Thursday, May 10, 1990

Liev Schreiber on Charlie Rose

Watch the video here - it starts at about 28 minutes in, we've been told.

CHARLIE ROSE: Liev Schreiber is one of most distinguished Shakespearean actors, having performed in many of the roles written by Shakespeare. He returns to Shakespeare in the Park this summer for the production of "Macbeth". Here`s a look at him in the title role.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LIEV SCHREIBER: I dare do all that may be become a man. Who dares do more is none.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What beast what`s then that made you break this enterprise to me? And you wouldst do it, then you were a man? And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man, nor time nor place did then adhere, and yet you would make both? They`ve made themselves. As if their fitness now does unmake you?

I have given suck and know how tender it is to love the babe that milks me. I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from its boneless gums and dashed the brains out had I so sworn as you had done to this.

LIEV SCHREIBER: If we should fail..

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We fail. But screw your courage to the sticking place and we`ll not fail.


CHARLIE ROSE: I am pleased to have Liev Schreiber at this table. This production continues until July 9. And I am happy to talk about "Macbeth", as well. Welcome.


CHARLIE ROSE: Shakespeare`s in your blood.

LIEV SCHREIBER: That would be nice. Yes. OK. No, I have made a commitment to it. And I don`t know if it`s that I`ve made a personal commitment to it because I believe in it or if it`s just one of those things where I`ve made a commitment to it because I`m one of the silly -- silly guys in school who actually studied it.

CHARLIE ROSE: And it resonates with you.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes, I realized I might have a market cornered.

CHARLIE ROSE: You`ve done "Hamlet". You`ve done "Henry V". You`ve done what else?




CHARLIE ROSE: "Tempest".

LIEV SCHREIBER: "Richard III", "Romeo and Juliet".

CHARLIE ROSE: Everything except Lear.


CHARLIE ROSE: Where does Macbeth come in an actor`s life if, in fact, you could plot it out? I realize that things don`t happen that way.


CHARLIE ROSE: You do what? You do "Romeo and Juliet" first. You do "Henry V" second. You do "Richard III" or you do "Hamlet" second. How does it...

LIEV SCHREIBER: "Macbeth" is probably the midlife crisis for you, isn`t it? It`s sort of the nervous breakdown play.

No, it was just -- it`s one that I`ve always wanted to do. I`d done it before. I played Banquo for George Wolf`s production.

CHARLIE ROSE: His brother.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Best friend. And -- and it had always stuck with me. I love how short it is. I love the poetry. I love the lucidity of it. I think it`s one of the -- I think it`s one of the sharper plays.

And for some reason it had this sort of strange curse on it that has nothing to do with any of the superstitious stuff. I think that there is something about -- it`s hard to get the production right, which always shocked me, because it`s such a lucid play. And I think it`s such a clear trajectory in it.

CHARLIE ROSE: Peter O`Toole, for example, in a long conversation with me said "Macbeth", after he did "Macbeth" he got these terrible reviews. I mean, he just felt like he was so up for this, and it just collapsed around him.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes. I don`t know why that is. And it seems to happen consistently. I don`t remember anyone ever talking about a fantastic production -- well there was that -- the Trevor Nunn, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench one that everyone seems to talk about.

CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, that`s a good start when you`ve got those three.

LIEV SCHREIBER: That`s one. There should be more. And I wanted to kind of kind of -- hopefully to, along with the Public Theater, try to add another.

CHARLIE ROSE: Who is Macbeth?

LIEV SCHREIBER: Macbeth is a -- well, there`s two very different stories here. There`s the real history, because in fact Macbeth was a great nationalist king of Scotland, but in the retelling of it, the play was commissioned by Banquo`s grandchildren, and Macbeth became kind of a baddy.

CHARLIE ROSE: Macbeth, in fact, had killed.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes, in fact, that`s correct. So I think that who Macbeth is in Shakespeare`s play is a character who, through some -- some supernatural soliciting, has -- has been told that he will become king. And given that information, he has the choice of how to act. And he chooses to kill the king.

CHARLIE ROSE: Because the king is going to have -- be succeeded by his son, Malcolm.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Correct. Correct.

CHARLIE ROSE: And Macbeth sees his way to the king blocked.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Right. And it`s -- for me it`s about a guy who is a good soldier and a decent person, who is -- clearly has a conscience, who is tempted with power and ambition.

CHARLIE ROSE: So the conflict is between goodness and the lust for power?

LIEV SCHREIBER: I think so. There`s a line in the play where he says, "And mine eternal Jewel given to the common enemy of man." And I think of that common enemy of man is ambition as embodied in the devil.

