Hollywood’s Hardest Working Actor May Finally Get His Big Break
The star of FX’s critically adored Terriers and now Fox’s Batman origin story, Gotham, Donal Logue is the consummate character actor, one finally poised to receive his due.
Donal Logue sat in a booth of a greasy-spoon diner close to the highway in Studio City, Calif. It's not the sort of place an actor typically picks for an interview, a far cry from a beachfront hotel or private Hollywood club, but then again, Logue isn't your typical actor. For one, it was 9:30 on a Friday morning, but Logue had arrived for our interview more than an hour early and already eaten breakfast. As I walked up to greet him, the table was already cleared and he sat quietly observing the other patrons with a half-empty mug of black coffee in his hands. After I sat down across from him, the 48-year-old actor pulled out his phone to show a photo of what his hair had looked like a few days earlier.
"Hey, Jimmy," he said, flagging over a sleepy waiter with tattoo sleeves, "check it out."
The photo was of the back of Logue's head, his rusty red hair tied into a ponytail that dangled just below his shoulder blades. It was long, and we all leaned in to gawk at it.
"That's what you just cut off?" Jimmy asked, looking genuinely shocked.
"Yeah, two days ago." Logue's accent is California surfer with a sandy desert edge.
Jimmy topped off Logue's mug before leaving. As Logue sipped from the worn mug, he was practically unrecognizable from the gritty characters for which he's most well-known: outcasts and rebels, warriors with dangerous glints in their eyes or washed-up losers with their better days behind them. His hair was trimmed to just above his ears. He was clean-shaven, wearing a navy blazer with a button-up shirt; he looked almost professorial — a far cry from his most recent TV gigs, as vengeful Lee Toric on Sons of Anarchy and the manipulative King Horik in Vikings, among others.
"I get it," Logue said, laughing. "I look a certain way one way. The other way, I'm just the assistant manager at Circuit City."
Logue had cut his hair for a potential new role. It wasn't a role he'd landed yet, but as he explained, preparation is incredibly important. "I went back yesterday, and the director was like, 'Could you do the whole script?' I was like, 'Yeah. I've memorized 30 scenes.' It has just become part of the DNA of the last couple years of work in Terriers. I'm like, 'Yeah, man. I'm on it. We could do it all if you want.' It's fun that way. Your only defense is preparation."
For an actor who's been working consistently for the last 20 years, Logue still doesn't exist on most people's radars. He's had roles in close to 50 films, including Jerry Maguire, Blade, The Patriot, and The Tao of Steve, for which he won a Special Grand Jury Prize for best actor at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. And he's also starred in TV shows like Grounded for Life, ER, and The Practice, and anchored the short-lived but beloved FX series Terriers. At the same time, none of those roles have translated into major fame. But this year could be the one that does: He's got a recurring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as the not-always-by-the-book Lieutenant Declan Murphy, and was cast as Detective Harvey Bullock in Fox's highly anticipated Batman-origin pilot, Gotham, which seems a lock for a series order. Still, with so many notches on his film belt, can you ever really be sure that this one will be the one?
"There are a lot of people in entertainment who have been way more successful than I have in a number of different ways," he admitted. His elbows rested on the plastic table as he leaned forward. "I'm a yeoman kind of guy who has worked and been in a lot of things. I'm not a star. I don't live in a mansion."
Logue is arguably the most un-actory actor in Hollywood. He grew up in the desert town of El Centro, Calif. — next to the Mexican border — with three sisters, including actress Karina Logue, whom he calls "the actor of the family." He's the son of Irish immigrants, his parents having met when they were Catholic missionaries in Africa. "I was an altar boy," he said. "I went to mass every day for years." The family would travel back to Ireland frequently, and Logue even spent his junior year of high school abroad in North London with relatives.
"We kind of had exposure that you don't normally have in a small town," Logue's sister Karina said in a phone interview. "The idea of the world being very open and full of curious things had always been around us."
And Logue was an intensely curious kid. According to his sister, "He'd always be reading history books on his own — even in the third grade — that were high school-level and didn't have anything to do with school, they were just Donal's interests." He was by all accounts insanely precocious.
