Five Favorite Films

Liev Schreiber's Five Favorite Films

The star of Ray Donovan and the boxing drama Chuck talks about his love of Drunk History, dealing with fame, and the secret to really good bad acting.

by | May 4, 2017 | Comments

Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Since making his screen debut in the mid-1990s, Liev Schreiber has steadily built a career that defies easy categorization, effortlessly crossing genre lines and starring in everything from horror flicks to Oscar-winning prestige dramas. In 2013, Schreiber picked up a plum gig as the lead in Showtime’s acclaimed series Ray Donovan, and he continues to grace the stage on Broadway, where he earned raves for his work early in his career.

This week, Schreiber stars in Chuck, a true story about a New York boxer whose star rose and fell rather quickly and whose experiences inspired Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky. He spoke to us about his Five Favorite Films, talked about the new movie, and gave us pointers on how to mimic bad acting properly.

Being There (1979) 95%

I think Peter Sellers’ performance in that just really knocked me out — what you can do with character. I think Hal Ashby just embraced that naturalistic and really deep performance and took it to the next level, so it became this almost remarkable piece of surrealist social commentary.

Brazil (1985) 98%

I think Terry Gilliam’s imagination is just unrivaled, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on film, and the social commentary aspect, as well.

La Promesse (The Promise) (1996) 95%

La Promesse, for me, was like a lesson in minimalism. Just how little you needed to tell a really compelling, honest, and important story. The subjective single-camera perspective, and just how simply you could tell a powerful and substantive story.

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) 92%

Star Wars reminds me of my mother, who didn’t let me see color movies until I was 12. I was raised on Alexander Nevsky and Chaplin and all of these insane movies that would just put a 10-year-old to sleep quicker than a shack of sheep. But Star Wars was my first departure from that rule, and it just blew my mind. It was the first color film I saw, and it just knocked me out. I don’t think I ever forgave my mother after I saw that film. But also just the kind of iconoclastic myth retelling that combined with science fiction, which has always been huge to me.

Blade Runner (1982) 90%

I don’t think anyone’s ever done sci-fi better than Blade Runner. That movie’s just the ultimate, deep, immersive fantasy picture as far as I’m concerned. And then Alien I think is its suspense/terror counterpart. So Ridley Scott gets two spots.

Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: You mentioned that you grew up watching a lot of classics, and as much as you say they put you to sleep, I was still expecting to see one or two of them pop up in your top five.

Liev Schreiber: Well, I rebelled, but I think they’re with me somewhere. Of course, Citizen Kane, of course The Third Man — these movies are all really important films in terms of where they fell in developing my aesthetic as an artist and as a film fan and as a filmmaker. But because I had seen so many of them, I think I became very entranced when I saw the other side of things, you know? So maybe it was this kind of thing, like “Poof! Mind blown!” once I saw pop culture films, you know?

RT: That makes sense. So you’re an extremely busy man. Not only are you headlining your own TV series in Ray Donovan, but you’ve got Chuck coming out, you’ve got other films on the horizon, you’re doing theater, you’ll show up randomly on an episode of Drunk History. It’s got to be difficult to manage a schedule like that.

Schreiber: It’s pretty insane. Yeah, and as I listen to you, I think, “What was I thinking?” But last year, my kids, because they go to school in New York City, were not out here. And I found that when I didn’t have my kids around, it was easier for me to work. You know, I miss them unless I’m working. So, if they weren’t out here I was just gonna take whatever work I could. And I did. And Drunk History — I’m just a fan, you know? I just love that show. I do. It cracks me up. I never would’ve dreamed that they would invite me to do it. They called up and said, “Would you do it?” I was like, “Of course I’ll do a Drunk History.” I didn’t know who the character was; I didn’t care. I was just going to get to be on that show. It was exciting.

RT: So you’re in this film, Chuck — it’s a pretty remarkable story. I know you’ve been into boxing for some time, and I’m guessing you must have come across Chuck Wepner’s story at some point. Was there anything about him that surprised you when you finally met him?

Schreiber: I didn’t know who he was, actually. I hadn’t ever met him. I didn’t know about the story at all. I was kind of surprised and embarrassed that I didn’t. And to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t even the boxing that interested me. You know, I’d had the script for about 10 years. Michael [Tollin] involved me because he knew I was a fan of boxing, but I wasn’t immediately drawn to it.

It was a few years later, after I’d had a couple of kids and I was on a television show and found myself in people’s living rooms, that that aspect of Chuck’s story that’s a kind of cautionary tale about fame and celebrity became more and more interesting to me. It was at that point, when I sort of engaged as a producer and writer and started to nudge it in that direction, that it really started to become compelling.

I think the big surprise for me in meeting Chuck when I eventually did — Naomi and I took him and his wife out to dinner and then to a Golovkin fight at the Garden — having heard his story, I was expecting this very bad dude, you know. He’s done some scary things in his time and been in some awful situations. I was just completely excited to discover this really charming, funny raconteur.