For me, the model that I always like is if you go back to the original sin, the serpent, what he actually gave Adam and Eve was knowledge of their own nakedness. And that that awareness, a person`s awareness of the -- their place in life, their station in life not being sufficient is sort of the root of all evil, I think. And I think Shakespeare chooses that model of ambition and awareness.

He was perfectly fine before someone told him that he wasn`t fine. And then everything sort of stems from that.

CHARLIE ROSE: And his relationship with Lady Macbeth?

LIEV SCHREIBER: Very, very complicated. I think that she suffers from the same thing. And what I love about Shakespeare is, and I think he proceeds Freud and everyone else in this, is the first sort of modern psychologist in that that relationship is so nuanced and so full of behavior that I think we recognize from contemporary life.

They`re so in love with each other, and yet at the same time they feel each other`s aspirations and ambitions and good qualities and bad qualities. In this case it is the latter.

CHARLIE ROSE: Some would say that if she had survived that she would have -- that he would have done better in the end.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes. I don`t know.

CHARLIE ROSE: Kind of like Jimmy Stewart once said or somebody once said that if Ronald Reagan had met Nancy Reagan earlier he would have won an Academy Award and never gotten into politics.

LIEV SCHREIBER: It seems like -- it seems like he shuts her down. In Act IV of the play he tells her, "Well, then God be with you. We will keep our self alone." And he shuts her out.

And she has a scene in which she asks him, "Why do you keep yourself alone? Let me in." And he keeps her out, because I think he`s sort of driven to a sort of mad -- a madness of solitude by the -- by his own ambition and by the spirits that he`s seeing.

CHARLIE ROSE: You need to do this, go back to the stage every once in a while to whatever?

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes, I do. I think it keeps me sharp. I also think that it`s one of the few things that I actually have an ability for.

And I also feel like -- that we, you know, that we all owe ourselves - - owe something to the cultural melting pot. And for me, the Shakespeare festival is one of the greatest things I think this country has to offer, that they do these well-budgeted productions of Shakespeare plays for free in Central Park.

And I feel and I hope, along with the rest of the board at the public and Oscar Eustace (ph) that that theater should be the seminal Shakespeare theater in this country. And so I think that you have to make some sacrifices. It`s like I said to you earlier today I was so inspired by Al Gore`s movie.

CHARLIE ROSE: "An Inconvenient Truth".

LIEV SCHREIBER: I just saw it this afternoon. And I thought, that`s -- that`s a really great thing to do with your life. I mean, to be committed to something that...

CHARLIE ROSE: An idea that`s so much bigger than you are.

LIEV SCHREIBER: That`s right, that`s right.

CHARLIE ROSE: That just the...

LIEV SCHREIBER: There`s a tremendous humility in that and a tremendous sense of service. And it was, you know, sitting in -- very happy to be here. I was sitting in the green room and watching the Warren Buffet/Bill Gates interview you did. And it really puts you in perspective. It really puts things in perspective.

And I think it`s sort of the opposite of what happens to Macbeth. There`s something about Shakespeare that reminds you of scale, that there are things that are bigger than you. And I think it`s...

CHARLIE ROSE: Human suffering, war and peace.

LIEV SCHREIBER: That`s right. But the ideas are actually...

CHARLIE ROSE: Protecting the planet, whatever it might be. Global health.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes. Absolutely. The ideas are actually bigger than the career. And I think that that`s a very rewarding thing for anyone to do in any form in their life.

CHARLIE ROSE: Since 2003, the country -- I`ve asked this many times - - has gone through a wrenching political experience, which is the war in Iraq. Has there been enough theater devoted to the ideas and the conflict that was clearly in the body politic of the country?

LIEV SCHREIBER: Well, you know, it depends on your personal feelings about it. In my -- my personal feeling is no, there hasn`t been. But I think there`s been some excellent stuff. I don`t know if you`ve had a chance yet to see David Hare`s ...

CHARLIE ROSE: No, and I want to.

LIEV SCHREIBER: "Stuff Happens". It`s amazing.

CHARLIE ROSE: I haven`t seen it, because stuff happens.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes, exactly. Which is a very good reason, but do try and see it, because what`s so remarkable, what he did as a piece of writing is he doesn`t sort of pick a side. Well, of course, he picks a side to some degree, but the form of the play is that he just sets to narrative the events of the past eight years.

And when you see them contextualized by a two-hour running time, you know, these things sort of slip by us over the source of eight years, but when you see these events assembled in a period of two hours.

CHARLIE ROSE: It has a narrative flow.

LIEV SCHREIBER: And it`s a shocking one, a really shocking one. It`s a really shocking one.

