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Liev Schreiber on Defiance

Published December 31, 2008 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Paramount Vantage
Defiance Defiance

Liev Schreiber has explored his heritage before, particularly in the film he directed, Everything is Illuminated. Defiance is a part of his cultural history, the story of a Jewish rebellion against the Nazis in the Bellarussian forest.

Liev Schreiber Returns To Roots in Defiance

"If anything, I would say that it had less to do with being Jewish than it had to do with being of Eastern European heritage," Schreiber explained. "For me, I felt that there were cultural things that I had been afforded more time with, perhaps, than some of the other actors. Because of my family, and also because of the films I’d worked on in the past. But I don’t know that any of those really mattered. I’d worked on Holocaust films, and I’d researched Holocaust films in the past. I grew up in the Lower East Side of New York, and I’m half-Jewish. Anything that has resonance for me about my family history, because I don’t know much about it, I’m drawn to. That’s part of why I think I choose projects like this. Less because I’m right for them, but because I want to know if I’m right for them."

When it came to the resistance led by the Bielski brothers, less research materials were available, though there were some books written about it. "The Bielski brothers didn’t want anyone to know it and that fell in line with my understanding of what surviving the Holocaust cost people. There’s no reason for them to remember it. Why should they recall that horror? I’m sure they’ve had to recall it for 50 years now. Why should they recall it to you, so you can make a film? Hardly a good enough reason to them, if you think about it. You know, we’re all in the movie business, so we think, 'Well, why not?' Well, no!"

Even though the film may raise awareness for this facet of the holocaust, Schreiber still feels a little guilty resurrecting it for the survivors.

"I guess my perspective on it as an actor is that it has to cost something to the character, or it’s not going to be evocative in the way that it should. They can’t simply be heroic, do you know what I mean? There has to be conflict. I believe in that personally because I think then you can understand that it isn’t black and white. That emotionally, those people are living with things that cost them a great deal each and every day. Like, there’s a lot of heroic things they do in the film, killing other people, so that these people can survive. But if you try to imagine, realistically, and to a degree, this is the actor’s job. Try to imagine doing those things. It becomes a different kind of story."

Some of Schreiber's research uncovered tactics that were too brutal to include in the movie. "The American GI’s had a term called a Bielski enema. They would take a potato masher grenade, put it in a German soldier’s rectum, and let it go off, which was something that the Bielskis did. Another thing that they did is that people who collaborated with the local police, the Polish police, they were decapitated. And the heads were left in the center of the town with a sign that said, 'This is what happens to collaborators.' It’s not in the movie but if I can own it a little bit as an actor, as a character, if you feel a bit of distance from the character initially, and you’re struggling with the character’s actions, rather than just being asked to adore the character, you have more perspective."

Defiance opens to theaters December 31st.

For the trailer, posters, stills and more movie info, go to the Defiance Movie Page.

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Compiled By (Sources)
Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Paramount Vantage

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