Last week, I had the opportunity to take part in a conference call Q&A session with Donal Logue, star of the new FX series, Terriers [Wednesdays, 10/9C]. The series is about an odd couple pair of C-grade detectives [totally unlicensed] are just trying to get by when they wind up in over their heads.
Logue proved loquacious, knowledgeable and completely willing to talk about Terriers and a few other interesting things. He came across as someone you could just hang with – and that always makes for a good interview.
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Donal Logue: It was kind of a unique situation because I had worked with Michael on the show Life, but even then there was something a little bit different, like we had done this kind of all-nighter shoot on Life. He and I just really instantly bonded actually over a book. I was kind of running around with this Jack Kerouac novel, and we fell into conversation. By the end of that kind of long, 16-hour workday, I just realized this guy was kind of going to be a friend for life, whether we ran into each other a lot or kept in touch or not, or wherever our adventures took us.
Then when I came onboard Terriers, and I started reading with the people who would make up the rest of the cast, Michael was the first person to come in, which was quite … and it was like seeing a long lost super friend. We had a real easy comfort with each other.
I have to say, the thing that initially struck me about Michael was what a fantastic actor he was. I feel about Michael like what I feel about Kevin Corrigan or Sam Rockwell or a handful of these guys that are just so good. So I’ve always got tremendous respect for his work. And the fact, we’re just best friends, and our relationship only got tighter during the course of the series. We rented a house on the beach and lived in this house together, and it was kind of like doing this weird 700-page … movie with your best friend living in a beach house in San Diego.
Scott Seomin [FX]: Donal, I want to make sure that everybody understands, that’s the real life, you guys lived in a beach house in real life—
Logue: Yes, in real life. For the show, we decided why live in a hotel. We’ll just rent a house on the beach, and we knew that the challenge of this show, this isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a fantastic cast with Kimberly Quinn and Laura Allen, Rockmond Dunbar, Jamie Denbo, and great guest stars, but the real onus of all the work falls on our shoulders, Michael and myself, so we lived in the same house. We just kind of worked Terriers around the clock the whole time we were down in San Diego, and it was a great experience. But yes, I love Michael. He’s absolutely one of my dearest friends on planet earth, and so it wasn’t hard, that whole chemistry gel thing. Does that make sense? Is that good?
I watched five episodes and I have to tell you, you guys definitely have chemistry, that chemistry thing, but what I really appreciate is your sister’s performance, Jamie’s. The women in this particular series are so brilliant and so, I love how Hank relies and trusts this inner circle of women.
Logue: That’s a really interesting point. First of all, the women are fantastic across the board. I’ve worked with Jamie before. There’s a reason Laura and Kimberly were cast because they’re brilliant. And Karina, my sister, I think she’s a genius, you know.
What I have to say is—and what I love about Ted and Shawn too in this, and I think it kind of migrated in this direction—is I have three sisters. I don’t have brothers. I’ve always been very close to women in that regard. My sisters are all incredible women, really bright.
I think it’s always false when you see these shows where guys … and you know what? There might be guys like this, but we’re not those guys: Donal, Michael, “Britt,” or “Hank,” where I can’t talk to women. It’s like this weird pagan. When emotions come up, it just gets so …. It’s like men and women can talk to each other and can rely on each other and can have, and these guys have intelligent and kind of poignant conversations with women.
Do Michael and I have good chemistry? Do I love doing stuff with Michael? There’s no doubt. That’s kind of like a slam-dunk. But my favorite individual scenes are always with the women in the show. There’s always something kind of unique and special, and a completely different side to my character that gets to come out and it’s different with each one of the women. So I love that about the show.
There’s a scene you have with Kimberly Quinn (Gretchen). She’s your ex-wife, and you say to her—and your timing was perfect—“I still love you.” I’m just wondering if Gretchen is going to be a continuing—if your ex is going to be a continuing player—and if you could also talk about your sister. I hope that she continues in the series.
Logue: Absolutely, both of them. As we leave it at the end of the first season, everybody is still around and still kind of in play in those worlds, and it’s an incredibly selfish thing to do sometimes is to throw that kind of a grenade on someone’s lap. When she says, “I don’t know what to do with that,” I mean, I think I say, “I don’t either,” but I think I would have said, “I don’t care what you do with it. I just have to throw that grenade in your lap.” But they are really special kind of actors, and it was a real joy to be able to do these scenes with all of them.