It wasn't just books he found a passion for, though: He also excelled in sports and joined the baseball, football, tennis, soccer, and track and field teams. He even remembers details about the sports he'd compete in — down to scarily accurate detail. "When I was 11, I remember running this 10-mile race. It was 10.1 in 1:01:43," he said. He didn't miss a beat. "My two-mile split was 10:42, so you're clocking 5:20 miles to start a 10-mile race at 11 years old. My small group was deeply committed and would compete at nationals and stuff. It's just a different era."
Logue would continue to drop small bundles of information in this manner throughout the interview — effortlessly quoting a passage of a book he once read, waxing philosophical on the origin of the human race, and delving into the business politics of owning a trucking company. (More on that later.)
In high school, Logue described himself as "garrulous" and "a real joker," while Karina said he was a "very popular kid." That could be because he wasn't just active in sports, but also in theater: He performed in a Eugene Ionesco play, The Bald Soprano, in high school and participated in the speech and debate teams — he was the California state champion in impromptu speaking. He was also an avid reader, and consumed everything from Joyce to Faulkner, V.S. Naipaul, Mark Twain, and Thomas Hardy. He had a hand in anything that would allow him to and was a bit of a real-life version of Election's Tracy Flick, only likable.
Looking at Logue, the first assumption wouldn't be that he's a Harvard grad. Or as Karina so aptly put it, "If you saw [Donal] walking down the street, you might cross the street." She laughed. "Your first thought wouldn't be, Oh, Harvard grad, intellectual giant. I'm sure he's been frustrated because of that at various points in his career."
Logue did express some of that frustration, though he seemed to laugh it off more than anything. "I used to have a lot of those conversations with people, or kind of preppier people, god bless them, who would be like, 'You're kind of interesting. I know you're not a college person, but…' And I'm like, 'No, I went to college.'"
Logue had his own assumptions about preppy people, though, whether he knows it or not. "When I came from the desert … I had a lot of anger towards who I considered to be privileged, wealthy people, and of course, fear of them, in a way," Logue said. He also admitted, though, that one of the more important lessons he took from college was that no one's story is ever so black-and-white. "You just never know anyone's story until you know their story," he explained, "and everybody's story is legit."
In high school, he'd began to dabble in acting, but it wasn't until Harvard that he really began to immerse himself in it, and the decision to attend the most prestigious university and pursue his passion for acting full-time wasn't met well by his parents. "They were truly horrified, absolutely terrified," Logue said. His father still works as an electrical engineer, and his mother is a retired high school teacher.
Karina confirmed her brother's assertions: "I don't want to say that they begrudged either of us following it, but they're parents — they were scared!"
"My parents were such hard workers," Logue said. "Irish people are such amazingly hard workers, and it's ingrained in you from 10 on. I'm mowing lawns. I'm making my own. If I need a bike, I'm buying it. You figure it out."
Logue is perhaps the greatest example of parenting in action: His parents were hard workers, and so is he, perhaps to a psychotic fault. At Harvard, he didn't simply attend school, but Logue juggled working as a security guard and a janitor to make extra money.
His career goals, like most twentysomethings', got a little murky after that — he bounced around as a roadie for a band called The Lemonheads and was a road manager for another band called Bullet LaVolta. It wasn't until 1990 when he landed his first acting job, on a miniseries called Common Ground.
The series shot in Toronto, and as a relatively inexperienced actor, he assumed he'd have to make his own way there. "I was like, 'Oh. I can get to Toronto and I know a friend I can stay with up there,'" he laughed. "They were like, 'We fly you. We put you in a hotel. We give you per diem.' That was a big dose of the crack hit. That was like, Man, I could live with this: living in hotels and getting cash per day to buy stuff. Of course, I blew it all in, like, two weeks when I got home, drinking every night out around town in Boston."
It's hard to say exactly when Logue's career took off, mainly because it seems to have been a constant ebb and flow of small jobs and potential breaks that led to little payoff. After the miniseries, he continued to land small roles, making more of a name for himself in parts like Jimmy the Cab Driver in MTV promos, and in NBC's critically acclaimed, if short-lived, Life as Captain Kevin Tidwell. And he starred in the indie flick The Tao of Steve, which found a cult audience but no substantial commercial success.
The closest he came to household-name fame was perhaps with Terriers in 2010. It should've been the vehicle into leading-man status, but after a 13-episode season and abysmal ratings, the FX series was canceled.
"Terriers was incredibly unique," Logue said, "because I really got to, for the first time, go, if I took a person and pulled them as close to me as I could in every which way — how I dress, who I am, where I live — that was the character."
