Working for HBO for the past 15 years, Liev Schreiber is as much associated with the pay cabler as Tony Soprano, Al Swearengen or Bill the vampire, but it’s not his face that triggers viewer recognition.
Schreiber has been the voice of HBO Sports since 1995 when he first narrated the football doc “Rebels With a Cause: The Story of the American League Football.” Since then, he’s handled voiceover work for nearly 100 sports projects, including the “24/7” franchise and annual summer NFL preseason series “Hard Knocks.”
“We’ve developed a familiarity with each other and just know what we need,” Schreiber says. “The credit should go to the producers of these shows. As a narrator, you get credit but I do nothing except go in and read.”
Schreiber was a young actor when HBO Sports topper Ross Greenburg first heard him narrate the PBS series “Rock & Roll” and hired him soon after. He thought the gravitas of Schreiber’s voice would be a good fit. Still, Greenburg, who thought Schreiber was a veteran actor, was surprised when the two met in person.
“I booked him, went down to the studio and here comes this twentysomething down the hall and I was like, ‘You’re Liev Schreiber?’ He said yes and I said, ‘OK. Let’s go.’ ”
With HBO’s docu slate continuing to ramp up — next on the docket is “Broad Street Bullies,” a look at the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers hockey team — having Schreiber physically able to provide voicework has sometimes proved logistically challenging. While many docs have extra days built into the sked, both the “Hard Knocks” and “24/7” series are often done with a same-day turnaround.
If the actor is on location in a foreign country for a feature film or any other reason, he’ll head to a local facility and read from there.
It’s happened many times.
“Once I was in Morocco and had to drive an hour and a half to a recording studio that was basically a glass booth with terrible sound that bounced back all over the place,” he recalls. “We had to hang rugs to get the sound quality right.”
Greenburg says that because of Schreiber’s longstanding work with HBO, the actor knows exactly when to inflect certain words, when to ratchet up the drama or tone it down and, most importantly, when to just allow the story to speak for itself.
“He’s a perfect storyteller and knows how we want a phrase delivered,” Greenburg says. “He rarely stumbles and is a one-take wonder. He can do a 60-minute show in three hours. He has an incredible gift.”