Thursday, September 8, 2016

In Character: Liev Schreiber

I’m on a serious Liev Schreiber kick right now. Could be because his excellent Showtime drama, Ray Donovan, is nearing the end of its great fourth season. Could be because Schreiber is garnering excellent reviews out of the Venice Film Festival for his portrayal of famed boxer Chuck Wepner (i.e. the guy who inspired Stallone to write Rocky) in The Bleeder. Or it could simply be because Schreiber is one of my favorite contemporary actors. I’ve been a fan of Schreiber’s since he began popping up in indie films in the mid-‘90s. Since then, no matter if he’s in comedies or dramas, big films or small, I always make it a point to seek out his work.

Five Essential Roles
Walking and Talking (1996)
Andrew
Liev Schreiber is perhaps best known for portraying characters of great intensity. So I thought it was important to go back to the beginning of his film career and highlight his goofy, kindhearted Andrew from Nicole Holofcener’s debut film, Walking and Talking. Andrew is the former lover (and current best friend) of the film’s main character, Amelia (Catherine Keener). And watching Andrew and Amelia’s cute yet painfully human relationship remains one of the highlights of the film. It is impossible to not utterly adore their final scene together.

Scream 2 (1997)
Cotton Weary
Sandwiched between his barely-there cameo in the first Scream, and a killer (but brief) turn in Scream 3, Schreiber brought the shaken Cotton Weary to life in the series’ underrated second film. I love Schreiber’s nervous energy in this flick, the way he’s primping for the camera and twitching with anxiety in his introductory scene, his intimidation toward Neve Campbell in the library, and, of course, his impeccable fuck withery during his police interrogation. Cotton Weary is the type of performance that’s so good, it has no business being in a slasher sequel. Even one that I absolutely love.

RKO 281 (1999)
Orson Welles
With a voice as commanding as Welles himself (seriously, have you heard Schreiber narrate an HBO boxing documentary?) it makes sense that Schreiber fit so seamlessly into Welles’ persona. HBO’s RKO 281 is about Welles’ struggle to bring Citizen Kane to life. For film buffs (and period enthusiasts), the film is a complete delight, stacked with wonderful supporting performances and many amusing set pieces. But ultimately, RKO 281 is Schreiber’s film, and he carries it dutifully.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Raymond Prentiss Shaw
Remaking a classic is never easy, but there are certainly aspects of Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate that I enjoy. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography, Meryl Streep firing away (as always), but really, it’s Liev Schreiber’s brainwashed work as Raymond Prentiss Shaw that is most deserving of praise here. Shaw’s confusion, reserved paranoia and mental instability are wholly believable through Schreiber’s performance. Schreiber himself was still up and coming when this film came out; he was big in the indie scene, but Shaw was arguably his biggest role in a “big” movie thus far. To say he seized it is understatement.

Spotlight (2015)
Marty Baron
If you’ve worked for a print publication, you know you’re damn lucky to have an editor like Marty Baron. He’s a writer’s editor; the first one there and the last one to leave. As Baron, Schreiber is supportive yet stern, relaxed yet brazen. Everything about this performance is real. His quiet suggestion, his fearlessness with the church and his publisher, his subtle bemoan of “…another adjective.” – it’s all perfect. And then, in the film’s best, most empowering moment, Schreiber delivers a monologue of such support and importance to his Spotlight team, that it brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. A bravado performance of great restraint.

The Best of the Best
Ray Donovan (2013-present)
Ray Donovan
I got really into Ray Donovan about a year ago, and since then, I’ve hailed it as my favorite show that no one else I know is watching. As a Liev Schreiber fan, Ray Donovan is a perfect vehicle to showcase the actor’s best qualities. Ray Donovan is a hardened Boston bruiser who makes a living as a “fixer” for the Hollywood elite. The seedy cases Ray takes on allows the show to be remorseless in its fury, while managing to attain a dark sense of humor. Everyone in the cast is universally excellent, especially Schreiber, who all but carries the show with his volatile intensity.

Whenever I choose a television character as an actor’s best performance, I try to hail one or two specific episodes to highlight the performer’s best work. That way it levels the playing field in terms of TV vs. Movie screentime. That noted, choosing Schreiber’s best episode for Ray Donovan is a no brainer. In the seventh episode of season two, titled “Walk This Way,” we watch as Ray slowly, drunkenly, painfully spirals downward during his son’s birthday. Ray Donovan is full of intense sequences involving screams and guns and blood and bats, but “Walk This Way” (which was directed by Schreiber himself) highlights a Ray we hadn’t seen before, or since. It’s also worth noting that I’m hard-pressed to think of an actor who has played a more convincing drunk than Schreiber does in this episode. Check the episode out if you have a chance, even as a one-off. Better still, fully dive into the world of Ray Donovan. I promise you won’t be sorry.

Other Notable Roles
in Goon
Party Girl (1995)
The Daytrippers (1996)
Big Night (1996)
Ransom (1996)
Phantoms (1998)
Sphere (1998)
Twilight (1998)
A Walk on the Moon (1999)
The Hurricane (1999)
Scream 3 (2000)
The Omen (2006)
The Painted Veil (2006)
The Ten (2007)
Defiance (2008)
Taking Woodstock (2009)
Salt (2010)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)
The Last Days on Mars (2013)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)
Pawn Sacrifice (2014)
The Bleeder (2016)

26 comments:

  1. BOW! Schreiber is one of those character actors who deserves so much more than he has. Like, I want him to have those memorable roles that so many of his piers have etched out, because Liev has the goods. My favorite of his film performances is still A Walk on the Moon...such likable energy and his breakdown upon uncovering what has been going on ruins me. Such an underrated talent, for sure.

