Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Donal Logue spent several years as an everyman-style character actor, appearing in such high-profile motion pictures as Jerry Maguire and Blade, before earning major plaudits for his starring turn in the indie comedy The Tao Of Steve. Since then, he’s turned up in numerous TV series, including starring roles in Grounded For Life and Terriers, while continuing to do a variety of film work. Currently, Logue has the rare honor of maintaining recurring roles in three different series: In addition to returning to FX’s Sons Of Anarchy for its sixth season later in 2013 and joining the cast of BBC America’s Copper for its sophomore season, he can currently be seen as King Horik in History Channel’s Vikings.
Vikings (2013-present)—“King Horik”
Donal Logue: I would’ve literally picked up a sword and fought to get into Vikings, but when I first tried there was some kind of vibe like, “Yeah, we know who you are, but we’re not that interested.” And part of me was going, “Look, I don’t know if you just saw The Tao Of Steve yesterday or something, but I’m different now! I’m a much older and angrier person now!” [Laughs.] Then, although I was ultimately asked to do it, I couldn’t, because at the last minute I was doing this movie CBGB, so there was a conflict in scheduling. But [executive producer] Michael Hirst wrote me and said, “I’d really like you to do this, and I’ve got this idea for a character coming down the pike if you’d like to.” I thought, “Yeah, great!” So I’m really excited that I got to at least jump in there somewhere. Late to the game, but better late than never.
The A.V. Club: What’s the backstory on King Horik?
DL: King Horik was an actual king in the ninth century. You’re not gonna find a guy writing drama who’s more of a stickler for historical accuracy than Michael Hirst. He wrote Elizabeth, he did The Tudors; the guy’s incredibly bright, a very erudite, intellectual historian. But the Vikings didn’t leave a mass of historical records. What they left was this tremendous historical impact. The Icelandics left a lot of, like, oral tradition, but some of it has to be tailored for the drama a little bit.
My guy was basically a Danish king back in this era of Ragnar Lodbrok. I think in the Vikings world, what’s happening is that Ragnar and his brother are starting to pull out these raids, which were monumental, because shortly thereafter, the Vikings were everywhere. They made it to the Ukraine, they made it to Paris; they were just sacking places and saying, “Look, pay us a lot or we’re gonna destroy you.” And people would pay them, and then they’d come back and do it again the next year. So I play the guy who’s the king, and up to this point he hasn’t really heard of what’s been going on. Then once he does hear about it, he says, “Okay, I want to meet these guys who are doing this. I’m impressed. That’s really neat.” [Laughs.]“Also, nothing happens without my say-so, so we’re partners on this.”
There’s a lot of speculation as to what the ultimate fate of Horik and Ragnar was, as far as who was behind who, because it’s a power struggle when one of your subjects becomes bigger and more powerful and more popular than you. But I’m interested to see what’s coming. What little that’s happened for me so far in the show has been fun. Just to be in Ireland and standing by Powerscourt Waterfall in Wicklow… My mother lives in Ireland, both my parents are from Ireland, so just to go back and work in Ireland was a huge kind of victory, a real accomplishment for me.
Common Ground (1990)—“Danny McGoff”
DL: Yeah! Okay, so I’m walking through Harvard Square, I’m working at a bar, I’ve just graduated from college, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. I see this theater director named David Wheeler, and I’m like, “Hey, man, can I do this thing?” I’m having a total existential crisis, and he’s just a nice guy, so he’s like, “Oh, sure, I kind of remember you, and, by the way, they’re casting this miniseries down the street. I’ll call ’em.” So I go down the street, and I’m one of 500 guys yelling something out a window at the cops. You’re just in this cattle call, in this huge line.
I go back to the bar, and my friends, who were in a punk band called Bullet LaVolta, said, “Hey, do you want to road-manage our U.S. tour?” And I’m like, “Man, that sounds cool, but I don’t know.” I’d been on some of their other tours, and if it was gonna be the same way, with a passenger van and a U-Haul… But they’d just signed to a major label [RCA], and they said, “This’ll be different than the other ones we’ve gone on; this’ll be proper, we’ll hire you as an actual road manager.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but I just auditioned for my first movie,” but then I’m also thinking, “Dude, you’re not getting the movie thing. You’re one of 500 dudes just randomly screaming out of a window.”
So I naïvely went back to that office the next day and I said, “Hi, I came in yesterday, I read for the part of Danny McGoff, and here’s the deal: My friends are in a band, they’re going on a U.S. tour, and they offered me…” And they’re like, “What the fuck are you doing here?” [Laughs.] Literally, this woman said, “This isn’t how it goes down, okay? We call you if we need to talk to you, kid. We’re very busy, so can you please leave?” And I’m like, “Uh, okay.” But then this other woman comes out and says, “What does this guy want?” The first woman goes, “Nah, don’t worry about it. He wants to know what happened with the auditions yesterday.” I go, “It’s fine, I get it!” But this woman from down the hall, Meg Simon, pops her head out and says, “Stop, wait a second, who are you? Tell me who you are!” And the thing was, honestly, I just looked like [Georgia Emelin], who was going to play one of the leads, the daughter. I looked like her brother! They flew Mike Newell down, this awesome English director, and I auditioned for him the next day, and I got my first part. It was a miniseries about the Boston busing crisis in the mid-1970s, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
AVC: Didn’t Jane Curtin play your mother in the film?