I’m not a particularly … I have whatever bag of actor tricks that everybody carries with them to what they do. I would say I’m not or I don’t try to be particularly indulgent in the way I talk about it. There were some scenes I had with my sister that were almost too emotionally difficult to do to get through. It was kind of a thrilling experience to be so overtaken by 100% real emotion that it was really difficult to get through some scenes.
I wanted to know how you would describe Terriers for my readers.
Logue: I would describe it as kind of a throwback to that kind of golden age of ‘70s television of kind of those buddy kind of shows or those private investigators, things like the Rockford Files, except it’s been updated with this FX sensibility. I think it’s routed in kind of a little bit of a more—I would just say kind of a realistic style emotionally and cinematically and otherwise. But in a way, I hope it harkens back to those kinds of fun ride of those shows back in the ‘70s, but I think that it definitely has some of that dramatic edge that I think is based.
What I love about FX and part of their … is that they always say that if there’s a dead body, it seems it’s really dead. That might sound kind of like vague or obtuse, but there’s a tendency in these shows sometimes, these one hour dramas, like it’s a crime, and it’s, ooh, someone is dead. But it’s like Murder She Wrote. You don’t really feel like someone’s dead. It’s just another way to get through that week’s kind of thing. What’s interesting, fun, or clever about the show isn’t routed in some kind of visceral reality, but I think our show has that too, if that makes any sense.
If you were to describe your character, Hank, what do you like about him as well?
Logue: I like that he just doesn’t give up. And I like the fact and what’s fun about him is that he feels, I think, embolden to be free that once you feel like you’ve lost all the things that you were living for, either your reputation, your wife, your career, whatever it is, once you realize that that … for those things and to kind of one day win the battles that you’ve lost is a futile effort, you’re free to kind of like embark upon a new life and a new form of behavior. I think it frees up Hank and Britt by proxy to kind of—whereas they feel that others might think they’re small time, that that whole thing about maybe we are big time and didn’t know it, that’s kind of what he’s free to pursue this life where they go after really big bad guys, and they’re fearless about it.
When you were describing Terriers, what is the main difference … working on, I think Terriers is more like a dramady versus when you worked on Life or a sitcom like Grounded for Life.
Logue: It’s interesting because this comes back to my very first audition for television or movies was that this thing that was very serious about the Boston bussing crisis in the mid ‘70s. And I’d done a lot of plays. I’d never auditioned for film or television before, and there was a really good casting director and an English director named Michael Newel, who was directing the thing, and this woman, Meg Simon. And I went in to audition. My first question was like, “I heard when you’re filmed on camera, you have to be smaller,” and it’s this, it’s that. And she said, “Acting is acting. Just do the … scene.”
I think with Grounded for Life, or Life, or Terriers that it’s all acting. It’s all the same. You invested with the same emotional reality of whatever the thing is. Now clearly the formats are a bit different, and what I love about Terriers is that it can be funny, but it doesn’t have the kind of hydraulic pressure on it to be funny every 15 seconds like something like Grounded for Life. That it can take its own rhythm and pace to find those moments, and Life, which had its moments. But I think kind of whatever you do, whatever the part is that … or Tidwell in Life, or Hank …. It’s like what’s real to this guy in this moment, and you kind of try and play it as straight as possible. And as long as you honor your dramatic commitment to it, then it’ll be funnier. It’ll be poignant. It’ll be whatever it’s supposed to be.
I’ve had a good time kind of floating around in all of those different mediums, and I try not to have favorites or be judgmental about one over the other. It’s all a little bit of a different exercise. I actually used to kind of talk down on that half-hour thing, and I was really put straight by John Lithgow who, before I did Grounded for Life, was doing Third Rock from the Sun. I mean, this guy’s career is so fantastic. He said, “Look. What do you not like about doing a two-act play in front of a live audience?” And so it’s all just a little different, but I think this job has freed me up to be closer to what I want to be than any other job I’ve ever done.
