Apart from being one of my favorite actors, Donal Logue is also coming up in three of my favorite shows. Unfortunately (maybe), once in a while you find yourself in an interview that turns out, somehow, not to actually be one. You have your questions set out. You know the shows and the talking points. Your subject is equally prepared to run through the routine of extolling the virtues of whatever they happen to be working on. But, it doesn’t end up going that way.
These are the interviews which ultimately find you running out of time, and scrambling for something, and spitting out, “Umm… tell me about the show.”
Or, to put it another way, these are the interviews that make you glad you don’t work for someone, who might not think it’s actually completely brilliant that you killed thirty minutes talking to Donal Logue as though you just pulled up a chair at a bar, and didn’t exactly talk about anything “relevant.”
Although, on another sort of downside to things, the whole Q&A format makes for a pretty transcript, whereas two guys shooting the breeze… not so much.
If you’re really interested, Donal is coming up this Sunday on History‘s hit show, Vikings, playing King Horik of the Vikings. He’s currently filming Copper (where he plays General Brendan Donovan, a handsome and charismatic ex-Union Army general who returns to New York to eventually become one of the most powerful men in Five Points New York and Tammany Hall), and this only leads in to his spot on Sons of Anarchy playing Toric, a former US Marshal forced into retirement because of his history of violence.
As you can see, he’s quite busy at the moment.
While I’m a fan of all of these shows, I can’t wait to see how the introduction of King Horik plays out, with Ragnar finally showing up on the bigger-scale radar, and warranting a meeting. The show has been great so far, and I’m interested to see Donal jump in.
Possibly more introduction than an interview warrants, but I thought I should prepare you. Under normal circumstances I might edit out wide swaths of more tangential banter, but in this case, I’m not sure what I’d be left with.
As I said, sometimes interviews just work out this way, and I’ve rarely had a chance to talk with anyone, under any circumstances, that so quickly turned into such a casual, comfortable exchange. Plus, he managed to work zeitgeist, dilettante, and several other fabulously big words into the conversation, and that sort of thing is just TV fan 101… well, if it’s me.
It may seem like I don’t say much, but that’s only because it’s pretty accurate reporting of the conversation.
Below also check out a trailer for the next episode, and a scene where King Horik meets Ragnar.
A lot of people are still going to recognize you from Grounded for Life, and rightly so, because I love that show and it had a great comedic timing to it, and now, especially lately, you are as opposite of comedy as you can be. Sons of Anarchy, Copper, and I loved the first season of that show, but it’s very gritty, and even Vikings… Is that by choice?
Donal Logue: I don’t know how much anything is necessarily “by choice.” You know, what’s interesting is, I was laughing with my manager about this just the other day, because a friend of mine – really awesome, well-intentioned guy – was like, “Why don’t you do a Lars von Trier movie?” You know, “Why aren’t you in Breaking the Waves, or something?” And, I’m thinking, God, the amount of power you think we have over our own careers. Yeah, who doesn’t want to work with all the great people?
But, what happened, it seemed to me, is you know, I’m an actor. You know, when you first move out to L.A…., and I don’t even know if I was an actor. I don’t even know what I was. I was a 25 year old guy, kind of figuring out, “Oh, it’s time to start doing something with your life.” I had minimal success doing this stuff. Just a tiny taste of it. No one knew me. I had no agents or anything. And, I remember at a party someone asked me, “What do you do? What do you want to do?” And, I said, “Well, I guess I want to act.” And, he says, “Well, you’ve got to make a choice, man. Are you film or are you TV? Are you comedy, or are you serious drama. You’ve got to know.” And, I’m like, “Is it absurd to want to do all of it?”
So, what’s funny is that I feel like I got to do all of it. You know, I did stuff on MTV… I did this cab driver guy,
and because of that, it spun me into this weird world, where people were saying, “Oh, that’s what that guy does.” He does whacked, improv comedy. And whether that means, it’s comedy, or the kind of comedy you do, all of a sudden you find yourself playing sidekicks in movies, offered sitcoms… even if that’s not your style of comedy. I mean, even within the world of comedy there are so many gradations and colors. So, that’s what I was doing. That’s the work I was getting.