Logue played Hank, a recovering alcoholic and former cop turned private investigator. Hank was perpetually torn between doing the right thing versus what he was getting paid for, and like Hank, Logue is sober — and has been for 22 years.
Shawn Ryan was an executive producer on the show, and wasn't terribly familiar with Logue's work prior to meeting him, but soon after decided that the then-44-year-old was the right fit. "There was a natural ease to him, the way that Ted Griffin had written that character — he's very damaged, and yet is trying very hard to rise above it," Ryan said in a phone call. "So it's a lot of pain masked by a lot of humor and a lot of quips. And Donal talked pretty openly about what he thought were similarities between the character of Hank and himself. I just had a really good feeling."
Part of the show's charm was the buddy relationship between Logue's character of Hank and co-star Michael Raymond-James, who played his partner in crime, Britt. The two actors knew each other prior to being cast in the series and had originally met on the set of Life, where they bonded over a mutual love of Jack Kerouac. When Terriers was picked up to series, they decided to rent a house together on the beach in San Diego. They were roommates for the entirety of the series' filming.
"The temperature from the network side was, like, 'Are you sure that's a good idea? Because you're both actors and going to be working together a lot,'" Raymond-James said. They rented a one-bedroom house, where Logue slept in the bedroom and Raymond-James on a Murphy bed. They'd run lines together and prepare for the day's scenes. And at one point, when Logue suffered a particularly brutal arm injury after a stunt gone wrong, Raymond-James even helped Logue dress himself in the mornings.
"There was a big similarity between Donal and Michael Chiklis, in that they both took responsibility for being a lead actor on a TV show and everything that meant," said Ryan, who had previously created the Chiklis-led drama The Shield. "Which meant they weren't only focused on themselves, they were focused on trying to set a good example for the crew, the other actors, and the guest actors that came in. They had a stake in the entire show being good, not just their own work."
Even with Logue's commitment to the series, it still wasn't enough to pull in the ratings the network needed to see. After one season, Terriers was canceled, much to the actors' dismay.
"It was heartbreaking," Raymond-James said, his voice even breaking a bit. "It felt like a death in the family. I had sort of felt that this was going to be the thing I was known for, but beyond that, we felt that the show was so good, ya know? Even though it didn't get any real viewership at all. But we felt that it was so good that we might get another shot at it."
When asked, Logue was slightly less emotional about the cancellation, but it was the only time he sounded like he wished he could go back and redo something — which is a big deal, considering his whole attitude bends toward a live-and-let-live lifestyle. "I don't feel like we got ripped off at all," he said. "I was so psyched that FX gave us 13 episodes and showed them. People can watch it on Netflix now. It wasn't lost." He opened a piece of Nicorette gum — for which he said he has an "on-and-off obsession" — and popped it into his mouth. "Would I have wanted to stay down there for years working with those people? Absolutely. It was a dream opportunity for me."
It has now been four years since Terriers, and in that time Logue has kept busy in film and TV, though admittedly had more successes in TV. He had an arc on Sons of Anarchy, a recurring role on the now-canceled BBC America series Copper, and has spent most of 2014 traveling between filming Vikings in Ireland and Law & Order: SVU in New York.
Not terribly surprising, given that his high school résumé would require a few pages, is that Logue's career doesn't end at acting. He has a rather outsized life far away from the perceived glamour of Hollywood. At one point, he owned the Hollywood United soccer team and housed many of the players in his own home. After Terriers ended, he earned his trucking license and now co-owns a company called Aisling Trucking. At another time, Logue opened a restaurant called La Vida with his best friend and fellow actor Gilles Marini, which subsequently folded — or, as Logue put it, "went to shitsville." He currently owns a hotel in Greenville, S.C., into which, he told me, he put his life savings. On top of all that, within the past year he started a hardwood company and sold a young adult novel called Agua to Harper Collins Canada.
In a lot of ways, he seems to be a bit of an experiential junkie, hopping from one hobby to the next and collecting a few more along the way, an idea that Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter playfully takes to a logical conclusion.
"I'd describe him as an everyman Renaissance man," Sutter said. "Meaning he's very in touch with family, in touch with his roots in terms of where he grew up and community … He's a guy that is very fascinated by people and human nature, and he doesn't observe it from afar perhaps like I do; I tend to observe human behavior anonymously, and he's the kind of guy who throws himself into it and engages and experiences it." Incidentally, Karina also described her brother as a Renaissance man.