Now, Terriers has some of the best fight scenes, especially in the second episode, “Dog and Pony.” Do you do most of your own stunts? Can you talk a little bit about some of them?
Logue: Yes. It’s always fun to do that. It’s the question you have to ask Eric Norris, our stunt coordinator. But I’ve always had a really good time doing a lot of that kind of stuff, especially movies like Blade. I’m kind of a difficult person to double because of just the way I look. So it’s always been very fun to do all the fight scenes and the stunts and all that stuff, except I made a massive miscalculation in that first fight scene in that second episode that you were talking about, and I injured myself. It kind of stuck with me for the whole season, but it was a real blast. It was always something that was kind of like we’ve always felt that it was important to do as much of that stuff as you can do.
But I knew that Eric was kind of psyched that Michael and I are kind of familiar with that stuff and have done it a bit. Yes, I was in that fight scene with Matthew Willig, who plays Montell … and he’s this huge NFL guy, massive monster of a man, like as big as I’m in the opposite direction, and he throws me through a wall, and saved the wall in a couple of takes. I had to get kind of thrown by him and grab this pole. I did something to my shoulder, and he was like, “Oh, buddy. I think I got you there,” and so anyway, it became an issue over the course of the year. So we ended up writing it into the script, but you’ll see over the course of the season.
Now, even though you have just started playing Hank, do you ever find yourself stealing some of his moves, mannerisms?
Logue: Before Hank, I just stole everything from myself. Yes, but I like Hank. I think I actually fell upon Hank at a time in my life where I felt like something about that guy and where I was in my life just met in this perfect kind of, we just fell into step next to each other at just the right time. In another point in my life or a couple of years ago, I couldn’t have done it, and I wouldn’t have been the right guy to do it. But I wouldn’t say that about me or him now.
You were just talking about how you kind of stole from your own life for Hank. I wanted to know what exactly was your mindset going into this, and what exact aspects of your life that you put into Hank.
Logue: Some are coincidental and others were more intentional. One very kind of cheesy one, I would say, is when it started and I first met with the wardrobe designer, and in fairness to her, like no one really, I think Hank was… kind of seemed like an older guy at the time when it was first written. For some reason, there was this weird like Dennis Bronds kind of just in terms of the way he presented himself of just kind of slacks and short sleeve button down shirts and ties and stuff. There was part of me that was like, “Well, I grew up in this community. I have a lot of friends who still live in Ocean Beach. Let me just be me. Let me just show you how I would externally look being in one of these beach communities in San Diego.”
I started kind of from the outside in. And I feel like, especially like there’s something interesting about guys who used to be cops or in the military or whatever, and had to tow the line, and when it ends, and it’s kind of like I don’t want to tow the line for the man anymore. I don’t need to be shored back inside. I don’t need to dress a certain way. I can just—I’m free. If you want the kind of invest in being a perpetual kid at some point, you’re like, well, you might as well take advantage of it and be free to look the way you want to look and be the way you want to be. So the external vibe helped start to inform a lot of the internal feelings. Then whatever my private relationship is with things like alcohol and stuff like that, a lot of them just happen to be kind of coincidental, but … I knew an awful lot about, and so that helped me.
Then there were a series of really interesting things like, Shawn and Tim Minear and Ted, and they were like, “How would you feel about Hank having a sister and having a family member with mental illness issues and stuff?” It was just like there was a lot of stuff that me and my sister, who plays my sister—my sister, Karina, played my sister on the show, Stephanie—there’s a lot of stuff that we could relate to, so it just started added up and becoming a combination of bringing Hank closer to who I was and then elements in Hank’s life that I could really relate to.
Now, with regards to Hank’s kind of emotional build up, he seems like a guy that—from the two episodes that I’ve been able to watch so far—that he’s somebody that carries his emotions around almost like a dark cloud over him, but he doesn’t seem to burden or doesn’t appear to want to burden anyone else with it. What do you draw upon to get into that kind of mind space, and was it difficult for you to do, or is it something that you understood based on what you were reading?
Logue: …because I’ve always described like the darkest period in my life as being kind of like this thing from 1989 through 1991 when I was kind of like just bouncing around homeless in New York and LA, bad stuff, and to me it represents the real dark cloud period of my life. It’s funny because when I talk to my friends—some of whom I felt like I really mooched upon and abused back then—they were like, “Yes. You were a mooch, and you were down and out, and you were always this and that. But you were always fun to be around.”
