Pooch Hall and Liev Schreiber ball their fists, lock eyes, and step closer. While Hall plays the boxer/half-brother to Schreiber’s ruthless mob fixer on the hit Showtime drama Ray Donovan, this particular moment is not part of their performance. Instead, they are in the ring, literally slugging it out and keeping each other on their toes long after the cameras have stopped rolling.
“When Liev and I train, there’s none of this ‘Oh, we’re Hollywood. Get me some Evian water and let me eat all my blue Skittles,’” Hall tells Paste. “No, when we train together, we train hardcore.” The actor won the Southern New England Golden Gloves as an amateur boxer in 1994, and spoke enthusiastically of his bouts with castmate and friend Schreiber off set, during a recent interview ahead of Ray Donovan’s Season Three finale, which aired last night.
Hall went on to tell us about his relationship with Schreiber and Jon Voight on, how he contends with the legacy of his previous series, The Game, and much more.
Paste Magazine: So, have you ever given Liev Schreiber a black eye while sparring?
Pooch Hall: Hold on now, we gotta be careful here, because I’m not trying to bruise his image, and he’s not gonna bruise mine (laughs). Let’s just say, when Liev Schreiber and Pooch Hall train, they let each other know they’re both home. Meaning, I’m like ‘Oh, hello, Liev’s home,’ when he throws a hard right cross. And he’ll think the same when I throw him a right hook, or a left uppercut. Liev is the real deal, and so am I, so we let each other know we’re both home.
Paste: How has your camaraderie with Liev in the ring affected the dynamic you have with him on set?
Hall: If it wasn’t for Liev Schreiber, I don’ think the series would’ve capitalized on my boxing skills. Because, actually my character, Daryll, wasn’t a great fighter in the first draft of the script. But Liev told me, “Once I realized you could fight, I told the producers ‘Let him go.’” I was 22-0 as an amateur boxer back in the day in Massachusetts. So, we all agreed to go with what was authentic and relevant, and it made my character better and more interesting.
Paste: What’s it like going toe-to-toe with a legendary heavyweight actor like Jon Voight on this series?
Hall: Jon Voight’s my dad. He’s my father away from my father. I have kids, and Jon has kids—Angelina [Jolie] and James [Haven]. But they’re both grown now, doing their thing and really busy. So Jon made his way over to my house on Father’s Day, and he hung out for awhile. We have a relationship where we try certain things, where I can come across as a real asshole to his character, or sometimes get the audience in my corner instead of his. Doing our job involves having a relationship where we can push the envelope. I love Jon very much—he’s a father figure, and if he ever needs anything, I’m there.
Paste: There are obvious benefits to acting alongside such esteemed veterans, but can it also be intimidating or challenging?
Hall: Actually, a difficult scene for me was one that I acted in alone, but that Liev directed. It was the seventh episode of Season Two, and I destroyed a car because Jon’s character gave it away to my character’s nephew, even though I felt it was mine. I was going through a lot then, especially dealing with my transition from The Game to Ray Donovan. Some people talk about relieving stress—if you want a stress release, go beat up a car, smash the windows and beat the shit out of it. It’s invigorating. I promise, if you beat up a car with a bat it will change you. Getting up to that moment, I went to some places, I found something and I just exploded. That was a difficult scene, in the sense of trying to tap into some emotions to make it real.
Paste: So, leaving The Game fueled some of your rage in that scene. Why was it so difficult to transition between the two series?
Hall: To be honest with you, I’m where I’m supposed to be now. I’m thankful [I got] to close my character out over on The Game on BET. I want the fans to know how thankful I am, because we couldn’t do any of what we’re doing without them. It was definitely tough saying goodbye, because I’d been doing that show for so long. But as an actor, you’re trying to take on as many characters as you can. That’s why I have so much respect for Liev and Jon. They’ve done so much in their careers and been through a lot, enough to make me think, ‘This is where I should be, and this is who I should be around.’ So it felt good to say goodbye to The Game, but I want to thank the fans for allowing me to have those five seasons, and to be where I am in my career now.
Paste: You mentioned Liev directing an episode of Ray Donovan. Do you have ambitions of getting behind the camera?
Hall: One hundred percent. Why stop here? I’m trying to produce, direct, and be the kind of person where people look and say, “Hey, this kid did this and this, he’s a pillar in society that helps people.” Even if it’s just in helping people understand that you really can chase your dreams, and work in something that other people say you’ll never make it in, I want to help.
I’ve met Will Smith a number of times, and he has such a great spirit. He’s a real people person, an actor, a businessman, a father and husband, and a real dude that comes from real stuff. And I come from real stuff, and the way people respect and respond to me is similar to Will’s. I’m not trying to be like Will, but I want that same type of respect. We all want to achieve greatness.
Paste: Tell me about the producing you’ve done and your other work behind the scenes.
Hall: I have this film called My First Love that I produced with [former The Game co-star] Gabrielle Dennis. She’s like a sister to me. And I’m constantly bending the producers’ ears on Ray Donovan. I’m friends with the directors. I’m gaining knowledge, and working to get to the position where I can say, “Hey, I want to direct something I’m acting in.” I’m doing my job because, being an entertainer, you have to be a student of the game.