Actor determined to avoid being Bogosian knockoff

Liev Schreiber mastered theater’s greatest roles, earning acclaim as the finest American Shakespearean actor for performances as Hamlet, Iago and Henry V. Then he achieved equal success on Broadway in a more modern revival, winning a Tony as Ricky Roma in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” So this year, Schreiber tackled a new and unique challenge: starring on Broadway in a show written by a man he had idolized, a man — Eric Bogosian — who gave a career-defining star turn in that role on both stage and screen.

“I took this job mostly to have a chance to work with Eric,” says Schreiber, who saw Bogosian in both versions of “Talk Radio,” worked Bogosian into his college thesis on Brecht, performed Bogosian’s monologues as a young actor and auditioned unsuccessfully for the original production of “subUrbia” in 1994.

Despite his desire to work with Bogosian, however, what Schreiber found he appreciated most was his absence, since finding his way into the role with the original Barry Champlain looking over his shoulder would have been quite inhibiting.

Schreiber is usually open to outside influences — “if it’s a good idea then it’s worth stealing” — but in “Talk Radio” he was determined to avoid being a Bogosian knockoff. “I knew I couldn’t do Eric, but it is Eric’s voice, and he was so definitive in the role, so I wanted to try to build the character from the ground up. To his credit, he told us to throw all our ideas up against a wall to see what worked, and then he stayed away so I could experiment free of self-consciousness.”

Bogosian says it was easy not just because of the distance he feels from the role 20 years on but because of the confidence he felt in Schreiber. “He has the right energy and mindset, and there’s a sense of mystery to Liev,” he says. “I knew he’d deliver the goods.”

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