Daniel Fierman
September 01, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”I know who I am,” says Donal Logue, grinning. ”I’m oh-that-guy.”

Eyeball the photo below. That scruffy mug. That loopy look. That sweet squint. He’s right, isn’t he?

A prolific (nearly 30 movies in 10 years) character actor, Logue, 34, made his bones with major roles in small pictures and third-banana parts in big ones. And he’s ”that guy” in four movies in theaters now — The Tao of Steve, The Opportunists, Steal This Movie!, and The Patriot.

Logue may finally break through with The Tao of Steve, a romantic comedy that earned him a special acting award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for his performance as Dex, an oversize lothario who worships Steve McQueen. ”We were willing to beg for Donal,” says director and cowriter Jenniphr Goodman. ”I FedExed him pictures of McQueen, wrote letters, just hounded him.” The extra effort paid off: With his alpha-male charisma and a (fake) beer belly, Logue is the heart — and gut — of the film. ”It was like a dream where you’re watching yourself,” says cowriter Duncan North, who based Dex’s exploits on his own. ”My friends, my family, they were all freaked out.”

But for all the hosannas, it’s been a laborious road for the actor. The son of Irish immigrants, Logue had a peripatetic childhood twisting through Canada, New England, and the Southwest. It wasn’t until the late ’80s, while studying history at Harvard, that he took up acting on a dare from his roommate. ”He was like, ‘Man, you can [act],”’ laughs a sleep-deprived Logue, nursing a Coke in a Manhattan pub. ”Just go go go, do do do. And I did.”

After roadie-ing for the Lemonheads and working with a traveling theater group, Logue landed his first big-time gig as Jane Curtin’s son in the 1990 miniseries Common Ground. Then — as they say on Behind the Music — the bottom dropped out.

”I moved to L.A. and was just a f—up. [Leeching] off friends. Getting drunk every day. Pushing too hard. My parents were like, ‘What is wrong with you?”’ he says. ”And then one day I was at a bar and I remember thinking, If I don’t get away, I will die here.” Some in his circle actually did — Logue lost four friends to alcohol abuse. Scared and upset, he cleaned up in 1991, then started getting choice roles in movies like Sneakers and Little Women. Most memorably, he poured on the smarm as greasy chatterbox Jimmy the Cabdriver in a series of mid-’90s MTV promo spots.

Logue, the father of a 17-month-old son with girlfriend Kasey Walker, may find his ”that guy” days coming to an end: He’s slated to topline his own sitcom, Grounded for Life, on Fox mid-season. ”It’s like, What’s worse: [the teen romance] Here on Earth or good TV?” he laughs. ”Dude, that was the worst movie I’ve seen in my f—in’ life.” His role on the show? A struggling thirtysomething dad, recovering from mistakes made early in life.

”It’s been hard, but like they say, sharks pick up distress signals,” he sighs, staring out a window. ”And after all that pushing and pushing and failing and failing, what I’ve learned is this: Just don’t try too hard, a–hole.”

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