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A Minute With: Jon Voight on his second act, on smaller screen

By Eric Kelsey

BEVERLY HILLS Calif. (Reuters) - When Jon Voight joined the growing list of top-flight film actors on television last year as a small-time Boston gangster on drama "Ray Donovan," he felt the role of the aging family patriarch take him back to his early days as a character actor.

The 75-year-old's return to his acting roots as Mickey Donovan, the cynical father of a Hollywood fixer in the series now in its second season on the premium cable network Showtime, has also given him a chance to join the rare club of actors who have an Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy awards.

The star of films "Midnight Cowboy" and "Coming Home" earned an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor for the role this month. He spoke to Reuters about the benefits of television, what makes a good lead actor and how he always wanted to work with Liev Schreiber, a reluctant leading man.

Q: Did you have any reservations about doing a television series at this stage in your career?

A: Here's the deal: What does an actor really want? An actor really wants a good job. If you can get a good character, a job where you can come to work and explore a character, that lasts over a period of several months and maybe several years, it should be a wonderful thing.

Q: Would you have done this earlier in your film career?

A: There was a time when television was television, and there were television actors and there were film actors. Now that line has been blurred, especially in the dramatic arena.

We're getting more opportunities to express ourselves in dramatic material in television than we are in films. There are only a very few films every year that are taken seriously in the dramatic arena and there are many, many pieces now where actors and writers and directors can express themselves on television.

Q: What are some of the benefits?

A: Talent that perhaps would not have had the opportunity is now getting the opportunity to express themselves. There are so many wonderful actors, so many wonderful directors and writers. You have these writers who aren't writing one script every five years, they're writing several hours of film every month and because of it their craft has been benefited by it.

Q: What got you interested in 'Ray Donovan' to begin with?

A: One of the things that attracted me was that Liev Schreiber was going to be doing it. I had spent a lot of time admiring Liev's work as an artist and actor. I craved to see him be the leading man because he had quite a strong career in films and was always the second or third player.

Q: What makes Schreiber a lead actor?

A: He's got that danger that you associate with them. ... It means that you know that something can erupt at any moment. He's got a tremendous power.

Q: How would you assess his transition?

A: Last year, I noticed that when he saw these wonderful character actors that he had around him ... he wasn't comfortable having to be the leading man. He wanted to get some bad teeth, have a limp, an accent and do all those things that the others of us are doing.

I sat him down at one point because it's the first time he's really committed to television and he's carrying this thing and everybody is talking about how it's going to be well-received and it looks good and he didn't know if this was for him in some sense. He still was in a questioning stage.

Q: What advice did you offer?

A: I said to him: 'Would you rather be Humphrey Bogart or Sydney Greenstreet? You're Humphrey Bogart here. We're doing the other things. We're Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, but you're Humphrey, and that's a great thing to be. We're grateful to have you, so feel all the joy of it.'

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Mohammad Zargham)

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