DL: Jane Curtin did play my mom. And to this day, I think of her as my mom. When I moved to New York, I was dead broke and lost my mind and my girlfriend dumped me and was with some banker making money. I wandered by Jane Curtin’s house, and she’s like, “Come in here, dear. I’ll make you lunch. Tell me, what’s going on in your life?” She’s a frigging amazing human being.
So that was Common Ground. We had to shoot in Toronto, not really for tax purposes or anything, but because of the possibility of violence. It was a tough time in Boston history, and the people in Charlestown didn’t like the way they were portrayed in the book. In fairness to them, it was a tough time, because wealthier people were saying, “Okay, poor white people and poor black people, you do a swap, right now.” And this guy who I portrayed definitely didn’t come off too well, because he was one of these guys drinking beer in the parks and screaming racial epithets and throwing bricks at buses and stuff.
The Tao Of Steve (2000)—“Dex”
DL: The woman who directed The Tao Of Steve [Jenniphr Goodman] co-wrote it with her sister Greer and this guy Duncan North. And I’m sure they approached a lot of people to play Dex, but she was pretty convinced I could do it, weirdly enough, based on the Cab Driver spots I was doing for MTV. The others were like, “Why?” And she went, “Look, that guy’s pretty bright to do those things if they’re improv.” Whether that’s true or not, that’s for someone else to say, but whatever the case, she was stuck on me for that spot. I was once again in Toronto at the time, working on a film called Steal This Movie, about Abbie Hoffman, when I got the script, and I had to read it that day. We were in the park, and I read it and was like, “My God, this is great!” It felt like it was something that some of your really smart friends from college might’ve written. So that’s how The Tao Of Steve came about.
AVC: For a small film, it’s very much a touchstone for a lot of people when it comes to your work. There are some eminently quotable lines in the script.
DL: Yeah, I was lucky to be part of that, for sure. That was also interesting because I went to Sundance and I won the acting prize [Outstanding Performance, Dramatic]. And I’m not trying to disparage any of this, but people who you thought might know you, they’d say, “My God, that was great! Who are you? Is this your first movie?” And I was like, “It’s my 38th!” [Laughs.] “Oh, my God, how much work have I done that has not appeared on a radar screen at all?”
But even after Common Ground, I was telemarketing in New York. And when Common Ground came on TV that Thursday night, or whatever it was, I had some weird thought in my mind, like, “Man, this stuff comes on, you walk across the screen, and then all of a sudden these doors are open for you!” So this telemarketing boss of mine was giving me shit about going off-script in my script for [announcer voice] Reichman-Karten-Sword National Public Opinion Research Firm. I swear to God, it was research about peanut butter or something. Anyway, the boss kept giving me a hard time about going off-script, so I finally said, “You know what? Keep your job! Screw you! Because tonight, this thing I’m in is coming on TV, and I sent out all these mailers to agencies, and tomorrow my life is gonna be different!” And when tomorrow came, my life was not different, except that I did not have my telemarketing job anymore. [Laughs.] In fact, I ended up doing more telemarketing even after I did Sneakers. Now that was a reality check.
Sneakers (1992)—“Dr. Gunter Janek”
DL: So I’d moved out to L.A., no agent, no manager, no life. I was screwed. I owed everybody money. I was really in a bad place. I was hanging out with this really great friend of mine, Greg Dulli, from Afghan Whigs. I was living on the couch of the guys from Bullet LaVolta. They were recording a record in L.A., and then they were like, “Okay, dude, we’re going back to Boston next week!” And I said, “Well, what about me?” They’re like, “Uh, you’re an adult. Tough shit.” [Laughs.] “We’re not your parents.”
So I found this place to live, taking care of dogs in South Central. I quit drinking, because I was out of my mind, and I got a job as a janitor at a drug and alcohol center, and I didn’t care about acting or… anything, really. For the first time in my life, I was like, “Oh, man. Thank you, God, for this turkey sandwich!” [Laughs.] People were talking shit about L.A., my friends in New York, but I was like, “To me, L.A. is Tibet!” I was around a group of homeless people, getting sober, working at halfway houses, and doing Project Angel Food. So I didn’t care about any of the acting stuff.
Then a friend of mine said, “Well, if you want to act, you should call Mary Vernieu, a casting associate in Hollywood. She’ll just talk to you about it.” So I called her up, and said the worst thing in the world: “I’m an actor, and I moved to Los Angeles.” But I’m like, “Before you trip out, I don’t need anything. If you want to have coffee and talk about it… I understand it’s impossible.” Even now, when people come up to me and say, “My kid’s an actor, they want to move to L.A., what should they do?” Even if you wanted to help them as much as possible, there’s really nothing you can do. You can’t call Paradigm or CAA or UTA or any of these other agencies and say, “Hey, my friend’s kid’s coming out, will you sign them as a client?” It’s impossible. So, anyway, Mary blew me off. [Laughs.] Or, rather, she said she’d meet me, and she spaced.
