Liev Schreiber: Survivor

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::photo_caption::Schreiber in Amagansett, New York, this summer::/photo_caption::
::photo_credits::Theo Wenner::/photo_credits::

On ‘Ray Donovan,’ he plays the ultimate fixer, but the challenge of his life has been coming to terms with the crazy childhood that nearly broke him

By Andrew Goldman
Sep 05, 2013

A BLACK AUDI SPEEDS OUT OF NOWHERE, stops and momentarily blocks the path of Liev Schreiber as he walks through a parking lot, having just picked up his lunch. Were this scene playing out in Ray Donovan, the hit Showtime series in which the 45-year-old actor plays the title character, a South Boston-reared tough, the driver’s nose might be moments away from never looking straight again. But Schreiber, wearing a pair of Birkenstocks that the perpetually suit-clad Donovan would probably sooner eat than wear, stops and stares ahead dumbly. A middle-aged woman cranes her head inside the Audi to meet his eyes. “I love your TV show!” she shouts. “I’ve never spoken to anyone before! Sorry to bother you!” He thanks her, and she speeds off. “That is new,” Schreiber says, shuffling onward, with barely a trace of a smile on his face.

It’s a cloudless summer day in the Hamptons, and Schreiber takes the short walk from the Hamptons Chutney Co. to the shingled Amagansett house that he makes abundantly clear belongs to his partner, actress Naomi Watts. It takes King Kong money for a spread like this in Amagansett, the town in the Hamptons that’s also the summer home to Jerry Seinfeld, Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul McCartney. “I’ve been hiding out here,” says Schreiber of the six weeks since the show’s first season wrapped. He probably hasn’t been hanging at celebrity galas; one of the many neuroses he’s acknowledged is that crowds bring on panic attacks. But over the course of one summer, Schreiber has become the TV star he’d carefully avoided becoming for decades.

As Ray Donovan, he is the only employable member of a Southie family transplanted to Los Angeles, a responsibility he makes look about as enjoyable as passing a kidney stone. His father, Mickey, played by Jon Voight, is a psychopathic Whitey Bulger type who celebrates his release from prison by murdering the priest he thinks molested his son Bunchy. Bunchy is an alcoholic basket case with a million-dollar settlement check from the Catholic Church burning a hole in his pocket. Brother Terry is a former boxer with early-onset Parkinson’s. Ray makes a tidy living as a fixer for a law firm to the stars, a job that entails cruising around L.A. in an $80,000 Mercedes, removing dead OD’d girls from athletes’ beds, breaking the occasional hand and saying very little.

The day after its June 30th debut, Showtime’s head of programming, David Nevins, called Schreiber to tell him that the show had garnered more viewers than any other debut in the network’s history – more than the network’s runaway hits Homeland and Dexter. The call brought an odd mixture of swelling pride and pure existential dread that life as Schreiber knew it might be over. It didn’t help that 11 days before the premiere of the show, which critics have compared to a West Coast Sopranos, his friend James Gandolfini dropped dead in Rome. The New York Post’s cover said it all: TONY SOPRANO DEAD. “When you become something, in the way Jimmy became Tony Soprano, you are that thing,” Schreiber says. “And when you’re that famous, everything that you do becomes an offshoot of that. To me, that’s a scary thought.”

Unlike Jersey native Gandolfini, who didn’t have to travel that far to embody Tony, Schreiber is about as removed from his character as an actor can get. Ray speaks very little, and would certainly get pummeled by his macho family if he ever started rattling on about his inner life; Schreiber reflexively seems to lay bare his psyche for inspection from strangers. And Schreiber, of course, isn’t an unknown like Gandolfini had been. He’d had a steady but low-profile career in Hollywood, appearing in small indies and in popcorn flicks like Scream. Among the East Coast theater intelligentsia, though, he was the second coming of Laurence Olivier. A Yale-trained classical actor, he was dubbed by The New York Times as “the finest American theater actor of his generation.” Still, in two decades of films, he has never been cast as a leading man in a major studio film, not because he avoided them but, in his opinion, because he didn’t look like one. “I’m not Tom Cruise,” he says. “I don’t look like that.” Big cheeks – what he refers to as his “Slavic fat pads” – and naturally arched eyebrows got him a lot of work as the heavy in films like The Manchurian Candidate and Salt. His mother-in-law informed Schreiber that he looks just like a wombat, the big-schnozzed marsupial that lumbers around the Australian outback.

Whatever creature he resembles, women are impressed. He’s a big dude –six feet three – and in the past few years he’s shed his former doughiness through boxing, a fitness regimen and a philosophy he developed while playing Sabretooth, Hugh Jackman’s peevish brother in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. “When I was young, I thought that people who spent a lot of time on their appearances weren’t actors, they were peacocks,” he says. “Then I met Hugh and I realized, no, that was taking care of your business and discipline. I suddenly felt ashamed that I had such a sophomoric idea about those people.”

But as to the suggestion that he’s become a sex symbol, he responds with an eye roll and a shrug. “It’s just marketing and my voice,” he says, lighting the first of several of the afternoon’s Marlboro Lights. “I have a very deep voice. I think the voice is a lot with actors. But, look, I started out doing Shakespeare. I played a couple of drag queens. I’m as poncy as you can get.”

This is an extract. To read the full story, pick up a copy of Rolling Stone Middle East, available at over 200 outlets in the UAE and GCC.





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