Then, some years back… I had to fight pretty hard to get it, but I got the lead in this pilot for an HBO biker show called 1%, and that was the start of thinking… I don’t know, I’m older, and now I’m in my forties, and there’s a gravity to life, and that was the work I just vibrated towards.
Even Terriers, I think the tone of Terriers was lighter until everyone saw that we just headed toward the gravitas side of things, and wanted to be there. So, it’s just been fun exploring that stuff.
It’s funny, lately, because I think I will do something, probably with Bad Robot, that’s just really whacked, wild comedy again, pretty soon. Because, you know, then you miss that. Just doing funny stuff.
My kids were showing me a litany of things they watch, that were hysterical. Just young kids making funny stuff, you know YouTube videos, and that’s kind of what me and my friends were doing before there was YouTube, and we did it on MTV.
But, this is really the most fun I’ve ever had. Between Sons of Anarchy, Vikings, and Copper… what an amazing trifecta of interesting worlds and characters. Very challenging, and very different.
There’s a thing too about acting. Like most crafts, well, it’s a craft. You can have inspired moments, but there’s also something that comes with having done it for a long time, and in a lot of different terrains.
And, you know, I appreciate that you said this, I love Grounded for Life, I had a great time, and I was really proud of the work we did. From Megyn Price to Kevin Corrigan to the kids, I thought they were such a talented group of people. The writers were really talented. That was a joyous kind of time. And, to think that it’s still on in a lot of countries. It was this gift, and for me as a person, I have kids, and getting to be at home for so many years, for my children’s life was a gift as well.
Jumping off from there, now you have three shows, and great shows, but as we said, as serious as you can get, are you worried now that this is “who you’re going to be”?
First of all, if you get tagged as anything, it must mean that you’re working… that there’s some awareness of you in the zeitgeist, which is positive. I think I’ve been lucky, and I’ve been able to dance between the different worlds, and I don’t think that any one of them is held against me, or that I’ve been stuck in one. For me, most of all, the world starts with the writer, so I’ve been lucky there.
Kurt Sutter has been a friend and someone I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. So much of this last year has to do with him. I was doing pilots that weren’t getting picked up, and I was caught in this weird purgatory of being contractually obligated to work that was never going to go anywhere. So, I wasn’t able to work. So, Kurt had to move mountains in his way to allow me to do Sons of Anarchy, and make it possible for me to do Vikings and Copper. He’s a super generous guy.
And then, Michael Hearst, who is another just stone cold genius. So, I got to work in his world, and then Tom Kelly, who is the showrunner under Fontana and Levinson for Copper… Really, it’s writers, and the worlds they invent, and I’m just lucky to be able to play around in those worlds. I was a history major in college, and that’s sort of my world, and as a big kid I get to live it… it’s so fascinating to me.
It must be pretty interesting, in two big parts in a row, to go into some serious, historic roles.
Donal Logue: Well, early 9th century stuff to Civil War America, and then of course, SOA, which is contemporary Shakespeare, which I love.
That’s actually interesting, because I have used that phrase before, and people look at me funny.
Donal Logue: What’s that, “contemporary Shakespeare?”
Donal Logue: Yeah, about Sons of Anarchy?
Donal Logue: Yeah. But, it’s purely Shakespearian, right?
Oh yeah. Especially for me, just the way that people die on that show, stands out. The killings. The dynamics of relationships.
Donal Logue: It’s funny, because just last night the black-and-white Hamlet was on with Olivier. I don’t even know what year that was… (it was ’48) and it was soft. It’s funny, the Russians used to give the English a hard time about playing Shakespeare, because they were too soft to do their own poet. And so… then my older boy walks in and says, “What’s this?” And, I said, “This is Hamlet.” And, so, you know, he says, “Who are these guys,” and I’m explaining it… you know, he hired this band of actors to come in, and recreate the death of his father in front of his mom and his uncle, because they got together to kill his dad. And, the thing is that Shakespeare has been so deified, that you lose… you know, a lot of gnarly stuff happens in Shakespeare, and in a very short amount of time, not unlike Sons of Anarchy. It was (is) a lot pulpier than people remember in a weird way.