A couple of months later, I called her back, and she goes, “Oh, my God, we were supposed to get together!” I said, “Yeah, but it’s cool. I space on stuff all the time, and I know you’re busy. But if you want to have coffee and just talk…” And she said, “Absolutely, but we’re right in the middle of this movie Sneakers right now. Why don’t you come in and grab sides? There’s this one part we’re really struggling with. The guy’s really supposed to be 50 years old, but we think we should go younger.” And it was Gunter Janek, the math professor. So I went in and met Mary and Risa Bramon [Garcia], the casting director, who had a bunch of cool women working for her who all went off to have huge casting careers, including Heidi Levitt and Juel Bestrop and Mary. So I met them, we joked and laughed for a bit. And I’d kind of studied some history of science in college, which proved to be a good thing, because I could talk a little bit academic. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a snow job, but it’s like… my friends or even my kids will say, “Well, what use is any of that stuff?” And I go, “Everything you’ve ever learned in your life will be of value to you at some point!” So I talked about The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions, this book by Thomas Kuhn, about how young people always break the established paradigms, and basically just trying to see this guy as 25, not 50.
Then I came back the next day, and I remember going into this waiting room where there were a lot of really well-known character actors. Like, people who’d been nominated for Oscars. And you might be sitting in some town or wherever, going, “I could do that stuff, I’m better than these guys,” with that combination of arrogance and self-loathing that goes hand in hand. But when I walked into that room, I was like, “What am I doing here with these guys? I can’t waste these people’s time. These are serious people!” Then I had this momentary kind of epiphany where I was like, “Well, someone’s got to do this gig. Why not me? They don’t know this stuff any better than I do.” So I went in and met [director] Phil Alden Robinson and [screenwriter] Walter Parkes. I remember walking in, and there was a poster in Japanese for Rhinestone, with Sly Stallone and Dolly Parton. [Laughs.] But it was in Kanji, so I made some jokes in Japanese about it, I don’t know what I said, but we all started laughing really hard at this Sly Stallone/Dolly Parton thing, and immediately it was kind of like, “Hey, the pool’s warm!”
I’ve also found over the years that those environments are usually welcoming. People want people to do well. You can get focused on the bitter side of it, like, “Everybody wants you to fail, everybody’s keeping the door closed to you,” but that’s not true at all. Everybody’s kind of in the same boat. Everybody’s kind of a freelancer. If Phil Alden Robinson doesn’t keep writing hit scripts or big movies, then he goes somewhere else. The same with the executives and stuff.
By the way, I had to sit between Ben Kingsley and Sidney Poitier at the read-through. Then I had to go back to my job at the drug and alcohol center as a janitor after the read-through! [Laughs.] It was such a great thing, because I was like, “Oh, man, these guys are human! They make mistakes, they’re approachable, they’re nice people!”
Grounded For Life (2001-2005)—“Sean Finnerty”
DL: So after The Tao Of Steve and Sundance, I had a meeting with Tom Warner and Marcy Carsey, and they’re the coolest. I mean, they built this empire, with The Cosby Show and Roseanne. They said, “We really like you, and we really want to do something with you.” And I said, “Well, you know, I love comedy. I did the Cab Driver stuff, but that was improv, and I did The Tao Of Steve, but that’s not really half-hour comedy stuff. I don’t really know if I’m good at sitcom stuff. And I say that with full respect to people who do it well, because I think it’s super-challenging. I love Cheers and Seinfeld and shows like that.” And they said, “Well, we can talk about doing it different, maybe as a one-camera or something. It’s not as difficult as you think. We’d like you meet these writers.” So they brought in these guys, Bill Martin and Mike Schiff, and they said, “Look, we’ve got this kind of directive from Fox to come up with a family-based show that we’d like to build around you, kind of an Irish-American guy.” And I’m like, “That’s not a hard stretch at all: I’m very Irish-American!” [Laughs.] “Super Catholic, that’s me!” So that’s how Grounded For Life started. That was the start of five very fun years, I have to say.
AVC: Have you and Kevin Corrigan bonded over the years in your shared stead of being “that guy” in so many movies and TV shows?
DL: I always felt guilty of bringing Kevin into this world. [Laughs.] To me and to a lot of actors, he’s our favorite actor. Or he’s certainly up there, anyway. We were friends, and, actually, we did Steal This Movie together. That’s how we became friends. But he and I weren’t the ones who thought of [casting him]. I think it was Bill and Mike who said, “What about Kevin? We know you know him. Do you think he’d do this?” I was like, “Oh, my God, what a genius idea!” I love Kevin. I just talked to him the other day for the first time in a while, and it was really good to hear his voice.
DL: That was kind of a Vikings-style scenario, and this is how shallow this world is that I work and live in. This is also probably the height of my artistic process, too. So I’m hanging out with Greg Dulli again, and with Justine Chiara, who was the Afghan Whigs’ manager at the time, and I’m like, “Oh, man, I’ve gotta go audition for this vampire movie.” I had really long hair, and Justine said, “Oh, here, let me give you Snoop Dogg braids.” [Laughs.] So I got these braids, and then I went down to audition for this movie. And there’s some guys hanging out in the waiting room who are auditioning for Quinn, and they’re kind of wearing Polo shirts and Dockers or whatever, and here I am, white Snoop Dogg. The director saw me and he goes, “Ah, fuck, yeah, man! What a great look!” It was one of those stupid things where the other dudes are like, “Oh, great, we’re fucked now! This fucking English dude likes this dude’s fucking braids!” So that’s about how hard it was to get Blade. But in fairness to [director] Stephen Norrington, it was such a cool kind of movie that he just said, “Look, just have fun and be kind of this bolt of color through it. Have fun being a vampire, but be weird and be a little bit of a comic foil through this thing.” And we had a blast. It was like a joke. It wasn’t work. It was fun.
