I didn't wear my Veronica Mars T-shirt to interview Jason Dohring, but the thought did briefly cross my mind. After all, I was one of the few (well, 2.5 million) viewers who obsessively watched the teen sleuth drama from 2004 to 2007, first on UPN and then The CW.
I integrated Veronica's vernacular into my vocabulary, purchased Mars memorabilia, asked my parents to buy me a T-Mobile Sidekick (Veronica's cellular weapon of choice), and when series creator Rob Thomas asked for my money in 2013 to help fund a feature film, I happily donated.
And I was not alone.
By now, the story of how Veronica Mars became 2013's most talked-about social media event is the stuff of legend. Heck, my father even asked if I donated to "that Pluto movie" (he's trying, guys) when I was home for Thanksgiving. But for those of you who just emerged from underneath a rock, here's the quick version:
On March 12, 2013, Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign to turn his beloved neo-noir series about a teenage private eye into a movie. He gave himself two days to raise $2 million. That goal was met in 10 hours. But the Kickstarter clock kept counting and the donations continued to pour in, eventually topping out at $5,702,153 (a new Kickstarter record). So, the film was funded, the movie was made, the T-shirts were silkscreened, and that brings us to the present day, when I'm sitting cross-legged on the floor of a Los Angeles office with Jason Dohring — who played Logan Echolls, the show's bad boy with a heart of 24-karat gold — talking about the March 14 release of Veronica Mars' feature film.
"This was the dream role," says Dohring of Logan. Clad in black high-tops, dark denim, and a simple gray T-shirt that barely contains the biceps that were so often throwing haymakers on the show, the 31-year-old still enthuses about his most iconic role like it was day one of filming. "And the fact I got to play him for three years — and now plus the movie — is amazing."
Since Mars ended in 2007, Dohring played a 400-year-old vampire on CBS' short-lived drama Moonlight and guest-starred on a smattering of procedurals. And while he never felt typecast as Logan, Dohring recalls, with a laugh, "I've walked into so many auditions and the casting director couldn't look me in the eye because of Logan. But that's all good."
Looking back, there was a decent chance that none of this would have happened, particularly Dohring's casting as Logan, initially the type of character that television viewers love to hate, until they — like Kristen Bell's Veronica — actually started falling for the darkly rebellious Hollywood heir. Back in 2003, Dohring actually auditioned for the role of Duncan Kane, Veronica's sweetly guileless all-American ex-boyfriend. (The part ended up going to Teddy Dunn, and the character was written off the show midway through Season 2.)
"I stupidly went in and played their leading man as this dark, brooding, James Dean kind of guy," Dohring recalls, with a wry laugh. "The [casting agents] were like, 'Uh, that's a little dark,' and suggested I read for the character who was bashing out headlights in the pilot."
One quick parking-lot prep session later and Mars had locked in its Logan. That's when the fear set in.
"I always seem to get the roles that scare the shit out of me," he says, laughing. "But ultimately, when you have to be absolutely free and totally let go, it's so much more fun. That's truly the thrill of acting."
Dohring would soon to come discover another thrill of acting, one that's unique to working in episodic television: the evolution of a character. Initially, Logan Echolls was tasked with kicking ass and taking names…when he was sober enough to remember them. But his palpable chemistry with Bell was obvious to everyone, particularly the show's creator, and Thomas decided to place these two adversaries on the road to love.
"Around Episode 6, Rob pulled Kristen and [me] off to the side and said, 'OK, so, you're going to end up together,'" says Dohring. "It was like, 'Are you fucking kidding me?!? No way!'" But he stresses that pairing off Veronica and Logan — or "LOVE" as their fans have adoringly come to call them — was just one more example of the creator's brilliance manifesting itself in an unexpected storyline. "I always love Rob's ideas. He has this very quiet way of speaking, but when he talks to you, you can't help but get excited by what he's saying."
Still, turning the bad boy into a leading man posed several problems for Dohring, one of which brought him back to that ill-fated Duncan audition. "I didn't know how to play 'the leading man,'" he admits. And after countless hours of developing Logan's dark side — both on-screen and off, where Dohring says he would retreat to the cul-de-sac by his house to scream and throw rocks in order to "really get what it's like to be hateful" — he was also worried the audience wouldn't buy it. "How could anybody like that character? He's was so bad."
