Interview: 'Terriers' stars Donal Logue & Michael Raymond-James
How being friends off-screen helps their chemistry on-screen
FX's new detective drama "Terriers" (which debuts Wednesday at 10) is a buddy show produced by buddies, starring buddies. Yesterday, I posted my interview with two of the show's chief creative forces, Ted Griffin and Shawn Ryan, and you could see the kind of chemistry they have together. Shortly after I talked to those two at press tour, I sat down with actors Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James. The two met when Raymond-James was guest-starring on a season two episode of NBC's "Life," where Logue played Captain Kevin Tidwell, and they bonded over Logue's copy of Jack Kerouac's "Big Sur."
After the jump, the two guys talk about how living together during production only added to their chemistry, Logue's sister Karina being hired to play his character's sister, and the dark places you can wind up in when you're living on the road, and a whole lot more...
After you guys had met on "Life," how tight were you before you came into this?
Logue: We were tight, but tight the way guys get tight where, "I don’t know what adventure you’re about to go off on, but when I see you wherever and whenever that may be, we’ll just pick up where we left off," you know what I mean?
Raymond-James: Yeah. It was one of those things where it was like whether it was said or not said, as soon as I met Donal, I knew that this is somebody who at some point in my life we were going to be really close, you know? This is somebody that I know that is going to be a friend of mine and now he’s just fucked because he’s just stuck with me forever.
Logue: Yeah, fucked. He’s fucked. We were lucky to have each other and I hope that leads into the show. Actors, generally speaking, maybe I’m full of shit but they’re of the personality type that wants to be able to break down boundaries with people quickly because it’s very difficult to work otherwise, you know? But there are people like that that are assholes and they put up walls. And in this situation, what we did the show would have been impossible to show up every day and have to go through that fucking tortuous process with another human being.
Raymond-James: Yeah, with the workload that we had it would have been nearly impossible for me to have gone through it unscathed without having a buddy to lean on and you know somebody who knew what was happening.
Logue: Personally and professionally, you know?
Raymond-James: Yeah, it was great.
That’s interesting, because you’re playing friends with your friend. Your sister is playing your sister so it’s just like…
Logue: It’s great. First of all, both of them are two of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. It wasn't like they made my sister an actor and put her in this thing...
Raymond-James: She earned it. It had nothing to do with being his sister.
Logue: Yeah, she won the part because she worked for Shawn (on an episode of "The Unit") before I did.
Raymond-James: Yeah, she’s brilliant, man.
Logue: But it provoked in me an emotional response that Hank is not going to have with other people.
Raymond-James: It can’t be re-created like that.
Logue: And I wouldn’t have bought into that necessarily before because I feel like I could deal with a piece of tape on a c-stand sometimes more than I can with someone who’s a fucking weirdo.
Donal, you were attached to the show first. Did you know (Michael) was coming in for it?
Logue: No, not at all. I read with everybody who was on the show. I auditioned with everybody many, many times, which was very helpful for me. And Michael was the first person who came in.
Raymond-James: When I got the script I was told that Donal was attached to it and I was like, "Fuckin' perfect."
Logue: What was weird, though, is that in all honesty originally Hank was a bit older than I am and Britt was younger than Michael is, and so it was a process of convincing them to wrap their mind because Michael as a man has a shitload of weight to him. It didn’t have that kind of "Harold and Maude" sensation that was in the script.
Raymond-James: My hair was also longer approaching his length too and so we sort of looked similar.
Logue: There was a similar vibe to us, and they wanted to try to make us distinguish ourselves from each other a little bit more as it started. Then by the end of the show it was back to where it started.
What do you remember about the first time you read together for this?
Logue: it was great.
Raymond-James: It was great. It was like we were saying before: it was just sort of like, "You know, here we are. Let’s pick up where we left off as people."
