Schreiber commands his fair share of big-budget dramas such as
The Manchurian Candidate, but it is starring in personal films
like A Walk on the Moon, off-Broadway shows, or even
directing others like in the emotionally invested Everything is
Illuminated that stimulates his urge to be in this risky
It's been an
auspicious time for the 43-year-old Schreiber. When he recently
announced the nominees for the 56th Annual Drama Desk Award
nominations, that appearance further acknowledged his place at the
top of the local actors' pantheon, which includes theater award
winners and nominees (he won a 2005 Tony Award and is a repeat Tony
nominee as well). And he was a presenter at the recent Obie Awards
On May 5th,
the 25-year-old Israel Film Festival presented him with their
Achievement in Film Award – one that acknowledges a Jewish
filmmaker's contributions to the art. For a quarter century, the IFF
has offered audiences a collection of recent Israeli films
connecting its cinema to the global Jewish experience. As part of
this effort, it launched its awards to show an appreciation for
various filmmakers of Jewish descent.
list included legendary director/choreographer Stanley Donen
(recipient of the 2011 IFF Lifetime Achievement Award) and
producer/director Micha Shagrir (recipient of the 2011 IFF Cinematic
scheduled presenter, author Jonathan Safran Foer (writer of
Everything is Illuminated), couldn't make it, the event was even
more poignant when Schreiber‛s wife, actress Naomi Watts, stepped in
and introduced her husband. So when he emerged onstage in the Paris
Theater, Schreiber's acceptance speech hit home even further.
explained, "While trying to prepare my remarks, I did what any other
reasonably intelligent, mildly resourceful, and deeply insecure
Jewish man would do: I called my mother. I called my mother, and I
asked her why I was here and what I should say. She told me to tell
you here this evening that, ‘It’s wonderful to be a Jew.’
“Of course, I
immediately responded, ‘But Ma, is it not also wonderful not to be a
Jew?’ My mother pondered my use of the double negative for a moment,
and then responded with a profound existential tone, ‘How should I
know?’ It suddenly dawned on me with this terse, seemingly benign
response, my mother had somehow managed to sum up the entirely of my
career: how should I know?
for me is that for the past 18 years, I have had the great good
fortune to be gainfully employed in an industry that has allowed me
to explore the essential questions of heritage, faith, and identity.
At its best, this is what my work has provided me with. The
opportunity to explore characters and conversations that ultimately
allow me to feel more closely connected to a shared sense of what it
is to be a human being.”
Last year, I
saw Liev at the 2010 Drama Desk Awards when he received his trophy
for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play (A View from the Bridge).
But I had interviewed him earlier this year by phone when he was
promoting his latest indie film, Every Day (detailing a day
when Schreiber's character, Ned, grapples with his family in major
transition), and found, as I went back to the conversation, that his
ideas about the film really reflected the kind of heartfelt actor
who deserved all this notice.
Since this was completed it has been announced that
Schreiber and Watts will co-star in the film Bleeders.
Everything is Illuminated, several of your films touch onto your
unique background and Jewish heritage. You did a great job with
Everything is Illuminated, so I hope you get back to directing.
going to reprise some of your larger bad-guy roles, such as
Wolverine), or other science fiction things? Will you return to
play the nasty antagonist/double agent Ted Winter in a Salt 2?
I’d be up for
it. I loved playing them both. But that's in the hands of the powers
an acting couple, did you bounce
off of Naomi because it might relate to your family situation –
whereas maybe you wouldn’t with a Wolverine?
In a funny
way, Wolverine is a lot more like our family than Every
Day. Naomi did come to a screening of this film when it was at
[last year's] Tribeca Film Festival and I could tell that she was
moved by it. There was a sweetness in it that she really
appreciated, and that felt familiar to her.
Do you ever
worry that when you’ve done some of these big roles, like the
traitorous character in
people don’t think of you for a subtle, small role like this?
I try to mix
it up as much as possible and hope that people respond. I wouldn’t
want to just be playing roles like this for the rest of my life, in
the same way that I wouldn’t want to be playing roles like the one I
did in Wolverine for the rest of my life.
There is a
bit of irony that both of you have played CIA agents.
Valerie Plame, was upstanding and yours in Salt, decidedly
not. Did you two share any thoughts about the nature of the CIA?
Yeah, we were
constantly arguing about how lethal the average CIA agent is.
Naomi's part you were able to get a little more grounded in the
reality of the CIA instead of the fantasy.
The irony is
that Naomi’s convinced that they’re all lethal, and I’m convinced
that they’re not lethal. And I’m the one who plays the lethal one.
character might have been the more lethal one at the end of the day.
her I loved her in
How do you
balance things between family, the choice of doing theater – of
course theater’s great to do since you go home at the end of the day
– or a film which takes you out of town? On the other hand, with
theater you’re committed to so many months and you’re doing it every
day. Do you plan, or have a strategy you two work out?
else, we try to do the tit-for-tat thing. It’s not really that
realistic in our industry. What we do is take things on a
case-by-case basis, and discuss where we’re at with our careers and
what the opportunity is that’s being provided to us and what it
means to us. Naomi’s had so many great opportunities this year that
it’s been really difficult to say no to any of them, because they’ve
been such terrific things to work on.
doing a film like
it’s not like making a big science fiction or superhero movie where
the characters are bigger than life and everything has to be
planned. When you don't get to rehearse, do you then improvise or
react off of the other actors?
moving that quickly and there's no rehearsal, you're really relying
on the level of intimacy you can create with the other actors. The
better they are, the more you're able to accomplish that. With this
particular group of actors, we were really able to accomplish a lot.
