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Johnathon Schaech:...

Johnathon Schaech: Talking "Ray Donovan," Complex Characters and Impending Fatherhood

Actor Johnathon Schaech. Credit: Alan Mercer

Johnathon Schaech as Sean Walker on the Showtime series Ray Donovan. Credit: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

He’s likely an actor you’ve seen many times and appreciated his performances, but perhaps you didn’t catch his name. For two decades Johnathon Schaech has appeared on the big and small screens in cult classics (That Thing You Do), interesting indies (5 Days of War) and guilty pleasures (The Client List). He has two big films, Hercules 3D and 7500, coming out in 2014 as well as a new series for the CW network.

This summer, he’s played a pivotal character in the Showtime hit series Ray Donovan. The series began with Mickey Donovan (played by Jon Voight) being released from prison after serving 20 years for a murder rap pinned on him by his son, Ray (played by Liev Schreiber), who has made a career fixing crises for Hollywood’s elite. The one responsible for the crime was actually Schaech’s character, Sean Walker, at the time of the murder a young actor high on cocaine. For Schaech, Ray Donovan has provided an opportunity to play a complex character who has grappled with his actions in the years since.

Beyond acting and writing, Schaech is also committed to philanthropic endeavors. He’s involved with Adopt the Arts, which advocates for keeping the arts in schools, as well as TACA (Talking About Curing Autism), a national organization dedicated to educating, empowering and supporting families affected by autism.

Schaech, 43, shares with DivineCaroline.com his love of challenging roles as well as his excitement over the upcoming birth of his first child with wife Julie Solomon, a boy whose arrival in imminent.

DivineCaroline: Are you at all surprised by how much viewers have embraced Ray Donovan?
Johnathon Schaech: No, because it’s great writing, great actors. I’m a very humble guy, but I do feel very blessed to be part of something so great. These guys made something very unique, created something very special and knew exactly what the audience wanted. Every script you cannot wait to turn the page.

DC: Talk about anti-heroes. What are your thoughts on the complexity of these characters?
JS: The actors that they hired are nuanced, professional actors that can’t just stand in front of a mark and say their lines. They bring life. Acting is the art of living. These are actors that are just kind of genies, in other words they conjure whatever it is that is necessary for the material. They have this complexity of humanity.

I think the writers in television are going away from the networks skewing towards trying to make family-friendly material that didn’t have these complexities and were trying to write good and bad individuals. Now, you’re going into cable, which is allowed to push the envelope, and you’re having individuals that have these diverse, more real appearances where you see the good side and the bad side. You know this guy’s a good guy, you root for him, but he does have problems and they allow you to see those problems.

DC: Your character has a really awful hidden secret. How do you embrace him and play him with sincerity?
JS: As a man, he’s struggled with having done what he’s done. Just like all of us have something in our past we don’t want anyone to know that can come up and cause us problems.

Sean Walker has all this success and this one moment in his life has haunted him all along. He feels absolutely horrible. He’s gone to every religious area of life to try to cleanse his consciousness, become free of that moment and it’s just haunted him all along. He knows he did wrong. That shame that we feel is the thing that keeps us back. That’s how I play it.

DC: What is it like working with Jon Voight?
JS: One thing about working with Tom Hanks or Kenneth Branagh or Ed Harris, those kind of men have been working in the industry at a really high level. What they bring to the table that I don’t see in other actors is they’re very playful. They’ll try things. They have no fear of failure and that goes so true for Jon Voight. He will give you a take in which he’ll try one thing. Then he’ll talk to himself sometimes—not out loud—or talk to me or he’ll talk to the director and skew it just a little bit. He’s a very subtle actor and he understands that a scene can be played many different ways, but how it comes across in the story for his character, he’s very free, very playful.

Also, he couldn’t be nicer. He’s a good soul. All that success he’s had over his life and all those hardships that he’s had, he knows to take care of other people. He took great care of me. He made me feel like a million dollars every single day that I worked with him.

DC: What is it like to work on a Showtime series which embraces offbeat characters and complicated storylines?
JS: Everyone kept saying that’s where I’m going to end up because I’m complicated. I have an intensity to me I can’t hide.

Roles come to me that I can take on. I was trained you don’t just act the role, you live the role. It kind of takes over your life a little bit and starts to play with your psychology. Hopefully, you’re playing with something you can learn from. Even dealing with the shadows with Sean Walker, I was trying to work through the shadows of my past so I could break free and have a family. A little baby is on the way in my life and in Sean Walker’s life he has a little baby, so he has a purpose in life now. He’s worked hard to get to that place and be able to have a child. That’s what I really worked on and hopefully it will come across when people watch the piece.

DC: With so many cable networks now producing original series and even some series online, the possibilities for artistic expression seems so greatly expanded from even a decade ago. How does that fuel your creativity?
JS: I love independent film. I just embraced it. I made choices to go into independent film because I felt like everything was the same thing and I didn’t want to make the same thing over and over. So I did crazy movies. I did a lot of really goofy movies in the beginning of my career that I’m proud of. I look back on them and they’re really fun to watch. I have a very diverse fan base because of films like The Doom Generation and Welcome to Woop Woop. All these independent features that kind of grasped on the same vibe that you’re talking about when you’re talking about independent cable networks. Cable gets to push the envelope and gets to see all the humanity. Not just the ones they think people want.

DC: You’ve been acting professionally for 20 years. How have you kept focused and not been discouraged during downtimes?
JS: Oh, I’ve been discouraged. I have great faith inside myself and if I don’t, I have a compass in my mother and my father and the people that I grew up with that have always helped me follow course. I found new examples in my life with the son that I’m about to have and being now with an incredible woman in my life that wants the best for me and wants the best for my family. I ground myself every single day. I always laugh. I always live. I always love. And I make sure I say my prayers.

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