Donal Logue on ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Season 5
FX held a conference call for their latest “Sons of Anarchy” guest star today. We jumped on the call with Donal Logue and transcribed him live to bring you the interview as quickly as possible. Imagine holding the phone between our chin and shoulder so we could ask questions and type at the same time. Logue also had a lot to say about his new character Lee Toric.
Q: How did you get this part?
Donal Logue: I’ve been kind of talking to Kurt [Sutter] about doing an arc, doing something on the show for the last three years. What had happened was invariably he would always have a conversation with me 42 seconds after I’d committed to another pilot. Two years ago it was “Hallelujah” for ABC, last year was a western “Tin Star” for TNT, neither of which ended up going. I’d tell him I’d love to join the show, but I couldn’t until they let me know. I just couldn’t join, not for lack of Kurt trying to get me on. Finally this year, we had a meeting and he said I think I have an idea for this guy.
Q: Were you cast before your sister or at the same time?
Donal Logue: Well, it was interesting because in the case of “Terriers,” Shawn Ryan had already worked with my sister (Karina) so he knew her before he knew me. We sat down at the beginning of the season and he said, “What do you think about this?” Shawn sat me down and said, “You’re going to have a crazy sister.” I said, “That’s great. I’ve got three. Ba-dum-bum.”
He said, “No, really a schizophrenic sister and I think Karina would be awesome.” On this one, it was different in that Kurt knew he wanted to have me as this guy, but then he told Wendy O’Brien, the casting director, “I need someone who looks like the female Donal Logue.” She said, “You know his sister Karina is a really great actress.” He said no, he didn’t. That’s how that went.
Q: What’s your read on Lee Toric? Is he a very intense guy? That last scene last night sitting on the floor with a bunch of guns on the bed was scary.
Donal Logue: It’s interesting, and he’s reading Artaud. What I really love about “Sons of Anarchy” and what I love about Kurt is he navigates really fluidly from both these incredibly gritty street level worlds and he’s a very erudite intellectual too. Our smashing theater of cruelty or whatever was just shaking people up through shocking, not sadistic violence, but shock value. If you passively like war and support the war effort, I’m bringing the body of a seven-year-old child. I’m going to show you what war is.
Everyone’s like, “This guy’s so bad.” This guy’s sister was brutally murdered by an outlaw organization that engages in illegal activities. I get it. I root for the underdog. I understand where the antihero stuff comes, but I think Lee Toric’s game is: I understand, you want to say in our world, these things happen. It’s part of the game. It’s collateral damage.
I’m going to bring a shocking level of violence to show you what your perspective of right and wrong is is wrong. Kurt knows me and we know each other well, so when I read this description, I thought what an interesting creation. This guy who marries the kind of intellectual with the violent world, Toric is a Harvard-educated special forces guy who was a roguish U.S. Marshal. I have a feeling with this guy that even in a scene with Tara where she’s tough, she’s come up and she’s been playing this game for years. (But) he’s been playing this game for decades.
I think you’ve seen some stuff. I’ve seen bodies hanging from bridges. Go plot, go spin, try to figure out what I’m up to, but I’m five steps ahead of you. It’s The Outlaw Josey Wales. This is taking something very personal, this world has taken something very personal from him. I don’t think he cares. He’s fair when he says I believe you didn’t know what this guy’s intentions were, but I believe my niece and nephew thought they were going to grow up with a mother. I think he’s up to an intense scheme, but I don’t think he would have done it if someone hadn’t killed his sister.
Q: Will Toric’s story wrap up in the finale or continue into next season?
Donal Logue: It’s interesting because I think it’s fair to say that whatever he’s got to do might take a while to do, but I didn’t know exactly what the parameters were in terms of talking about the beyond, but I think Lee Toric is a pretty significant threat to these guys. I’m implying that it could go somewhere deeper.
Q: Did you have a lot of people asking you who Toric was once he appeared?
Donal Logue: Yeah, yeah. I love that sense of mystery about it. I probably should’ve done a better job. It would’ve been better if they had no connection to who he was concerning the nurse until last night’s episode, but it’s been really fun because you see how deeply, deeply invested in this show people are.
That’s the gift, there are many gifts to one hour television, but I feel the coolest thing about it is the way Dickens used to write, and it would come out in these installments every month, these bits of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. They’ll finish it and get a bit of depression because they can’t wait to get that next information. I love that people were hitting me up, even in public, “What are you up to? Are you trying to kill the kids?” It’s cool to be involved in something that has that level of passion and interest.
Q: Do you ever think about what a season two of “Terriers” might have been?
Donal Logue: Oh yeah, all the time. I had a good hang with Michael Raymond-James yesterday. We muse about it. We muse about shooting our own little indie film version of season two. I have to say that it was a thrilling kind of ride to be on “Terriers” and of course, it was this kind of odd circumstance where it was really loved by the people it was loved by, but didn’t do well.