There was a lot of access, and part of that probably comes from
everyone having a familiarity with the theatrical process of
rehearsing. You do that a lot in your life and it just comes
naturally when you don't have it. That was a very luxurious
experience for me.
reads a bit like a play, like one you might do for Neil LaBute such
as The Mercy Seat. Did you approach this more like theater
even though it lacked rehearsal time?
There was no
way I could approach [an indie film] like theater because there were
no rehearsals and it was one of the quickest shoots I've ever done.
It was something like three weeks and we were done with the film.
But it did have that vibe for me as well, that it felt like a play.
It felt very intimate and dialogue driven, and of course, it had all
of those actors in it that felt very familiar to me – and I hadn't
worked with any of them, but who all felt like stage actors to me,
like Helen [Hunt] and Carla [Gugino] and Eddie
[Izzard] and Brian [Dennehy].
choice of actors part of the attraction of making this film? The
script has a certain poignancy. Though it's just a story of
relatively ordinary people, I was captivated by it.
I think that
was the attraction for me, taking relatively ordinary people and
portraying the heroism that goes into trying to keep a family
Did it help
having a family of your own, two kids, to understand the dynamic
between these kids?
created a fascination with the scene for me. Having just had two
boys, reading a script about a father who's trying to raise two sons
certainly caught my attention. My boys were one and two at the time;
they're two and three now.
Did it made
you think, "Oh, what's going to happen as my kids get older? Are
they going to go through the traumas and tribulations these kids
about that. You have to ask yourself the question very honestly:
what would I do if my son told me he was gay? But I think I'm a lot
more prepared than Ned because both of my children are avid
deals with three sets of relationships: the sons, the two parents,
and of course the parents' relationship to a father. Did that
connect to your own experience or to experiences that you've talked
about or discussed with friends or family?
that everybody our age has some sort of relationship to. When your
parents get to the age when they need more help, it's a really
emotional time for families. I think, also, a lot of my interest in
this film was about that notion of fatherhood, and having the two
different perspectives on Brian Dennehy's and my character was a
really good experience for me.
I've read, you've unusual or difficult parents, and like I had with
my father, who was much like Brian Dennehy's character.
I like to say
I have a very creative family; I come from a very creative family.
scenario where you can't do anything for a parent to make him feel
better about the end of his life – I went through that with my
father. Did you have anybody you talked to about that?
For the most
part, that was more Helen's work than it was mine. My role in that
was to deal with how Helen was reacting to her father's illness and
how much of that she was bringing into our relationship. There is an
impossible sadness that accompanies that, that permeates your life
and your relationships, and it's unavoidable. I think that was part
of this story: how does this couple deal with that, and how do they
not let it destroy everything else that they have?
worked with Brian and Helen before? What came out of that experience
that you would say was unique to it?
I had not
worked with either of them before. I think what I liked about both
of them was the familiarity that I think came from being a theater
actor. There is a kind of kinship in that. The same thing with Carla
as well – and Eddie, for that matter. When you work on a film that
goes so quickly and there's no rehearsal process, it's great to have
people who can speak in that shorthand.
convinced you that director Richard Levine could make it work once
you got the script?
it was his intelligence, his sincerity, and honesty. He said, "I
don't know what to tell you about what kind of movie I'm going to
make. I only know that it's very close to my heart and it's
something I'm going to try very hard to articulate with the film."
connect with it not only because of getting older but also because
it's a universal story.
I think so,
problem is to get people in to see how universal it is.
you had to sum it up, how you would tell somebody to see this movie?
story, your family, and I think that that's what Richard has
captured. You're not the only person that relates to this, oddly
enough. I think everybody feels that there's a heroic element in
this, and that heroic element is them, the people who have survived
their own family and those who endeavored to keep it together,
Helen is the focal point, you're a team. These are parallel lives –
the father is child to the man, and we see what's happening to three
generations simultaneously – life, birth, the son coming out, the
younger son getting confidence as he finds his artistic side, the
wife trying to maintain all the relationships. No one got totally
histrionic though it's easy to do. Does that resonate with you?
with me when I read the script, that there was a subtlety to what
Richard was doing that I thought felt very real and very compelling.
got offered this role, did you know you were going to be doing your
cross-dressing character Vilma in
No, I had no
a certain irony to having played that part of a gay activist in Ang
Lee's film and then being a father dealing with a son coming out in
I find every
day [so to speak] another irony in the notion of me in a dress
other projects you want to do as an actor or a director that
examines more about who and what you are?
perpetual development on those projects.
There are a
couple of things. It's generally bad luck to talk about them before
they go. But we've got a two-year-old and a three-year-old, so it's
been hard to get any writing done at home. I'm hoping that as they
get older, I'll have more time.
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