With a constant stream of high-end L.A. scandal, extreme family dysfunction, histories of sexual abuse, infidelity, incarceration, violence and the occasional murder, "wacky" is not the first adjective that comes to mind when describing "Ray Donovan."
But that's the word series star Liev Schreiber keeps coming back to when describing the Showtime series' fourth season. "It's bigger, bolder -- It's wacky, really wacky, this season," he says.
Which may come as only a half-surprise, given that the show very frequently enjoys heading down often hilarious comedic side roads while exploring the various darknesses that often threaten to consume the members of the Donovan family. Still, Season Three ended on a gut-wrenching and potentially game-changing note in which Ray, badass fixer of L.A. rich-people problems, was finally confronted with the enormous emotional toll that childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest had taken -- not on only him, but his entire family.
"Ray has to push the reset button a little bit," explained Schreiber. "I think at the end of last season, some very big questions were asked. He was asking himself some very big questions about faith, and about sobriety, and his own personal spirituality."
But instead of signaling Ray's descent into a messy morass of depression or rage, acting out against either his family or the lowlifes he encounters on the job, he's actually more interested in putting the shattered pieces of his psyche back together. "He's in a mode of repairing himself," says Schreiber. "Where we pick him up, he's on the path to healing, to getting better, to recovery. How long that lasts is another question, but he's certainly on the path."
The actor admits that the show's upscale Hollywood intrigue provides an inviting way into the transplanted Boston clan's stories, but it's the alternately cozy and cutthroat family drama that's captivated him.
"For me, the journey that he's taken as a father and as a husband has been the one that's been most illuminating," he says. "I love the fixes and I love the scams and I love the trouble he always seems to find himself in. But all of it, for me, is connected to his journey as a father and as a husband. And that's what I like about the writing on this show. All of those fixes are evocative in one way or another, or refer back to that thing that we can all relate to as men, and as women, as mothers, and lovers, and wives, how we negotiate our work lives and our home lives."Actress Paula Malcomson, who plays Ray's wife Abby, the very epitome of the "long-suffering" spouse, says that she's harboring a scary secret while also playing host to almost all of her oft-contentious in-laws. "Actually, all the Donovans are living at Ray and Abby's house, basically -- everyone's there. It's really fun, because we've got just a house full of people."
Her character will also enjoy contented moments ... with a caveat. "It depends on how you define happiness. It's all relative. I think she's dealing with some personal things. I think there is a certain amount of joy that she has in this long marriage, in this sort of holy grail of relationships, really. She has her moments of joy."
Through her own crisis, she'll strive to remain Ray's rock. "The fact that she's the abiding wife is, she's always there, so there is a place to go: there is a home; there is an intimacy; there is a relationship; there is a safe harbor for him," she says. "It's whether or not he chooses to take it."Not every Donovan will be under Ray and Abby's roof. Ray's ever-troublemaking ex-con father Mickey was essentially run out of L.A. by his son, ending -- at least for now -- his seemingly ceaseless ability to drag his family into one ill-conceived illegal scheme after another. Actor Jon Voight says Mickey regroups in the three-casino town of Primm, Nevada, on the California border.
"That roller coaster in Primm, Nevada, had a little bit of poetic resonance for the character," reveals Voight. "The roller coaster reminds me of Mickey. He goes up, he goes down, he goes up, and that's who he is. He has highs and lows, and sometimes you're rooting for him, and sometimes you're saying, "Stay away from that." Sometimes you say, "You're disgusting," and then you say, "He's not so bad." You go on a roller coaster with him.
Without his blood kin to cajole and corrupt, Mickey assembles a new clan to do his bidding. "He kind of gathers another family,' says Voight. "All of a sudden, he's got a couple of guys, and it depends on if he gets people to listen to him. He's got to bring them problems. He works for someone under and assumed name, and he's pulling a scam under everyone's nose. Then it finally becomes revealed, and then they come after him."
And of course, Mickey is often the vehicle through which "wacky" enters the picture. "Liev started us off by directing the first episode," says Voight. "He's asked me to do some crazy things in this first episode, and it was great to be with Liev doing them. We had a lot of fun, we laughed a lot, and we exhausted ourselves in doing it. We were up in the middle of the night doing crazy stuff. I saw some of it and it looks really wonderful. We were chuckling seeing it!"
Wackiness aside, Schreiber says the series is truly fueled by the human connections, however fractured, it depicts. "In a script we were just working on the other day, ironically it's Mickey who said that it really is all about love," he explains. "At the end of the day, all of the monuments that men have made, this incredible world we live in, in one way or another, every little piece of it was shaped by some expression of love. And that aspect of Ray is really interesting to me. Also, surviving: surviving abuse and surviving life, and particularly Ray's life, it's a remarkable achievement."
"Ray Donovan" Season 4 premieres Sunday, June 26th at 9 p.m. on Showtime.