Liev Schreiber takes the lead in Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”

Ray Donovan
Sunday, July 30
Showtime, 10pm ET

When discussing why he never saw himself doing TV, Liev Schreiber brings up some of the usual concerns: He didn’t want to get locked into the same character for years on end, and moving his New York-based family to Los Angeles just didn’t seem logical. But there was another overlying issue that might sound surprising.

Liev Schreiber Ray Donovan Showtime“I’ve always felt that no one would ever want to watch me as a lead,” says the veteran of more than 40 films, the vast majority of which have seen him play supporting roles. “I’ve got kind of chipmunky cheeks and nasty eyebrows. I really am a very nice guy, but there’s something about my Slavic background, I’m not the nicest-looking guy in the world.”

This coming from a man who has been featured in several articles focusing on his rugged good looks, which for many make an intoxicating combo with his fierce intelligence. After all, those traits were good enough to snag fellow beautiful person Naomi Watts, Schreiber’s wife with whom he has two young sons. Schreiber is equally convincing doing Shakespeare as he is going up against Wolverine. But being on TV, and being the lead, are new to him.

Enter Ray Donovan.

Schreiber plays the title character in what’s sure to be Showtime’s next signature drama, which acts as the perfect antidote for those who have tired of Californication’s silliness. It centers around a Hollywood fixer who helps celebrities get rid of unseemly problems. Wake up with a dead girl? Call Ray. Got a stalker you need scared away? Ray’s your man.

Not your typical hero, no. But Schreiber says in that way Ray isn’t much different from everyone else.

“If you put any of us up there on the silver screen of scrutiny, it would be iffy,” he says. “But I like that about the writing, I like that about the show. Ray’s a complicated guy, it’s a complicated time, it’s a complicated culture, it’s a complicated world, and I think a lot of the paradoxes of trying to be a moral man in the 21st century, raise a family and make a living are beautifully articulated in this world.”

Ray’s sketchy South Boston past is never far behind, and his wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), is still a reluctant transplant to suburban L.A. He has two brothers, Terry (Eddie Marsan), a former boxer stricken with Parkinson’s disease; and Bunchy (Dash Mihok), who is still traumatized from being sexually abused by a priest as a child. But the major wild card is Ray’s criminal father, Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight), who is being released from prison five years earlier than expected, and who blames Ray for his incarceration. His attempt to weasel his way back into Ray’s life leads to much of the show’s chaos. The cast also includes Elliott Gould and guest stars like James Woods and Frank Whaley.

Schreiber credits the impressive cast, along with the immediate sense of simpatico he felt when meeting writer/producer Ann Biderman (Southland), with helping him get over his initial reservations. But there were other concerns that could only go away after he started doing the job.

“I find that acting the same character over and over again is psychologically very difficult,” Schreiber says. “But one of the things about television I’ve discovered is that you don’t have to. The character grows all the time and develops and you can work in tandem and parallel with the character, which is exciting. It’s fun.”

It’s also been a “nightmare,” Schreiber says with a weary laugh, referring to the “brutal” workload and responsibility that comes with being the main guy. “That’s why I like to play supporting characters!”

After Ray Donovan wraps its season, Schreiber says he plans to “bury my head in a hole” and maybe take a break. Although there is one sort of assignment that might get him out of the house (if not his sweatpants).

Despite his impressive resume of narrating countless HBO Sports documentaries as well as other highly respected projects, Schreiber can’t seem to catch on with the cartoon crowd.

“This is my plea to anyone out there animated movies: Do you know how happy it would make my children if I could get a gig doing an animated film?” he says. “Please, you’re all on notice. I’ll play anything. I’ll play a seagull … I’ll do anything.”


Photo: © 2013 Credit: Jeff Riedel/SHOWTIME