Donal Logue on The Tao of Steve 
interview by Loey Lockerby, 25 August 2000

By his own admission, Dex, the lead character in The Tao of Steve, should absolutely not be getting laid.  Heís overweight, works part-time, and smokes pot for breakfast Ė not most womenís idea of a great catch.  But he manages to bed nearly every girl he meets, thanks to his philosophy of being "Steve", the cool guy who lets go of his desires and becomes irresistible by becoming unattainable.

The character of Dex is based on one of the filmís screenwriters, Duncan North, who teamed up on the script with sisters Jenniphr and Greer Goodman.  Jenniphr also directed the film; Greer co-stars as Syd, the woman Dex finally grows up for.  First-timers all, they found a perfect star in Donal Logue, the talkative character actor who won a Special Jury Award at Sundance for his performance.  A writer himself, the Harvard grad alternates between big-budget features like Blade and The Patriot, and smaller films like this one and the upcoming Abbie Hoffman biopic, Steal This Movie!.

On a recent promotional visit to Kansas City, Logue spoke to a group of local reporters about Hollywood, dieting, and the art of being Steve.


Question:  Whatís the secret to taking off the weight after this role?

Donal Logue:  There is no secret, man.  You gotta go hungry a bit and exercise.  Believe me, I wanted the secret.


Q:  How much did you have to put on to play the character?

DL:  About 30, 35 pounds.


Q:  Well, itís obviously part and parcel of the part.

DL:  Yeah, I had to.  They told me, "Donít run.  Eat as much as you can and gain weight."  Because we werenít sure that we were gonna use a fat suit, because I told them, "Hey, Iím heavy."  But when I showed up, I wasnít heavy enough for them.  But I guess it worked, in a way.  Duncan is huge.  But when I see him, I donít think "Hey, this [guyís] overweight."  It works when you meet Duncan.  You donít really think heís overweight.  But he weighs 250 or 260, and he was, like, a soccer player in college.  But they were trying to keep it true to his story.


Q:  So what was it like having the inspiration for the character right there all the time?

DL:  It was fine.  Because I always had that out, where Iím not playing him.  I can just say, "The character is Dex.  Iím me, youíre you, and this is a fictional character. Based entirely upon you, but..."  Because there were certain times where I didnít think it was in the text.  If I felt like Iíd apologized enough to the character of Syd, and she wasnít buying it, and Duncan would say, "No, you feel really bad" and I thought, "No, you feel really bad, for other reasons, other than the text of this movie".  But it was good; he was cool to have around.  There was no pressure.


Q:  How did he react to having his life laid bare like that?

DL:  I think pretty well.  Up and down.  What was interesting later, and this was only recently, he said, "You know, I really wanted to hate you because I wanted to play the part".  He had this idea.  And I was like, first of all, I have nothing to do with whatever decision was made, whether or not he would play the part or they would get an actor to play the part.  And [also], hey, man, itís hard to play yourself.  Itís easier to let someone else do it, because if he had to get real with it, he might not be able to distance himself.  Heís not an actor.  But it was interesting.  That was the only time I thought, "God, Duncan, I didnít know you harbored this bullsh*t".  But heís really bright; heís really well-read.


Q:  What did you think of Dexís sort of pop-culture versions of philosophy?

DL:  We never got to delve into that stuff as much as it originally was in the first script.  And that bummed me out a little bit.  So what was left over, you couldnít really flesh out.  That saddened me, although it hasnít been hurt critically for that, because people seem to like any mention of Heidegger or Kierkegaard or something.


Q:  The philosophy of the Tao of Steve has a lot of relevance.  I know people who have a rigid code, about how many times they call, when they call.  Itís all laid out there.

DL:  I think the difference between like, The Rules - I think there was a book called The Rules which kind of laid that stuff down - and this one is that this one is more like a universal maxim for how to behave in general.  I applied the Tao of Steve to my acting career when I moved out to Los Angeles, about nine-and-a-half years ago.  I was in debt.  I didnít have an agent.  I came close [to getting] a cheesy [TV] pilot.  I was just drinking too much and living on my friendís couch.  And I was hoping that I would just get some external score like a pilot or something to change my life.  But I quit that, when I said "I donít care about acting; I donít care about agents".  To have my life be so petty, in a way, upset me.  I got a really humble job, and I started writing short stories and doing things.  Basically, as soon as I quit for the right reasons, I got this movie, Sneakers, out of outer space.  And I found that when I was desireless, and I mean desire in the emptiest sense, when I lost that, then good things started happening to me.

So, it always struck me as a little odd when people thought it was almost a fake recipe for how to guarantee a score with somebody, because I thought it was a good maxim for how to live your life.  The cool thing about living your life in this excellent fashion is that, if you get all the external stuff that youíre not chasing anymore, fine.  But if you donít, you donít care, because youíve kind of developed spiritually to a place where you donít give a sh*t about the external stuff.


Q:  Did you get to do a lot of improvisation with this?

DL:  You know, we improved a lot, just to find stuff, but it actually always came back to the script, which I have to say is a credit to them.  Because I usually think, "oh, I kind of get your idea", but Iím this snobbish "but you canít write dialogue for sh*t" kind of person - "Let me just put it in my own words and itíll be OK".


