by Hannah Joseph
“I always think it’s bad for actors to comment on politics. The amount of influence that celebrities sway in our country is disproportionate, and I think the last thing they should be doing is commenting on politics. It’s plain old awkward,” says Liev Schreiber, during our October interview. Awkward – what an interesting choice of words, I muse on my end of the phone after my appeal for some juicy political ranting is bluntly rejected. With five movies set to release in 2009, at least three of which seem like they might have clear political agendas, Schreiber is surprisingly quiet about his own thoughts on the elections. Luckily, he is willing to share a few things.
Like, why the classically trained actor (he attended both the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Yale School of Drama) decided to take on the roll of Wolverine’s arch nemesis Victor Creed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. “Wolverine, for me, was about having the opportunity to work with an old friend Hugh,” he says. “I’ve always been a fan… I also loved dressing up as a mutant and jumping around on wires. I mean, you know, who doesn’t? Being bad is so much more fun. I’ve always kind of thought of the protagonist as dull.”
I’m secretly high five-ing Schreiber and giving him imaginary thumbs up signs for his excellent word choice. I, for one, am tired of the do-gooder Hollywood starlets who seem to take on political superhero personas between projects – and it’s refreshing to speak to someone famous who, by his own definition, is no hero. And although he has had his hand in charity work (in 2006 he directed and acted in a campaign video to promote HIV/AIDS awareness), Schreiber doesn’t try to over represent himself or his beliefs.
He is an actor who has a gamut of experiences, from Shakespeare to big budget flicks, indie films to a role on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and after a year of nonstop filming, Schreiber is just glad to be back in New York City, preparing for his second child with Naomi Watts. “It’s nice to be home,” he said. “I almost wish I didn’t work so much you know… But it seems to be something that I don’t have much control over.”
When I ask him if his Jewish heritage gave him any kind of intimate connection with his character in Defiance, a movie about three Jewish brothers who escape from Nazi-occupied Poland to join Russian resistance fighters, he simply answered “No, not really.”He continued, “I don’t think I would have ever have had the kind of courage that those guys have,” he told me. “Veracity – I’ve never been that kind of person, but I do think I have a sensitivity about the genre of material. I always feel self conscious about things relating to the Holocaust, but it was a unique story that I really felt deserved to be told. Defiance was perhaps the most emotional [of the movies he’s made this year] and most profoundly felt.”
Emotional and intellectual connectiveness seems to be a quality that Schreiber cannot separate from his work. When speaking about one of his latest films, Repossession Mambo, a futuristic science fiction piece about a man who buys an organ on credit and must work to pay off the debt before it is repossessed, he becomes reflective. “I think that the appeal of Repossession Mambo when I read the script was the notion of what happens when a country sees ‘pay for play medicine’ to its worst conclusion. And Repossession Mambo really nailed it. The best science fiction always has a seed of truth in it. There are people in this country who are dying to get medical attention, literally, and it’s tragic.”
Aha! So Schreiber is open to share his political thoughts, even if only in the context of his movies. I try my luck with more socio-political discourse. “So, then your film about Woodstock (Taking Woodstock is also set for theaters in 2009; my god, this man has been busy),” I push, “Do you think it’s pure coincidence that the hippie bohemian movement is always triggered by technological and industrial advancements?” Yes, I admit, this is probably out there and quite unfair, but I’m a woman on a mission, and I can’t be stopped. Lucky for me, Schreiber is a patient man.
“I think absolutely those things travel hand in hand,” he said, probably while rubbing his temples on the other end of the line. “I had done a movie once before called A Walk on the Moon (1999) and what was so remarkable about that moment in history was the emotion, a tremendous outpouring of faith and love and that is what [director] Ang was interested in [for Woodstock]. Of course, I’d read the yellow pages for Ang. He is such an interesting director, and it blew my mind when they asked me if I would do it.”
“He’s great,” he continued. “The thing I noticed about Ang is that all the things we learned in school, he really applies. These philosophies and theories in filmmaking really comes through in his films.”
“Speaking of,” I ask, momentarily abandoning my quest for societal discourse, “are you looking to direct again?” Schreiber directed his own manuscript based on a novel by American writer Jonathan Safran Foer in 2005. “I’d like to continue directing, that was a terrific process that took a huge chunk out of me emotionally,” he said. “I felt really humbled by the process, and I felt exhausted. It’s the closest a man could come to birthing a child. I felt a tremendous responsibility towards so many people: fans of the book, my own family, the writer, and my friends. I was suddenly representing more than I had ever bargained for. I was really trying to express something… I absolutely want to do it again, but I just want to make sure I take the time to make sure that I’m doing it for the right reasons.”
Before Schreiber can give birth to another directing project, he has some real life babies to tend to with one 15 month-old and another due in December. “I think for the next year or two I’m going to be up to my knees in baby and be desperate for whatever I can get,” he confides. “I don’t know what I’ll do next. It’s all new to me and I’m just taking it as it comes. I wish I was the kind of person who had a solid plan to balance family and my career but I don’t. I’m kind of winging it.“ And as for November? “Well, I sure hope Obama wins.” Of course.