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Liev Schreiber talks title role in Showtime’s ‘Ray Donovan’

Actor Liev Schreiber

Actor Liev Schreiber Credit: Getty Images / Bryan Steffy

Maybe it’s the thick, menacing eyebrows, or the brooding good looks, but Liev Schreiber is a casting agent’s dream to play the villain or anyone dark and deeply conflicted. Lucky for Schreiber, his title role in Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” seems, at times, all three.

The fifth season of the popular crime drama premieres Aug. 6, and when its fans will discover we’ve jumped forward in time several months, finding Ray — a “fixer” for Hollywood’s elite — and members of the troubled Donovan clan in a decidedly more precarious state than where we left them last season.

Schreiber, 49, raised by his bohemian mom on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is up for an Emmy Award for his work in “Ray Donovan.” Known for films like “Spotlight” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” he’s also a Tony Award winner and accomplished Shakespearean actor (he’s played Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry V). He and actress Naomi Watts have two young sons; the couple separated last year.

I’m not going to spoil things but — wow — there’s a major surprise for “Ray Donovan” fans this season.

When you have a character like Ray . . . on this intense downward spiral all the time, and in precipitous situations — there’s two things to do with a new season. Stop, reset, do it again — or see what happens if the wheels come off. For us, this season, it’s the wheels coming off. That’s why I’m . . . running on fumes at the moment. I’m looking forward to people seeing it. I think the cast has done extraordinary work.

How do you think fans will react?

Initially, I was scared by that, but you’ve got to take risks in this format, make sacrifices. It’s grown-up TV, really compelling stuff, and stuff I’d be interested to watch. But, hey, there’s no accounting for taste.

Last season it was your surprise karaoke scene that got people talking.

Yeah, that was tough.

Did you need convincing?

Oh, I needed convincing. Liquid convincing. [He chuckles.] No, not really. But I thought it was a terrible, idea — because I know what a terrible singer I am. Then I realized Ray’s probably no Pavarotti either. But, boy, was I terrified. I like a little karaoke, but generally I need a couple of tequilas in me.

Your showrunner, David Hollander, has described the series as “disorganized,” in that we never quite know where things are headed, and there’s no big long-arc plan in his head. What’s that like for you as an actor?

It’s hard. I’m always pushing him to look for longer, arcing themes. When working with an ensemble of actors, it helps us feel more unified if there’s a common thread we’re all working on. For me . . . it’s funny, but putting restrictions on things, or parameters, often makes them freer, if that makes any sense. The structure of the season — the arc [of the plot] — allows you to let go inside of it. We have that this season.

I’ve talked to actors on TV shows where the plot is still being figured out as they’re shooting, and some say it’s frustrating to play a scene and not know if you’re a good guy or a villain.

I guess the nice thing about the Donovans is that there’s a duality in each of them — they could go either way at any time. I think that makes them enjoyable to play as characters.

What can we expect this season from Ray and his dad, Mickey (Jon Voight)? There’s a complicated relationship.

At the start, they’re doing pretty well. They’re living together. But they . . . fall back into defensive postures. I don’t want to give anything away but . . . Ray threatens Mickey in a way he’s never been threatened before.

Sounds ominous. Switching gears a sec — I hear you took your sons to Comic-Con in San Diego recently.

I was there to support “My Little Pony.”

It’s kind of hilarious to think you’ve got both “Ray Donovan” and “My Little Pony” on your resume.

Yeah. [He chuckles.] Well . . . I’ve got to do something the kids can see.

And the sequel to the “Goon” hockey comedy hits in September. How was it to regrow your character’s handlebar mustache?

I love that mustache. I’m considering adopting it. I had so much fun making the first “Goon” film. It’s such a great group of people. They sent me to hockey camp. I’d never played hockey before, never really ice-skated much. It’s a rough sport. I think I got this sequel out just in time. I don’t know if my body could handle another.

You’re a hockey fan. Who do you root for these days?

It’s hard not to like Pittsburgh. But I’m a New York Rangers fan. You know . . . the hometown team.

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