If first impressions are accurate, these men have nothing in common.

On the right is a clean-cut novice, wearing khakis and a blue button-down, trying desperately to appear calm before a roomful of journalists.  On his left is a razor-stubbled veteran, a quarter-century older, wearing jeans and a leather jacket and joking with those same reporters, carefully steering them back on course when they dare to venture off message.

The message is Universal Pictures’ upcoming film, “In Good Company,” starring Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid.  And if appearance is everything, particularly in looks-conscious L.A., these boys are night and day.

But dig a little deeper, and you might be surprised at what they have in common.  In fact, in the spirit of the season, one might even say that Quaid and Grace are like two ghosts:  one, of Christmas Past; the other, of Christmas Future.

“Having to act opposite someone who is so good, for three months, was daunting,” Grace says.  “You can get away with it for one day, maybe.  But Dennis, from the first day, was the nicest, most easygoing guy.”

He blushes beet red then adds, “Well, come on, it’s hard for me to say in front of him, but it’s just fame, that his talent has bought him, that’s intimidating.”

Famous, Quaid definitely is.  After dropping out of the University of Houston, he appeared in a handful of films and television movies then landed a lead in the 1979 runaway hit, “Breaking Away” followed by “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” for which he wrote some of the music.  Quaid’s career started to flow. 

Unfortunately, so did the booze and drugs, which reached a visible crescendo in 1989 when Quaid played the late Jerry Lee Lewis in “Great Balls of Fire.”  Quaid’s first marriage, to actress P.J. Soles, had ended in 1983 after five years, and he became engaged to actress Meg Ryan.  But instead of marrying right away, he checked into rehab.  

“For the first year after I got out, it was awful,” Quaid said, during a 2003 interview with “The Guardian.”  “I was grinding my teeth, trying to stay away from the coke. For another year after that I had to make a conscious effort to stay away from it.”

Quaid is one of the rare success stories in Hollywood.  He’s been clean for almost 15 years.  And, while his career hasn’t reached the upper echelons of fame – perhaps due to some poor choices, perhaps not – he’s nevertheless had 20 years of regular work, in a town that doles out roles like a toddler sharing candy.

Some of Quaid’s films, like “Easy Rider” (which many consider to contain some of the sexiest love scenes in film history) and the more recent remake of “The Parent Trap,” have become classics.  Others, like “The Day After Tomorrow,” “The Alamo” and this month’s “Flight of the Phoenix,” have brought financial rewards but critical disparagement.  And still others, like “Postcards from the Edge” and “Cold Creek Manor,” have been box office disasters.

But nothing deters Quaid, who just keeps on doing what he loves to do.  Just this year, he completed a record four films.

He hasn’t been as lucky with his personal life.  In addition to the addictions, Quaid went through a second divorce with Ryan, after 10 years of marriage, in the midst of her widely-publicized affair with Russell Crowe

But, like the comeback he made in 2002’s critically-acclaimed “Far From Heaven,” which garnered him two nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild) and one Independent Spirit Award, the 50-year-old actor hasn’t given up.  Quaid recently married for a third time, to real estate agent Kimberly Buffington, and the two have purchased a house in her hometown of Austin, Texas, not too far from where Quaid grew up, in Houston.  And, while Buffington is 18 years younger than Quaid, she possesses one quality that just may make this marriage work: she is not an actress.