Actor Donal Logue

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Logue discusses the journey from acting in TV pilot after pilot to ending up with, what he hopes is, a critical success in the new FX series Terriers.

Audiences first took notice of actor Donal Logue in a series of MTV promos, created in collaboration with two of his Harvard classmates. He's since played an array of characters on the big and small screens, with credits that include the films The Tao of Steve, for which he won best actor at the '00 Sundance Film Festival, and Blade and the TV series Grounded for Life and, his newest, FX's Terriers. Initially aspiring to be a writer, Logue eventually studied at London's British-American Drama Academy and has performed in numerous plays.


Tavis: Donal Logue is a talented actor whose credits include films like The Tao of Steve and TV shows like Grounded For Life. His latest project is the new FX drama, Terriers. The show airs Wednesday nights at 10. Here now a scene from Terriers.
Tavis: Is he stealing dogs?
Donal Logue: Yeah, he stole his dog (laughter). But it’s interesting because it starts out – I think the show’s tone is great because it’s hard to define at first because it starts out like this is kind of where they’re at and circumstances draw them into a world that has a lot more kind of gravitas to it that probably FX audiences are used to, but it gets a lot heavier as it goes down the road.
Tavis: When you say it gets a lot heavier, I don’t know what you meant by that, but one of the things that struck me about this which is fascinating is that this is not one of those episodic things where every week there’s a different show about a different theme. This thing builds.
Logue: It builds and it has to build because we had a lot of these frank discussions. One thing that I always found interesting about these kinds of shows were either in a certain situation these guys would be in real danger and yet, in the middle of bullets whizzing by, they can say really funny things to themselves.
Is it to suspend the danger for a moment for the audience and then come back? Or they’re in real danger in their hometown? These guys are after them, but next week’s episode, I guess the danger’s gone (laughter). You know, you have to kind of keep track of it. If someone’s after you, they’re after you. If you’re looking over your shoulder, you’re looking over your shoulder next week too. I think that we tracked that pretty well.
Tavis: We jumped right into the stealing of the dog, which was funny. So we moved right past what the show was about, about the character you play. So let’s set the stage here properly.
Logue: I play a guy named Hank Dolworth who was a police officer in San Diego who kind of – he was asked to leave the force. He was terminated disgracefully and he’s a recovering alcoholic, but he certainly wasn’t a recovering alcoholic at that time.
Now he’s lost his job, his position, his reputation. He’s lost his wife and I think he thinks unfairly, “I’m trying to get sober, I’m trying to do the right thing, like why aren’t these things coming back to me?” and he is patching together a very minimal kind of livelihood doing private investigation work with a friend of his who was a kid he busted doing breaking and enterings when he was a cop because he knew he was just good at that kind of nefarious side of the trade.
These guys doing this thing kind of stumble upon something that I think causes them to embrace a life of being like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in a way.
You know, I was talking about this before the show. There’s something existentially free when you’ve lost everything and you’re like, look, I got sober to get you back and to get the house back and to get the job back. When you realize none of that’s going to work, even though it’s worth getting sober or whatever it is, you’re kind of free now to act because there’s no end in sight.
You realize it’s the journey and they decide, you know, they’re gonna do the right thing and they go for broke. Part of it probably is they don’t really mind failure because they’ve had enough failure.
Tavis: And they’re both unlicensed (laughter).
Logue: Unlicensed, yeah, which actually in that world is handy (laughter).
Tavis: Yeah, handy is one word for it (laughter). I was thinking more like slickster, hustler, but that’s another issue.
Logue: Yeah, definitely there’s some slickster, hustler to it. You know, I love doing the show. It’s hard to say because I have no objectivity when it comes to it, but I had such a great dynamic with this guy, Michael Raymond-James, my fellow actor in this piece. You know, the strength of the show kind of is on their shoulders.
Tavis: The critics are loving this. Earlier this week, I was looking literally on one day, I think, Wednesday. In one day, every major paper in the country had a piece about this new show, Terriers, and everybody was raving about it on my radio show. I talked to my TV critics the other day and they were raving about Terriers.
Everybody seems to think this is gonna be pretty special, which is interesting because when you walked on the set I told you respectfully that my nickname for you for a while was “pilot man.” [Technical difficulty] As you said, some of them were good. Tell me about the journey of doing pilot after pilot after pilot and then you hit on one that everybody seems to love.
Logue: I think that’s just part of the joy learning how to let go of things that you – part of it is you have to be this diplomatic master like you’re at the U.N., how to stay on the radar and sometimes not getting too high on the screen is what helps you, but not falling off completely.
Because every time you get a pilot, it feels like there’s this finite number of chances that you’re going to get where someone hands you the reins to an expensive television show and, if they don’t go, at some point they’re like, “We’ve given how many cars to this guy, man, and he’s driven them nowhere?”
Yeah, we did one for HBO called One Percent that was kind of a dueling pilot with Sons of Anarchy and a really good one with Barry Levinson called Hack It a couple years ago. There’s some that are very close to my heart like The Tao of Steve which you mentioned earlier.
There was a movie I really, really wanted to do with Steve Zahn that I thought was a brilliant script some years ago called Shiny New Enemies. They offered me the part, but then they were scared about something to do with my schedule and I couldn’t do it. I remember being very crestfallen and the next hour, The Tao of Steve opened up and I got to step into this which I wouldn’t have done. I don’t think Shiny New Enemies was ever released.
