Note: Do not read on unless you've seen the series premiere of Showtime's "Ray Donovan," titled "The Bag or the Bat?"
As the star of Showtime's "Ray Donovan," Liev Schreiber plays the premiere "fixer" for Hollywood's rich, famous and debauched -- a male Olivia Pope for the West Coast crowd with more than his fair share of familial drama.
As the first episode illustrates, Ray has a lot to contend with: A strained marriage; a manipulative father fresh out of jail; one brother who is an alcoholic as a result of being sexually abused by a priest as a child; and another struggling with Parkinson's -- not to mention the half brother who has no idea what kind of family he's inadvertently become a part of. And that's just his personal life.
Earlier this year, HuffPost TV talked to Schreiber about the challenges and allure of playing such a troubled character, the weighty themes the series tackles, and Ray's many troubled relationships.
After a successful film career, what was it about "Ray Donovan" that lured you back to TV?
The writer, Ann Biderman -- I really liked her a lot. She's just really gutsy, and she's really smart, and she also writes ... I don’t know how to describe it: It's a certain style of dialogue that is very intelligent and almost like good playwriting. It reads well and it plays well. For some reason, this woman is struggling with the idea of what contemporary masculinity is and she's written it probably more articulately than any guy I know. So those were the things that really drew me to it.
How do you approach the character, and how would you describe his mindset as we begin this journey with him?
I'm finding Ray, as everyone else is, bit by bit. I think he's very complex character. I don’t say that in a kind of generic acting way. I mean, he really is a complex character. He has a lot going on. I think he's got a very, very dark and painful history and I think it haunts him. I think he's developed a little bit of the white knight syndrome, particularly for damaged or disturbed people, which is also an aspect of masculinity and male sexuality that I think is really compelling. It's certainly a trap I've fallen into a couple of times, but one that is really compelling.
I think also, one of the things that drew me to this script is the idea of being a father and how you pull that off in contemporary society. There are always traditional values we want to impart to our children that almost seem dysfunctional today. And one of the things that interests me about Ray is he is kind of a throwback. He is kind of a traditionalist. He's old school. And there's a lot of that that I admire and I lot of that that I wonder about in my own life, finding that moral epicenter and standing up for something. Those are all, to me, really important aspects of the character. So far.
The driving force, at least in the first episode, is the explosive tension between Ray and his estranged father, Mickey (Jon Voight) -- what can you say about how that relationship progresses?
It only gets worse ... It's like a futile war with these two. They're very territorial creatures, Mickey and Ray, extremely territorial. And the kingdom in this case is the family, and I think what they're doing is positioning each other to fight for the heart of this family.
The show tackles sexual abuse in a way that many serialized dramas still shy away from. Can you reveal anything about how the show is going to explore the damaging realities of sexual abuse and how that relates to the religion in the series going forward?
Well, Bunchy -- played by Dash Mihok -- my little brother, it's revealed in the first episode that he is abused by a priest. In terms of the religious aspects of this ... I can't really speak to it, not being a Catholic ... not really being much of anything. But I suppose it's a pretty devastating experience for someone who has a faith to have that happen, particularly by the person who's supposed to be the emissary of that faith. I imagine it's probably in some ways equivalent to how many Jews felt after the Holocaust, that somehow they had been abandoned. And I think in a lot of ways there are a lot of characters in this story who, in one way or another, feel abandoned, or isolated, or out of their element, or unprotected, or unsafe in the world. And I think that is another theme for Ann.
The Donovan family seems cursed in a lot of ways -- between sexual abuse and Parkinson's and the toxic relationship between father and sons -- it seems almost Biblical, or something out of Greek mythology. What do you think the root of all that discord is for them?
I think abuse is really, really pervasive. If you damage a child, it finds its way into every aspect of everyone in that child's life. These are damaged children. And I think the kind of compassion and insight that it takes to examine that and dramatize that is what really makes Ann special. She's really, really fascinated with it. I keep thinking about that film, the one she did with Edward Norton, "Primal Fear" -- she's got something about this condition, there's something about it ... But I do think the curse on this family is abuse. I don’t think it's anything metaphysical. They're abused.
Like many of his personal relationships, Ray's dynamic with his wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), is strained from the outset -- especially since we see him having an affair. Will things devolve from there, or is there hope for them?
Again, I think where it goes and what's interesting to me about it is Ann's perception, which I think is incredibly accurate of male sexuality and how men compartmentalize sexual behavior and yet still want to be or expect to be the king of their home. But in the world that these guys come from, morality is a blurred line. Sexual morality is even blurrier. So there's no question in my mind that Ray loves his wife and knows what the right thing to do is, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t suffer. Ray has got a lot of skeletons in his closet and I think those will come out over the next few episodes and maybe explain some of the aberrant sexual behavior that's happening.
You obviously get to share a number of meaty, layered scenes with Jon -- how was the experience of working with him?
I love him. I worked with Jon before in a movie ["The Manchurian Candidate"], and I brought it up, and everybody sort of was like, "oh yeah!" And to have somebody that talented with that kind of notoriety as well, and also someone really excited to do that job ... That's the real pleasure of working with Jon, that he's just so happy to be at work. He's so happy to be playing this character, and it's such a great character, and he plays the pants off of it.
"Ray Donovan" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.
What did you think of "Ray Donovan"? Will you tune in next week?