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updated: 6/28/2013 6:16 AM

Family dynamics key to Showtime's 'Ray Donovan'

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  • A Hollywood fixer (Liev Schreiber), right, must confront his own family's demons when his gangster father (Jon Voight) is unexpectedly released from prison in "Ray Donovan," premiering Sunday, June 30, on Showtime.

      A Hollywood fixer (Liev Schreiber), right, must confront his own family's demons when his gangster father (Jon Voight) is unexpectedly released from prison in "Ray Donovan," premiering Sunday, June 30, on Showtime.

  • A devoted dad (Liev Schreiber), left, must protect his family, including his son (Devon Bagby), when his gangster father is released from prison in Showtime's "Ray Donovan."

      A devoted dad (Liev Schreiber), left, must protect his family, including his son (Devon Bagby), when his gangster father is released from prison in Showtime's "Ray Donovan."

 
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Is the best writer to explore male issues a woman? If she's Ann Biderman, maybe so.

An Emmy Award winner for her work on the hard-hitting "NYPD Blue," Biderman went on to create the critically acclaimed -- and equally tough-minded -- LAPD drama "Southland." On Sunday, June 30, Biderman returns to television with the premiere of Showtime's "Ray Donovan," starring Liev Schreiber as a two-fisted "fixer" in Los Angeles cleaning up the messes of out-of-control celebrities, superstar athletes and business executives. At the same time, Donovan is also trying to protect his wife (Paula Malcolmson) and children (Devon Bagby, Kerris Dorsey) from his father, Mickey (Jon Voight), who unexpectedly gets out of prison in Boston and lands on his son's doorstep.

The hard-living Mickey also drops like a bomb into the lives of his other two sons: troubled addict Bunchy (Dash Mihok) and Terry (Eddie Marsan), a former boxer coping with Parkinson's disease and running a boxing gym. There's also a biracial half brother, Daryll (Pooch Hall), from one of Mickey's dalliances. Also starring are Katherine Moennig and Steven Bauer; recurring are Elliott Gould, Johnathon Schaech, Peter Jacobson, James Woods, Michael McGrady and Rosanna Arquette.

That boxing gym exists inside of a soundstage in Los Angeles, and according to Voight, it's pretty authentic.

Boxing is a good metaphor for Ray Donovan's life, since sometimes he has to finesse, sometimes he needs to hit below the belt, sometimes he needs to employ some fancy footwork, and sometimes he winds up in an all-out brawl. Although Schreiber is more known for Broadway theater and movies, one thing persuaded him to try being the lead in a TV series.

"It was really meeting Ann," he says. "Honestly, that was pretty much it. I thought the writing was remarkable. I didn't want to do a series, and if I did a series, it certainly couldn't be L.A. So there was no way it was going to work.

"But meeting Ann ... all of my doubts just disappeared. She was so wildly intelligent and inventive and concerned about the same things I was concerned about, invested in the same things I was interested in.

"The issues of family, masculinity and male sexuality were compelling."

Involved in a long-term relationship with actress Naomi Watts, with whom he has two sons, Schreiber had a bohemian, vagabond upbringing from an eccentric mother.

"There's a lot of stuff for me in the issues of fathers," he says. "I was separated from my father when I was 4 years old. I had a very powerful relationship with my grandfather.

"One never thinks one's own upbringing is unusual, because you know nothing else. But I've heard other people characterize it that way. Certainly, the complexity of that relationship isn't lost on me. It's a well that I go back to a lot in the show."

According to Voight, "the real deal about (Ray's) real hatred for me is yet to come out. I know what it is from his perspective. That'll be for the audience to discover. It has to do with where I wasn't at a time when I was needed."

Unlike his own father, Ray is trying, as best he can, to be there for his son and daughter.

"Ray loves his children beyond the beyond," Schreiber says. "There is no doubt in my mind that he would die for either of them. He has limited abilities as a professional, and his job is what it is, and it's not the best work to have around children. But there's no doubt in my mind that he does everything for them.

"Is he a clumsy father? Absolutely. Is he reading from that arcane script of masculinity that predates modern civilization? Absolutely. But would he die for his children? In a heartbeat."

As to whether he thinks some men from broken homes try to become the father they wish they'd had, Schreiber laughs. "I'm certainly guilty of that. It's tricky, though. It's a lot of work, but it's the best work. It's the only work."

"Ray Donovan" also explores something else Schreiber knows about -- the entertainment industry. "We're trying to understand," he says, "the humanity of people working in a business that involves certain control and pressures on them to behave in a way that may not be normal or comfortable for them.

"It also may give us pause to think about what celebrity is and why we value it and what we want from it -- because we're doing it. We're buying it; we're consuming it. What do we want, and why do we want what we want?"

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