I was like, “Wow, I didn’t really realize that I was projecting that out there.” So I’ve always felt that like if I was of one or two varieties, I’m definitely more of the suicidal than the homicidal variety as a human being. So if I’ve got stuff going on, the hit is going to be on me, and I’m not going to try to take it out on those around me. So maybe that kind of led into where Hank is at, but it feels like a very unfair thing to do.
At the same time, even when things are kind of down and out and bad, there’s a certain delicious joy in that kind of melancholy and still in the people around you. You can always still have a laugh. So that’s what I liked about the show is all of that stuff rang pretty true to me.
I noticed that the first episode was directed by Craig Brewer. I wanted to know what it was like working with him and what your thoughts are on this two other features that he’s directed so far.
Logue: I love Craig. When we do television, the one thing you ask before anything else is who is doing it. If it’s someone who brought you The Wire or if it’s the team behind Saved by the Bell or Small Wonder, there’s a difference. It could be a private eye show in either camp, but it’s going to be wildly different what the end result is. I saw that it was Shawn and Ted Griffin and Craig Brewer—and I was a massive fan of Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan, and I just loved the nature of the grittiness and the dialog—I just felt like, “Wow, I’ll be in really safe hands with a guy like Craig Brewer.”
He proved himself to be even better than I thought, an incredibly nice guy, super sweet guy, very talented. We were just sad that he was so busy with films after the pilot that he couldn’t join us for more, but we actually got to work with a number of great directors. Craig was great, and Craig was really instrumental in the fight to have Michael on the show too because Craig, in a way, felt probably deservedly like he’d discovered Michael with Black Snake Moon. So a lot of why Michael Raymond-James ended up being on the show—even though he was probably too … and a little too old and these different things to play “Britt” and probably too much like me in a way—that it was like a lot of what helped that was Craig Brewer.
I know that you’re a writer and a director, and the two questions I have for you are kind of connected that way. Are you possibly going to be writing or directing any of the upcoming episodes of the show? You and Michael, did you create like a background history, the two of you, while you were together filming? Did you create a background and like stories of things that the two of you had done together?
Logue: On the first front, I would say probably not. To me, what I love is that Shawn and Tim Minear and Ted have given Michael and I kind of license to pitch in and have some say on things or just get or opinion on where things are going. In a weird way, it’s like the acting side of things is so overwhelming on a show like this when you’re shooting six- or seven-day episodes and have—like for me personally, I think there was an episode where I was in 73 of 75 scenes or something insane. So if the workload is so much, and while you’re doing it, they’re prepping the next week or they’re writing these arcs that I think it would kind of preclude me from doing anything like that unless it was like so deep in the run of the show that we kind of had a better sense of what was going on. Sometimes when it’s really acting heavy, it just feels good to leave it at that.
But Michael and I definitely kicked around a lot of ideas about how we met and where we hung out, but like as it turned out, we were wrong. And it’s funny because we talked to the writers. I said, until we figure out certain things like what went wrong with me and Mark Gustafson, who is played by Rockmond Dunbar … idea in my mind just to hang my hat on, just to give me kind of an emotional … but if you tell me it’s something that’s totally against where I’ve been kind of privately going, it’s fine. I just do things to give myself a little bit of a—to know where I’m at geographically within my own mind when I’m doing stuff. So, yes, Michael and I had a bunch of ideas. What ended up being the reality of it though was I think a lot better, just something that they sprang on us, which was cool.
If you had your chance with a character from a comic book to play any of them, which one would it be?
Logue: I had a chance, and I did a small part in it, but I would have to say American Splendor, which I did, which was, of all comic book movies, the one that was just the grittiest. What an amazing … to do a comic about a dude in Cleveland, a kind of misanthropic, working class guy. But I don’t know. I love Marvel Comics, and I kind of developed a little bit of a relationship with them over the course of Blade, Ghost Rider, and those things. So I feel like I’m down for any kind of adventure that’s going down in the comic book world. The only thing that bums me out is … in Ghost Rider and in Max Payne, which isn’t really a comic book, but a video game … and graphic novel, I get killed, so I don’t have a chance to come back ….