AVC: When we did Random Roles with Patton Oswalt, his stories about working with Wesley Snipes on Blade: Trinity were rather disconcerting. How was your experience with Snipes?
DL: Well, one of my best and dearest friends in the world is this guy named Robert Burke, who was in Rescue Me. He’s in all those old Hal Hartley movies, like Simple Men, but he’s also a firefighter in New York. He’s the toughest dude anyone has ever met. I mean, he’s a sweetheart, but he’s bad. And he knew Wesley. They went to college together. So Bobby was like, “Tell Wesley ‘hey’ for me.” So I said, “Hey, I’m really tight with Robert Burke,” and he goes, “Man, Bobby Burke… that guy’s stronger than anybody I’ve ever met. If I throw anything at him, he’d just bend me up into a ball. That guy’s got gorilla strength.” So I called up Robert, and he said, “Yeah, Wesley could come at me with anything, and I’d always fuck him up.” [Laughs.] So because Wesley had a whole lot of respect for Robert, I think that whatever would’ve happened changed with me because I was vetted through Robert Burke. I had a really good time with Wesley, and I thought he was a really good dude and a brilliant actor. Robert said that, of all that group of people who came through SUNY Purchase, Wesley Snipes was the guy. Maybe it was hard to turn down wanting to be an action star? I don’t know. Since I died in Blade, I missed Blade 2 and Blade: Trinity. But by the time Patton worked with Wesley, I know it was full-on crazy town. I heard stories.
MTV promos (1990-1996)—“Jimmy the Cab Driver”
120 Minutes (1994)—co-host
AVC: You referenced playing Jimmy the Cab Driver on MTV, and you also mentioned being longtime friends with Greg Dulli, but those two worlds collided when you and Dulli hosted 120 Minutes together.
DL: Yeah, and both of those things date back to when I lived in Boston. I was a bartender, and all the people I hung out with were on the edge of the arts. My friends were in bands. I was actually in Bullet LaVolta for about 10 minutes before getting kicked out. [Laughs.] But we all did temp jobs in bars or wherever, and when my friends in Bullet LaVolta and the Lemonheads started doing well, I’d go sell T-shirts or road-manage or whatever, and that’s how I met Greg Dulli. The weird thing, though, comes later in life. Look, I know where I’m at in the landscape of what I do. I’m squarely in the middle of the batting order. I’m not on top in the standings, I’m somewhere in the middle, and I’m okay with that. What I’m saying is that Greg Dulli’s one of those guys who’s an old friend of mine, and we went through some really weird, struggling times together. He was there when we were both broke as shit. Once, me and Greg were outside Whiskey Pete’s in Henderson, Nevada, begging, “Dude, can we get quarters?” We had no gas, we had no money to get back to L.A., and we didn’t have families who could really help out. Yeah, Greg and I go way back.
Jimmy the Cab Driver came from Clay Tarver—who was also a friend of Dulli’s, and who used to be in Bullet LaVolta but is now in Chavez—and also from Jesse Peretz, who’s now one of the go-to directors for TV [New Girl, Girls], but used to be the bass player for The Lemonheads. Jesse and Clay were like, “Dude, what are you doing auditioning for goofy shit in L.A.? Why don’t you just dress up and do weird stuff like you did around the common room in college?” So that’s how the Cab Driver came to be. I went and hung out with them, found some glasses, and greased up my hair, and that’s how the Cab Driver came into existence.
By the time we did 120 Minutes, I’d probably known Greg for about five years, and we were mostly friends through the indie-rock scene. Then Gentlemen came out, which is just an amazing record, and I was already friends with the MTV people, so whenever they wanted Afghan Whigs to do something, they would say, “Hey, can my friend Donal do it?” And they’re like, “Yeah, of course!” [Laughs.] Look, if it was up to me, if all I had ever done my entire career was guest-host 120 Minutes with Greg Dulli, that would’ve been fine. We had such a fun time. I’m sure people watching were like, “What a bunch of smug pricks, sitting there chain-smoking.”
AVC: Anyone watching that would feel obliged to place a wager on which one of you would succumb to lung cancer first.
DL: It’d be a fucking tie! [Laughs.] We were smoking, God, I don’t know, three packs a day? I was Marlboro Reds, he was Camel Wides. When I think back to hanging in Cincinnati with Greg and [John] Curley and those guys, I was just really lucky that I got to meet those dudes when I did. In 1989 [when I got] Common Ground, they said, “We’re gonna cast you in this movie, but you’re not gonna work for months.” So I said, “So can I go on tour with this band?” And they said, “Yeah, go on tour! We’ll tell you when you have to jump off.”
So I went on tour with Bullet LaVolta, and I found out when I was in Seattle that I had to leave after the show in Champaign, Illinois. And the show in Champaign, Illinois, was on the night of the earthquake that hit San Francisco during the World Series game. So I went to this club where Bullet LaVolta was playing with Afghan Whigs, and Greg Dulli got me—and this is saying a lot—drunker than I’ve ever been in my life. Because I’d had many, many deep drunks. That’s when I became friends with Greg: on that night of the earthquake. Then the next night, I had to leave the tour and go to Toronto to work on my first gig. I was like, “Man, it’s been four days, and I’m still hungover! This is really bad.” Yeah, thanks, Greg. [Laughs.]