But then Thomas dropped a bombshell on the viewers. "When they added in the backstory with his dad," says Dohring, "that's when I noticed a change in people's reactions to me."
"We did this mall tour when the show started and everybody would kinda rush by me to get to the next guy. They were all like, 'Fuck you, you're the dirty guy.'" But after revealing the emotional and physical abuse Logan suffered at the hands of his father (Harry Hamlin), Dohring remembers sensing a noticeable shift in the fans. "It became him against the world. He could do all this horrible shit and people would still love him."
No one more so than Veronica herself.
Their volatile relationship has as many supporters as it does detractors within the fandom; half adoring their star-crossed love story and half feeling like Veronica would never truly consider Logan her soulmate.
Dohring falls firmly into the first camp — although he can't quite pinpoint exactly why Logan and Veronica's dynamic worked. "I really don't know why it worked," he says, stroking his temple. "The dialogue was some of the best on TV at the time, but as far as I am concerned, it all boiled down to each believing they were better and smarter than the other. We had that back-and-forth that people really responded to."
For all three seasons, Veronica Mars filmed in San Diego, far from the lights of Hollywood, and, perhaps more significantly, the actors' friends and families. "We were by ourselves in these tiny apartments just trying to make the best show we could, and…that made us a family." That cast closeness manifested in a deeply meaningful way when it came to bringing Veronica and Logan's relationship to life.
"A lot of that emotion was very real for me. I think I was in love with [Kristen] for the three years we made that show," he says. "Like, I truly felt like I would die without her, and I think that's what underlined everything people loved about them as a couple."
Which is why many fans were taken aback by the revelation that the film — which picks up 10 years after the series finale — would revolve around the characters' first meeting in a decade. "When Rob explained the movie to me, I thought it made sense they would have gone their separate ways," says Dohring. "When I read [Rob's] writing, it made sense. He just knows the voice. I kept thinking, Yep, that's what Logan would say. Yep, that's what Logan would do. Yep that's how I would feel about Veronica. Reading [the script] and seeing those names on the page again really got to me."
Veronica Mars: The Movie reunites the former flames when Logan is accused of murdering his pop star girlfriend and calls Veronica to help clear his name. And while the film is designed to appeal to both diehards and new audience members, Thomas very intentionally included characters, catchphrases, and scenes that would resonate much more deeply with the impassioned fans.
"There were these two scenes in particular where Rob kept saying, 'This is what the fans paid for, man, this is what the fans paid for.'" True to Logan's propensity for keeping secrets, Dohring kept these specific scenes firmly under wraps.
The fact so many had donated their hard-earned cash to make the film possible stayed front-and-center in everyone's minds throughout the production — quite literally at times, considering one of the Kickstarter rewards offered backers the chance to be an extra in the Neptune High class reunion scenes.
"We really tried to make the experience special for them because they came for these 16-hour days, some standing in the back, wearing high heels, but all of them kept saying, 'This is the best day of my life!' One guy bought it as an engagement present for his wife. It's truly unbelievable, man."
For Dohring, the sacrifices made by these fans reinforces his belief that they truly had, and were once again, making something special. "You always want your creations to mean something; no one wants to just sleepwalk through a role," he says. "People are deeply connected to this show and it's all the more touching because that's exactly what we intended."
By all accounts, viewers will find the finished product wholly worth the wait. The recently released trailer was met with universal praise, and Dohring feels they have, as Thomas intended, truly made a movie for the fans.
"I think they'll be very pleased, but also at the same time, Rob doesn't tie the story up with a bow. Nothing comes easy in Veronica's world, so there's a very melancholy/noir touch at the end that adds these cool layers."
The question on the minds of all Marshmallows (as Bell lovingly calls the show's fans) revolves around whether or not the Veronica Mars movie serves as a swan song or the start of a brand-new journey.
"Rob has mentioned [more movies] as a possibility," Dohring says. "But it all depends on how the film does. The cool thing about Rob is that he writes interesting stuff, so it's not like, 'Oh, Logan got this girl pregnant. Oh, Logan's in rehab.' Despite everything that happened with this show, it was always so real. So I trust Rob would only tell the stories he wanted to tell."