It’s tough to be Ray

Liev Schreiber digs into the highs and lows of his Show­time role

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Yvonne Vil­lar­real

If ever there were a time Liev Schreiber wished he could en­list the law­fully ques­tion­able prob­lem-solv­ing ac­u­men of Ray Dono­van, the tit­u­lar Hol­ly­wood fixer he has por­trayed with skill­ful in­ten­sity for mul­ti­ple sea­sons on Show­time, the mo­ment would be now.

It’s a balmy Fri­day af­ter­noon in Venice, and Schreiber has had lit­tle to no sleep. He wrapped pro­duc­tion on Sea­son 5 of “Ray Dono­van” around 5 a.m. and now, slightly bleary-eyed, he must con­tend with pack­ing up the beach­side rental home he’s been oc­cu­py­ing for a few weeks be­fore head­ing to New York.

“God, I wish I could get [stuff] done, I’m pa­thetic,” Schreiber says with an un­der­stated smirk while seated in the pa­tio. “I have so much mov­ing to do to­day. Where’s Ray? I’d say: ‘I don’t need you to beat up any­body. I don’t need you to go drink­ing. I don’t need you to have sex. I just need you to pack this [damn] house, Ray.’ ”

The truth of it is, Ray prob­a­bly would pre­fer that chore over all that he en­dures in the up­com­ing fifth sea­son of the drama.

While Schreiber’s stoic al­ter ego is no stranger to heartache and un­re­lent­ing law­less­ness — not to men­tion the bruises and fam­ily chaos that re­sult — the new sea­son of the se­ries (pre­mier­ing Sun­day) di­als it up, to say the least. To say more about where the show picks up in the pre­miere would ham­per the ex­pe­ri­ence — but we can say Su­san Sa-

ran­don is play­ing a top stu­dio head in a sea­son-long guest star arc.

“I think the wheels re­ally come off this sea­son,” Schreiber says. “[Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer] David [Hol­lan­der] and I talked about it; how do we ini­ti­ate some change, some mas­sive seis­mic shift in this char­ac­ter and in this world? And, well, you take the ground out from be­neath them.”

That he’s even talk­ing about this char­ac­ter five sea­sons in is only some­what sur­pris­ing to Schreiber.

In the course of his 20plus-year-ca­reer, the ac­tor — who has played roles rang­ing from a brawny mu­tant (Sabre­tooth in the “Wolver­ine” fran­chise) and a stead­fast news­pa­per ed­i­tor (”Spot­light”) to a scrupu­lous sales­man (Broad­way’s “Glen­garry Glen Ross”) — had looked to tele­vi­sion as a means of cre­at­ing a home base for his fam­ily. (Schreiber has two sons — 9year-old Sasha and 8-yearold Kai — with Naomi Watts, from whom he split last fall af­ter 11 years.)

“I told my agents, ‘Let’s look for some­thing in L.A.’ And they found this noir-y fixer show, and I was like, ‘Not likely, but let’s give it a shot,’ ” the 49-year-old ac­tor re­calls with a raise of his eye­brow that sug­gests his fool­ish­ness. That shot has taken him through five sea­sons and two Emmy nom­i­na­tions for the role, in­clud­ing a nod this year. “It’s the most in­tense thing I’ve ever done,” Schreiber says. “To work on a char­ac­ter again and again and again and again. I’ve never done more than a three­month run of a char­ac­ter. That your char­ac­ter is evolv­ing and grow­ing — you al­most feel parental to­wards them.

“I’ve also never re­ally, in my ca­reer, played the lead,” he later adds. “I’m ac­cus­tomed to fig­ur­ing out what my piece of the puz­zle is, how I serve the whole. That’s what’s been re­ally in­ter­est­ing with this char­ac­ter — fig­ur­ing out what his job is in terms of mov­ing the nar­ra­tive for­ward.”

Dur­ing this mo­men­tary respite from pack­ing, Schreiber, much like Ray, is soft-spo­ken and wears his ex­haus­tion in his eyes— but he’s far more cheer­ful than the se­vere char­ac­ter he’s in­hab­ited on the se­ries. He gets a kick out of Ziggy, who came with the house rental, as the dog mounts the out­door sofa to lick his face. And he points to surf­boards that line the fence, say­ing he tries to hit the wa­ter at least once a week to help wash off the emo­tional bag­gage of work.

Hol­lan­der, who serves as showrun­ner on “Ray Dono­van,” says Schreiber’s ex­traor­di­nar­ily ex­act­ing ap­proach to his work makes em­body­ing this kind of haunted char­ac­ter tough.

“He digs for and pushes for more,” Hol­lan­der says by phone. “There are times I watch him from the mon­i­tors on set and go, ‘Oh, you ...’ He brings this stuff out. I find it very pow­er­ful and re­ally com­pelling. He’s al­ways think­ing about the char­ac­ter.” A no­tion that is il­lus­trated when Schreiber re­veals that he thinks Ray might be “dis­turbed right now” by the po­lit­i­cal news cycle be­cause he be­lieves the char­ac­ter is Repub­li­can.