Later, after I’d quit drinking, he and I were arguing about something, and he told me he wrote “Fountain And Fairfax” about me. I’m like, “Oh, that’s awesome… and way to feminize me!” We’ve been through a lot of together. I love him. But I’m also a huge fan of his work, and it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes super-familiarity with someone makes it hard to hold their work in awe. But that guy’s unbelievable.
The Thin Red Line (1998)—“Marl”
DL: When I was doing Blade, I was auditioning for The Thin Red Line, and I had to keep coming back. I got a consolation prize. Elias Koteas and John C. Reilly, those were two parts that I was up for and came down to the wire on, and they’re both good friends and frigging great actors. They’re awesome dudes. But Terrence Malick was kind of like Michael Hirst on Vikings, where he was like, “Look, I want you in there somewhere, and I’m gonna come up with something for you.” Unlike a lot of people who discovered after the fact that their storyline had been clipped because he made a six-hour movie, I knew that I was dispensable from the get-go, which is why it remains probably my best life experience working on something.
AVC: Just being able to say that you were directed by Terrence Malick would seem to be accomplishment enough.
DL: Absolutely! And he’s just the sweetest guy possible, unlike you’d think someone who’s been deified the way he has. He’ll be like, [Southern accent] “Hey, Donal, when you were in Nogales and you were young, did you guys nut-wrestle?” “Uh… what?” “Yeah, you know!” He would just have guys doing different things. Like, if he found out a guy could run up palm trees, he’d have him doing that. So, he is who he is. Yes, he’s brilliant, he’s erudite, he’s like some Lichtenstein scholar who taught philosophy in Europe. All these things. But he’s also a country guy from Texas and Oklahoma.
It was funny because he’s kind of like, “If you’re educated, you can’t play a non-educated person.” And I’m like, “Bullshit, dude. That’s my life. You can’t take away my experience. Like you, Terry, I went to Harvard, but I grew up in El Centro, California. That’s not an easy place. It wasn’t like we were a rich family. We were struggling in a town that was really struggling, on the Mexican border. So don’t penalize me for having gotten an education out of this whole thing, because I can play these dudes!” [Laughs.] I still kind of worship the ground that Terry Malick walks on.
I didn’t originally want to be an actor. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I’d acted in a few plays in college, but I was just a confused guy. I knew vaguely that I wanted to work in some creative field, but I thought, “Maybe I’ll ask the Lister Group in New York if I can sweep floors or build sets or something.” One thing I did do, though, was write letters to Wim Wenders and Terrence Malick when I was in college. I didn’t get a response. I don’t even know where I sent them! [Laughs.] The only thing I really knew was that whoever made Days Of Heaven, Wings Of Desire, and La Dolce Vita… These three things are perfection.”
The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)—“Charley Best”
AVC: Well, you didn’t get to work with Fellini, but you did get to work with Wim Wenders.
DL: Yeah, I’m all like, “Hey, didja get my letter?” [Laughs.] Million Dollar Hotel is another one that ties into hanging out with Greg Dulli. I quit drinking a long time ago, but this was still when we were still drinking hard. I never watch the Oscars, but I watched the famous one where Rob Lowe sings to Snow White. I don’t know why I don’t watch the Oscars. It’s not bitterness or anything; it just seems weird. I was always proud of Nick Cave for turning down an MTV award because he’s like, “This competitive thing seems odd. My muse doesn’t deal with it well.” Anyway, we went to this guy’s apartment to watch the Oscars, and this guy—Nicholas Klein—on his coffee table is this manuscript called The Million Dollar Hotel. And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “Oh, it’s a script I wrote with Bono. He came up with the story, and I wrote the script.” And I go, “Fuck, that’s really cool!”
That was almost a decade before it was made, so it was funny when, much later, we were talking about the new Wim Wenders film, and I was like, “God, I saw that [script], like, 10 years ago!” So I met Wim Wenders, and I told him that I’d read this script years ago. [German accent] “And how did that happen?” Then I told him, “I actually wrote you a letter when I was in college,” and all that stuff. It was a small part, but whatever. I was just so psyched to be there, and to become friends with Bud Cort. Mel [Gibson] was cool. The cast was crazy on that movie. Everybody was really great. My first baby was born when I was on that set.
I ended up doing The Patriot with Mel, and it looks like Wim and I are going to be doing another movie together. I got the option and adapted this screenplay for this Walker Percy novel called The Second Coming. Wim had told me one time, “I always loved Walker Percy,” so my friend Orian Williams, who’s a producer, and I were like, “We’ve got to get Wim to do this movie!” It’s been a couple of years, but Wim and J.P. Danko did another pass on the script, so hopefully later this year we’re gonna do this thing in North Carolina.
Terriers (2010)—“Hank Dolworth”
DL: That was the greatest gift. Honestly, if someone were to ask, “What do you do as an actor?” I would say, “If you have the time and you want to do it fairly, then watch the 13 episodes of Terriers. If you like it, great, and if you don’t, fair enough, but that’s it, man.” That was the best situation I’ve ever been in as an actor, in terms of writers and what kind of part I was given: a guy who’s kind of an everyman, who’s sometimes his own worst enemy but is a good guy at heart. Then there’s my relationship with Michael Raymond-James, who played Britt, and my sister [Karina Logue] played my schizophrenic sister on the show. There was so much stuff about Terriers that was so near and dear to my heart.
