Inc. staff writer Patrick Sauer talks with Liev Schreiber about his role as Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross set to open on Broadway on May 1, 2005.
The erstwhile Manchurian Candidate is a New York stage favorite, having recently appeared on Broadway in Harold Pinter's Betrayal, off-Broadway in Neil LaBute's The Mercy Seat and as the royal lead in the Central Park production of William Shakespeare's Henry V. Schrieber's cinematic credits include the Scream trilogy, RKO 281, Big Night, A Walk on the Moon and his directorial film debut, of the acclaimed Jonathan Safran Foer Everything is Illuminated, comes out this August.
Q: Do you have any sales or business background?
Schreiber: I've been working on a script about Dale Carnegie so I spent a lot of time with the folks at the center on Long Island, as well as researching him and studying How to Win Friends & Influence People. The book was a phenomenon in the 1930s-40s. I was impressed that salesmen represented this huge segment of the American workforce and it was his theories about sales practices that transcended business and became a part of the cultural language of people. Carnegie's advice on how to do business extended into how to act socially and even spiritually. Sales is a great model for human interaction.
Q: The term "salesman" is more or less a pejorative, but yet it's probably the biggest job out there, why do you think that exists in something that should be amoral?
Schreiber: In some way or another we are always selling ourselves to others and back to ourselves. We don't want to admit it. There's an incredible Maysles Brothers documentary called Salesman that I'm convinced Glengarry accesses in some way as an inspiration. In Salesman and with salespeople, the motivation is naked -- make the sale. And we prefer to keep those motivations in ourselves hidden, but the salesman exposes our own motivations as simple, practical and pragmatic. We like to think we make decisions to do things, out of instinct or love, but often it's just a sales pitch. It's easy to write salespeople off because there's an end to their means and we don't want others to know our ends...if that makes sense.
Q: What was your reaction when you were asked to be in Glengarry?
Schreiber: I was excited and shocked. I never thought I'd get the chance to play Ricky Roma. I saw Joe Mantegna in the original role and I was blown away by it. I always put more eggs in the theater basket than the movie basket because the performance is uninterrupted and the relationship with the audience that develops is unique. Glengarry is a great opportunity to work with Mamet, who called to say welcome aboard. I haven't called him back yet though, partially because I'm busy on the film, and partially because I'm terrified of him.
Q: The Carnegie method is generally positive, unlike Glengarry, which is steeped in duplicity, how do the two relate?
Schreiber:Glengarry is an exploration of the darker side of it, the existential nausea of the salesman. I think the Carnegie approach is the front, the optimistic side of "always be selling, always be closing," and Glengarry is the workings behind the curtain, when the upbeat persona drops. The metaphors for life are obvious but really compelling.
Q: What is your approach to playing Roma considering he's the only one who is on top at the beginning and on top at the end?
Schreiber: All of Roma's action is defined by the specificity of Mamet's language. He is delineated by the rhythms and the way he speaks. From Roma's opening monologue, he's on a tear. He never stops talking about all kinds of subjects and that defines who he is. The guy can pitch and he can pitch fast. Roma throws a lot of lines out there and with that many lines, he's bound to hook a fish. I take Roma at face value. I have to believe he believes everything he says. I assume he's telling the truth...even when he's lying. That's his talent and that's why he's able to sell.