And I think that there is -- there is a tendency in America, and I think I felt this in Al Gore`s movie, as well, that we sort of let politics flow over us rather than being active, regardless of what we feel participating.

CHARLIE ROSE: Did you have to find -- you just mentioned what good qualities there was in Macbeth. Do you have to -- do you search for those so that you can have some way to make someone who is a murderer in pursuit of power have this redeeming quality that is -- that is something?

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes. No, I believe in that, probably because of Shakespeare. I learned that from Shakespeare, the duality of, you know, for instance, for all intents and purposes, "Merchant of Venice" is a very anti-Semitic play, relatively.


LIEV SCHREIBER: And yet Shakespeare can`t help but write the speech "hath not a Jew eyes? Senses, emotions." And you see that he`s always playing those two sides off of each other.

In Othello as well, there is this horrible vicious murder. And yet at the other side of that in the soliloquies is this deeply compassionate vulnerable human being.

And I think that that`s the trick to good drama, is that sense of conflict even within a character. And it`s something that I learned from reading those plays.

So if you can get someone to identify with a character like Macbeth, it`s much more -- you`re -- I think it`s a much more successful endeavor than to just get them to vilify him.

CHARLIE ROSE: So to access -- to access the journey he`s on.

LIEV SCHREIBER: To find the humanity, to find the common thread so that you can -- so that people can find the connection in their own life and emotionally identify with it.

CHARLIE ROSE: Is the second act tough?

LIEV SCHREIBER: Physically, yes. Because there`s that huge break.


LIEV SCHREIBER: And it`s not as bad because, you know, there`s that huge break. I have about 10 minutes off while we -- while my guys knock off Lady Macbeth and everything.

CHARLIE ROSE: Right, right.

LIEV SCHREIBER: And then there`s the big fight at the end. But I actually find the first act more difficult just because you`re working more. You know, he`s on...

CHARLIE ROSE: He`s on more often.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Almost every scene in the first act. The second act is the sort of, dramatically, the more expansive act and also the big fight. So emotionally more demanding.

CHARLIE ROSE: When you got ready to do this, this is the first time you`ve done Macbeth?

LIEV SCHREIBER: No. First time I`ve played the character, yes.

CHARLIE ROSE: Did you -- did you go out and read everything you could find about "Macbeth"? Did you go out and see every performance of "Macbeth" that`s on film? Or...

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes, what I like to do is I like to watch everything that I can possibly see. I watched the Orson Welles again. I watched the Polanski. I watched the Anthony Shirr (ph). I watched the McKellen and several others. Nickel Williamson (ph).

CHARLIE ROSE: And how do you keep those things from creeping into your performance?

LIEV SCHREIBER: It`s impossible. You know, because I`ve become this guy who does remakes, everyone asks me this all the time.


LIEV SCHREIBER: I really think it`s impossible. If you`re connected to A, the text, first of all, which is I think the core -- the core engine of any Shakespeare performance, and your own truth within that text, you`re going to be different from that other actor.

Now if they have good ideas, I personally feel that you owe it to the audience to steal every single one of them.

CHARLIE ROSE: I do, too. If there`s something good it`s worth stealing.


CHARLIE ROSE: And you find your own authenticity in terms of whatever you do with it.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes. It`s also part of what I love about the Shakespeare plays is that there`s this 400-year tradition of story telling that passes from generation to generation. And I find that very satisfying to be a part of that.

CHARLIE ROSE: How hard was it to get the language when you first began as a young actor?

LIEV SCHREIBER: I don`t know that I had it.

CHARLIE ROSE: Let`s assume you got it at some point. What is this key to unlocking the rhythm of the language?

There`s a great story that I think may be true. I hope it is. Hunter Thompson, who was a friend of mine, a friend of this show, was once seen at the New York Public Library. And he was pouring over Shakespeare. And I said, "What are you doing, Hunter?"

"I`m trying to get the rhythm -- trying to get the rhythm of the way Shakespeare wrote." And if you`ve got to speak it, it`s ten times more.

LIEV SCHREIBER: I think it`s built into all of us. I really do. And I really think...

CHARLIE ROSE: All of us who are actors? All of us who are human beings?

LIEV SCHREIBER: I think all of us, period. You just have to access it. I think that part of what`s so appealing about verse plays from the Greeks through to Shakespeare, is that that inner rhythm exists in all of us. It has something to do with biology and a pulse. We just have it. And all of those verse forms, I think, are wrists on the human pulse.

CHARLIE ROSE: I so much want to have you do the "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow."

LIEV SCHREIBER: I do it differently.

