Liev Schreiber on British traits, earning $20,000 in 20 seconds and the new season of Ray Donovan
Ray Donovan is about a ‘fixer’ working behind the scenes in Hollywood – does the story have any basis in reality?
There’s a long tradition of [‘fixers’] in Hollywood, especially before the big law firms took over the business. When you’re in the business of selling fantasies, people like Ray Donovan come into the picture. Look at Anthony Pellicano – he was a private eye who went to jail for wire-tapping, and took one of the biggest directors down with him [John McTiernan, of Die Hard fame]. We’re now in a world where anything goes, in terms of what we can show, and this has always been a well-kept secret – a kind of gentleman’s agreement – that we would never show what things are like behind the scenes. It’s fun to shine a light on it.
Ray is the latest in a long line of TV anti-heroes. Why do you think they’re so in fashion?
I think it’s a very old tradition that goes, at least, back to Shakespeare. All great drama is conflict and duality. Shakespeare wrote characters with duality – look at Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice, who he wrote in an anti-Semitic period, and who is given some sympathy. It’s a smart choice – it’s what gives us the most interesting characters. People who are 100 per cent good or 100 per cent bad just aren’t that interesting.
The gap in quality between TV and films is almost non-existent now – have you noticed the change?
It used to be that movies were for grown-ups and TV was for kids – I think that’s reversed now. The big animated features for children do very well, but all the talented writers, in looking for more security and a place where they could do their work with some freedom, have all migrated to television. Ray Donovan is a very cinematic show, so you get everything that goes with that – ie the very long days – so it’s actually not dissimilar to doing big movies. There’s a lot less green screen, which is good. I hate green screen – I never know where to look. You’re seeing a sea monster, but I’m seeing a tennis ball, and I have to imbue that with menace. It’s hard stuff.
Brit actor Eddie Marsan is in the series, too. Has he been exposing you to any UK culture?
I went to drama school in England, so I’d already been exposed to the delights of Marmite. Vegemite, on the other hand, I like a lot. Eddie is somebody who I begged them to get when his name came up – he’s somebody I admired for years. I never thought he would do it. He’s just amazing to watch, and I get the privilege of watching him work.
Jon Voight’s also on the cast list. He seems to have cornered the market in playing crazy old men – is he like that in real life?
Not at all – that’s the irony. He’s a remarkably conservative person, both emotionally and politically. He’s a real gentleman. I’ve always wondered about him… He does it [plays crazy] so well, he must have this crazy kinky side. I have no idea what he does after work. I’ve never witnessed any transgressions.
You appeared in Movie 43, which has since been called one of the worst films of all time. Some of the cast spoke of being almost tricked into it – was it like that for you?
I started out in comedy, I wish I did more. Right now I’m playing this intolerably dark character [Ray], but I would love to just cut loose. I think that was the appeal of Movie 43. It was the project of a mutual friend of Naomi [Watts, Schreiber’s wife] and me. He called us up and asked if we’d do a comedy short for him, and without reading a script we both said, “Of course.” We get the script, and it was… Well, we’d already committed to it. Don’t sweat the details, just have fun. If you’re out hunting Oscars all day, it can get pretty heavy. Naomi and I are always pigeon-holed as the ‘dark’ guys – it was nice to do something fun together. Sure, it’s not the greatest film ever made, but who cares? I’d love to do a kids’ animated movie – that would be great.
The first film many of us would have seen you in was Scream. Did you have any idea how huge that film would go on to become?
Oh my god, no. It was an auspicious beginning for me. Bob Weinstein [indie cinema deity], who was a theatre fan, called me into his office. He said he wanted to me do this thing for him. I’m $70,000 in debt from student loans, and I’m looking for a job wherever I can get it. He says all he wants me to do is walk down some stairs and get into a police car. Twenty seconds. Twenty grand. I was like, “I’m yours.” It was great. Then they fly me to Los Angeles first class. I just couldn’t believe it. Obviously it turned into a huge phenomenon, and they were kind enough to offer me a part in the second one. By the time the third came along, I was like, “Alright, can you kill me now?” I wanted out by that point – not because I was tired of the series, I just thought it would be fun to get covered in the blood and all that stuff. It was great, I owe them a lot. I never thought I’d get anywhere near that kind of world – I wouldn’t be talking to you without it.
Season 2 of Ray Donovan continues Tuesdays on Sky Atlantic at 10pm