In the new Showtime series "Ray Donovan," which debuts Sunday at 10 p.m., Liev Schreiber stars as the title character, a "fixer" who cleans up the public relations messes of the sports and entertainment world's elite. It's something new for the 45-year-old actor, who has never starred in a TV series and is best known for his stage work in "Glengarry Glen Ross" (a featured actor Tony Award), "Talk Radio" and "A View From the Bridge."
Schreiber got his big break playing the accused murderer in the "Scream" franchise, and has since gone on to play feature roles in "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Defiance." He's also a director (the film "Everything Is Illuminated") and has narrated a number of sports documentaries. Newsday contributor Lewis Beale spoke with the actor by phone from Los Angeles.
What attracted you to the Ray Donovan role?
Initially, it was just the writing. I had a feeling there was a depth to the writing, and its intention, and it was an interesting, enigmatic character, and I felt if it were cast right, it could be remarkable. For a guy who's used to theater work and parts where, arguably, I talk too much, like in Shakespeare, there was something about the lack of dialogue in the character of Ray that was really compelling -- how do you do that? You have to find other ways to articulate what the character is about.
You've done so much theater work. What's the difference between acting in theater and doing a TV series?
The biggest difference between TV and theater is that the narrative is finite in a play. It's one of the things that always drove me crazy in acting; after three months doing a play, I'd go nuts. A series evolves in a different way, the character has a life of its own, you play the same character but you can watch, re-evaluate and start again next week. That's an interesting process.
You live in New York with your girlfriend, Naomi Watts, and your two young sons. What's it like being away from them for so long while shooting the series in L.A.?
The hard part is not that I don't like L.A. I'm homesick. My family and what I consider the work I hold dearest is across the coast. L.A. is a great place, and it's essential to the show that we're here. Because the schedule is so intense -- I go into work at 5 a.m., and don't get home until 8 p.m. -- I don't experience much of L.A., but I have enjoyed being next to the ocean. I think there's also a level of expertise you get working with crews in L.A. I'm very impressed with them.
You directed "Everything Is Illuminated," based on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel, in 2005. Why haven't you done any directing since?
The truth is children. The decision to make a film means putting a year and a half on hold to complete it. The kids are so much fun, this felt like an important time to be at home, and it seemed a good time to be acting.
So how are you as a father? (Watts is pregnant with their third child.)
I see myself as a student of the game. It's an ongoing process with me. It's the thing that has the most meaning for me in the world. It's nice to have finally some sense of consistency in my relationship with my children. I don't think I'm much of a disciplinarian, but I'm working on that. I think Naomi and I both had unconventional upbringings, and there were benefits and drawbacks to that. We're trying to raise our kids in the most nurturing way possible.
You've also narrated a number of sports documentaries for HBO on everything from football to hockey and boxing. Do you have a favorite sport?
I think boxing is up there. I have had the good fortune of being involved with really excellent sports programming at HBO. I was never much of a sports fan until then. I wasn't the kind of kid who read the sports pages. I enjoy hockey and boxing, and I like to play tennis. But I like boxing; it's hard not to admire these guys who are at the top of their game, like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, what they go through. Their commitment and athleticism.