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The Dark Side of the Circus Performer

The Dark Side of the Circus Performer

Articles - Acting

The Groomsmen
John Leguizamo, Matthew Lillard, Donal Logue, Jay Mohr and Edward Burns star in The Groomsmen (2006).

Donal Logue has one of those faces—the kind that you’ll spot in a movie or on TV and immediately think, “Hey, that guy looks familiar.”

There’s a reason for that.
With more than 60 film and TV roles to his credit, including this month’s The Groomsmen, written and directed by pal Ed Burns, Logue is proving that he is a leading man’s worst nightmare—a rare character actor who, even in the smallest of parts and armed only with wit and charm, can upstage the star.
MM caught up with Logue on a rare “decompressing” break at his home in L.A. to talk comics, the joy of acting and re-discovering his dark side with The Groomsmen.

Lily Percy (MM): You’ve acted in everything from comedies to dramas to action films. What factors do you take into consideration when choosing a role?

Donal Logue (DL): If it looks interesting and if it seems like the script is fairly good, the part is intelligent… who else might be doing it, who might I be intrigued to work with, where it is, things like that. I had heard that Melbourne, Australia was incredible and Ghost Rider was shot down there.
I had a really good time on things like Blade and Ghost Rider and part of that is that there is a real joy in that kind of acting, which is just this absurd notion of being a vampire or being in that kind of world, and it’s fun to commit to that kind of silliness.

MM: Do you make a point of balancing both Hollywood and independent films?

DL: No, not necessarily. I don’t really have any kind of calculated MO about how I approach what I would say is my career. In fact, I think that I would go against prevalent advice sometimes—about doing too much or being all over the map. To me that’s the most fun.
I’ve never really been like, ‘Oh, the world is waiting, wondering what my next step is.’ I know that nobody really cares. But some people are wrapped up in that sort of thinking, “Well, my next step has to be fantastic.” I don’t think it is that important: Just have fun and go do stuff.

MM: How did you come to work with Ed Burns on The Groomsmen?

DL: He called and asked me. We’d become friends on Confidence and he basically felt like he knew what I could do and thought that I would be perfect in this role. I came off of Ghost Rider and went straight from Australia, got in that morning and started filming that day in New York.

MM: Watching the film, you really do believe that you guys are brothers.

DL: It feels that way… he’s a really fantastic guy. I think that people don’t really know Ed as well as they think. He’s great that way, because he doesn’t really have a public life. But over the course of the last two films that I got to do with him—I know his wife, I knew her before they were married, I met his parents—and it just feels really natural. He seems to really trust the hell out of me, so he lets me do whatever I feel comfortable doing. I had a great time with the part of Jimbo [in The Groomsmen]. For me it was a darker role than I’ve probably ever played.

MM: Watching the film that definitely comes, across as Jimbo hides so much underneath the surface.

DL: Yeah. (pauses) I don’t know, I think that the older you are, it’s not that difficult to have accumulated enough experiences so that whatever is in your well kind of covers the wide room of emotions. I have children, I know people like Jimbo, I’ve dealt with people like him and had some awkward conversations with them and it just touches such primal stuff. While I don’t have a brother, I’ve watched the difficulty of other brothers who were older and used to be “the guy” and then the younger one, who wasn’t that, becomes successful and there is a complete reversal of success that can be very painful.

MM: I always find myself defending Ed Burns and his films because of these things—because he has these ‘real’ male characters where everything isn’t completely shown on-screen—there’s an underlying unspoken depth to them and the way in which they interact.

DL: Absolutely. And [Burns] needs you to come to the film with a lot of your own thoughts to understand that. He gets people to work with him who I think understand that. There doesn’t have to be a lot of really painful conversation on the set about “where I’m coming from” because it’s kind of easy and unsaid. Everybody knew a) where they were coming from and b) guys like this, and it all fell together really easily. As an ensemble group it was a pretty fantastic opportunity to get with everybody like that. I barely knew Matthew Lillard, had always liked him and had a great time with him. I’ve known Jay Mohr since Jerry Maguire—he’s insane to some degree, but is also the funniest guy. He’s so amazing in this movie.

MM: One of the things that I really love about The Groomsmen is the chemistry that all of you share on-screen. How did you work on forming that bond off-screen?

DL: A central quality to a good actor, especially in these circumstances, where you’re creating an environment where you’re good friends, is that you’re able to show up, like the first day of school, and make those new friends as quickly as possible. What you’re trying to do, in a non-forced, organic way, is just to get along well. What would be weird is if you’re going to be best friends with someone on-screen and they’re just a complete standoffish asshole and the whole time you’re doing scenes with them 62 percent of your brain is thinking about what must be going on in this fucker’s head. (laughs) It certainly makes the job a lot more difficult but I have to say that’s very rare. I think that actors are, by definition, circus people—people who are comfortable with the travel and being open with one another. [The cast in The Groomsmen] was a group of people who pretty easily fell into a kind of joking and laughing ensemble relationship that took on the dynamic that is featured in the movie.

MM: You’ve been an actor for over 16 years now. What has been the most surprising thing about your career thus far?

DL: Continuing to work. (laughs) That you can actually make a living and pay your grocery bill by acting. It’s quite a bizarre and absurd notion. The first time that you do summer theater you take some tiny three percent box office of the whole summer run, it’s like $87 and you’re like, ‘Man, I made money doing a play, that’s so incredibly insane.’ But it continues to be that way.
Being an actor wasn’t something that I always wanted to do—I didn’t go to college to study acting, I was a history major—but what I found was a community of people who did this kind of stuff. In the world of performance there’s kind of a weird thing, and this may sound hippy-dippy or hokey, but age or race or sexual orientation doesn’t become a factor—you’re all doing this weird thing. So when you’re on a set, you’ll have the 80-year-old grandfather and the 12-year-old kid and you’ll all go to lunch together in the middle of the day. You’ve been working on scenes together, and while there’s that distinction between where you are and who you are in your age, there’s this shared experience and camaraderie that only circus people really understand.

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