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One for the rookie

He auditioned for 'The Blind Side' but just hoped to land a security job. Instead, he scored a lead role.

November 19, 2009|Michael Ordona

At 6 feet 8, Quinton Aaron is not hard to spot in a room but he sure isn't easy to hear. The 25-year-old tips the scales at 372 pounds after dropping more than 100 for his first major role, as real-life football star Michael Oher in "The Blind Side." His almost painfully soft-spoken account of meeting his costars confirms his description of himself as a film buff.

"A lot of heart-racing, chest-pounding nervousness. There are these people I'd looked up to all my life -- Kathy Bates -- I'm a fan but I fear her . . . the sledgehammer thing," he says, grinning, referring to her Oscar-winning turn in "Misery." "Sandra Bullock, I'd loved her since 'Love Potion No. 9.' "

Oher's story is one of those too-good-to-be-true tales that is, nonetheless, true: A homeless black youth in Memphis, Oher was spotted walking on the side of the road by the family of a white, affluent schoolmate and they took him in.

He eventually joined that family, turned his disastrous grades around with the help of a tutor (played by Bates), went to the University of Mississippi on a football scholarship and was drafted in this year's first round by the Baltimore Ravens.

Aaron says it's good he wasn't cast for his football ability.

"I wasn't good at it," he says with a smile of his brief stint as a high school lineman. "I was the guy that, after you called the play, you had to turn to me and tell me what to do. I was strong, able to hit people, just not able to hit the right people."

He dropped football in favor of singing in the choir and his true love, acting.

Bullock, who plays Oher's adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, in the film, says, "Yes, his size fit the role but the size wasn't what [writer-director John Lee Hancock] was looking for. John was looking for an essence of purity and kindness that's really hard to find in people generally. Quinton walks into a room and you want to hold on to him, you want to protect him. He's a special, special human being."

Country superstar Tim McGraw, who plays Oher's adoptive father, Sean Tuohy, in the film, agrees.

"Quinton's one of the nicest kids I've ever met. There truly isn't a bad bone in his body," he says.

The real Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy were on the set of "Blind Side" for five days -- long enough to bond with the actor playing their son.

"He'd been evicted from his apartment. His cellphone had been turned off. His mom had just passed away. This movie was a life-changing thing for Quinton. Life changing," Leigh Anne says. "Quinton's got one brother, he's kind of taking charge over him," she says. "His mom knew he tried out for the movie; she did not [live to] know he got the part. And John Lee had to go to a community center to track him down.

"He tried out to be Michael but he handed John Lee his card and said, 'I know I don't have a chance to get this part. But call me because I could use a job; I'd like to work security on the set.' John Lee called me one hour after he told Quinton he got it, and his quote to me was -- word for word -- 'That conversation I just had with that young man had a life-changing impact on me. It was one of the greatest privileges I've had to tell that young man he got this part.' "

Aaron's smile broadens when discussing the Tuohys.

"After she visited the set, she said, 'You're doing a bang-up job, and I mean that in a good way!' 'Thank you, Mama.' 'Oh, he called me "Mama!" Bless your heart.' I love this lady."




Where you've seen him

Quinton Aaron had had bit parts as bodyguards before playing Q in Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind": "I was going on 'Be Kind Rewind' as background and ended up getting upgraded to principal," says the Bronx native. "The one month I worked on that film, that made me decide [to be an actor]. When you find that job where you don't care how long you have to stay there, you're just ready, you have the same energy you arrived with when it's time to go . . . that's how I looked at it."

-- Michael Ordona

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