Liev Schreiber says he didn’t initially realize how popular his show “Ray Donovan,” which wrapped up its second season Sunday night, would become. But it’s already won Jon Voight a Golden Globe for his scene-stealing turn as Ray’s estranged father Mickey, and was recently renewed for a third season (albeit minus series creator Ann Biderman, who’ll be stepping down as showrunner).
Still, Schreiber should’ve figured – now that “Breaking Bad” is over, TV audiences were in need of a new antihero to fall in love with. And as a professional problem solver for an A-list clientele with serious issues of his own, Donovan definitely qualifies. With Season 2 of “Ray Donovan” closing out with a hefty body count and a host of questions, HuffPost Canada TV spoke to Schreiber about how Biderman’s departure will effect the show, the toll that the part exacts on him, and the one moment he felt was out of character for Ray this season.
HuffPost Canada TV: To what extent does the finale bring Ray to a place of resolution, and to what extent does he seem to be a different man now than the one you encountered in the pilot episode?
Liev Schreiber: I definitely think he’s a different man than the one I encountered in the pilot episode; I think he was very sure-footed in the pilot. I think in many ways, he’s gone through a tremendous amount since that time, both personally and professionally. And not to give anything away about the finale, but certainly in my opinion, I think it leaves Ray at rock bottom. Which he’s been a couple times before in his lifetime. [Laughs] But certainly, this is a very, very impactful final episode for him as a character.
You got to direct an episode of the show this season. I know you’ve directed before with “Everything Is Illuminated,” but what was it like having to juggle both directing and starring in an episode?
I think the biggest issue I had was not being able to see the monitors while I was acting. I quickly realized that probably one of the most important things about directing television is that you’re able to improvise transitions on the fly. And it’s pretty important that you’re taking stock of the composition so that you can adjust for those transitions in the connecting scenes. That was the biggest problem, I think. But the cast and crew were really tremendously supportive of me and were a great help, and they’re all very knowledgeable filmmakers in their own right. So I had a ton of support.
How’s working with Jon Voight been this season? Is there any kind of competition between you two, considering he won the Golden Globe and got nominated for an Emmy as well this year?
Well, if there is a competition, Jon’s won it hands down. He’s a very eclectic actor, he’s very inventive, he’s very playful. One of the great things about the character of Mickey as he’s written is he allows you that kind of range. Ray as a character is slightly diminished by his internal state of being, which I like. It’s an interesting exercise for me as an actor. As someone who’s prone to going over the top, it’s nice to have a character who reigns it in. But I find acting with Jon an ecstatic and totally enjoyable and insane process.
You’ve been part of both network TV and now cable. Is making “Ray Donovan” a much different experience than shooting a network drama like “CSI?” And would you agree that the divide between the two is constantly growing?
I’m not sure that divide is constantly growing. I think that certainly premium cable is paving the way, in terms of programming and tastes. What I will say in defense of “CSI” was I didn’t find the experience that different. I thought that “CSI” really set a standard or a tone for me in terms of how this work was done, how resourceful, how talented particularly the writing staff is in developing these arcs and storylines. There is a bit more speed on the network end because they have to produce more episodes per season, and perhaps something is compromised in that. But I find that the trend is cable is that they’re moving towards shooting episodes quicker, and I think the trend on both sides is moving towards a middle ground.
What would you say this role has meant for you as an actor and for your career?
Well, the success of the show, and the exposure of the show, has brought a lot more exposure to me and my family, which isn’t always a great thing. [Laughs] But that the response has been really, really positive has been just terrific. It always feels nice to be a part of something that’s successful and that people enjoy and appreciate. That’s the greatest feeling you can have, to be appreciated by so many viewers. And the response to the show has just been terrific. What it means for my career, in the movie business, you’re as good as the last thing you do, and to some extent, if people think “Ray Donovan” is good, that’s a good thing for me. I think the other issue is time. One of the reasons I became an actor in the first place was for that freedom, to be able to move about and maintain a certain level of diversity, which is hard to do when you’re on a show for six months at a time. But having said that, I like things now, and I suppose I was always going to have to grow up one day.
When you first signed up, did you expect it would be this much exposure and get this kind of response?
I had no idea. [Laughs] I really had no idea. I was just responding to the writing, I was responding to Ann, who I really liked on all accounts. And it was just another job, you know? I didn’t bother to think about what it would do to my life, geographically. [Laughs] What it would do to my career, in terms of exposure. All of those things have just sort of happened.
How do you think Ann Biderman stepping down as showrunner next season will affect the show?
I do think she brings a very distinct quality to the show, and it’s very hard to imagine it without her. But a lot of the same writers who’ve worked on the past few seasons hopefully will still be here, and we’ll do what we can. Certainly though, we’re going to feel the loss of Ann very deeply.
“Ray Donovan” explores a very popular archetype that seems to dominate cable dramas these days, telling the story of an antihero. What do you think it is that makes complex characters like Ray so appealing, and were you a fan of these kinds of shows going in?
I don’t really watch television, until now, so I hadn’t really watched them. On the recommendation of David Nevins [the President of Showtime], I watched “Breaking Bad,” and then he told me to watch “Sopranos” and I watched that as well. But it was after we had already shot the pilot; I very much wanted to go in with a clean slate. I think one of the things that really defines Showtime and David Nevins and his particular genius in programming is he’s interested in that idea of duality. Of course, a byproduct of that is the antihero, but the characters would contain both sides of the coin. And I think the reason that works so well is because I think it’s at the root of dramatic conflict, that idea of duality. I think it’s what always drew me to Shakespeare. For me, the key to great drama is that sense of duality. So these conflicted characters are I think a very good choice on David Nevins’ part. I’m really impressed by Showtime’s programming the past few years.
The show’s world can get pretty bleak at times. Is this a hard role to let go of at the end of the day, and how much of a toll does playing a character like this exact on you?
When we first started and I read the pilot, I thought it was an interesting part because it’s a very minimalist part. But I thought, while it was interesting, it would be fairly simple. I’ve never been someone who wanted people to call me by my character’s name or someone who had trouble leaving a character behind when I was done working. But it is difficult. It takes a toll on you to be on that treadmill of existential nausea over and over and over again, 14 hours a day for six months. And one of the things that I’m trying very hard to do is to find a way to bracket the performance and delete it and to leave it at work. My kids have been a great help to me. And Naomi [Watts], just sort of reminding me that I’m not in that world anymore. [Laughs]
It’s not that I think I’m Ray, I don’t. It’s just that I think when you tell your body that you’re feeling something as painful as that, that consistently and that often, it exacts a toll. And it’s something that you have to be aware of and careful of, I think.
So now that Season 2 is over, what were some of the most memorable or challenging scenes for you this year?
I don’t know if it’s the most memorable, but I think the most difficult scenes, that I didn’t agree with, were the ones where the writers wanted me to be violent towards Avi [Steven Bauer’s character]. I didn’t like that. I didn’t think that Ray would go to blows with Avi, I never liked that. The most memorable for me, I think it was skinny-dipping in the ocean in the middle of the night. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. There were some pretty big waves, and while I’m a decent swimmer, I was a little skeptical about that.
Season 2 of “Ray Donovan” is available on demand on Showtime in the U.S. and The Movie Network in Canada.
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