CHARLIE ROSE: How do you do it?

LIEV SCHREIBER: There`s something about it that got me this year that I really wanted to try. And I`m very happy that I got the opportunity to. I believe that the two first lines of that soliloquy are connected.

"She should have died hereafter. There would have been time for such a word." And then there`s no end stop there. I believe that tomorrow is directly related to that first statement.

So "She should have died thereafter. There would have been a time for such a word tomorrow -- and tomorrow and tomorrow." So that you see in the moment the discovery of his own sort of existential mojo (ph), that what he was first talking about is tomorrow there would be a time to mourn for her, after the battle, perhaps once I was dead. Tomorrow it would be OK. But isn`t there always a tomorrow?

And isn`t that the horror of existence, that if I have to accept, as Macbeth is told by the witches, that he may live forever, given that there is no person who is not born of woman, he has an eternal tomorrow in front of him without her. And so in a sense it`s an existential speech and at the same time a very romantic one.

CHARLIE ROSE: "It is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury."

LIEV SCHREIBER: That`s not very flattering but true.

CHARLIE ROSE: Signifying...


CHARLIE ROSE: Roll tape. This is a clip from "Macbeth" in Central Park.


LIEV SCHREIBER: As one did laugh in his sleep and the other cried murder but they did wake each other. I stood and heard them, but they did say their prayers and address them again to sleep.

JENNIFER EHLE: There are two lodged together.

LIEV SCHREIBER: One cried "God bless us" and the other "our manners" (ph), if they`d seen me with these hangman`s hands. Listening their fear, I could not say amen when they did say, "God bless us."

JENNIFER EHLE: Consider it not so deeply.

LIEV SCHREIBER: But wherefore could not I pronounce "amen"? I had most need of blessing, and amen stuck in my throat.

JENNIFER EHLE: These seeds must not be thought after these ways; so, it will make us mad.

LIEV SCHREIBER: I thought I heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more. Macbeth does murder sleep." The innocent sleep. Sleep that knits up the ravell`d sleave of care. The death of each day`s life, sore labour`s back. Balm of hurt minds, great nature`s second course, chief nourisher in life`s feast.

JENNIFER EHLE: What do you mean?

LIEV SCHREIBER: Still it cried, "Sleep no more!" to all the house: "Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more."

JENNIFER EHLE: Who was it that doth cried? Why, worthy thane, you do unbend your noble strength, to think so brainsickly of things. Go get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hands. Why have you brought these daggers from the place? They must lie there: go carry them; smear the sleepy grooms with blood.

LIEV SCHREIBER: I`ll go no more: I am afraid to think what I have done; look on`t again I dare not.

JENNIFER EHLE: Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers: the sleeping and the dead are but as pictures: `tis the eye of childhood that fears the painted devil. If he do bleed, I`ll gild the faces of the grooms withal; for it must seem their guilt.


LIEV SCHREIBER: I`ve never been a method or thought I was a method person. And I am -- I think the older I get the more I think that there is truth to it. It`s very -- it`s a hard play to do.

CHARLIE ROSE: What did you see that made you have that thought?

LIEV SCHREIBER: I felt bad for him. I felt bad for him. I felt how...

CHARLIE ROSE: Then you succeeded as an actor?

LIEV SCHREIBER: I wouldn`t go that far, but I know -- you know, it`s just so amazing to me that that 400-year-old arcane text can elicit so much emotion.

CHARLIE ROSE: And resonate so deeply.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes. I don`t react like that often. I never do. That`s not my performance. It`s those words. It`s horrible. It`s horrible. And it`s wonderful that it`s so horrible. It`s wonderful that it`s so -- for some people so resonant. And I`m thrilled to be a part of that.

CHARLIE ROSE: Did you know Joe Papp?

LIEV SCHREIBER: I idolized him. I never knew him personally. I could pass him on the street or something and say, "Oh, that`s Joe Papp." But I couldn`t say I knew him.

CHARLIE ROSE: Of course you knew George Wolf.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Very well. George Wolf is pretty much the person I would say who was responsible for my career.

CHARLIE ROSE: How so? George Wolf was the director of the Public Theater.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Yes. George took me under his wing. I played a small part in the production of "The Tempest" that he did. And George invited me in to the Public Theater and sat me down and had a long talk with me about doing Shakespeare and sticking with it.

CHARLIE ROSE: And what did he say?

LIEV SCHREIBER: He said all sorts of very complimentary things, which you know, as you probably know are very motivating.

CHARLIE ROSE: Of course.