[Hesitates.] I’m not a rich guy—I’ve made stupid decisions in my life, I’ve backed businesses that have gone to shit, I live in an apartment—but when Terriers went down the drain, I really was like, “Well, at least I have my truck-driving license. I should just go drive a truck. I can’t deal with this shit anymore.” I couldn’t really afford to do it, but I just felt like quitting. Because I’d gotten so super emotionally attached to that show.
AVC: Which serves as my cue to bring up Kickstarter. Thanks to the success of financing the Veronica Mars movie, this is the perfect time to move forward on bringing back Terriers.
DL: Yeah, but we’d been talking about that for ages for Terriers. I’ve talked to Shawn [Ryan] and Ted [Griffin] about it, and Ted’s like, “I want to do it! I just have to come up with a cool story!” Ted and Shawn want to do it. It’s just really incumbent on their schedules and all the stuff that they’re doing to come up with the script. We all want to do it, and we will do it.
In a weird way, maybe we’d have been better to do it before [Veronica Mars] and not look like we’re just going, “Hey, they did it, so…” I remember Shawn had talked about Kickstarter last year when the president of Netflix had talked about possibly doing Terriers as a show for them. You know, it had a beautiful run. It felt like a miniseries. But I’d still love to go back. It would definitely be fun to go back and do a two-hour movie of it.
Zodiac (2007)—“Captain Ken Narlow”
DL: [David] Fincher was someone I’d known for a million years, too. I did a “Rock The Vote” commercial for him back in 1990 or something. He’s a super sweet guy, incredibly brilliant, and Laray Mayfield, his casting director, was the one who gave me Terriers. Or at least she pushed me to Ted and Shawn. I was gonna do this movie with David about Dogtown and Z-Boys, Lords Of Dogtown, but he had to cancel. Catherine Hardwicke ended up doing it, didn’t she? And Heath Ledger played the part that I was going to do, and he probably did it better than I would’ve. I loved that guy. He was really an amazing person. We became good friends on The Patriot.
Anyway, I got the role of Ken Narlow, and Zodiac was almost the perfect movie to me. I remember David challenging me, making people do like 90 or 100 takes and stuff. Just to be an acting geek for a second, just to be a fan of what people do, there was a scene where we were coming out of this riverside police station, and [Robert] Downey Jr.’s followed us, “What’s up, guys?” And [Mark] Ruffalo’s like, “How’d this asshole know that we were coming down here for this?” And there was kind of a confrontation between Ruffalo and Downey in the parking lot as we get in a cab and take off. They had to do the scene a hundred or so times, and it was different every time, and just so amazing. I thought, “These two guys are just so frigging good!” I’m not saying that I don’t have tons of respect for stuff, but every once in a while I just love being a fan of people. And Downey Jr.’s incredible. Mark Ruffalo’s awesome, and an amazing human being. Anyway, these are some of my drifting, dangling memories of Zodiac.
ER (2003-2005)—“Chuck Martin”
DL: I met John Wells after The Tao Of Steve. Basically, they asked me if I wanted to just kind of jump in on ER, which was an awesome opportunity and something that I got to do while I was doing Grounded For Life.
AVC: That’s a pretty rare opportunity, having a recurring role on one show while still maintaining a series-regular role on another.
DL: Super rare. And I was super-grateful for it. I was in love with all of those people, Maura Tierney, Sherri [Stringfield], Goran Visnjic, and Noah Wyle; they were all so nice. It was an amazing group of people, and not only was it one of the most successful shows in the history of the world, but it was also maybe the most loose, fun, laugh-filled set you could be on.
AVC: Do you want to talk about your infamous breast-feeding scene on the show?
DL: Yeah, that was weird. It was… embarrassing. And strange. But you know what? It was funny, because I remember when Grounded For Life had new showrunners on it, and they were talking about the sensitivity of the male nipple, all this super-weird hippie stuff. And I was like, “Look, I’m liberal, I’m pretty hippie, but this ain’t… guys don’t do this shit!” [Laughs.] I was like, “I’m not Super Guy, I’m not Caveman Johnson, but, c’mon, dude!” So, yeah, I haven’t forgotten that. But to me, the hardest thing about it wasn’t any of that stuff. It was someone more or less renting out their baby to be in those scenes, and they’re apologizing, “I’m so sorry, they don’t usually cry like this.” It’s like, “They’re two months old!” What, am I going to go, “Oh, how dare you not be professional on the set”? It was more of a trip, having babies of my own at the time, because I was going, “Oh, man, I would never let my baby near this stuff!”
The only weird thing going on in my life during ER was… When I split up with my ex, I was in a bad way, and I was on a bunch of antidepressants and stuff. That was during that period of my life, and I just blew up. I physically blew up. I felt bad. And I remember meeting Ken Narlow, who I played in Zodiac. He was so nice, and he was complimentary, but then he goes, “It’s just that… I’ve always prided myself on being fit.” And I felt like my heart hurt a little bit for him, you know what I mean? Not like I felt like I took a hit, like, “Oh, ouch, man!” I felt like, “Oh, shit, dude, I’m so sorry. Your life story is being told, something serious, and I’m just a fucking big, fat loser.” Among other people’s stories in that film, of course. But with respect to him, he’s this sheriff from Napa, and I just remember feeling terrible for him.