This was a guy who loved to tell a story, and he could hold a room, honestly, better than anyone I know. That side of his character was really interesting to me, because I related to that desire to be amusing, to be the center of attention, to be, you know, a little bit of a ham. And I saw that and thought, “Well, that’s kinda interesting.” Then I really felt like we were onto something. I think Philippe Falardeau, the director, felt the same thing when we all sat down together.

RT: What was it about Chuck’s cautionary tale that hit home the most for you?

Schreiber: Well, unlike Chuck, I had the great good fortune to have a kind of gradual ascent or descent, however you want to describe it. I’d had people saying things about me when I was a theater actor in New York that were pretty heavy, and I may have fallen for some of those things briefly before reading other New York critics who will go unnamed say things like I had a head like a watermelon and was somnambulistic as an actor. So if I was gonna believe that I was the greatest big actor of my generation, I would also have to believe that I had a head like a watermelon and was a somnambulistic person, generally speaking. So I had that experience early on and it was useful to me when I got on a television show and kind of experienced celebrity and being recognized and paparazzi and all that at a level which I had never dreamed I would have to deal with.

And it wasn’t so much me having to deal with it as my children. It sets up an expectation. There’s a lie at the center of fame, which is that we are the most interesting person in the room. And if we believe that lie, it’s a really, really slippery slope. There’s an expectation about it. There’s an expectation about fame that I think is inherited by children, and it’s a dangerous one. But I don’t think people know about or understand completely when they think about what it’s like to be famous and all that stuff. And I felt like that was something that was sort of beautifully handled and articulated by Chuck’s story.

RT: In the film, I know you insisted on making the fights as real as possible and taking actual hits from your opponents. You even gave your producers a few scares. When you guys were setting up those scenes, did you talk to the other boxers ahead of time and say, “Go easy on me?” Did you start bleeding at any point?

Schreiber: No. I got my bell rung twice in Bulgaria. But that was only because I had done most of the rehearsing and choreography with Pooch [Hall]. Pooch is a pretty decorated amateur fighter — he’s got Golden Gloves — and he had great control over his hands. We felt that it was important that we make contact, you know? Not only because you were playing Chuck Wepner, but just for the cinematic value of seeing sweat fly off your head every time you got hit. You’ve got that kind of ridiculous mop of a wig I was wearing; to watch it fly when I got punched was worth the pain.

But there was a fighter that we brought on to play [Terry] Hinke in Bulgaria, and he just thought it was insane that I was getting hit. I think he was a little nervous and maybe jammed up a couple of times, and he clocked me. When you’re stiff it’s worse. You know, you gotta be loose. I think he might have stiffened up a couple of times. He cleaned my bell a few times.

RT: The last thing I want to ask is about a specific scene in the film. It’s a short scene when Chuck is meeting with Sly Stallone to read for a part in a Rocky II, and he’s just not cut out to be an actor. Scenes like this always fascinate me, because you’re watching great actors portray bad acting. I feel like a lot of the time, the actors doing this tend to go a bit too far, a bit theatrically over the top, to drive the point home. You don’t do that in this scene; what’s the trick?

Schreiber: Well, the trick is that there are definitely some takes in which I am theatrically over the top! It’s having a great director to rein you in. It was a hard thing to do. I am so interested that you brought that up, because it’s probably, as an actor, one of the more interesting scenes for me.

What is the quality of bad acting? For me, it was really about two things: timing and focus. The timing is slightly delayed because the person who is inexperienced as an actor is trying to figure out what the correct timing is. And so, spending too much time thinking about timing is one of the things that gives you away as an amateur. So, for me, if you just put a little delay a little bit on the timing, that would do something. I’ve never talked about the process so specifically, but it it’s interesting.

The other thing is focus. A good actor gives their focus entirely to the other person. Someone who is inexperienced, that makes them uncomfortable, so they do one of two things: They find another alternative focus, or they find an intermittent focus, where it’s like they look at the person, but then have to look away because they get uncomfortable. For me, it had something to do with Chuck getting lost in the script. He’s focusing on the wrong thing. He’s not just relaxing and responding like an actor should be. He’s just burying his nose in the script, trying to find some logic in that. Of course, there’s no logic in acting, it’s just ridiculous. It’s make believe.

Chuck opens on Friday, May 5, 2017, in limited release.

