‘Gotham’ has deep pop culture resonance, actor Donal Logue says

Oct. 21, 2014 | 5:00 a.m.
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Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue play cops Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock on "Gotham." (Jessica Miglio / Fox)

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Donal Logue, left, and Ben McKenzie, wait to tape a scene at a deli in Fort Green, Brooklyn, New York, on the set of "Gotham." (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

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Benjamin McKenzie and Donal Logue make an appearance at New York Comic Con on Oct. 12 in New York City. (Laura Cavanaugh / Getty Images)

The push-pull relationship between upright detective Jim Gordon and his morally flexible partner Harvey Bullock is a driving feature on the Fox series “Gotham,” but behind the scenes, veteran character actor Donal Logue said he and his scene partner, Ben McKenzie, enjoy an easy camaraderie on the New York set of the show, which explores the origins of many of the most well-known characters in the Batman universe.

“I can’t say enough about Ben McKenzie — he carries the show, the weight of the show is on his shoulders, the world is kind of seen through his journey,” Logue said recently, speaking by phone from New York. “He’s a really hard-working patient guy. I’ve never seen him even for a moment express a frustration regardless of what’s going on.”

These days, Logue’s not one to complain much either. The journeyman actor with the Harvard degree has been working steadily in a range of respected projects, but of late, he’s been on a celebrated run, appearing on such series as  “Copper,” “Vikings,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Sons of Anarchy.” (On the gritty FX biker series, he played Lee Toric, a former U.S. marshal determined to avenge his sister’s murder.)

Hero Complex caught up with the busy father of two boys to talk about life on “Gotham’s” beat, the allure of comic-book-inspired projects and writing his first young adult novel, due next year.

Hero Complex: What intrigued you about starring on “Gotham”? Why were you interested in taking on this role?  

Donal Logue: One hundred percent the most important thing is who is the man or woman at the helm of the show. Where’s the creative force? A mob drama in David Chase’s hands becomes something different. I sat down with [Executive Producer] Bruno [Heller] and he told me what the world would be like and what he thought I could bring to it. To be honest, even though I’m in the luckiest little percentile of people who do what I do, I’m not one of those people who has 7,000 movie offers. When you meet a guy like Bruno, that was the selling point, meeting him and talking to him about it. … His partner, Danny Cannon, we did a pilot that didn’t go — Danny’s always got me in mind for stuff. I just appreciate that. Danny and Bruno were the selling point, even more so than DC and Batman, which is obviously awesome. I come from a world, too, like with [the acclaimed, short-lived series] “Terriers” and certain shows, you’re trying to build up some kind of recognizability and if you can’t catch that early, you’ve lost them forever. But with a show like this, it has the recognizability from the get-go. We just have to hold the attention. “Gotham” has this deep resonance in the pop culture lexicon.

Donal Logue, left, and Ben McKenzie wait to tape a scene at a deli in Fort Green, Brooklyn, New York, on the set of "Gotham." (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Donal Logue, left, and Ben McKenzie, wait to tape a scene at a deli in Fort Green, Brooklyn, New York, on the set of “Gotham.” (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

HC: Were you familiar with Harvey Bullock? Did you know much about this character?

DL: I was familiar with this character because my kids [loved] the animated series. We live in Oregon and L.A. and we drive back and forth constantly — it’s an 11 and 1/2 hour drive to our farm — they’re road warriors. … They used to listen to the old “Batman” animated series, it would play through the speaker system. I couldn’t watch it, it was on the little DVD players in the back, but I always heard Harvey Bullock. I got to know it intimately like a radio play, so Harvey Bullock played a big part in that and he’s in the comics. I’m respectful of comic books deeply, I’ve done so many comic-book-oriented movies.

HC: Would you consider yourself a comics fan?

DL: I would say later in life I picked up comic books and got into the mythology of them. It seemed to be so much a part of my work life. But when I was younger, I certainly read some comic books but I wasn’t an avid comic book person.

HC: What do you make of Hollywood’s increasing interest in superheroes and comic book culture?