And people would say to me, “Look, you’ve gotta exercise, you’ve gotta eat right,” and I’m like, “I fucking ran the Boston Marathon! I was in the New York Marathon last year! I’m eating salads! What’s wrong with me?” Until I figured out that it was because I was on all these meds. That was part of what was weird about my career, too. When I dumped that stuff, I just kind of became who I was before, a long time ago, and people were like, “Wow, you’ve changed!” It really wasn’t much more than a physical change, from roly-poly sidekick dude to whatever. There wasn’t really any change in my life other than not taking a combination of psychotropic meds that caused me to fucking balloon up like I was on prednisone. [Laughs.]
3 Ninjas Knuckle Up (1995)—“Jimmy”
DL: When I went in for that audition, I was still a janitor at the drug and alcohol center. My agent was, like, “There’s an audition for this movie, it’s by this North Korean guy, and they’re making this weird kids’ movie about ninjas, but it’s a union job, and it’d be for the run of the picture.” I remember this guy telling me during the audition, “Okay, do the scene again, but if you get kicked in the balls, go cross-eyed.” [Laughs.] I was, like, “Oh, God.” That’s one of those auditions that you wish you could’ve videotaped it, so you could show that shit to your friends. If they’d had YouTube back then, that’s the sort of stuff that would’ve been on it.
But I got this part, and it was the first time I’d worked for 12 or 15 weeks straight on a movie, so I hung out with all the stunt guys, made friends with other actors, and it was the last time I had to be a janitor.
The X-Files (1993)—“Agent Tom Colton”
DL: When I did The X-Files, nobody knew what The X-Files was or what it was going to be because it was, what, the second episode? It wasn’t on the air yet. So what tripped me out was that it was the first time I’d ever done a job where I was working on another job somewhere and people said, “Agent Tom Colton, X-Files!” [Laughs.] And I was like, “Holy shit!” And I realized that these things you do, they go around the world so fast and they’re so important. Especially a show like The X-Files, which just had this weird international following of craziness.
Jerry Maguire (1996)—“Rick, Junior Agent”
DL: Cameron Crowe liked the Cab Driver, and he wanted me to audition, but I couldn’t, because I was doing… something. I don’t remember what. But since I couldn’t audition, he just offered me the part of the assistant to Jay Mohr’s character. And Jay Mohr, not only is he a friend—everybody knows that Jay Mohr is a funny guy, but Jay Mohr in your living room will make you pee on your frigging floor. Jay Mohr without any restrictions, walking around from your kitchen to your living room… it’s almost like it’s a drug-induced state that you get into. He’s just fucking insanely brilliant. Slightly damaged, yes, but an incredibly awesome person.
I actually just saw Cameron Crowe last week, and I hadn’t really talked to him since back then. It sounds like he might be trying to develop a TV series based on Almost Famous, or something like that. But, man, he’s still just the nicest human being on the planet. A real gentleman. I love that dude. He makes everyone feel important… because everyone is important! Like, when I was doing Sneakers, I was a janitor, my friends were the guys who I worked with at the drug and alcohol center, and I came back from that read-through with Ben Kingsley and Sidney Poitier, and they’re all like, “How’d it go?” They were all rooting for me. That’s emotional stuff. Then you start working in the business, you become friends with other people who work in the business. Some of them are well-known and some of them aren’t, but it’s all just life. People are just people. And Cameron Crowe always kind of blew me away, because he’s always been just who he is: a super-creative, super-sweet human being.
The Knights Of Prosperity (2007)—“Eugene Gurkin”
DL: I loved that show to death, and it’s a heartbreaker that it didn’t go longer, but I just feel lucky that I got to do it at all. That was with Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman, who are unbelievable guys, and Sofia [Vergara], Maz [Jobrani], Kevin [Michael] Richardson, all of that cast. There were just so many funny-ass things in that show. It was weird, though, compared to Grounded For Life. We were doing a comedy, but the only time you got big laughs was when you were standing by the craft services table.
Northern Exposure (1994)—“Judd Bromell”
The Crew (1994) —“Bill Pierce”
DL: I had officially stopped my gig as the janitor and could support myself solely on what I was earning as an actor. By the way, just before Northern Exposure, I had done a Budweiser commercial for David Fincher in which me and a few guys talked about ’70s football—Steelers/Vikings stuff—and I knew my Steel Curtain and Fran Tarkenton stats, so I got the gig.
I loved working with Darren Burrows on Northern Exposure. I play a Hollywood agent asshole who tries to get him to change his script, “The Shaman,” into some Jean Claude Van Damme-style action shit. The older lady on the show, Peg [Phillips], was an amazing person, and—without getting into too much personal detail—I think she was married to someone who didn’t let her pursue her dreams, and when he died, she started acting, got a pilot’s license, taught drama in prisons, and all this stuff… All after she turned 60-something! That blew me away. Then after I left there, I went to do an amazingly odd flick in the Bahamas with Viggo Mortensen and Jeremy Sisto called The Crew… but that’s a book in and of itself. [Laughs.]
Comic Book Villains (2002)—“Raymond McGillicudy”
DL: Comic Book Villains was a highlight. James Robinson is amazing. I wanted to play a guy who was bright, if not as bright as he fancied himself, and his domain was the intellectually snobby territory of knowledge of comics and comic-book collections. [Laughs.] James also wrote League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen for one of my favorite people in the business—Stephen Norrington, who cast me in Blade—but he quit the movie business after League to write novels.
