Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Shit Brown World of Liev Schreiber

Leiv Schreiber is a familiar face thanks to numerous stage roles and films like director Jonathan Demme’s excellent remake of The Manchurian Candidate. But his unbearable task of the past few years, meaning a project he could not give up despite its numerous challenged, was adapting Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2002 novel Everything Is Illuminated. Schreiber had limited resources, a limited budget and limited production time to tell the story of Jonathan (Elijah Wood), a Jewish-American author obsessed with family mementos who travels to the Ukraine to learn about his late grandfather’s life.

Schreiber admits that he and Foer share similar family backgrounds. But his deep connection to the novel focused on its dark humor — something he knows firsthand thanks to his own grandfather and his favorite joke.

“When I was a kid, my grandfather used to get really drunk and he would corner me and he would force me to ask him what his favorite color was and I would ask him what his favorite color was and he would reply, “shit brown,” says Schreiber. “And then he would laugh by himself for an hour with tears streaming down his face. That was his sense of humor and I loved it. I thought it was so bizarre. And the fact that it was not particularly funny, for me, made it even better. But as I got older I discovered that there was something behind it, perhaps a deep sense of irony and darkness. The kind of ecstatic gratification he got from muttering the scatological thing to me was revealing. I know people say that it’s a Jewish sense of humor but I come to believe it is a survivor’s sense of humor. It’s a survivor’s sensibility. You present the fact that if life is excrement, then you have a choice. You can accept that or through irony use it as a fuel for life and art. For me, it was important to try and articulate that culturally through the film.”


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