There is a whole lot more to Liev Schreiber than his critically lauded portrayal of television character Ray Donovan. The acclaimed actor gives us a peek.
The first thing one may notice about Liev Schreiber—actor’s actor, dedicated dad and surfing enthusiast—is his peculiar duality. At once tall and handsome, he is self-deprecating and reserved. Schreiber’s turn as the title character in Showtime’s hit show Ray Donovan is an unexpected deliverance for this accomplished stage thespian who trained at both the Yale School of Drama and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and who favors conversation with a live audience over courtship with cameras. His professional goals seem to hint at a desire to do comedies, yet when looking over the outtakes from this cover shoot that feature him smiling, Schreiber acknowledges the rarity of such cheerful depictions. Sullen and dark is kind of his thing, a creative signature of sorts. The same can’t be said of his life off-camera, which often plays out in the Hamptons, where, surrounded by family, friends and the ocean, Schreiber is living his best life.
Why do you think Ray Donovan has resonated so much with its audience?
LIEV SCHREIBER: I think it’s the heart of this show. It’s a story about family—none of us seems to be able to resist that. I think that’s a big part of it. The anti-hero has come up a lot—and not just for men, but I think for women as well— struggling with the idea of doing what is right morally, ethically, emotionally. Having principles and values is a conversation we’re having with ourselves more and more in this world. And I think Ray struggles with that in a highly compelling and dynamic way, and that’s contrasted with the outbursts and violence. There’s a centered rage and anger and violence sort of rumbling around deeply in our culture right now, and I think Ray Donovan’s tapped into that.
Would you say honesty is an attribute that defines you as an actor?
LS: I think it’s important to be honest with people you work with because it’s very hard work. And if you’re bullshitting each other, it destroys the foundation you build the work on. The foundation has to give some level of trust, and trust in the process. At the same time, you don’t want to overwhelm them. I think it’s important to always try to do your best work, and that involves being clear and honest, saying what you mean, saying what doesn’t work for you and what does work for you. You should be able to express yourself.
And does such honesty work for you in your personal life?
LS: I don’t know. I think maybe I go too far. I’m sure Naomi [Watts] would probably say I go a little too far. That was the nice thing about Naomi and me, we were a good balance that way. I was very forthcoming and she was good at hauling me in. And we still have that relationship, and I’m very grateful to her for it.
I read a quote of yours: ‘Suspension of ego is part of the success of a good actor.’ How difficult is that for you?
LS: Oh, it’s incredibly difficult. It’s not so much ego—I think vanity can be lethal for actors or performers in general. But that’s a little different from ego. I think ego is also dangerous, but it’s also a great engine and a very powerful tool for actors. But at the end of the day, you have to recognize that it’s not your story—it’s not about you. It belongs to the audience. It belongs to the viewers. And if you understand that perspective, it can help you be a better actor because there’s a detachment that comes with that, that is more compelling to watch, at least for me. And the actor has somehow gotten ahold of the truth that’s shared rather than merely personal. That’s a special nuance that I look for, and I’m always thrilled when I see it.
You have written and directed films. What appealed to you about Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Everything Is Illuminated?
LS: I read it shortly after my grandfather died. Aside from being pretty depressed about my grandfather, I was starting to have issues with my memory. That was really disturbing to me. There is something about what Jonathan says about memory and heritage in the book that’s so powerful to me. I felt like it was going to help me out.
What was that creative experience like?
LS: It was totally traumatic because I’m incredibly sensitive and self-conscious and guilt-ridden. I felt terrible about adapting Jonathan’s beautiful book and possibly ruining it, and I felt terrible about writing about my family and mourning, and exposing all of them and doing all these things I shouldn’t be doing. But I think that’s just being neurotic and complicated. In retrospect, I’m very proud of all of the work everyone did on it.
Speaking of your upbringing, how did the way you were raised inform the way you are raising your children?
LS: My mom raised me in a fairly unconventional way. I don’t think I’m raising my children in a very unconventional way. My mom had nothing, really, in terms of material possessions or money. And both Naomi and I are pretty blessed in that department. My mom believed that music, literature and art were sort of the apex of human culture and civilization. I don’t know that I have her level of knowledge and facility with that. But I hope my kids also get some of that, if not from me, then from her and my brothers.
How is fatherhood treating you?
LS: It’s terribly, terribly, terribly difficult. I worry about everything. You worry about this and you worry about that. And the truth is, you don’t really need to worry that much. They are very capable. I mean, they have everything they need coming into this world to do what they intend to do. And they probably will do it regardless of what you throw their way.
You are out in the Hamptons surfing a lot. What does it do for you?
LS: I love it. I’m terrible at it [laughter]. I love it so much. I love being in the ocean. I love the smell of it. I love the taste of it. I love the power. I love the learning curve. I love the violence. I love the stillness. I love how it just depletes you when you’re done. I love how it calms your mind and your body, resets you and puts you in such a good place. And it separates how you really feel, kind of struggling around for a foothold and finding that spot.
What are some the greatest memories from the Hamptons?
LS: Watching my kids play in the tide pools. Watching waves crash in the daytime. Going to get frozen yogurt on the bike every day. Long beach days with the whole family, where we go down at 10 am and don’t come up until 3 or 4 pm. Sunsets at Duryea’s with the kids climbing on the rocks while we eat.
That’s good stuff!
LS: Yeah, I’ve had a lot of good memories in my time.