Reindeer Games (2000)—“Pug”
DL: Reindeer Games was a rough shoot. I got the job at the hospital the day after my first child was born, and I dragged Mama, baby, and our dog Lulu to the snow. But we needed the bread! [Laughs.] [John] Frankenheimer was a legend and later surprised me with a very touching telegram, delivered to my home old-school style, congratulating me on my Sundance Acting Prize win for The Tao Of Steve. Reindeer Games was where I also got tight with the man who is kind of my brother/mentor, Danny Trejo.
Life (2008-2009)—“Captain Kevin Tidwell”
DL: I loved Life. I was stuck in a quandary, because I had done the lead in an HBO biker pilot called 1% and was going to do 13 episodes of Life between the pilot and it getting picked up, but I had long hair and a beard, and there was a tussle over that. So I glued my hair down to my head to hide my long hair…and I got shit from both sides! [Laughs.] Damian Lewis is the best actor going, Sarah Shahi is an even cooler person than she is beautiful, and I owe Rand Ravich and Far Shariat a lot, because when 1% didn’t go, I was free to jump on Life. Sadly, it then got canceled.
The Patriot (2000)—“Dan Scott”
DL: The Patriot was an amazing experience. There’s a book there, too! It’s hard to explain, but the way it was set up, of the thousands of people on that movie, everyone could hang out around what they call Video Village with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, who is the truest true gentleman in Hollywood. Well, and Cameron Crowe. And Garry Marshall, too, for that matter! I already mentioned Heath and Mel, but we were all tight on The Patriot. We would have hilarious arguments among all 20 to 80 of us while we were rolling in the vans every day out to the farm about whether people thought Ferraris were cool or were for tools. [Laughs.] And Mel showed me a particular kindness on that job that I won’t ever forget. The producers wouldn’t let me go home to see my baby boy, because if a flight was canceled, I could screw them over. So Mel gave me rides in the plane set up for him throughout production when I’m sure he’d rather have been sleeping or doing whatever. Not having some young dude wanting to hang and talk, anyway!
Shark Night 3D (2011)—“Sabin”
Silent Night (2012)—“Santa Jim”
DL: Someone else was just asking me, “Why did you do Shark Night?” After Terriers, I was really bummed—I told you about the trucking stuff. When I got offered Shark Night, a friend of mine said, “Well, is it fun? Can you do something with it? Is the guy kind of interesting?” And I’m like, “Well, yeah, he’s this weird sheriff who turns out to be the bad guy…” And he goes, “You’ve been bitching and moaning, just get over yourself and go fucking do it, dude!” [Laughs.] And I realized that my job’s to just get back on the horse and not be super-snooty about everything. It was a good job with great people, a super-cool young cast. And David Ellis and his wife treated me like family. When he passed away, I was really sad.
What’s weird is the experiences you end up having on movies. Like, on 3 Ninjas, I became very good friends with Charles Napier. People go, “Man, that must’ve been a goofy film,” and I don’t know what to say, because sitting around all day, bonding with other people about shit, going through stuff in their lives or your life… It’s like, the movie’s the movie, you know? If you ask me, “Was Shark Night kind of a goofball movie?” I’d say, “Yeah.” But was it fun as hell? Absolutely. And playing Santa Jim was similar. I read Silent Night and I was like, “This guy’s got kind of a fun, weird little speech. Yeah, I’ll go to Winnipeg!” I’ll still do that kind of stuff. I try not to think, “Does it hurt? Does it help?” To hesitate and overthink things all the time is stupid, you know?
Sons Of Anarchy (2012-present)—“Lee Toric”
Copper (2013)—“Brendan Donovan”
AVC: In addition to Vikings and Copper, you’re also coming back for another season of Sons Of Anarchy.
DL: Yeah. Kurt Sutter is currently my favorite person on the planet. [Laughs.] Because he’s wanted me to do the show for years, but I just couldn’t. I was doing pilots that didn’t get picked up and couldn’t schedule it, and then when I finally did sign on and have a couple of episodes scheduled, I had a similar snafu with Vikings. Finally, he’s like, “I’m gonna make this work however I have to.” So he went to great lengths to take on all of the difficulty of the scheduling craziness to make it work for me to be on Sons Of Anarchy. He’s a really good dude. And it’s a great part. It’s a dark part. People are like, “You’re such a bad guy,” and I’m like, “This dude killed my sister with a crucifix! If that happened to me, I’d fucking kill anybody!” But, anyway, I get to come back after I finish up on Copper.
I’m working on Copper right now, which is by Tom Kelly, who’s also an amazingly nice guy, and Brendan Donovan, he’s Boss Tweed, basically. He’s a good guy, but he’s also very Machiavellian. He’s an Irish immigrant, probably came over after the famine, and he was a Civil War general, but now he’s come back to town to be all, like, “It’s our time now. It’s Irish time!” [Laughs.] Like, “We didn’t suffer through all of this to let English Protestants tell us what’s up!”
I’m doing press today and talking about Vikings, but my head’s really in 1860s New York mode. [Laughs.] I’ve done that a lot over the years, bouncing between different things. Sometimes I’ve even worked on two films on the same day in two different cities, and that’s some pretty fun, thrilling stuff. But now I’m doing these three cable shows, and they’re all challenging, and they’re all different. I’m just really lucky, man. It’s a really fascinating time for me.