According to Salt director Phillip Noyce, Liev Schreiber is “the greatest American actor of his generation.” With a career that includes the serious (theater and independent movies) and the popcorn (comic book franchises and action films), Liev Schreiber commands attention.
Whether Liev Schreiber is sitting seats away from this writer as he did in the movie theater we attended for the Salt screening in Washington DC recently, or when he relaxes at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown with SheKnows to discuss the role of CIA operative Ted Winter that was clearly a part Schreiber yearned to play, Liev Schreiber is one class act.
Generations have basked in Liev Schreiber’s talent. A quick look at his resume is impressive — the Scream series, Ron Howard’s thriller Ransom, Defiance alongside Bond’s Daniel Craig, X-Men Origins: Wolverine as Hugh Jackman’s nemesis, Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock and as the writer-director and star of the astounding Orson Welles Citizen Kane biopic RKO 281.
Liev Schreiber sits down with SheKnows and talks Salt, his career on film and life with his kids and better half, Naomi Watts.
Liev Schreiber scores in Salt
SheKnows: What first drew you to the world of Salt?
Liev Schreiber: Initially, I thought, “Here’s another CIA operative.” I’ve played one before. I’m fascinated by them. I’d play them again. They’re really intriguing and enjoyable characters to play. They’re real puzzles and this has a whole dose of popcorn in it which made it really fun. When I picked up the paper yesterday and read that we had completed the swap with the 10 Russian sleepers, it really grabbed me again. What kind of person does this? And how do they feel about it? I couldn’t help thinking, “Do all of them (the Russian spies) want to go back?” Do any of them have relationships here that they wanted to maintain, children, lifestyles, homes and if they don’t care about those things, what kind of person is that? That’s a level of patriotism that I’m not sure I completely understand.
SheKnows: Did current CIA agents affect your performance, or who influenced this particular CIA operative you’re playing?
Liev Schreiber: Fortunately, while I was preparing for this film, Na (Naomi Watts) was preparing for Fair Game. So, Valerie, Valerie Plame was around a lot. I got to hang out with Valerie and I’ve met a lot of CIA consultants — none under the conditions that I had met Valerie. Valerie was particularly interesting to me because usually when you meet a consultant they’re happy they’re on a film. But, Valerie was somewhat different. She had been fingered by her own government. She was exposed. She had an interesting relationship with the CIA. What I got from Valerie that was a value to me was that the part that I don’t understand is what most motivates someone to do something like that and it’s the patriotism. That woman is truly an American patriot. That was always her motivation until she was exposed. She was devastated by that. You see it when you meet her personally. Emotionally, it still hurts her. She thought what she was doing was right. If you think about it, they don’t get paid a tremendous amount of money. So, who does that and why do they do that? That for me is why they are such fascinating characters.
SheKnows: Is there a spy novel you’d love to bring to the screen?
Liev Schreiber: I’ve always wanted to do the Jack Ryan series [laughs]. I was in The Sum of all Fears. I think (Tom) Clancy writes it very well. He gets the duality of it.
Actors & Spies: Two of a kind?
SheKnows: Do you see a similarity between an actor and a spy?
Liev Schreiber: It makes a lot of sense. The best liars are the ones who believe their own lies. The only people that do that professionally are secret agents and actors — and adulterers [laughs].
SheKnows: You have done quite a variety of films and stage work in your career from writing and directing RKO 281 to your Tony nominated theater work, to independent movies and big blockbusters. What’s been your secret alternating between those worlds and was the action movie genre always one you sought to conquer?
Liev Schreiber: It’s funny. I only realize it when I talk to the press [laughs]. You bring up the action movies, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I’m doing a lot of action movies.” For an actor, that sometimes is what we say to each other. “Nice, you got that comic book franchise.” [Laughs] You’re right, it’s action movies I’m doing. It’s been really fun. I’m a fan of the genre when it’s done well, particularly spy thrillers. I love them. It really appeals to the boy in me, too, you know? Shooting guns and chasing people — it is really fun.
SheKnows: What about Angelina Jolie and her turn as an action hero in Salt?
Liev Schreiber: I had met her years ago at Sundance. I get uncomfortable around really beautiful women and famous people. So, Angelina presented kind of a problem for me [laughs].
Liev on Angelina and Naomi
SheKnows: Did you tell Naomi that you were intimidated by Angelina Jolie?
Liev Schreiber: No, I didn’t. But now I guess she’ll know [laughs]. But on Salt, we bonded very quickly over kids. We’d be shooting and we’d stop and talk about teething or time-outs. That was great! This is a person I can relate to. One of the best tricks about playing these kinds of characters is understanding the domesticity of these people’s lives, as opposed to what they do, is really compelling. I was really relieved that we hit it off right away.
SheKnows: You and Naomi Watts starred in Painted Veil together, would you do it again?
Liev Schreiber: I’d do it again! Sure, I hope so. That was the first and only time. No! We just did a short thing. Naomi and I play two parents who are really hardcore into home schooling. It’s pretty awesome. It’s pretty wild [laughs].
SheKnows: What’s next for you?
Liev Schreiber: It’s been a really busy year and I’m looking forward to hanging with my boys.