YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Remade as director

'Manchurian Candidate's' Liev Schreiber is in charge of his first feature.

August 08, 2004|Susan King

As the pivotal character in Jonathan Demme's well-received remake of John Frankenheimer's 1962 classic, "The Manchurian Candidate," Liev Schreiber adds one more complex role to a wide-ranging resume.

Schreiber, 36, plays Raymond Shaw -- the role essayed by Laurence Harvey in the original -- now a repressed, decorated Persian Gulf War hero who finds himself running for vice president thanks to the machinations of his senator mother (Meryl Streep). Unknown to him, his mother has conspired with executives of a major global corporation to make him president. It's Schreiber's task to bring full expression to a man who has been closed off from great swaths of himself.

Born in San Francisco and raised in New York City, Schreiber has developed into one of the most versatile actors of his generation, appearing in theater in New York in such plays as "Henry V," "Betrayal" and "Hamlet." He first came to recognition in Wes Craven's "Scream" trilogy and has since appeared in such box office hits as "The Sum of All Fears" and indie favorites including "Big Night" and "A Walk on the Moon."

He's in Prague directing his first feature, "Everything Is Illuminated," based on Jonathan Safran Foer's book about a young Jewish American's journey to find the woman who saved his Ukrainian grandfather from the Nazis. Though he'd been shooting all day, Schreiber seemed in good spirits when he called from his car to talk about his directing stint and his "Manchurian" experience.

So how's life in Prague?

Life in Prague is hectic and beautiful. We have been here about 3 1/2 months and shooting for about five weeks. We just wrapped [for the evening] and are on our way to a town where we hope we find a very good restaurant -- but we doubt it.

Have you long wanted to direct a movie?

I had directed some in the theater and had fooled around a little bit with animation. I had always sort of dreamed about [directing a movie], but I never imagined it would happen. The more time I spent in front of the camera, the more I wondered what it would be like behind it.

You have been getting the best reviews of your career with "The Manchurian Candidate," but were you nervous about doing the remake since the original is such a classic?

I guess so. But beggars can't be choosers when Jonathan Demme is the director and you have a Daniel Pyne script and you have Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington! You can't really think about the remake.

Are you a fan of the original?

I am. I had seen the original many times, but it was pretty clear to me early on it was a completely different kind of film. There was something so wonderfully camp about Frankenheimer's film, and I think Jonathan's vision of it was more gritty, realistic and darker. It is almost an entirely different genre.

Because Raymond Shaw keeps his emotions close to the vest -- his glacial expression is like a mask-- was he difficult to play?

Whenever the audience is reading into what you are thinking, you are in good shape!

Did you base Raymond on any politician?

I saw some footage of Robert Kennedy visiting a shantytown, I think it was in Alabama. It was this moody black-and-white footage of him walking out of his shantytown that families were living in. The children's stomachs were bloated from hunger, and it was just a kind of really un-American vision that seemed almost Third World. He had a very strange look on his face when he walked out of there, and I have never seen any politician look that way before, kind of a vacant stare. He had really been disturbed at the core, and I felt this was an interesting guy to watch. I watched more footage of him and I really got interested in him.

Plus, the movie was so amazingly palpable -- timely, at least it felt like it. Every time I would go home after work and turn on the television, I was sort of seeing the story of the film played back to me one way or another. That was also very useful.

The scenes between you and Meryl Streep, who plays your mother, are scary, riveting and even Oedipal. Had you ever worked with her before?

Meryl and I did a play together in Seattle quite a while ago, so I kind of had the luxury of working with her before. I probably would have been intimidated if I didn't have that. It was great to sort of have that relationship. We have kept in touch a little bit. She comes to see me when I do plays and I go to see her when she does theater. We have a friendship, so it really made that work. Part of what defines her as an actress is her generosity. I think she offers so much with her eyes, and I think it makes acting with her very, very easy.

You have avoided being typecast. Do you always look for roles that are so radically different from each other?

Most of the time, I am just trying to get other jobs! But I think once I have secured that job, you just sort of look where the role clicks with you, what is it you can identify with and how are you going to deal with the things you can't identify with.

So what was it about Raymond that clicked with you?

I think it is an incredible part because of that mask you talked about. At a certain level, you can't play the reality of the character because the reality of the character is being repressed. It's a very interesting exercise. It is not really difficult to identify with. I think I have walked through moments of my life seriously repressed!

Los Angeles Times Articles