Liev Schreiber is calling from the gym. It’s clearly not a New York Sports Club, judging from the background noise. In fact, it’s a boxing gym. The actor was training to portray a boxer in a movie — more on that below — and he’s since adopted those sessions into his regular workout routine. On Friday, though, the Tony-winning actor and star of such films as The Manchurian Candidate and Defiance will be at New York’s Lincoln Center to participate in a film symposium called Roughcut, a special spin-off of TropFest, the Australian short-film festival that’s become the world’s largest of its kind. Filmmakers and journalists — including EW’s critic Lisa Schwarzbaum — will spend the day discussing and dissecting the art of storytelling, something Schreiber knows a little about.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why are you at a boxing gym?
LIEV SCHREIBER: I was getting ready to do this movie about… Did you ever hear of a Philly fighter named Chuck Wepner?
The Bayonne Bleeder!
Yes! Well, the movie fell apart. It was a real low-budget production, and they just couldn’t get the money together. Jeff Feuerzeig, who directed The Devil and Daniel Johnston, made a great little doc about Chuck called Chuck Wepner The Real Rocky, and he’s the one who’s doing the script and the fundraising. But I just really enjoyed the training so I’ve just kept up with it.
That makes me sad. I love boxing movies and I was looking forward to that project. Is there a chance it might get re-started?
Part of me hopes it does; the other part hopes I’m not too old when it does. But I would like to get if off the ground. I’m going to do this TV show in L.A. in January, and I imagine if that becomes successful, they’ll probably jump on it again. It’s called Ray Donovan for Showtime. If that blows up, I bet you the movie will be back on. That’s how it works. This could be a really interesting addition to the anthology of boxing films.
In the meantime you’ll be at Lincoln Center on Friday for TropFest’s new film symposium. How did you first get involved with the festival?
When I first visited Australia with Naomi [Watts] about seven years ago, one of the things that was really exciting about Sydney was this shorts festival that her friend John [Polson] was throwing. It’s just an outlet for all of these incredible talented people who aren’t going through the studio system to show their work, and Sydney just seemed like one of the most vital and exciting film communities going. It’s grown into this international huge festival, but I think the roots of it are still based on accessibility.
It’s pretty huge there, correct?
It’s Woodstock. Like, “Holy sh-t. These people really love movies.” You know what I liked about it, and what I liked about Australians? It’s first and foremost a party. In Australia, it doesn’t feel dirty to be sitting in a park with a beer, you know what I mean? It’s outside; it’s really beautiful. And then as the sun sets, you watch the fruit-bat migration and then you start to see films on this gigantic screen while you eat picnic dinners. It’s awesome. I did it in New York too. In Tribeca. It poured rain but it still had that energy. Everybody was cheering through the rain.
There seems to be a purity about shorts that can feel especially refreshing.
Shorts are wonderful because there’s no real industry involved; it really is about the love of making films. When you’re making a feature, there’s a certain recipe that you have to follow because it’s a commercial enterprise. And it’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to follow that general recipe. And when you get that many shorts, you can find some tremendous variety and inventiveness. That’s what I loved about it. While a lot of other people may feel relatively cynical about the state of film right now, I am kind of optimistic based on the fact that I’ve met some 14-year olds [through TropFest] who know more about Final Cut Pro than I do. Plus, it also really appeals to my short attention span.
Have you ever made or starred in a short?
I’ve made a couple of shorts, and John and I were going to do another one together. He was going to do this thing about Sydney, sort of an I Love You, Sydney thing. John was going to produce it, and he had a bunch of directors that were going to do films about Sydney. But there was some lawsuit about it — the guy who did Paris, Je t’aime got all bent out of shape. So we didn’t do it. I wrote it but we never shot it.
I saw the NSFW trailer for Movie 43, which seems like a bundle of funny shorts.
Yeeaah. A really good friend of ours named Charlie Wessler asked if we’d like to do a short. And I’d done a short for Naomi’s birthday with Charlie, so I said, “What the hell, I’ll do yours.” And then Naomi said she’d do it too. So we did it, and then cut to a year or something later they’re like, “Hey there’s a movie coming out.” I’m like, “Uh-oh.” [Laughs] But you know, you do these things. We’ll see. It was a goof.
What can we expect from you on Friday at Lincoln Center?
We decided that Scott Foundas [of the Film Society of Lincoln Center] and I would have a conversation about developing narratives. I guess that’s a fancy way of saying acting, writing, and directing. Just a conversation about process and how they’re all interrelated: You use a writer’s hat to develop characters as an actor, you use an actor and a writer’s hat to run a set as a director. Screenwriters and actors and directors are all essentially doing the same thing, which is developing narrative, so we’re just going to talk about that.
Tickets for Roughcut are $35 and can be purchased here.