LIEV SCHREIBER: And he said that, you know, he would like me to do another production there. He asked me if I would do "Hamlet" and continually supported me, gave me the part of Banquo. And I -- that`s what -- you know, there`s a young actor in this "Macbeth", Jacob, who plays Malcolm, who I just think is a stunning verse speaker. And I think that he will be one of those guys that we`re going to see again and again, doing these roles.

CHARLIE ROSE: What do you see in his performance? The verse?

LIEV SCHREIBER: Clarity of verse. He -- the language flows out of him naturally. And the sense is connected directly to the words. The emotion is not before or after the line. It`s absolutely on the line, so that -- so that the words actually carry the emotion.

That`s what`s so remarkable about these text, which is I don`t know any other playwright that accomplishes that. Well, there are some. I mean, I think in places, obviously, I think Pinter and I think Mamet has also done it in places. But it`s -- they`ll usually go for one or two emotions, while Shakespeare I think can carry the whole scale.

And it`s right on the word so that -- and there are very -- there are very few actors who actually do that, that they simultaneously create an emotional performance while -- while making sense of the language.

CHARLIE ROSE: I just want to switch to movies for a moment, because "Omen", is it three?

LIEV SCHREIBER: No, it`s a first one. It`s a remake of the first one.

CHARLIE ROSE: It was Gregory Peck did the first one.


CHARLIE ROSE: Why do they want you to do remakes?

LIEV SCHREIBER: I don`t know. Maybe it has something to do with the Shakespeare. If you can breathe life into these stale old plays, let`s cart out the...

No. I was, you know -- having done "The Manchurian Candidate", I was a little nervous about doing another remake. But I got to say that, you know, great stories have a way of retelling themselves, you know. And it just happens. I think "Omen" is actually a great story.

The movie performed really well financially. And I don`t think that`s a coincidence. I think there are themes in that film that the original writer tapped into that really resonate with people. It`s that -- and it`s the same stuff in Shakespeare I think, which is that -- "The Book of Revelation" exists in our collective conscience, so firmly embedded in our collective conscience that, while the movie is not necessarily that horrific, the horror of what could be and the horror of prophecy is very, very powerful, which oddly enough is the same thing in "Macbeth".

CHARLIE ROSE: Yes. Why did "Manchurian Candidate" not do so well at the box office?

LIEV SCHREIBER: I don`t know. I was...

CHARLIE ROSE: It was you and...

LIEV SCHREIBER: I was surprised with Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington.

CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, exactly.

LIEV SCHREIBER: And Jonathan Demme.

CHARLIE ROSE: Exactly. And a great director.

LIEV SCHREIBER: I thought it was a terrific film. But it didn`t do that well, as well as some of his other films have done.

CHARLIE ROSE: What`s your favorite film role?

LIEV SCHREIBER: I love this movie, "A Walk on the Moon". I played -- I played a kind of nebbishy Jewish guy from Brooklyn who was trying to keep his family together, and his wife is having an affair with a very sexy, goyish blouse man up in the Catskills.

And it`s -- for me it was my grandfather. And a surprising amount of the work that I`ve done or that is close to me has been motivated by him.

CHARLIE ROSE: My impression is that family is deeply inside of you, and especially your mother.


CHARLIE ROSE: You know, your experience in San Francisco, to the Lower East Side. It wasn`t easy. Her aspirations.

LIEV SCHREIBER: I thought about that a lot, you know, because obviously in making everything that is illuminated in a certain respect...

CHARLIE ROSE: About a grandfather.

LIEV SCHREIBER: About a grandfather. And to some degree about family history.


LIEV SCHREIBER: And I think sometimes people are motivated maybe by what they feel they need more of, or what they want. Or -- I think that my mother and I moved so much as a child. And we were really sort of alone so much as a child, that I was always looking for those places of bonding, particularly with men like my grandfather and my older brothers, who we never lived with.

I think that there was a real -- that there was maybe a vacancy in me about family, that I think as I got older and I watched other people and sort of read books and watched plays, I saw that this was a this very powerful sort of bonding element of human beings that I felt like I had missed out on. So I think it`s good that we had that sense of solitude, my mother and I, because I think it created in me a search for something more.

CHARLIE ROSE: It`s great to have you here.

LIEV SCHREIBER: Thanks again for having me.

CHARLIE ROSE: Say -- say hello to Naomi.


CHARLIE ROSE: I look forward to seeing "Macbeth".

You should, too, as well. I don`t know whether you get tickets, but it`s free for Shakespeare in the Park, a wonderful thing started by Joseph Papp. And "The Omen" is in theaters now. "Macbeth" is at the Delacourt Theater in Central Park through July 9.

Thank you for joining us. See you next time.

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