Yet, it's hard to tell if all of Logue's ventures are the result of purely varied interests or more that his curiosity has become a kind of compulsion. Or perhaps it's something else entirely — that he simply wants every bit that the world has to offer and in doing so has become a jack-of-all-trades. He has a tendency to collect hobbies and jobs, and he does the same thing with people. Throughout our interview, he would refer to several people as his best friend, and at one point admitted, "I'll mention 20 or 50 people and be like, 'my best friend.' It's weird, but it's kind of true." He has a tendency to describe the world around him as if he simultaneously is a part of it but hasn't grown up quite yet.
"I'm 48 years old, and I'll always go to people's homes and go, Oh, this is how adults do it. They have nice plates and a Viking stove," Logue said. His tone wasn't bitter or judgmental, more intrigued. "It's weird because you see it on TV where they go, 'We're going into the home of so-and-so.' And you're like, Man, I'm so stupid. Because part of you, in the back of your mind, will be like, I've worked 20 times more than these — I haven't seen these dudes do something. Man, they got a house I could — look at that kitchen, a big-ass island in the middle with a marble counter."
When you're around Logue, you are part of his world, and that world includes a lot of interests and a lot of other people. During our interview, Logue interacted with each and every waiter at the restaurant. He knew their names, intimate details about their lives, and that one is "in a great band." At one point, his friend and actor Stephen Frejek joined our breakfast.
"He's probably one of the most selfless people I've ever met, especially in this town, this industry," Frejek told me, as Logue smiled next to him. "He's just a huge giver."
"To a psychotic fault, maybe?" Logue said. He is also humble to a fault.
"He's brilliant," Frejek continued. "He's just one of those guys who can go anywhere and you can have a conversation with anybody about anything. He's a great guy to pick his brain, also, like a brother."
Donal Logue in BBC America's Copper as Brendan Donovan, on The X-Files as Agent Tom Colton, and in the film Citizen Duane as Uncle Bingo.
A lot of Logue's motivation seems to come from the desire to support his family; Logue has two teenage sons, Finn, 14, and Arlo, 12. And having his hands in different pots may give him a sense of security in an industry and career that is anything but.
However, this year may be the one that changes that: The Gotham pilot is beginning to look like a sure thing, and if it does indeed go to series, it could mean a steady gig for Logue. The iconic character of Detective Harvey Bullock, introduced in the Batman comics in 1974, is known for being a cigar-smoking, trench coat-wearing detective with a hidden agenda. In creator Bruno Heller's script for the pilot episode of Gotham, the character is described as "forties, big, stylish but slovenly, an old-school hard ass and a loose living party animal." It's not clear exactly how close this origin series will remain to the comics, but one thing Logue made clear is that his interpretation of Bullock won't look like anything we've seen before.
"I'm not super-invested in the world," Logue said in a follow-up phone conversation, after being cast on Gotham. "I don't know what expectations are about who these guys are, but I hope that there's a bit of leeway in people's minds for us to interpret them. I just took a look at the cartoon, and I'm not going to try and do an impersonation of the dude." In fact, he also admitted to not knowing much about the Batman franchise outside of watching the cartoon series with his kids.
As for the success of the Gotham series itself, Logue has a rather "whatever will be will be" attitude, which is perhaps for the best, especially in regard to a television pilot. "It's really well-written and it's really interesting, and it's kind of two-handed the way Terriers was," he said. "Whatever their plans are, that's fine. I mean, they don't make any long-term promises. They certainly make you promise a little bit that you'll be available for a certain amount of time. But it's a hard juggernaut of a world to turn down, because it has such excitement attached to it."
In general, Logue seems to have a hard time discussing the future or any concrete wishes he has. That could be a result of years of would-be successes turned misses, or that he's just an incredibly practical person, or a little of both. "It's really hard for me to have any kind of objective sense of career stuff," Logue said. "I think I'm always kind of in a decent place. In a way I've never spiked super high, I'm not a celebrity, and I'm not a famous person, but I'm always doing enough work that hopefully people are always thinking that you're in this kind of mix."
"I'm going to try and make hay while I can make some hay, creatively and otherwise," Logue said of juggling his various projects, "but at some point I need to find a spot to plant."