You know, it’s that kind of the good Lord shuts a door, opens a window kind of thing. Sometimes it sounds hokey for people to say that, but it’s really true. You have to be really willing to kind of go with the flow.
I also think that this show, because it was Shawn and Ted – Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin and Tim Minear and the people involved in FX and John Landgraf – there were a lot of times where I felt like people liked what I did.
For instance, this cab driver guy I did on MTV which was very character driven and all improv. So from a Hollywood perspective, they would see that and say, well, he does comedy, so we’ll stick him in this. I’m like, oh, but that’s not my sensibility at all and I was making this up as I went along.
So a lot of the pilots I did, in fairness to them and I apologize, it wasn’t a really great fit for me. I didn’t really feel like a lot of what I kind of do I was able to touch upon.
So this was the first show where I felt like as a human being that I could do the things that were funny, but there was no hydraulic pressure to be funny every 15 seconds, or if the scenes were poignant, they’re poignant.
There’s also this interesting thing which is now that I’m 44 and I have children and I’ve kind of been through different things in life, you really do feel kind of as an artist like, you know, my well’s kind of deeper now and I kind of know how to draw upon it a little differently.
Tavis: So to your point earlier that you sometimes worry or wonder whether or not there’s an infinite number of pilots you’re going to get or a finite number of pilots you’re gonna get, how do you navigate through that process when these things aren’t working? Do you ever fret that they are in fact going to stop offering me these before Terriers comes along?
Logue: I embrace it in a way too because I would also adopt the kind of mindset that they don’t owe you anything and, if I get into this weird state of bitterness about what I’m owed or – you know, I’m not the kind of person that likes sitting on a couch waiting for someone to tell me what I’m gonna do with my life, for whatever reason.
Even when I did that work for MTV back in the early 90s, it was a result of auditioning for things here and not really having that much success. My friends were saying, “Why are you chasing things you don’t even like? Come back to New York and we’ll film these things.” We were proactive about it and then that opened up new doors for me.
So every time things get slow, even last year things were slow and then I got a job adapting this Jack Kerouac novel into a screenplay, Big Sur, and they’re making the movie. So I’ll find books. Walker Percy novel, The Second Coming, I got the rights. I adapted it. Vin Benders is going to direct it. So, you know, I think there’s always things that you can do and, once you stay in motion, it’s a lot easier to continue in motion. It’s that weirdness.
I’m sure you can relate to this a lot, like if I sit and wait for them to dictate whether I am driving one of those vehicles towards my own success or not, I’m not gonna be in a good – I never really was the kind of person who was in any aspect of my life an easy sell at the front door (laughter). You know, I always had to –
Tavis: – (laughter) that’s a nice way to put it.
Logue: – some weird dance going around the back, you know. So once I adopted that, Billy Bob Thornton was a real big influence. I don’t know him. He’s good friends with Bill Paxton, a friend of mine. You know, he came here and he wanted sitcom success and this kind of stuff and it was running from him, so he finally just wrote a movie, One False Move, that Carl Franklin directed, a fantastic film, and then Sling Blade.
I was like that’s how you do it. If they don’t let you, you show them and you work hard to show them. And if you show them and they don’t respond, well, that’s okay, but you tried. So I think it’s a good kind of attitude to take for anyone who does this stuff.
Tavis: Well, you’re right. I did learn that lesson a long time ago in this town. The name Donal. Tell me about this name.
Logue: Terriers?
Tavis: No, your name Donal.
Logue: Oh, my name (laughter). I’ve answered a hundred questions about I don’t understand why it’s called Terriers.
Tavis: You can tell me about Terriers, but you can answer both. Tell me about Donal and tell me about Terriers.
Logue: My parents are from County Kerry in Ireland, both my parents. They’re very Irish and we all have Gaelic names, so Donal is the Gaelic derivation of either Daniel or Donald, but the Scottish name has the D on the end and they have a thing called a fada, the accent over the O.
I was born in Canada, but we went back to Ireland and got green cards and came here. My little sister, Karina Chyvonne, which is another weird Gaelic name, she plays my schizophrenic sister in the show and she actually works with –
Tavis: – wow. It’s a family affair.
Logue: It’s a family affair and she actually worked with Shawn Ryan before me on Lie To Me and some shows. She’s a fantastic actor. But what was interesting for me because I take acting seriously, but I don’t like to talk about it that way. I want to like look indulgent or, you know, I have my thing I do, but I don’t like to kind of prance around and talk about it too much.
What was interesting was the first time doing scenes with my sister, especially she was playing a mentally ill character, where I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t get through scenes. I was like, wow, this is kind of a thrilling thing when you’re taken by something because it’s artifice.
You know, you know what the lines are; you know how the scene starts and ends. So when people always say, “I don’t know where I went, it was so real,” I’m like it’s real in that it provoked a real response when you watched it, but you knew where you were going.
But it was kind of thrilling on this show because there was a lot of moments when I felt like we really felt like we were flying in a way. Hopefully, if that resonated with us that way, all you can hope is that people feel the same way when they watch it.
Tavis: Apparently, they are or will if all the critics are right because everybody seems to love this thing. It’s called Terriers on FX and they say it’s going to be a hit starring one Donal Logue. I asked that question for Brian, our stage manager.
Logue: See, you have an interesting name too, though, Tavis. I like it (laughter).
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. You don’t want to hear that story, though (laughter). And mine’s not nearly as interesting. Glad to have you on.
Logue: Thank you so much. Pleasure to be here.
Tavis: Thanks, Donal.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm