we do that is through Ben. I always felt like Ben is a guy that watched a lot of rom-coms growing up but just took all the wrong lessons from them. I think a lot of people struggle with the idealism of romance and Ben's a character who finds out that love takes work but that's OK.

I really bought into the Alice-Ben friendship and romance from the jump. I spoke to Maya and she said there was no chemistry read or anything like that.

No! There wasn't.

That's so risky! Especially when it's a two-hander and really reliant on the chemistry between the leads. Was that nerve-racking for you? And was that an instantaneous thing, this bond that you had with Maya, from day one? Or was the escape room that for you guys?

The escape room for sure helped. I think what lends itself to the chemistry the most is the fact that we had about two weeks of rehearsals with the directors. For the first week, we didn't use the script. We were just running through improvised scenarios as these characters and that really helped us figure out what our dynamic was. Like, stuff that doesn't happen in the movie necessarily, but like, What are they like at the aquarium? We just really nailed down the dynamics early so that by the time we actually set foot on set, we could just play. We could just say the words and the dynamic was already there and that was so valuable to me.

How similar is your dynamic onscreen to what you and Maya have off-screen?

When we're just the two of us, we're not at all like Alice and Ben. We're obviously friends, but we do not squabble like that, at all. (Laughs.) It is a pretty chill, relaxed time when it's just the two of us and we're not in character. We're never debating things as intensely as Alice and Ben do. It's respectful. She's not invading my space and I'm not criticizing everything about her. We're friends, but in the best sense of it.

I want to ask you a couple career questions. Your first role was in The Hunger Games, which was a massive franchise. Was there any struggle in determining how you wanted to navigate your career after that? Like, did you remember making specific decisions? Were there things that you wanted to do or wanted to avoid after?

Well, back then I never expected Hunger Games to be my first movie! I actually probably expected to be the best friend in a rom-com -- as my 19-year-old self -- but instead, I was a child murderer in a dystopian future. (Laughs.) That was a franchise that people knew before the movies came out, obviously, because the books were so popular, so that was a lot to start. But in terms of picking roles next, I didn't have that many credits under my belt, so I just went back to school and tried to learn as much as possible. I think at that point [I had the] same philosophy that I live by today which is, if it's good material, I'll try to be in it. I'll go in, I'll read, I'll do the work, I'll do whatever.

And as the son of two actors, did that make you want to be an actor or did you want to be an actor despite that?

What really made me want to be an actor was I was 13 and I had just gotten to this new school -- and I had always toyed with the idea of being an actor, just because I had two people in my life that did it and seemed to have a lot of fun doing it -- so I auditioned for a school play and I got the role of Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. And that play was just like, magical to me. There was a director, her name's Virginia Russell, she made theater and acting feel like magic and she made all these teenagers from Santa Monica interested in a play that's hundreds of years old. (Laughs.) And the camaraderie I felt with the cast and then I got my first laugh on stage and I was like, "That's it. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life." That, I think, is where I track the interest back to.

Your mom directed you in Ithaca, but you haven't actually starred opposite either of your parents. Is that a bucket list item you want to at some point? Or has that been something you've discussed?

I mean, for sure. I'd love to work with them. In the earlier stages of my career, I was very interested in carving my own path, that I do work based off my own merit, but then there is other part of me that's like, "Yeah! My parents are cool!" I would love to work with them some day. I think a lot of it is finding the right project but, no I'm not taking that off the table at all.

Lastly, I'm very excited for The Boys, which is a completely different project from Plus One or anything that you have done in the past.

So different. A lot more blood in The Boys.

How excited are you to get to have that come out and have people see you in a totally different role? [The Boys premieres on Amazon Prime Video on July 26.]

I feel really lucky. I did two projects last year that I really genuinely loved doing, The Boys and Plus One, and the fact that they are coming out within a month of each other is really surreal. All I feel is gratitude and I feel so lucky to be in projects that I genuinely care about. And they're both so different, but I had so much fun on both and I think they offer a lot. The Boys is, surprisingly, a pretty deep character study of superheroes and I think it's going to take a lot of people by surprise. And Plus One is a character study as well, so I just feel super lucky to be in two things that I think are really good and I'm just excited for the world to see them.

Plus One is available on VOD, Digital HD and in theaters on Friday, June 14.

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