Yes. You always die.
Logue: …times … I’ve been decapitated a number of times. I know actors who are like, I never want to play a part where I get killed. I’ve been killed from the get go, man. I got killed in Sneakers, so like I’m just dying left, right, and center, always.
You mentioned that there was a kind of a Rockford Files thing going on with Terriers. I found that interesting because when I was watching the first five episodes, I got the impression that if Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett had written Rockford, it might have been something like Terriers.
Logue: Yes, that’s really great to hear. I guess that’s been buzzing around a little bit lately, but I’ve always had this weird feeling, and I think that Quentin Tarantino kind of really hit upon something somewhat powerful with this was there was something pop cultural about, I mean, I think this is like Pulp Fiction. He took something very ‘70s, but he gave it his twist, his edge, his darkness, and his wit, and turned it into something that kind of transcended what it was, but it felt familiar. I have a weird sense that Terriers was kind of like that as well.
That kind of makes sense, and especially insofar as Philip Marlow and Sam Spade both had a knack of getting in over their heads, and Hank and Britt have that same kind of knack.
Logue: Exactly, and they can’t. They know, I mean, the flags are out, and danger this way, but yet they get all of them.
Hank also has that kind of integrity too. When he makes a promise, whether it’s a promise of good things to come or bad things to come, he keeps his promises, and I like that. So I was wondering how did the role come to you, and what first appealed to you about it?
Logue: It came down the normal channels. I don’t know exactly what the kind of back story was. I do know that Ted and Shawn had gotten together to create a show about this private eye. They probably went out to some kind of big stars who, luckily for me, probably felt that they were too big of a star to do something like this. So then my name popped up, and I went, and I met with Shawn, his partner …, Ted Griffin, and Craig Brewer and sat down and really just talked about it and where it takes place and how I felt about it. I think, at the end of that meeting, that the job was mine.
Then I was kind of really game to jump onboard and start getting into the material and reading it with all the other actors who would make up the rest of the cast. So I spent a good few weeks before we shot the pilot really doing a lot of the scenes in the pilot with other potential cast members, and that was really an enlightening experience. I just had that initial meeting with Shawn and Ted and Craig, and my name had come up somehow, so I was really fortunate.
One thing that’s interesting to me is that there’s different parts of the city that have different flavors to it. Is that going to be reflected in the series, especially, even in the costal cities? Carlsbad and Delmar differ from OB. So maybe you can talk about kind of how that’s translated on the screen.
Logue: What I like about the show is that … the shows … been, San Diego has been used as the kind of place to film them, but it doesn’t really specifically reference San Diego much that we film all over San Diego, and we kind of know the difference between Mission and Hillcrest and El Cajon and La Mesa, and what La Hoya means to San Diego, and OB of course, most importantly. I think that hopefully San Diegans will feel like they’re represented in a way by people who kind of know San Diego a little bit.
Part of that is just the writers getting used to it. A lot of it is the crew is from San Diego. A lot of that we changed was because I grew up in El Centro, and my mom lives in San Diego, my sister, and San Diego has been kind of part of my life since I was eight years old, so I know it well. Yes, I hope San Diego likes it. We were filming at places, I remember, like looking at the Coronado Bridge, and I remember running a 10 kilometer race over the Coronado Bridge to the Star of India when I was 11 years old. And you know every hotel and parking lot where good and/or bad things happened, so I love the fact that we’re in San Diego.
Is it something that you guys are going to continue to film on location throughout the series run? Is that something that you’re pushing for given that you want to kind of maybe spotlight the city a bit?
Logue: Absolutely. The thing was, I think FX was brilliant about this. It costs more for them to do something like that. Most shows end up being on a stage or they try a way to shoot everything in doors at this person’s apartment and that person’s restaurant or whatever, and then they’re out one day a week or something. We’re out six days a week in San Diego, and it makes our show a lot better, and I think that they realize that it looks better. It breathes in a different way, and that I love.
The thing is, if you pan up to a crime scene and a couple of detectives, and they’re standing under the Brooklyn Bridge, it’s like that’s not like a scene you haven’t seen before. At some point people get fried on Los Angeles and New York as settings for television shows. It’s fun to just explore a new city and what’s different about it.
