Donal Logue has lived many lives. He’s been a punk, a politically aspiring Harvard man, and one of “800,000 other losers out on the narcissistic pursuit of fame,” to use his own words. As an actor, he’s found success and a three-decade long career, racking up a few experiences more. This summer Logue takes on the role of General Donovan, a Civil War general and New York politico, in BBC America’s Copper. Just a few month’s later, he’ll play Merv Fergusson, right hand man to CBGB’s owner Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman) in the highly-anticipated biopic titled, simply, CBGB. Frank and boisterous during our sit down, Logue entertained us with stories of his CBGB research, touring the country with Ronald Reagan, and the avant-garde MTV of the 90s.
I watched your Jimmy The Cab Driver videos the other day. It was like entering a different era. Do you remember making those?
Totally. What happened was, my friend Jesse Peretz and Clay Carver who were both buddies of mine from college and my punk rock touring days (I was a roadie for them), they were like, You should do that stuff when you’re just messing around. What are you doing auditioning for things in Los Angeles? You should do your thing. We were in New York, so I got some glasses at a flea market and I just greased my hair across my head, and we just drove around. Then we cut them and some people from MTV saw them and that was that. Pre-YouTube, that was the only place you could do kind of weird sketches, performance bits. MTV would have been the only forum for them.
How does it feel to be on the other side of making it now?
This is my 25th year that I’ve been here working on something. From the acting perspective, it’s probably the most interesting run I’ve been on—this last year and the upcoming year. It all requires different muscle groups. Right before Copper, I was doing improv back in Los Angeles, maybe expecting something to do with Bad Robot and J. J. Abrams who was part of the whole cab driver world back in the day. So I was getting back into the mode of doing improvisational character work, which was fun. I hadn’t really done it in a long time. And so these jobs that I’m doing now have put that on hold. It’s interesting, it’s all performance, I guess, but it’s different. One is writing it at the same time as opposed to just standard acting memorization.
There’s so much history and variety in your projects this year–Copper, Vikings, and Sons of Anarchy. When you read scripts what are you looking for?
Sometimes people are like, Why did you do that? Well that was the only opportunity I had between April and July. [Laughs] And some of it’s like, Can I have fun with it? Can I make something with it work? Some of these things too, like with Sons of Anarchy, Kurt Sutter and I have wanted to work together for a long time and just tried to figure out when I would be available. Vikings was a little bit like that too with Michael Hirst. That’s a huge honor when someone’s like, I had you in mind. And Copper happened pretty quickly, but as an Irish American, it was intriguing. I’m basically playing this guy who is an amalgamation of different characters, kind of a Boss Tweed, Tammany Hall kind of guy coming back from the Civil War when the Irish Americans made that turn from being the dirty unwashed starving immigrants who have just arrived on the shore that scare you and who you don’t like, and now we’re about to take over politically.
Hadn’t you intended to go into politics, initially?
I had these weird fantasies of going into public service and being a diplomat. I was essentially the schoolboy ALB president of the United States. I was president of this Boys Nation thing that Clinton met Kennedy at in high school. I travelled and spoke with Ronald Reagan. My college roommates used to joke, You must be so pissed you were born in Canada, because you’re not eligible to run for president.
It must have been good prep for the competitiveness of Hollywood.
That’s totally true. I remember I was a super longhaired weird-looking guy with acne and a knit tie. It was junior year and I was at the state speech championships and we went to a high school right on the Mexican border that was not a good school. I mean it was a great school and I loved it, but we were the kind of school that would have 1000 freshman and graduate 200. And it’s a tough town. I would go to these academic things and I was always so intimidated by rich kids from Los Angeles and San Francisco and prep schools. I sat there and I had this weird moment like, Why not me? It’s going to be someone. And I remember precisely, the crystal moment, fueled by an anger or being ridiculed or listening to someone ridicule another kid from my school for how unsophisticated we were. And I didn’t know I was going to go to Harvard. I was just a guy. Then I won the state speech championship and went to Boy’s Nation, and all of a sudden I went from not knowing what I was going to do to being able to go to any college that I wanted, which was such a mind mess. But I had that idea that you can make a decision.
What can you tell me about your role in CBGB?
I play this guy Merv Fergusson who was Hilly’s partner in opening CBGB. It’s an incredible world. When I was a road manager of Bullet LaVolta, I hung out with all that punk scene and the Lemonheads. I was in CB’s a lot to watch Live Skull or The Swans, or New York punk scene stuff. So I remember CB’s not from the 70s of course, but from the 80s. It was always a big deal. It’s kind of the mother lode. It’s where the term punk rock was invented, and so I felt this huge responsibility. Merv was this weird guy. And the funny thing was, there was a real tightness to the early crew of CB’s but someone might have know someone for years and been like, Yeah, yeah, Merv and I opened up for years and we did this and we were close, but I didn’t know he had a kid and I didn’t know where he lived. Their own personal lives were really private aside from that.
It’s a tough biopic to make, considering the special place it holds in history—
There are certain movies where you’re trying to fictionalize what would be an awesome documentary and give it a narrative structure. There’s challenges in that, but I got chills at times, because they’d get these guys that they would cast carefully. There was some kid they found in Tennessee to do David Byrne from the Talking Heads. When he first walked in to audition, it was like my spine got chilled watching this dude do “Psycho Killer.” I loved the stories and just talking to a lot of the old dudes that used to be around the scene. I think the hardest thing about it is there must be a thousand people who feel they had some kind of claim on that world, and I’m sure they differ to some degree. The way life works, I’m sure someone writes a big famous book about it and there are probably people who were really deep into it going, Fuck you for telling this story. We know the real story. There will be a lot of people who are very proprietary about the world, which they should be, and so you have that at the back of your mind going, God, I hope these people think this is alright. I just don’t know if anything can really match that raunchiness of seventies New York. You’d see a dude walking down the street in a fucking cowboy hat and a jock strap and be like, Alright, that’s New York. What’s up dude? How are you man? What’s going on?
Copper premieres Sunday June 23 on BBC America. See the trailer for its second season here.