In fairness to FX, they were so generous in keeping it on the whole year. There’s something about it, I talked to some people in Europe who’d seen it, and it really played to them like a BBC miniseries, and it ended on this beautiful existentialist moment, so to me it felt like a complete document.
I miss it, of course, but however that 13 tied up, I felt at least we had that. Michael and I joked about what if it just started going downhill after that and started becoming absurd. At least it has this tight little package that’s nice. I’m kind of having fun moving on and doing all these other things.
Q: Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects like the “Vikings” show?
Donal Logue: I did some smaller films that are kind of intriguing. I did a film with Katie Cassidy and Tracy Spiridakos up in Canada last year that I thought was good. “Vikings” is this Michael Hirst drama, the guy that wrote Elizabeth and created “The Tudors” and worked on “The Borgias.”
I tried to get in on it forever, but they initially I think were just hesitant about having an American join a pretty international cast, but it ended up working out. I came on “Vikings” not unlike how I came on “Sons,” at the end of a season setting up maybe some potentially further storylines. So I just got back, but I can say it was a really fantastic experience. I think it’s going to be great.
Q: Did you film any scenes with Rockmund Dunbar on “Sons?”
Donal Logue: No, I didn’t. I would say not yet, but Rock and I certainly spent a lot of time hanging out, which was great.
Q: What was the book Toric was reading?
Donal Logue: Artaud was this French writer. He spent a lot of time in mental institutions. He walked that thin line between he was a genius and he was mentally ill probably. What was fascinating about him, I’m no scholar about Artaud and I have read some in the past but I will tell you how it plays with “Sons of Anarchy” in a weird way too is he didn’t believe there was much of a difference between art and life. He thought that art’s duty was to be as real as possible, to be as shocking and brutal and hit you in the face so hard it broke the comfortable veneer with which you see reality.
The way “Sons of Anarchy” comes at you with this brutality, what was interesting with his take on things and the way I saw it in terms of Lee Toric was Artaud would basically say, “Okay, you kind of like violence and you like war. Let me take you down to the morgue and just shove your face into a dead body. Now do you like what this is?” He feels like society is always like, “I think you should go and do this!” But no one’s looking at the bodies, no one’s standing there getting their face shoved in it.
The only way people can have a correct position on how to be is if that comes to them through art. In a way that’s what “Sons” is trying to bring about. On the other level, Lee Toric chose probably almost 30 years ago when he went into the military that he was going to take on the bad guy. He’s kind of an intellectual so he can always qualify it in different ways. He fought crime. He was involved in high level, big, intense, dark stuff when he was a U.S. Marshal. I dip into all these worlds where people can say, in that world, in the cartel world, the motorcycle world, stuff happens. People get killed, you know the rules.
It’s amoral in a way. His thing is to make you see what’s right and wrong, I’m going to come at you 10 times heavier. I think that’s what was genius about Kurt’s choice of who he’d be reading to get strength and buffet his crusade. He’s on a crusade.
Q: Do you like seeing how people analyze the show with all the comments after an episode?
Donal Logue: With social media, the enjoyment of the show is the show, but for a lot of people, there’s another week of forums to investigate and other people to run ideas by. It gives you a more complete experience.
I like it. I like that it’s just like do you need to study music theory to appreciate Beethoven? No. At the same time, when you know a lot of the weird history about it, you get a deeper appreciation. tHe fact that people wonder what he’s reading and what that author’s about, I think it’s great that people are into it.
Q: Did you and Kurt come up with the character together?
Donal Logue: He just knows me pretty well so it was all Kurt. It’s basically like he knew me well enough he said, “I’ve got the perfect suit that will fit you well.” It feels like a custom-made role.
Q: Did you get as far as talking about other roles for the previous season?
Donal Logue: Some that never came to be. It was always before they started. One was something they might’ve done already. Another one was a part they ended up not doing because the whole season structure had changed or something.
Q: Silent Night opens this Friday too. What is your role in that?
Donal Logue: You know, I had a really fun experience on Silent Night, but I wasn’t there that long. I hadn’t seen the original but this young director named Steven Miller from Florida did some really cool, wild, super low budget indie stuff, had really made this arc from himself in that genre world so asked me to do this thing.
I had a choice of a couple of parts but there was this one. It’s another spoiler kind of thing but he’s a weird Santa, a drifter, but what I liked about this drifter was he went off on these rants that were really interesting and funny and kind of heartbreaking. I like that kind of stuff. I like doing speeches in a weird way. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a lot of characters over the years who are the guys, even on this “Viking” show, you’ll do a 3-4 page speech and they’re like, “Man, we haven’t had that much dialogue on the show before.”