Logue: It was actually so helpful because I knew him and because we’d hung out, he’s the kind of dude he can look at me and make me laugh because of whatever. I know I’m reading some weird text behind the eyeballs and that’s what those scenes really required, and with someone you don’t know at all, you can play it but it’s ringing this little bell of falseness. And an audience member might not even be able to read it necessarily, but to me it was just like, "Thank God this is so comfortable and easy." And the easier it is, the better the work.
And then you rented a house together, so basically you didn’t spend very much time apart over the shoot.
Logue: We had breaks. We were so busy at work, though. It was really intense and overwhelming and then the weekends were very short. Sometimes you get done at 5 or 6 in the morning on Saturdays. And so your Saturday’s already shot. You have Sunday—Saturday night and Sunday—then you have Monday you’re up at 5:00 or whatever, but I’d roll up to L.A. to see my kids.
Raymond-James: Or they’d come hang with us.
Logue: They’d come hang with us or his fiancée. But it was fine.
Raymond-James: It also benefited the work - aside for our personal journey, which would lead into the characters - but just in terms of the day-to-day preparation. With a work load that’s so heavy that at the end of the day, we’d grab a call-sheet for tomorrow and go home and run lines together.
Logue: We were prepared. We were kind of a machine at some point and maybe a little bit intimidating because it’s like the speed of the game. The speed of the game isn’t real high when you’re in it all the time. You’re so used to this kind of weird insane thing that you’re doing. And someone rolls in and they say, "Whoa, what the fuck’s going on in here?" It’s like, "Yeah, dude. The game’s fast. You get up to speed right now motherfucker. You don’t come in unprepared."
Raymond-James: Our tolerance for that kind of thing dwindles really quickly.
Logue: But it was weird because sometimes people would float in. Not everybody, but every once in awhile and they’re just causal about it and they’re not prepared. It’s like, "I’ve been here since 5:00 this morning, dude. Now it’s 5:00 pm and you show up. You’ve had a fucking week with this stuff and you don’t even know it." What is that? We’re serious about what we’re doing here. We’re grateful that we have this opportunity, that a really good network has put in the time, effort and money to create a universe that we get to run around inside of, you know? And we have this one opportunity and when people really take an opportunity and hit it out of the park, it resonates. And it resonates in our business worldwide. It affects people everywhere you go, you know? And on a few good things I’ve worked on before - like in Israel, if someone’s seen "Grounded for Life" or "Life" - that day that we spent doing that scene there, someone across the world saw and remembers it. And you have a straight-up responsibility to them and to yourself. So I think both of us honestly are pretty good representatives of the school of don’t take yourself too seriously, but take what you do really seriously and appreciate it and respect it.
It’s interesting seeing you guys talk because sometimes I’ve interviewed acting spouses and they’ll admit they don’t like working together because they feel like they need to hold back a little bit of their relationship from what’s on-screen.
Logue: Our first connection was intellectual creative and it’s something about Michael. Michael is a fantastic actor who treats it like you’ve got to be doing this thing - like you need to do it to breathe. This is how I fucking express myself. The way there are a few people with guitars or anything else and I was like, "I want to really explore that part of my life when I felt like that." And I don’t feel like I have ever been lazy in my approach to it, but I needed to be with someone who was asking, "Why are we doing this thing that we do?" And I think a couple of years ago - and it might have been part of the middle-age crisis or weird fear of death or something that happened to me - but what I do with work took on a greater urgency. I don’t know if I have just another couple of decades of movies and shows. I don’t know what’s coming around the corner. This is what’s important because it’s here right now. And so because our initial connection was mutual creative respect, I think that doesn’t enter into that weird uncomfortable thing. Because I see how that happens with your spouses and stuff like that, you know? And all their shared experience doesn’t necessarily enhance the situation they’re in creatively.
Hank takes advantage of Britt a fair amount at least in the episodes I’ve seen. And Britt allows him to because he’s getting a lot out of the friendship. How much of that is reflected in your dynamic in real life?
