I’ve worked with a lot of actors who tend to dismiss the co-stars they’re working with but not Donal (or Rockmond Dunbar, who was also in the scene). He was seriously one of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked with. Funny, self-deprecating and open to doing what I felt was right for my character, it was one of the best working experiences I’ve had.
Terriers is easily one of my favorite shows on TV right now. The chemistry between Donal and Michael Raymond-James drives the show. From the very first episode, it feels like you’ve known these characters forever; like an old comfortable shoe who visits you every Wednesday night.
This is a great interview; Donal lays it all out there. He talks about the show, his ‘actor bag of tricks,’ and how he came to be ‘Hank.’
Terriers airs on Wednesdays at 10pm on FX.
Talk to me a little bit about the chemistry you have with Michael? It just seemed to gel right from the first scene. Is that something you guys worked on?
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 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.
I want to make sure that everybody understands, that’s the real life, you guys lived in a beach house in real life—
Donal: 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.
I have to tell you, you guys definitely have chemistry 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.
Donal: 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.
Donal: 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 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.
What is the main difference working on Terriers versus when you worked on Life or a sitcom like Grounded for Life.
Donal: It’s interesting because this comes back to my very first audition for television or movies. It 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…. 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.
Do you ever find yourself stealing some of his Hank’s mannerisms?
Donal: Before “Hank,” I just stole everything from myself. I think I actually fell upon “Hank” at a time in my life where I felt 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.”
Donal: 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. 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.
With regards to “Hank’s” emotional build up, he seems like a guy that carries his emotions around almost like a dark cloud but doesn’t want to burden anyone else with it. What do you draw upon to get into that kind of mind space?
Donal: I’ve always described the darkest period in my life as being this thing from 1989 through 1991 when I was 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. 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.
You and Michael, did you create like a background history while you were together filming?
Donal: 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 …I need an 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.
I was wondering how did the role come to you, and what first appealed to you about it?
Donal: 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.