Teddy Roosevelt was known for so many indelible traits — including his toothy smile.
So Aidan Quinn, who plays him in “The American Guest,” made Roosevelt’s choppers a priority when getting into character for the HBO Max series, shot on location in Brazil and in the Amazon jungle.
“One of the first things I was insistent on with [director] Bruno [Barreto] — I kept looking at pictures and watching videos and looking at photos of him smiling and laughing — was that we find a dentist to help make me those teeth,” Quinn, 62, told The Post. “We did find a dentist in Sao Paulo … and it worked out fantastically.”
(Quinn also gained 25 pounds for the role: “I still have some of it, which my wife tells me about on a daily basis,” he said.)
The four-part series chronicles Roosevelt’s 1914 expedition into the jungle with Brazilian explorer Col. Candido Rondon (Chico Diaz) to chart the course of the unknown Rio da Dúvida (“River of Doubt”) in the Amazon basin, where they encounter indigenous inhabitants of the region and deal with harsh, unpredictable elements. It was just two years after the former president was shot while running for reelection as a Progressive in his “Bull Moose” Party — and then promptly gave a 90-minute campaign speech with the bullet lodged in his chest and blood soaking through his shirt.
“I knew a little bit about [the expedition] because PBS had done a special about it, with all the details and all that incredible stuff,” Quinn said. “We were roughing it, staying in eco-huts for a good bit of [the shoot], and what was keeping creatures of out my bedroom was just a screen. When I would shower in the morning a Capuchin monkey would watch me, and there was a 165-pound rodent ripping out the bushes by the door. I thought it was a jaguar trying to get in but it was chomping down on the bushes like, ‘What’s your problem?’ I nearly stepped on a coral snake, which can be deadly, getting out of the shower and our boats overturned in rapids — with actors in them.”
“The American Guest” hews closely to historical fact. Roosevelt, who was 55 at the time, was accompanied on the expedition by several people, including his son, Kermit (Chris Mason, “Riverdale”) and his friend, Father John Augustine Zahm (Gene Jones), who organized the trip — sponsored in part by the American Museum of Natural History. Dana Delany plays Teddy’s wife, Edith.
“All of [Roosevelt’s] accomplishments … he was a mass of contradictions,” Quinn said. “He had that mid-Atlantic dialect, which a lot of wealthy people had at the time, yet he would knock you out in a second, which he did as a 23-year-old assemblyman in Albany — and when the guy came to, [Roosevelt] asked him, ‘Would you like to say that again?’ and then knocked him down again.
“He was a boxer, a horseman, a cowboy … he read one-to-three books a day and had a photographic memory and was one of the most extraordinary individuals. He was the first president to ride in an automobile, an airplane, a submarine.
“One of the highlights of my career was playing this character,” he said. “I had only five-and-a-half weeks to drown myself in every biography, voice recording and film footage of him that I could. I really worked hard with a dialect coach and listened to historical recordings of Teddy and people like him.
“It was just a true honor.” (Roosevelt died in 1919 at the age of 60.)
Quinn also had the honor of appearing in Thursday night’s (Oct. 21) milestone episode of “Law & Order: SVU” (9 p.m. on NBC), marking his return visit the venerable franchise now in its 23rd season (he appeared in the 2007 episode, “Savant”).
“I play an old friend of Olivia’s [series star Mariska Hargitay] who comes back with a cold case he need help from her on, and that rekindles some of the things from our relationship when we were younger,” he said of his character, Burton Lowe. “Mariska was great; we had some really intense scenes together and she just hits it out of the park.
“There were a couple of times where I thought she had cut the scene and then realized, ‘Oh god, no, that’s her line.’ She was so fresh and real. It literally took my breath away.”
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