Logue: Tons, man. (laughter) "Do it, bitch!" (laughter) You know what’s weird is Michael and I are both the kind of like person where we’ll take a hit long before we’ll let someone else take a hit. There’s a really shared Irish-style ethic, like, "I just cashed my check from working in the hotel but I’m going to buy rounds for everybody until I’ve got zero left," you know? And so it was odd actually sharing space with someone who was as brutally "I will stab my own self in the balls" generous as maybe I’ve been to a fault in my life with people.
Raymond-James: Yeah, that’s not at all part of our friendship. That’s the writing. Donal is the first guy where, if he’s got $5.00 in his pocket then you have $5.00 in your pocket.
Logue: That’s Michael, though.
Raymond-James: That’s both of us, you know? The only times it got weird was when we were both trying to give each other $5.00. But yeah, I wouldn’t say that that’s it, at all.
Co-stars do fight sometimes. So no tensions at any point between the two of you?
Raymond-James: Never. Not for me anyway. It was…
Logue: What was nice too is that all within the self-contained crazy self-absorbed world of doing a show, there’s times when you have to make a little bit of a stand or something has to go beyond it. We could share that responsibility. We didn’t have to do like good cop/bad cop. We could switch off with good cops and bad cops.
Raymond-James: We were on tantrum patrol for each other. And there’s also something that was built into our relationship without requiring either one of us laying a single brick which was, we could say to each other, "Listen dude, you’re my friend and as my friend if you quarterback something you make a play, I’m going to back you up. And we’ll just fucking figure out the rest of it later."
Logue: Yeah. And what’s weird, too is on the road it’s hard. I have kids and stuff, and I get into weird spaces when I travel and I’m away from my children and I feel guilty about that. And if I had lived alone, I think I would have been really prone to get into a pretty dark fucking hole. And then I actually broke my shoulder on the show, and we kind of dealt with it in the writing a little bit, but it was a personal fucking challenge because I couldn’t fix it until now. So I was kind of walking around with this broken shoulder for months and it fucked with me. And if I didn’t have him there kind of on my back literally helping me put shirts on and shit like that... It was actually super-helpful to have a friend covering my ass and probably vice versa with Michael.
Raymond-James: Yeah, sure. Being isolated and on-location can be helpful in terms of being completely dedicated to the work, but somebody like me can also be dangerous in terms of this intense sort of void that you kind of potentially fall into.
Logue: And we know that about each other. We both can go into some black holes, so we’ll keep an eye out for each other and if we’re going to err on the side of something, let’s err on the side of positive stuff as opposed to self-destructive behavior.
Raymond-James: Because it’s not kid-stuff anymore. There’s just too much at stake. It was great having Donal there when I would start to get a little bit weird. And this is a guy who is the least judgmental person on the planet and always there to listen and give fucking sound advice as a really close friend. And that kind of stuff can pull you back from the brink a little bit when you start to feel like, "Man, I’m getting really close to a freak out here."
Logue: I’m excited about the show like I’m psyched for people to share the ride that we went on and the show that Shawn and Tim (Minear) and Ted wrote, but most importantly I have a friend for life from this experience. And whatever happens with the show, that’s up in a lot of other people’s hands now. We did what we did, but for me the journey most importantly was sharing this ride with this dude and then the people we made it with. Because more than your family or anyone, you’re spending 16 fucking hours a day with these people and it’s the kind of circus environment. And most of them were, like, within three hours talking about, "Well, my mom died of cancer 2 months ago" or whatever. You’re breaking down these fucking weird barriers instantaneously.
Raymond-James: It's really intimate.
Logue: It was heavy. It was good that way. And I have this weird suspicion that if a lot of that good energy that comes from that can find itself into work, which I believe it can, that this will be a hopefully a confirmation of that. If people respond in a way that I think that they might to the chemistry we have, that’s just testament to the humanity that we found in each other. I hear stories about things that were kind of successful between people who couldn’t even talk to each other and had all this bullshit going on and I don’t quite buy that it chimes the same way. Even "Moonlighting" (where Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd famously hated each other) or something. Yeah, there was witty banter, but it feels like an acting exercise because someone’s being weird. And I think you can see through it ultimately.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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