DL: I have friends who are novelists, and I have friends who are paid to adapt their novels into screenplays and a 600-page novel requires so much scaffolding structurally that sometimes you can’t tell the story in an hour and a half without taking down too much scaffolding where it doesn’t make sense. And expanding short stories sometimes is a push because there’s a lot of fictional world that you have to invent. Comic books are a narrative that are told in storyboards. An artist has already thought of a close-up, the wide shot, they’re thinking in terms of an image with dialogue over it. I think they lend themselves so easy to cinema that the transition is kind of seamless. … It’s much easier to take “Batman” and make it a film than “The Sound and the Fury.” People love the broader drama with the bright colors.

Donal Logue, right, has been cast as Det. Harvey Bullock, Jim Gordon's partner and mentor, in "Gotham." Above, he is shown with Michael Raymond–James "Terriers." (Patrick McElhenney / FX)

Donal Logue, right, appears with Michael Raymond-James in a scene from “Terriers.” (Patrick McElhenney / FX)

HC: You mentioned that Bruno Heller said he was looking for you to bring certain qualities to Harvey. What were those qualities?

DL: One thing that he said that was flattering was [he thought I had] the ability to do comedy and drama. That’s something he had recognized in stuff I’d done before. I’ve played fun, goofy sidekick friends for a long time. I started comedically doing weird improvised spots on MTV as this greasy cab driver. … Over time, you grow in a way. I think living with Michael Raymond-James during “Terriers” — acting is his art form of expression, and I would say my sister, Karina, as well. That’s what they just do. It woke me up — start thinking about what you do a little bit more critically. The time on “Sons of Anarchy” and “Vikings” and “Copper” and “Law & Order” and now “Gotham,” to be in these different families, to be accepted, to have to step in with some responsibility right off the bat [was great]. The characters were all different — for at least three of them, they were pretty Machiavellian, pretty cold and pretty straight. With “Gotham” it’s different because it’s a theatrical universe. It’s brightly colored. The creative group of “Gotham” is an incredibly collaborative group, always open to a discussion. They’re the bosses for sure, but they’re open to input, which isn’t always the case.

Benjamin McKenzie and Donal Logue at New York Comic Con on Oct. 12, 2014 in New York City.  (Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

Benjamin McKenzie and Donal Logue appear at New York Comic Con on Oct. 12 in New York City. (Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

HC: How have you found the atmosphere on the “Gotham” set? How do you and Ben get along as scene partners?

DL: Part of our job is to be able to bond with people quickly because you have to jump in and have either adversarial or friendly relationships. You have to trust somebody — they have to become your friend pretty quickly. My little sister Karina worked on “Southland” and did this pretty heavy-duty arc with Ben and just had incredibly nice things to say about him. When they told me Ben was going to be Jim Gordon, there’s no way to make a better impression on someone than being nice to their sister without any expectation that this is going to come back around some day. Ben, and Danny Pino, too, of “Law & Order,” they’re just really solid guys and gentlemen of the old school. They’re serious about what they do, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.

HC: You have a number of interests outside of acting — your first young adult novel is set to be released next year. What can you tell us about it?

DL: It’s called “Agua.” It’s a 13-year-old boy in a Mexican border town in the Imperial Valley, the big agricultural region below the Salton Sea in California. He finds the body of a farmer in a canal and what everybody thinks is an accident leads to this “Chinatown”-like conspiracy to take water from farms. … I wrote this book very quickly. It was almost a knee-jerk response to getting burned on a job. I was like, “Why are you sitting around waiting for someone across town to [give you] thumbs up or thumbs down?” I was like, “You’ve got three days, write a book.” I knew it was absurd, but I had the story in my mind and in three days I had as much of it down as I could. I wrote it without expectation. I got excited, I wouldn’t sleep. Then I went through that process all writers have to go through of getting a literary agent and then dealing with submission and/or rejection. … Reading was my life when I was young. It broadens worlds.

— Gina McIntyre |  @LATHeroComplex


Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, in a poster for "Gotham." (Fox)

Robin Lord Taylor in “Gotham.” (Fox)

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