Oth­ers who’ve worked with Schreiber echo Hol­lan­der’s sen­ti­ments. Philippe Falardeau, who directed Schreiber in the fight film “Chuck” — about heavy­weight Chuck Wep­ner, the in­spi­ra­tion for Rocky Bal­boa — spoke of his cu­rios­ity.

“His thought process is thor­ough,” Falardeau says by email. “It’s a per­pet­ual re­search of the char­ac­ter’s per­sona in re­la­tion to his so­cial en­vi­ron­ment, al­ways in the light of the film’s mean­ing. … He likes to dis­cuss the role over and over, for­mally or in­for­mally. We would talk for hours and then ex­change pic­tures, songs, po­ems, films, any­thing that could spark a new idea, nour­ish the hu­man­ity of the char­ac­ter and bring trac­tion to the story.”

For Schreiber, when it comes to Ray, the mo­ti­va­tion goes be­yond mak­ing a brawl look re­al­is­tic or hit­ting the right note of in­ten­sity dur­ing a fam­ily squab­ble. It’s find­ing the truth in the de­mons that plague the char­ac­ter: His sis­ter com­mit­ted sui­cide, he and his two broth­ers en­dured sex­ual abuse from their priest, and his father’s ac­tions have wreaked havoc on the fam­ily.

“It’s just pain, there’s a tremen­dous amount of pain,” Schreiber says. “There’s a phys­i­cal­ity to play­ing him that I don’t know how to de­scribe to peo­ple. He’s gone through a lot emo­tion­ally grow­ing up. And he has an inherently kind of volatile na­ture, so in a lot of scenes, you’re ramp­ing up ten­sion and then not ex­press­ing it be­cause that’s his prob­lem, is ex­press­ing it. And, man, does it take a lot out of you.”

Schreiber says hav­ing his kids around helps him de­tach from that mind-set at home. Just a cou­ple of weeks prior, he was chap­er­on­ing them dur­ing an out­ing at Comic-Con. Schreiber was at the an­nual con­ven­tion to pro­mote his new film, “My Lit­tle Pony: The Movie,” a gig he took to add some fam­ily-friendly cred­its to his reper­toire that his kids could watch,while Watts was there for her turn in the “Twin Peaks” re­boot. But it was pho­tos of Schreiber with his sons — one dressed as a “Star Wars” Jedi, the other as Har­ley Quinn — that quickly had the In­ter­net talk­ing: many prais­ing him, oth­ers de­rid­ing him.

“I had mixed feel­ings about it,” Schreiber says of the chatter. “It’s hard be­ing in the pub­lic eyes all the time. It’s hard hav­ing your kids scru­ti­nized. It’s painful. But at the same time, you have to give them as nor­mal a life as you pos­si­bly can. You have to al­low them to be them­selves and let them grow. It’s just a kid play­ing dress-up, you know? … This is a tough gig some­times. But I am in­cred­i­bly for­tu­nate, and so are my kids.”

It’s that kind of pro­tec­tive­ness for his kids that he shares with Ray, though his ex­e­cu­tion, he’d like to think, is less har­row­ing.

With all the talk of how emo­tion­ally vex­ing play­ing Ray can be, does Schreiber think about the endgame? Only in terms of what he wants for his char­ac­ter when the cred­its roll, he says.

“I want peace for him, that’s re­ally it,” Schreiber says. “He de­serves it. I’ve come to re­ally love him as a char­ac­ter. I think there is some­thing very Christ-like in many ways — that sense of he suf­fers for oth­ers and it’s noble, mis­guided, but noble. There’s some­thing about him that I ad­mire. He’s so lost and in so much pain. He’s in most ev­ery way not a role model, but there’s some­thing very sweet about him that makes me hope one day that he finds peace.”

Then Schreiber gets to his cur­rent endgame as the in­ter­view wraps. He pulls out his phone, cues up Donny Hath­away’s ren­di­tion of John Len­non’s “Jeal­ous Guy” to play over the home’s sound sys­tem, and leans down to nuz­zle his face against Ziggy’s.

“Let’s get to pack­ing,” he says.

Mar­cus Yam Los An­ge­les Times

“IT’S THE most in­tense thing I’ve ever done,” says Liev Schreiber of his char­ac­ter, the tit­u­lar fixer in Show­time’s “Ray Dono­van.”

Michael Des­mond Show­time

PAULA MAL­COM­SON por­trays Abby, the put-upon wife of Schreiber’s Ray Dono­van. The show, set in Los An­ge­les, starts its fifth sea­son Sun­day.

Erica Parise Show­time

LIEV SCHREIBER and Paula Mal­com­son por­tray Ray and Abby Dono­van in the Show­time drama “Ray Dono­van,” about a Hol­ly­wood fixer and his rocky life.

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