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Showbiz Today Star of Tomorrow

 

Liev Schreiber

(CNN) -- Liev Schreiber began his career on stage and in art-house films like "Party Girl" (1995), "Walking and Talking" (1996), and "Daytrippers" (1996).

Soon, Hollywood came calling. He snagged roles in "Sphere" (1998), "The Hurricane" (1999) and the lead on HBO's "RKO 281."

Still, he doesn't shy away from Shakespeare, recently tackling Hamlet on the stage and playing Laertes in Miramax's big-screen version.

Now Schreiber is up for an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or movie for his turn as Orson Welles in "RKO 281." He was also nominated for a Golden Globe for this role, which he lost to Jack Lemmon ("Tuesdays with Morrie," ABC).

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CNN's Lori Blackman meets up with Liev Schreiber

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CNN Showbiz Today talked to Schreiber about why he was relieved that he lost, his love for Shakespeare, his past and future films and a touching story involving Dustin Hoffman and his grandfather.

CNN: You've done a number of different film genres; you've pretty much covered everything. Is there a type of film or a role that you most relate to?

Schreiber: I think every character has had a little bit ... of me in them. I actually don't know how to play them if there isn't. And to get the kinds of projects and to be able to do television -- quality television -- like that HBO movie, it's really been remarkable.

So you've got to find a way to whatever character your playing, even in the situation with a biopic and the Orson Welles thing -- you've got to find a way that the audience can identify with that character. Otherwise, they loose interest very quickly.

CNN: Let's talk about some of your characters and how you identify with each of them.

Schreiber: I certainly identified with the character of Carl in "Daytrippers," a guy who is striving for a kind of intellectual superiority and kind of makes a jackass out of himself all of the time.

Andrew, the character from "Walking And Talking" -- I think that for me is just constant seeking of female approval. I've kind of identified with that as well. I think I've also identified with Cotton's ("Scream") thirst for attention and public approval.

CNN: I saw you at the Golden Globes this past year, where you were nominated for your role in "RKO 281" and the film, which actually won. Were you nervous at all?

Schreiber: I was nervous that I was going to win, and I thought, 'Geez, if I win, I am really in trouble because I have no idea what I was going to say.' I was so exhausted from being at Sundance (Film Festival), and I hadn't thought of anything. I was pretty convinced that I wasn't going to win, and Jack Lemmon was nominated twice.

But then when they said my name, it actually sunk into me that I might win. The camera was there checking my reaction, seeing how I would react if I didn't win. I thought 'Oh my god, this is real. You might actually have to go up there and say something.' I had no idea what to say.

CNN: So you had no speech prepared whatsoever?

Schreiber: No, I was just hoping that, like, the spirit of Orson would take over and I'd say something 'Orsonian' and go back to my chair. But thankfully, that didn't happen.

CNN: Before you became an actor and were a student, I read that you studied to be a writer.

Schreiber: Well, I actually studied semiotics, which is the most boring thing to talk about in the world. Semiotics is basically the language of visual images and what that means, and that's as far as I want to go with it.

CNN: Where did you study it?

Schreiber: At Hampshire College. But I got into theater doing monologue shows, and I always wanted to be a writer. I was not a really good writer, so it never really manifested. But I keep plugging away.

I got into doing monologue shows, and I wanted to direct one of the monologue shows that I had done. But I couldn't find anyone to act in it because I was at a private college. I grew up in the Lower East Side (of New York), so none of the people I went to college with understood the characters I was writing.

I wanted to do characters like Puerto Rican junkies, Hasidic bakers and Greek diner owners. There weren't a lot of kids at private college who knew how to do those characters, so I ended up doing them myself.

And then I was thinking about doing playwriting. I had a very, very wise creative writing teacher who said, when I was applying to Yale, ... 'Apply as an actor and you'll get in, apply as a playwright you won't.'

CNN: You do film, you do television, you do theatre. What do you like doing best, or do you like doing it all?

Schreiber: I like it all. I've been incredibly lucky to diversify like that. When we used to sit around in graduate school and talk about the kind of career you want to have, I think everybody described my career.

CNN: You have a film coming up called "Pay It Forward" with Haley Joel Osment and Kevin Spacey.

Schreiber: Yeah, I am excited. I have always really liked Kevin Spacey a lot. I thought he was a really interesting guy. We have some theatre stuff in Common; he was a good friend of Papps (theater company), and I've worked with The Public (theater company). I've watched him for many years and think he is a terrific actor, and I'm excited to work with him.

CNN: It's based on a novel, but what exactly is the story about?

Schreiber: It's about a boy (Haley Joel Osment) and his class project. He has this sardonic teacher, played by Kevin Spacey, who half-teasingly gives them a class project of trying to improve the world.

This kid develops this pyramid plan wherein you do three selfless favors for three strangers, and those three total strangers in turn have to return three selfless favors to other people. And this thing spreads across the country like wildfire. I play the reporter who breaks the story.

CNN: You seem to have made more independent films then studio. Is that the side of filmmaking where you feel more at home?

Schreiber: I think so. I think I get the question a lot because I shuttle back and forth a lot between independents and feature films. I think generally the difference, at least from my perspective, is less of a difference than people think. There is more money, and there is more time, and there is the luxury of money and time. But I think sometimes the lack of money and time creates a sort of creative resourcefulness that makes for interesting movies.

On top of that, I think when the budgets are lower the films are easier to make. It's less complicated. ... So sometimes you can find material that is maybe outside of the realm of what is a marketable film in Hollywood. And for me, that is where to look for material. Sometimes they make very interesting films in Hollywood, but I think generally the budgets are lower. And I've always felt like its good to keep it as diverse as possible as an actor

CNN: You do a lot of Shakespeare, something that many actors are fearful of tackling for a whole variety of reasons. You are comfortable enough with it to tackle the title role in "Hamlet" on stage this year, plus a role as Laertes in the film version. Why?

Schreiber: I think I've always been a language-oriented person, particularly verse or poetry. I was always just drawn to it. I think what is so remarkable about Shakespeare's characters -- and I think what I look for in all characters in film and stage -- is the depth of the humanity of the characters.

I think what is remarkable about Shakespeare's writing is that in an incredible anti-Semitic time, which is Elizabethan England when playwrights like (Christopher) Marlowe were (writing) "The Jew of Malta," a scathing portrayal of miserly, greedy, nasty Jews, Shakespeare also writes a play about Jews.

But he can't help but put in the soliloquy, 'hath not a Jew eyes, hath not a Jew feelings, emotions, senses' and that kind of contradiction is so much to me human and so much of what acting is about and so much of what character is about and what is valuable in character.

CNN: Looking back at the films that you have made, including "RKO 281," do you have one that you feel most proud of or that you most connect with as a person?

Schreiber: Yeah. I was doing "Sphere" with Dustin Hoffman, and while I was doing that film, my grandfather had died just before that. I had never lost anyone before who I was close to and I was having a real hard time reconciling it.

Dustin handed me this script for a film called "A Walk On The Moon." I read it, and it was just one of those really serendipitous moments in one's career, when your life and your work kind of merge.

This character Marty in this movie reminded me so much of my grandfather Alex, so it was a great way to kind of put his memory to rest for myself and feel like I had done something for him ... in respect of his passing. So that movie meant a lot to me.



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