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    1. Nice! So glad you're a fan. I do love him in A Walk on the Moon (that's such a gem of a film in general). And that scene you mentioned... so powerful.

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  2. He's so good and so underrated. This reminds me that I still need to watch The Last Day on Mars, that's been in my Netflix queue for ages.

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    1. It's a decent flick, but he totally carries it. Worth your time for sure.

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  3. Liev is so great and underused! I'm glad you talked about Cotton Weary - he's so great there even in a teen horror flick (that I love too!). Ray Donovan is one of those shows on a long list of "one day". I feel a little bad he hasn't had a bigger career, but he is married to Naomi Watts so I can't feel toooo bad.

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    1. Cotton Weary - yes! So happy you're a fan. I think he his very careful about what roles he takes. Seems to have crafted his career very specifically, you know? But yeah, I do wish he was more of a household name. And, also, yeah, too hard to feel sorry for anyone who can call themselves Mr. Naomi Watts.

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  4. That made for such a great read. Another fantastic In Character post. I haven't commented in your blog for a while but your posts remain amazing dude. Liev Schreiber has always been a terrific actor. You can tell he's a theater animal (he has plenty Tony nominations and a win as well) the minute he walks into a film. He has that incredible depth in his turns and commitment to his characters every time. Obviously his performance in Ray Donovan is just the best but even in his film work his talent can shine when given material like Spotlight. I love his work in Pawn Sacrifice, it would definitely make it to the Top-5 for me. He should have a bigger career for sure, but judging by the reviews he got for The Bleeder maybe the best is yet to come. AND he's married to Naomi Watts, so there's that.

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    1. Hey man, all good! I haven't been posting that much, been crazy busy with stuff. But I'm excited for you to see the movie again (if you want!), I made so many changes to it.

      Anywho...I was very close to including his work in Pawn Sacrifice, but I realized that would've pushed out stuff like Walking and Talking, which I thought was important to keep in. But I'm so, so happy you're a fan of his work. And man, I would LOVE to see him on stage someday soon.

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    2. Wow man, I'm excited to see the movie again as well, especially since you say you changed so many things.

      Unfortunately I haven't seen Walking and Talking but I'm definitely interested in checking it out now. And sure Alex, I'd love to watch him on stage someday as well. The man is such a beast of an actor, he can go from internal pain to a breakdown in A Walk on the moon with admirable ease. Even in trash like Wolverine, he's the best thing to watch.

      Looking forward to see Wait again ;)

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    3. Yeah man! Sooo much, for the very better :)

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  5. Liev Schreiber is awesome. I love him in Walking and Talking. He's so funny in that film as I also like him in Spotlight, the original Scream trilogy, and of course, Phantoms. One of my favorite things he does is the narration for a lot of the HBO sports documentaries as he just has this air of charisma in the narration. It's pure gold. Plus, he's married to Naomi Watts so he's winning in life.

    Let's not forget his directorial debut in Everything is Illuminating which I thought was a really good and underrated film.

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    1. Man, I really need to give Everything is Illuminating another go. I remember enjoying it quite a bit. Phantoms... so good. And hell yeah, his narration of HBO boxing is incredible. What a voice on this dude.

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  6. It's good to hear that Schreiber is playing Wepner. He seems to have found a career as a voice-over narrator for a lot of documentaries (beyond his work on Ray Donovan). I was thrilled to see him do so well in a small role in Spotlight.

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    1. I'm excited for his turn as Wepner as well. It's been a longtime passion project of his for a while, so I'm hoping for good things. Really happy you're a fan of his work!

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  7. Great to see Schrieber get some love. He really is good with his role in Scream 2 being everything you say it is. Another performance of his I love is his turn in Goon, an all together underrated movie.

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    1. He's so funny in Goon. I love when seemingly dead serious actors take on roles like that. Always fun to watch actors cut loose a little.

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  8. Didn't expect two In Character pieces so close two each other. That's great. I guess you're on a roll now. I love Liev Schreiber. He is usually the one bright spot in garbage movies like X-Men Origins and Scream 3. No mather how bad the movie is, he always brings it. He was fantastic in Spotlight though. That's probably my favorite performance from him. I need to get around to watching Ray Donovan though. It's definitely sounds like my kind of show.

    This is definitely a first world problem, but there are way too many great TV shows these days. I'll never have time to watch them all. I just started watching Narcos and i'm planning on watching The Wire (yeah, i still haven't watched this show) after that, so maybe i'll get to Ray Donovan after The Wire again.

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    1. Yeah man, been neglecting this series too much, so I'm gonna release a bunch in a row.

      I hear you about TV. I just started Narcos too. It's a great ride. The Wire is the best show that has ever been produced for television. You've probably heard praise like that before, but in this case, it isn't hyperbolic at all. It's a hard show to get into (took me three times to make it past episode 4 - very intricate), but once you're in, you're in.

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  9. You'r back (Still waiting for "Wait" bruh)

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    1. It will actually, finally, really, truly, be out very soon! Long time comin' with this one.

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  10. Alex, you're going to laugh at me, but I actually loved Liev in 'Phantoms.' I know it's a terrible movie, but I love it. It's my guilty pleasure.

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    1. I will never laugh at someone's guilty pleasure movies! Phantoms is a damn gem, don't let anyone tell you different. I mean, shit, one of my GPs is Cliffhanger. You don't get more guilty than that.

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  11. I loved his work in Spotlight, I thought him and Keaton were the best in the show. Also the guy is consistently great, his part in Scream franchise wasn't easy but he made it work

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    1. I agree with you on Spotlight. He was so believable there. And I love that you're a fan of his work in the Scream films!

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  12. I was hoping Spotlight would be the "Best of the Best," but I haven't seen Ray Donovan.

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    1. He's soooo good in Spotlight, right? But Ray... man. So strong.

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