Q:  Does being a writer yourself kind of put you in an awkward position sometimes, when youíre making movies and thinking, "God, these people canít write"?

DL:  Well, not really, because when I want to write my own movie, then Iíll have my chance and should do it.  Other than that, shut up.  When I sign on to do a movie, I do what I signed on to do.  Yeah, I could harbor thoughts like that, like "Ooh, how would I make it better?"  But I think everybody does that, and itís probably wrong half the time.  Itís hard to make a movie.  But I have those thoughts sometimes.  Because sometimes I think, in Hollywood especially, you can just see someone pushing back from their desk after theyíve written that one-liner, and it just kills me.  Itís just so hackneyed.  Itís absurd, when people are always saying super-cool things right before they do something.  Itís really odd.


Q:  Which in real life, you donít think of until an hour after the fact.

DL:  Yeah.  And you wouldnít say it, because it would probably be awkward, you know?  Youíd feel like an a*hole for having to put everything you say in quotes.  But there are some movies where thereís such clever dialogue, and yet it kind of organically flows from the characters.


Q:  Now, the location wasÖ?

DL:  Santa Fe.


Q:  So it was all right in that area.

DL:  Yeah.  And I like the way that they shot it there, because they shot it around the houses and the places that they live.  Usually movies shot in Santa Fe, and there arenít that many, kind of gratuitously make use of the Plaza at the center of town.  And I could see a Hollywood movie, just any conversation, wanting to have it [there].  Like if Hollywood set a movie in St. Louis, theyíd want somehow to have your, like, breakup scene in front of the Arch.


Q:  How do you think that your high level of education influenced your ability to play this role?

DL:  You know, it just made me feel comfortable, because I didnít get this sense like, "Oh, Iím the moron actor that you have to explain how to pronounce peopleís names to".  I also think that, if you donít have some basic grasp of it, it doesnít ring true.  Although some actors who are incredibly stupid play smart people and it almost works.  But I think it helped there, definitely.

You know, whatís funny about it is, I think Greer at one point really did feel - and I hate this - that the rarefied Buddhist monk is this creature that exists at the right hand of the Heavenly Father, and that the American slacker has no spiritual claim.  I hung out in Southeast Asia for a while, and there were guys who were monks because they kind of had to, or they do it for six months Ė thereís, like, this conscription Ė and they check out chicks and smoke cigarettes.  Theyíre people.  I think the religion is interesting, but I hate the fact that certain Americans feel like thereís no spirituality within America.  And so we have that argument in the movie about why is it always cooler when it happens in a foreign country.


Q:  What do you think the audience for this will be?  I was thinking about small-towns versus the bigger cities, and I wonder how someone in, say, New York would react to the film.

DL:  They seem to like it because itís different from them.  I feel the same way; I feel like it could play in my hometown.  It doesnít freak you out with how clever or weird it is.  Itís not shot in a kind of super-stylized way.  Itís not alienating.  But what blows me away is that, like, people in my hometown, they kind of like their entertainment packaged in a way that they understand it coming to them.  I think you could make the most poignant tale about someone from El Centro, California, and people from El Centro, California, would be, like, "Man, that sucked!  I dug it when you were the vampire and your hand got cut off!"


Q:  What do you think of Greer Goodman?  What was working with her like?

DL:  It was interesting, because, to her credit, Greer went through that weird, like, "Hey, I wrote a part for myself in my movie that we got made, so f*ck yeah, Iím gonna play this part."  And then she had, "Who am I to write a part for myself in a movie?"  Also, when she was going to play Syd, Syd was a much smaller part in the movie, before it became this romantic comedy.  So I think she suffered a bit of a crisis of confidence at the beginning.  When Greer just slows down and trusts that sheís a smart person and starts to roll, sheís really good.  And Iím like, "All you guys are great".  All her friends who were in the movie were all really good and deserved to be there.  Itís interesting, because at first, my reaction was, "Iím doing an expensive home movie project."  But then I had to A, learn to trust it, and B, I feel like if I wrote a movie right now, I would probably just populate it with friends of mine who I trusted.

It was really cool at Sundance to see Jenniphr and Greer and their mom.  It was like a family triumph.  Although, in a way, I would want [Jenniphr] to have the experience of directing a cast of actors who she didnít have any personal relationship with whatsoever.  One problem with, like, if I directed a sister or something, theyíll pull sh*t out from when you were five years old to undermine what youíre talking about in a scene.  Or friends, you know, itís hard to work with them sometimes.  Itís good to have this completely neutral personal relationship, and then it can be all about drama or whatever.

Yeah, it was fun.  Because Greerís that smart.  Duncan always says that, as much as Dex is this weird, fat philosopher kind of guy that you donít see in movies, you donít really see a female lead whoís smart, into art, plays drums, you know.  I mean, if Hollywood made the movie, Iím sure they would cast a swimsuit model and try to pass her off as [an intellectual].


Click here to read Cynthia Fuch's review.

 

 


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