In the movies, Liev Schreiber has played everything from Sabretooth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine to President Lyndon Johnson in The Butler, a Jewish Resistance fighter in Defiance, and Cotton Weary in Scream 1, 2 and 3. On Broadway, he won a Tony Award for Glengarry, Glen Ross in 2005. But it’s his first starring TV role as the titular fixer-to-the-rich-and-infamous in Ray Donovan that’s brought him his widest audience and additional acclaim, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in the Showtime drama’s first season. With Season 2 underway, we checked in to talk Ray, directing and chess.
When you play a scary, edgy character like Ray, do you try to find things you have in common?
I do have some things in common with Ray. I love my kids. I’d do anything for them. I just think Ray is put in slightly more extreme situations. I’m not a violent person and I think Ray is a violent person. I’m not a hypersexual person and I think Ray is a hypersexual person. But he looks like me.
“Being a violent person is not a very powerful thing—it’s exactly the opposite. It’s a sign of vulnerability and insecurity.”
Is it easy for you to get into character?
I just put on the clothes, I come to work and I pay attention to my castmates. Being a violent person is not a very powerful thing—it’s exactly the opposite. It’s a sign of vulnerability and insecurity.
You directed an episode this season. How was directing yourself?
It was really intense. I underestimated how difficult it would be to be acting at the same time I was directing. Ray doesn’t say much and is a relatively straightforward character, so I thought it would be kind of easy. The problem is television is all about transitions, particularly in a show like ours that have so many scenes and so many locations. The job of a television director, aside from keeping the acting on track and trying to articulate the ideas in the script, is really being able to improvise transitions, and that was especially difficult when I was on camera. But I was very pleased with the whole experience. When you direct, you really get to know people, and you really know where they’re coming from, and I was very moved by the support of my peers on this one.
Has the success of Ray Donovan changed the way the industry perceives you?
I’m not sure. Probably!
You’ve got an interesting movie role coming up.
Yeah, Pawn Sacrifice. It’s about Bobby Fischer and particularly the pressures of the chess match he played in Iceland against Boris Spassky, Tobey Maguire is playing Fischer and I play Spassky, his rival.
Do you play chess?
Very badly. I learned a lot about the game Boris and Bobby played but I’m not sure it improved my chess at all.
What’s ahead for Ray? Think there’s a way out of the mess he’s in?
He’s deep in and he’s a really damaged character and that kind of pain is hard to recover from. It’s a lifetime of pain. And I as much as anyone else wonder how you unravel something like that. I think that’s what the heart of this show is—how do you unravel your pain and how do you open yourself back up to the world? I hope he has an avenue out, and I hope it’s not fatal.
Main photo: Brian Bowen Smith/Showtime