Tag Cloud

CMT game show comic books The Arrangement GoT Amazon Prime Video Crunchyroll black australia canceled TCA Winter 2020 DC Comics Emmy Nominations dark Box Office worst crime Watching Series Disney+ Disney Plus Endgame Ghostbusters Heroines rotten movies we love Comic Book Podcast cartoon Star Trek E! tv talk war HBO disaster Spike Biopics Pirates Adult Swim biography Schedule The Walking Dead animated Sundance TV Oscars Arrowverse Animation Avengers Mystery joker Masterpiece serial killer remakes Song of Ice and Fire Marvel Studios Film Festival Country sequel Disney Channel TV renewals Shondaland dragons ESPN Awards venice Television Academy movies TIFF cinemax Winners singing competition criterion justice league SXSW Mudbound foreign 20th Century Fox discovery 45 Comedy Central anthology witnail Fox News Mary poppins supernatural romantic comedy teaser Netflix Christmas movies Britbox Action nfl IFC Films rt archives Mary Poppins Returns Logo aliens Black Mirror Premiere Dates halloween mutant cars 71st Emmy Awards ratings USA Opinion American Society of Cinematographers Crackle social media sitcom zombie twilight renewed TV shows X-Men versus Freeform Apple TV+ Certified Fresh BET TCA SDCC comics stand-up comedy cats Infographic 2016 films Awards Tour Rocky RT21 politics Peacock spinoff Countdown ABC Sundance Cartoon Network Amazon all-time science fiction golden globes DirecTV Quiz werewolf ITV boxoffice indiana jones streaming sag awards emmy awards universal monsters Pop 24 frames period drama cancelled TV series 2018 a nightmare on elm street TLC Lucasfilm medical drama Syfy canceled TV shows Nat Geo CBS Thanksgiving transformers halloween tv Comics on TV Cannes HBO Max zombies WGN Brie Larson Summer HBO Go unscripted Bravo stop motion jamie lee curtis Toys obituary comedies Musicals DGA Family natural history YouTube Premium Discovery Channel AMC elevated horror The CW 72 Emmy Awards toy story YA Winter TV San Diego Comic-Con Binge Guide mission: impossible richard e. Grant batman child's play National Geographic miniseries Calendar Amazon Prime Chilling Adventures of Sabrina FX on Hulu GIFs latino Shudder Set visit dc Fantasy Spring TV Television Critics Association Hallmark space fresh vampires Horror cops VICE Martial Arts Marvel CBS All Access kids Best and Worst christmas movies El Rey crime thriller news Amazon Studios BBC quibi Year in Review Kids & Family Film RT History dogs Epix BBC One Teen spanish Western YouTube Red Musical CNN revenge MCU facebook IFC documentary Hulu cults concert Grammys New York Comic Con YouTube doctor who chucky cancelled TV shows Nominations Marathons parents 007 scary movies 21st Century Fox nbcuniversal 2015 Emmys movie political drama name the review dramedy Holidays BBC America TCA Awards talk show Reality Pixar Chernobyl Trivia best true crime crossover zero dark thirty dceu Nickelodeon crime drama 2020 Sundance Now 2017 Character Guide Sony Pictures TCM diversity james bond First Reviews anime Academy Awards cooking Disney Turner Classic Movies Anna Paquin Mindy Kaling WarnerMedia adaptation 2019 NYCC Vudu Extras video on demand french Sneak Peek SundanceTV Hallmark Christmas movies Food Network Mary Tyler Moore travel NBC Comedy MSNBC Paramount psycho ID FXX Fox Searchlight Pet Sematary Ovation green book Tumblr Superheroe ghosts FX Acorn TV Captain marvel cancelled Super Bowl OneApp TNT E3 Lifetime USA Network TV President Esquire franchise die hard worst movies Travel Channel Rock A&E romance sequels Reality Competition football CW Seed Women's History Month Turner TV Land docudrama what to watch Marvel Television book Starz The Witch television festival GLAAD Disney Plus Dark Horse Comics 4/20 binge italian Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt police drama 99% Netflix harry potter comic A24 critics theme song video Video Games Elton John Disney streaming service Interview Sci-Fi laika cancelled television hollywood Rom-Com psychological thriller Trophy Talk Music History Black History Month composers Pop TV stoner BET Awards Writers Guild of America spider-man deadpool Columbia Pictures Polls and Games indie BAFTA Hear Us Out thriller Drama Universal adventure historical drama Showtime hispanic Warner Bros. festivals rotten spanish language FOX children's TV Trailer mockumentary PaleyFest Valentine's Day comiccon reboot Spectrum Originals free movies award winner Ellie Kemper technology MTV OWN Lifetime Christmas movies spy thriller VH1 LGBTQ series hist screen actors guild Classic Film documentaries toronto Creative Arts Emmys ABC Family Baby Yoda superhero Cosplay directors LGBT japanese Tomatazos robots reviews Rocketman south america blockbuster classics game of thrones casting breaking bad Stephen King finale Pride Month based on movie screenings DC streaming service See It Skip It DC Universe Star Wars The Academy Lionsgate Christmas PBS Tarantino Fall TV sports Funimation nature Photos PlayStation Red Carpet boxing strong female leads TBS TruTV archives Apple TV Plus satire Apple slashers blaxploitation Superheroes Tubi independent scorecard APB Paramount Network Alien Holiday asian-american Election spain Walt Disney Pictures The Purge fast and furious First Look TCA 2017 VOD