And, that’s not to say that it also doesn’t break down, line by line, into beautiful iambic poetry…, it’s genius, but at the same time, it really is pulpy.
I think the Shakespeare comparison is completely appropriate. I also think that if you get into a further conversation with John Landgraf, possibly the most articulate human being on the face of planet Earth, the President of FX, he would probably spell out a lot of the ethos behind FX shows and what they like to develop, it’s really fascinating.
True, and I like a lot of FX shows. It’s interesting, because you were talking about how “you have to pick,” Are you comedy, are you drama, movies, TV, and back in the day, there was something to that, but look at all the stuff you’re on… it’s on cable networks, and they are all a very different world of television than what used to be. It’s like there is no division anymore.
Donal Logue: Well, yeah, even talking to my agent the other day, you know, film is taking this massive hit, because television… you know where they would make certain films before, that’s just episodes of television now. And, really the great writing… even though great films are still being made… I like doing films, and most of what I’m doing now in films is more indie stuff… but, there’s a kind of fun in storytelling with a one-hour drama that you don’t get in film, because things can change so much week to week.
For the writers, you know, things open up, and (they can just say) let’s follow this… but, this is the greatest time to be an actor right now… Netflix, Amazon, AMC, FX, A&E, everyone is producing original shows now, and “TV” has just exploded as this place for writers and actors.
In terms of being typecast, I think the onus is on you to break that. Thank God someone gave Bryan Cranston a chance to prove he wasn’t just the dad from Malcolm in the Middle. And, if you know Bryan from back then, as some of us did, I mean, of course, because he’s such a talented guy.
It’s interesting, because before I did Grounded for Life, I had a conversation with John Lithgow, who I love to death, and have the deepest respect for as an actor, I mean, he’ll do anything. He said, “You know, this is a great company to work for,” because he was doing 3rd Rock from the Sun, and he said, “It’s a fantastic opportunity to do a two act play in front of an audience.” And I thought, what a great way to look at all of this.
I think, what I think is that I’m just really fortunate to be working on these great gigs. I don’t know what next year will hold, in terms of these shows, and my place in them, but it feels like a really fun and freeing environment for me right now.
I had a couple of years… after Terriers, where I thought, I don’t really know if I want to do this as much as I did before. And, it’s not even really a choice. I’m not like some dilettante, or some weird wealthy guy. I’m just another guy with kids like everybody else, so I’ve got to work, and I have this little trucking company.
I heard about that, yeah, in Oregon?
Donal Logue: Yeah, me and my kids have a farm up there, and we have a trucking company. I started a hardwood company up there with a buddy of mine. You know, I’m hustling.
I’m in production mode now, with Copper and Sons of Anarchy, and we’ll see what happens with Vikings… if it gets picked up (Vikings has since been renewed for another season. It seems likely the King will return.)
I have to say, to me, because it’s like a Golden Age of television, and because it’s, in a way, a Golden Age of what would have been the great American playrights… this is the stuff that they’re doing, and I don’t think that they would have felt the same about the Golden Age of the sitcom, even though that was pretty genius, I think this would have been closer to what they wanted to do.
Yeah, I think this is a new era of telling stories. Especially with cable networks. There’s something different. If you have a certain show on a cable network and you say, “Well, that’s a police drama,” it might be, but it’s going to be a very different thing than a police drama on the regular networks. There’s less, “what is the story this week,” and a lot more exploring the characters as much as we can. There isn’t so much concern with depth of storytelling, or the characters, there’s just, “what’s the case this week?”