I don’t mind doing it. It’s kind of like stunt driving. I think Silent Night felt like one of those ‘70s Golden Era of that genre. I’ve had long talks with a lot of my friends about this. First of all, it always feels best to do work on something real that’s good. It feels very comfortable doing stuff on “Sons of Anarchy.” The writing is great and the level of acting chops around you are always very high so it’s easy to go in there and take your place.
You’re in a good environment being supported by good people. After “Terriers” I was bummed. I actually went to truck driving school. I’d been doing this for decades and kind of lost the joy. I ended up doing this really goofy, but fun experience in another horror film. I did a comedy improv show in San Francisco. I was at a theater and looked around at these pictures of Burgess Meredith and Ernest Borgnine and all the different shows they did.
When you read their obituary it’s like he appeared in over 300 movies, 7000 episodes of television and 14 productions on Broadway. That’s what you do. You go from part to part to part and embrace what’s different about all the parts. I had a particularly good time getting to hang out with Malcolm McDowell and Jaime King. He is a great guy. It’s weird when you’re around one of those guys.
When I was a younger guy crowing up, Clockwork Orange of course, I’m such a fan of Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, that great school of English actors. Malcolm is this connective tissue historically. He never tired and was so generous in telling me anything I needed to know about anything.
Q: Has Toric made his mind up about Tara, even before that interrogation?
Donal Logue: I think he’s the kind of guy, when I ask you a question, I’m not asking you to discover something. I just want to know if you’re lying to me or not. I’m asking you a question, I know the answer. Think carefully on what you’re going to tell me because a lot’s going to be determined by how you answer this but don’t think that I need to know this information. I like the way she doled it out. It’s very subtle stuff. At first it’s very human. I’m this guy, she’s my sister, you were there and I have questions I need answered. It was shocking for her as well.
She says, “Please sit down” and he gets up and moves closer. As a fan of the show and watching it, Tara’s come into this world from another world and she’s discovered she had kind of an acumen. She has the backbone and strength to do things she didn’t think she was capable of before. From my perspective, when I watch her squirm a little bit, when I drop information like he was your patient and this is the third time, then she’s like, “Who are you?” because I know more. Then it’s time to drill. I know what’s up. I know she brought this thing in. If you want to play this game, this is a game I’ve been playing for 30 years, with Mexican drug cartels, with mobs. You think you’re good at this?
This is what I do. That’s what I like about this character and the fans’ reaction. I think Kurt really came up with someone who in a weird way, it feels like a weightier threat in a weird way because he’s coming from such a different world and he’s so powerfully motivated with revenge. He’s so mysterious, even the Popes of the world who are very scary and powerful guys, you know they’re based out of Oakland, you know where they are. This guy’s kind of coming in from a satellite in outer space, is very rogue and like a lone assassin. I like the foreboding that surrounds Lee Toric. But he knew what was up. He just asked her to confirm stuff.
Q: Can you talk about when you worked on The “X-Files?”
Donal Logue: Okay, so is that 1992 or so? 20 years ago or more. I worked on “The X-Files” before it came out, before it aired on television so how wild was it to be around, when I look back. Gillian and David are both really good people, Chris Carter’s a really nice guy. It was so fun to be on something people didn’t really know. They were just making this show. They didn’t know what a phenomenon it would become.
I think a few years later, I was in a pretty remote place, like the South Pacific, on an island near Fiji and people were like, “X-Files,” Tom Colton. I was like oh my God, the reach of this show is so bizarre. It was fun to have been around that before it became what it became.
Q: Do you have any dream roles?
Donal Logue: I’d have to say that this last run of the last few months, I jumped on “Sons of Anarchy” and saw it to the conclusion of this season. There are some heavy duty question marks about what’s up for next season. I jumped in on this show about the Vikings that Michael Hirst wrote. So I went to Ireland to film in Ireland and I played this King Horik, an actual historical king of the Vikings from when the Vikings first started doing their raids outside of what is Scandinavia.
Between these two parts, and it’s not big stuff and your’e not in every scene, but doing Lee Toric into King Horik was probably my favorite [time period]. The last few months have been my favorite months as an actor. If someone had to say, “What do you do? How would you describe your work?” I would say watch the whole season of “Terriers.” If you think it’s good, that’s great. If you don’t like it, I respect that but that’s what I do.
I’ve been having fun. I have this little thing going on with Bad Robot because I’m friends with J.J. Abrams. I’m doing this thing that could be really interesting. It’s kind of experimental. I’m just having fun as an actor right now. What I do miss, this sounds so bogus, but I would at some point like to be able to just go do a whole season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival or something, do a year of plays and just get to do stage work. Most actors miss that stage of live theater. My buddy is the artistic director out there, a guy named Bill Rauch.