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Donal Logue: The Ultimate ‘That Guy’ Guy

Donal Logue may have the weirdest résumé of any actor alive. Now, with ‘Gotham,’ he may finally have his big role.

Donal Logue may have the weirdest résumé of any actor alive. Now, with 'Gotham,' he may finally have his big role.

Donal Logue might be the hardest-working character actor in Hollywood — but he’s definitely the man with the most insane IMDB page. Part of his cult-hero mystique is the way he seems to show up everywhere, all wild-eyed charisma, whether he’s playing a psycho (Sons of Anarchy), a sitcom dad (Grounded for Life) or a History Channel medieval king (Vikings). He’s the ultimate “hey, it’s that guy” guy — he can make almost anything worth watching. These days Logue shines on Fox’s hit Gotham, playing corrupt Detective Harvey Bullock from the Batman comics. Could this be the role that finally makes him a star? Logue has heard that one before. “I’m probably the least famous of any guy who’s worked as much as I have,” he says cheerfully.

Hanging out in a Fort Greene diner, Logue is what the Irish call a “mixer” — leave him alone for a minute and you come back to find him philosophizing with the kitchen crew about Napoleon. Over 30 or 40 cups of coffee, he riffs on everything from punk rock to Celt mythology to the way he seems to keep playing dirtbags. “I was flying between Toronto and L.A., the sets of Copper and Sons of Anarchy, thinking, ‘Which job is the one where I kill the prostitute? Wait, both of them?’ I don’t like being too actorly shmactorly, but that’s hard to shake going home.”

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Donal Logue stars as Detective Harvey Bullock in ‘Gotham.’ (Photo: Jessica Miglio/Fox)

Logue came out of the Boston punk scene, as a roadie for bands like Bullet LaVolta and the Lemonheads. He became a Nineties legend as Jimmy the Cab Driver, a constant MTV presence, tormenting his passengers by ranting about the plot points of Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins videos, or this great new cop show called Sabotage. (“Maybe they’re involved in some kind of international espionagical kind of drug trade!”) Along with his pal Greg Dulli from the Afghan Whigs, he hosted a memorably surreal episode of MTV’s 120 Minutes. “That’s what MTV was like back then,” Logue says. “There was no YouTube then. MTV was the only place you could do shit like a 30-second improvised comedy bit.”

Like so many actors, Logue grew up as the perpetual new kid in school. His Irish parents traveled from place to place, eventually settling in the California desert border town of El Centro. “You develop a personality where you’re always walking into a new bar and proving you’re a regular. I went to college and I was running for student council, throwing keg parties. I was like, ‘What is this inside you that wants to be the mayor all the time, dude? You can’t keep doing this weird fucking rectal-thermometer check on your level of popularity.'”

He bounced around chaotically on his way to Hollywood. “I moved to L.A. and I quit drinking. I got a job as a janitor at a drugs-and-alcohol treatment center. I had a lot of shit jobs.” He pauses to correct himself. “There are no shit jobs. All work is honorable.”

True to his code, Logue can’t be coaxed into saying a negative word about any project he’s done, which is impressive considering he was once in a Christmas-themed Ben Affleck heist flick called Reindeer Games. (Spoiler: It ends with Ben in a Santa suit, giving away the casino cash he stole with Charlize Theron. This movie really happened.) He was a vampire battling Wesley Snipes in Blade. He was Sean Penn in Julie Brown’s Madonna parody Dare to Be Truthful. He’s seen it all. “It’s like being a musician,” he says with pride. “Some gigs you’re playing with Neil Young, other gigs it’s the Backstreet Boys.”

His colorful résumé is just part of that punk-rock work ethic. “Back in the Boston days, we used to say ‘NGBB.’ Nice Guy, Bad Band. A guy might seem like a real ham-and-egger musically, but put him in some other band and he might have something. For actors, there’s a lot of that. ‘Nice Guy-he’s just in a really shitty movie.'”

Logue’s most personal role was the great 2010 FX detective drama Terriers — he played recovering alcoholic Hank Dolworth, a rumpled ex-cop fighting to keep his grip on sanity. (On his way to an AA meeting: “I have to do the uh, thing at the thing.”) But despite critical acclaim and a fervent fan following, Terriers got the axe for low ratings. So Logue drifted up to Oregon and went back to school — trucking school. “I figured my ticket had been punched. I said fuck it and got my truck-driving license for 18-wheelers.” (Logue still runs his Aisling Trucking company on the side.)

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Wesley Snipes and Donal Logue in ‘Blade.’ (Photo: Everett)

He’s just written his first novel, about the border town where he grew up. “The desert feels Irish in a way — lonely and barren. If someone said, ‘Think of a happy place for you,’ I’d say a glacial plane near the South Pole, the wind howling, nobody in sight, a shack with a pot-belly stove and some tea.” But years of portraying loners and low-lifes have taught him his limitations. “I’ve found that if you’re an actor playing these grizzlys, the real guys like to help you out and tell you secrets about the life — as long as you don’t cross the line where you think you’re one of them. Then they’ll remind you who you are real quick. ‘You think you’re a grizzly, bitch?’ So I play grizzlys, but I’m not a grizzly. I’m a song-and-dance man.”

After a few hours at the diner, Logue gets a call from the Gotham set — they need him to come in on his night off and dub a wild line. This means he has to head all the way into the studio so he can speak exactly three words: “What the hell?” To a civilian, this seems like an annoyance, but that notion makes him laugh wildly. “Are you kidding? It’s crazy they give me a parking space.” He drives over to the set, blasting “Over the Hills and Far Away” on the car radio, and instantly clicks into mayor mode, glad-handing and gossiping with his castmates and everyone in sight. He totally nails that “what the hell,” by the way.

On Gotham, he knows he has a historic legacy to live up to — and a demanding geek fanbase to appease. But that doesn’t faze him. “I was in Ghost Rider, which was, well, it was whatever it was, but it was fun as shit. Someone was grilling me at ComicCon about not being true to the comic book. I was like, ‘Dude, it’s a skeleton on a motorcycle on fire, but the leather jacket doesn’t burn! What level of dissection do we have to get to?’ I mean, I understand being precious about shit, but come on. There’s some goofy shit in that thing you just gotta roll with.”

This article originally featured in issue #758 (January 2015).