Were you able to maybe speak with the locals? Are there crimes or different cases that would be unique to San Diego that wouldn’t be in other places of the country?
Logue: Yes. I don’t know if we’ve totally touched upon it. There was a little bit of it. But when I started happening in places like San Diego and maybe a little bit like in Arizona and Texas is that some of the criminal elements from south of the border was coming up, and there was a little bit of stuff happening in San Diego, kidnappings and the like, that were tied to some of the things happening in Tijuana and Balan, California. So there’s a total—border towns have their own unique flavor, and that’s San Diego. I grew up El Centro and Nogales … so San Diego was different in the sense that it was such a big American city across from a Mexican city. I grew up in small towns on the border, but I always think that that flavor is unique, and it comes up in our show.
So this show, I love the tagline, too small to fail, because everything is so high concept now, and it’s a great time for TV, but there are a lot of really big things, and it’s big character twists and stuff like that. This show delights itself in the character moments and the smaller stuff. When you mentioned Craig Brewer, but you’ve also got like John Dahl and Rion Johnson and Clark Johnson, all these great filmmakers. Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like to make what is really like a little … show with a network that’s actually kind of the mark of quality right now?
Logue: That’s it. You just nailed it. It’s like the networks, the taste coming from uptown, down below is the tone. They know what’s good, so you’ll feel like, I mean, sometimes with Bill … films, in the middle of it, someone gets scared, and they want to make something that they feel is more palatable for a wider audience. And you’re like, no, no. Don’t get scared and change midstream. And that’s when it doesn’t know what it is.
The thing about FX is they know exactly what they want and what the show is, and it’s most importantly … and then they bring in all these great directors. I mean, Clark Johnson directed The Shield and The Wire. He’s not going to lead you. He’s not going to not understand where you’re going with drama. Clark was a great actor himself actually. Brian Johnson and John Dahl and Guy Perwin and Tucker Gates and then actually Ted Griffin himself came on to direct two episodes, and Adam Arkin directed two episodes, so both guys were so fantastic. So we were just lucky up and down all over.
Yes. It’s so refreshing, and another thing, to see that they actually take the time to focus on characters and that’s an overused term that TV shows build themselves on being character driven, but in reality this thing, the crimes take a backseat. All of that stuff takes a backseat to seeing where you guys are going to go in your lives. It’s really impressive.
Logue: Yes. You know what? It’s fun. And believe me. We feel a bit of the heat because it’s like you know that it’s like, look, Michael, if they don’t—hey, look. I buy into it, and I believe it. I believe that it should see people who really relate to each other, who really get along, and the relationship is complicated, and on a weird side note, they kind of look like guys that you feel like, oh, I’ve seen these guys in my town. I haven’t really seen them on TV before. But there’s something in every direction that feels kind of real that the show hinges upon that. If they’re not along for the ride with us, then they’re not along, you know.
And it’s funny because I’ve read, I mean, honestly people have been really, really … for this show has been kind of awesome and overwhelming. Of course there have been a couple of people who have took a swipe at the show and just, it’s funny. Just out of curiosity, you end up looking up the future of the guy or who he hits, and just take a look at judgment if the person has taken a swipe of your show. But I wouldn’t take a ride with these two characters ever. It’s like, well, dude, we wouldn’t ride with you. We wouldn’t want to ride with you. And if you … my fan, I think I was doing something wrong.
So there’s an element to it like it’s so weird because in television, you have to appeal to everybody. In rock and music, you know, you’re like, hey, man. I’m Metallica. I play this type of music. I don’t expect everybody to like what I do, but this is what I do.
And it’s weird because TV, you’ve got to kind of have, especially in terms of critical praise or whatever, you have to have a broader appeal than that. But hopefully what we’re doing is human, and if you do it, and you do it honestly, and it’s really character driven, as you say, then it … with people and they response because we are a low-tech show. It’s not fancy. What I like about these guys as private I’s, which is weird is, most private I’s do a lot of work on the Internet now. “Britt” and “Hank” are kind of … to still kind of do old school, Jake Geti’s kind of tricks to kind of get done what they have to get done, so I like that about them.