Liev Schreiber on The Darker Side of Human Nature

For Repo Men, Liev Schreiber puts down his claws and puts on a suit as Frank, a middle-class office guy for The Union, an organization that trades in artificial organs and pays a hefty sum to reclaim them when they're past due. Drawing on his experience from Broadway and giving himself over to the darker side of human nature, Schreiber described why he didn't think Frank needed to be anything but a bad guy in the scheme of the film, at a recent press conference in New York. Beware some spoilers lurk below.

In a movie that's so full of action and violence, do you kind of miss playing that sort of role? In this film, you're the smarmy boss.

Yeah I'm the suit.

Do you kind of miss, you know, going from something like Wolverine...?

"Do I miss my claws?" is your question? I miss my claws deeply, yes. No, it was good. I had a break. I could take it easy and put on a suit every day while those guys were in the gym constantly, which was something that was down the road for me because I hadn't done Wolverine at that point yet. I like the jobs where you don't have to work out too much.

You were talking about the health care issue, I thought this also kind of referenced the Wall Street balloon and burst thing. I'm wondering if you think the other side of the aisle when they go see this movie, if they're going to pick up on these things or if that's just something those of us who are a little more liberal-minded pick up on? Do you think they'll see it and what do you think their reaction will be?

I don't know. I think they will see it because I think the people who like this sort of genre film tend to be pretty wildly liberal so I think that they'll get it. I mean you have to be to some degree liberal to watch organ transplants. I certainly hope they get it because to me that's at the core of what it is. What's so chilling about it to me is that it's not that far from the truth, not that it’s a slasher-movie or even extremely liberal but the idea that people are dying in this country for health care is a reality and to take it to such an extreme conclusion is entertaining and to some degree substantial.

In the film the comedy is really dark, and like Monty Python it was almost zany. Can you talk about any scenes which might have not made it in the movie where you and Jude might have gone that direction where it was really, really zany?

There's a scene that's in the movie now where the guys are watching the Monty Python skit where John Cleese and I think it's Michael Palin, but I'm not sure, come to retrieve a guy's liver and it's just such a bizarre sensibility but I think that sensibility is appropriate because it's a bizarre situation and it's almost ridiculous circumstances that people are confronted with in this country when they try to get health care and so Python has always been really great with that certain ludicrous comedy that's also rooted somewhere in a political truth.

Over the years you've played a variety of wildly dark characters. I'm curious, what was it about this particular character that drew you to him and what is it about bad guys in general?

It's usually the best part, I find, that the most interestingly written parts tend to be the bad guys. I don't know, I'm thinking that less and less as I sort of see myself in a series of bad guy roles, I think, "It's time to do the kitten-cuddly thing." I'm fairly certain that they saw me in a production of Glengarry Glen Ross, the David Mamet play on Broadway, and I think that the idea of Ricky Roma heading up the Union was kind of too good to resist and I went with it.

Can you tell us just basically how that death scene went? Was that all in the computer? Was there something jabbed up against your throat? Because the shot itself was pretty incredible and I wonder what it was like on your end.

I hated it. I hated it. I hate dying in movies. I also hate it when it has to be really graphic because that's even more embarrassing. Not only do you die, but you die graphically. But that's the way Miguel wanted it to go down so that's what we did. I certainly didn't spurt so much blood out of my throat on the day; that's a post effect.

And the knife was also computer-generated?

Yes, that was all computer-generated, thankfully.

A lot of times when actors talk about playing bad guys they talk about finding the humanity in the character. I'm curious if you went through that with this character and where did you find it?

I think to a certain degree I had already developed the character for the David Mamet play and we were borrowing from him a little bit for Frank. Frank makes the mistake that I think a lot of us make, that he becomes distracted and consumed by the bottom line. At the end of the day all that matters is that he shows numbers and the cost of those numbers is something that he is incapable of being aware of. So I think that is a human fault, clearly, something that's happening in this country. I'm sure there are many, many people who are making billions and billions of dollars in the pharmaceutical industry who have no idea of the impact that it is having on the country as a whole. I don't think that they hold themselves responsible for the deaths of people who can't afford their products and I think it works that way with Frank. But I think by taking it down a notch and making him sort of a simple used-car salesman it becomes more apparent whereas those guys are a lot more sophisticated in how they present themselves.

Did you imagine him going home every night to a family?

Miguel (the director) kept telling me how interested he was in Frank at home. And he kept saying it to me, but I'm not really that interested in Frank at home and I don't think Frank's a particularly interesting guy. I think Frank only thinks numbers, that's his thing, to show numbers, to post numbers.

So if Frank were injured or needed to have a body part replaced, do you think he would have been able to cut a deal with the company and done so and continued to...?

Absolutely. Frank's the kind of guy that won't miss a payment. That's why Jude's character is such a schmuck.

Can you tell us anything about Scream 4?

I know nothing about it -- except that my mother thinks I'm in it.

Speaking of Wolverine, I know they're going to Japan this year for filming about that saga. Are you going to be involved in that at all?

I just had dinner with Hugh last night who's just read the first draft of the script and was really excited about it. It's still not clear whether or not Victor will be present in the Japan storyline. In the Japan storyline as I remember it from the Wolverine comics, Victor wasn't there so I don't know, of course I've got my fingers crossed because I love the character so much, to have the chance to do it again would be a lot of fun, but I'm not sure.

I know horror movies aren't new for you. What was it like going back and working with so much blood again?

But there wasn't really so much blood on set. When I saw the film I was like, "Whoa!" We didn't have that much on set but you know, you can't really make a movie about organ transplants without a little bit of blood and gore.

As these movies progress with the level of viscera and gore, do you think it's possible for there to be an action movie that doesn't amp it up and try and step up and surpass the last one? Do you think the days of the action movie where people just get in a car and chase each other are over?

No, I don't. I think that there's a whole new generation of filmmakers coming out now, and I think that the introduction of digital media and take-home software we're going to see a whole new genre of movies and a whole new level of excitement from filmmakers. You've got kids now who are playing with editing software who are 10 years old. I'd say in about 10 or 15 years we're going to see some remarkable films.