Donal Logue: I’m wondering too, because there has to be a way. LOST was on ABC, and there has to be a way to… you know, everyone is just tyring to figure out this new environment… but I would love to do a show for a major network again, if there was something interesting. I mean, you know, they have to generate shows, and they’re competing with cable, and it puts them at a crazy disadvantage. In a way I feel for them, because they were the only game in the world for years and years.
Yeah, it’s funny if you look back, when there were only the three networks, or even when there were four, and you look at the numbers that shows had, and they were fifth, or sixth, or seventh shows, and the numbers compared to today…
Donal Logue: Oh yeah, even when I was on Grounded for Life, or… I was on a show called The Single Guy, and it would be tucked in behind Seinfeld or something, and it would get like 27 million viewers. I mean back then shows would get ratings that were crazy, and now they’re just trying to get like 1 million people in the key demographic. They’ll figure it out… but, for the people who work in our business, it gets scary.
And, you know the regular networks, it seems like they obviously don’t give shows that much of a chance in a lot of cases, and it seems like that is turning people toward cable also.
Donal Logue: I feel so too. Look at Lonestar.
Exactly. I loved that show.
Donal Logue: All I heard was that it was great. I mean Terriers would have been Lonestar. Terriers at least got a run on FX, even though the numbers would have justified immediate cancellation, and Terriers had another run on Netflix, where people got to rediscover it. So, it has this life in this sort of mythical world of like the Fireflys and Freaks and Geeks, where it would have just been done and forgotten about in the old days.
There was this amazing show… I did this sitcom on CBS a million years ago (I suspect he might be talking about this show) and at the same upfronts there was this show EZ Streets, with Jason Gedrick and Joey Pants, and Ken Olin, I think. It was supposed to be this great show, and it was cancelled after one airing. Critics still talk about it as being this great show, and if it had been today, it could have found a home.
I have to ask you before I let you go, about Vikings… things are sort of quiet from History on the promotion of future episodes, what sort of a role do you have? Do we see a lot of you?
Donal Logue: I show up in episodes 8 and 9, and I think it’s a bit like Sons of Anarchy, in that it sets me up for the following season. Basically, whatever is happening with Ragnar down south, and also with the Earl… that’s a sort of little provincial power struggle that’s happening. Once it becomes something that gets on the King’s radar, then he wants to meet this enterprising person, and ultimately nothing happens without the King knowing. So then a new sort of dynamic develops. It becomes, whatever might be going on with Ragnar and company, they have to exist in the bigger picture.
Right, when I first heard about the show, this isn’t what I expected. I didn’t think it was going to be something that would focus on this one, ultimately small portion of the Viking world.
Donal Logue: I thought so too, because when I first heard about it, I thought they would just be brushing through a few centuries. And, how do you find that one lens through which to tell a lot about history? But, that’s who Ragnar was. All of a sudden they figured out how to go west, and these guys, who had these boats that could go over open water and down rivers… I mean, Rollo ultimately founded Normandy.
So, it’s very interesting stuff to be working on. One thing I have to say before I go, from my perspective, where you can tell a lot about the quality of a show… they are already hardcore families, and I’m joining late. How welcoming they’ve been, creatively and otherwise… I can’t say enough about those three communities.
I’ve actually heard that a lot, you know, that you can tell exactly what a show is going to be like and how things are going to go, just by what it’s like when you show up.
Donal Logue: It’s like great bands, or great companies, or whatever. Interpersonal politics governs a lot of stuff in this world. It’s like I was talking with my friend, because I’m here in Toronto, and I said just watch the Blue Jays, with all this pre-season hype, the first ten games, once the grumbling becomes this acid running through the locker room, watch things fall apart because of that.
I also think the environment has changed over the years. I mean, there used to be some toxic environments, because they were just successful shows, and people were allowed to misbehave, or be weird. People just had to deal with it, but that doesn’t exist as much anymore, I think.
Well, depending on the show, and stars… or whatever.
Donal Logue: Yeah, maybe I even witnessed a little bit of it twenty years ago, but it just seems that a tolerance for that sort of thing has gone away. The world is harder. People are more grateful.