When UPN's Veronica Mars premiered last year, the character of Logan Echolls was a mouthy rich kid with questionable morals. These days, he's, well, still a mouthy rich kid with questionable morals, but the character has also emerged as a surprise fan favorite and love interest to leading lady and teenage super-sleuth Veronica (Kristen Bell). Credit the show's sharp writing and a charismatic performance by Jason Dohring, the actor bringing Logan to life. Dohring conveys the occasional flickers of vulnerability and underlying sadness that make Logan more than a one-note bad seed.
Though Dohring didn't approach the role with the intent of making Logan a more likeable guy, he had definite ideas about the character. "I guess any character that has a lot of intention—[Logan is] very focused—is likeable to an audience, because it puts the audience at ease, I think," he says. "When I see an actor like Pacino or Brando, they're so certain…. I think there's much liking on the audience's part for an actor who has everything totally worked out, so I try to do that—just have an intention [in] what I'm doing, that it's very important. When you [have] an actor that doesn't really mean what he's doing, or he doesn't have his own feelings and big, strong opinions, it's not very likeable to me. But when you've got a guy who has strong, passionate opinions about something, I think that's definitely likeable."
As for Logan's prickly, sometimes romantic relationship with Veronica, Dohring speculates that something about his admiration for Bell came through onscreen. "I really respected her, so every time I was in a scene with her, it was just, like, who could kill one another with the best acting," he says. "There was a mutual admiration there, even though [the interaction between Veronica and Logan] was totally hostile, and I think people kind of started reading that into them…. I really like her, and it just translated all the way through."
Dohring got into acting at age 7, when he and his four siblings—two sets of twins—signed with a commercial agent. His first gig was a Toyota print ad, which earned him $75, and he eventually segued into auditioning for bigger projects. Journey, a 1995 TV movie starring Jason Robards and Brenda Fricker, earned him his first fan mail. "I was jazzed," he says with enthusiasm. "It's so fun, I'm telling you—acting is so fun. You can be so free. I guess it's harder to have that freedom in real life, but if a camera's on you, you can do whatever you want."
Dohring nabbed roles in films such as Deep Impact and guest spots on series such as Roswell and Boston Public. As for landing the part on Veronica, Dohring points out that he initially auditioned for the role of nice guy Duncan (Teddy Dunn). "I think I read Duncan a little bit dark…. I always get these roles that are harder for me to do, like the wild guy," he says. "I find more freedom in that, though, and I'm glad that it turned out that way."
Many of the show's fiercely loyal fans have taken to Dohring's intense performance. At a recent mall appearance, for example, one fan presented the actor with a homemade CD of songs that Logan would listen to. "It's so cool, because your work is not in vain, you know?" says the actor. "Every time you're feeling, like, 'Awww.…' you get a piece of fan mail or you read something and it re-inspires you. It's, like, 'Cool, somebody's receiving the effect of what I'm doing—in a good way.'"
Dohring spent his summer playing notorious Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in Dreamland, a Sundance Institute Filmmakers Lab project helmed by D.W. Harper. "I got to work directly with [Robert] Redford and Sally Field," he says. "It's amazing—Redford is there. He's just sitting down on the floor and we're at a table, and he's watching us and giving us notes. It's unbelievable." Dohring says he worked on about eight scenes in the Lab, and he's looking into doing a feature-film version of the project during his next hiatus.
Dohring is excited about working on a well-regarded show such as Veronica and has kind words for everyone from series creator Rob Thomas to acting teacher Robert F. Lyons—Dohring attends class three times a week—to his agent, Ben Press at Innovative Artists. "You gotta work with good people," he says. "So many people in this town are, like, covertly hostile, you know? They're smiling at you, but they really don't mean you well. You've got to stay away from those people."
Dohring offers this advice for up-and-coming actors: "I really think that anybody who really works hard can get anything they want. I don't listen to all the bullshit of, 'It's a numbers game,' and all that shit, because the people that are telling you that are not working…. Just do your work. I was, like, 'I'm gonna kill every audition I do, just work for five hours on three pages of sides and go in there and kill it and just have every moment down.' That's the only way I've ever worked. I've been runner-up, and it made me work even harder. Then, when you go in there, you know you've worked the hardest. You own the part."