By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Broken arms, baseball bat beat-downs, bugged hotel rooms, and a drag queen prostitute blackmailing the star of an upcoming blockbuster action film.
That is a typical week for Ray Donovan, a Hollywood "fixer" and latest anti-hero persona to land on U.S. cable television in Showtime drama "Ray Donovan" that debuts on Sunday after the final season premiere of popular serial killer drama "Dexter."
Like antecedents Tony Soprano from HBO's mob drama, "The Sopranos," and Don Draper from AMC's ad world series, "Mad Men," Ray Donovan, played by Tony-winner Liev Schreiber, is a man of countless dilemmas, ensnared by work and family.
The series follows Ray as he serves as Hollywood's go-to enforcer, helping movie stars, film studios and athletes "fix" their private problems before they turn into public relations disasters.
But a thunderbolt upends Ray's already unpredictable life when Mickey, his mafia father played by Jon Voight, is suddenly released from prison.
"That exploration of men in particular, fathers and sons, is something that was very compelling to me," Schreiber, 45, told Reuters. "The thing I like about Ray is, as horrible as he behaves, he seems to have a very moral epicenter."
"Ray Donovan" creator, Emmy-winning writer Ann Biderman, said that she had always been interested in Hollywood's dark side.
She pointed to past real-life fixers Fred Otash, a private investigator from Hollywood's 1950s golden age, and Howard Strickland, MGM studio's publicity chief in the 1930s, both of whom notoriously shielded high-profile figures from public scandal.
"I'm interested in crime," said Biderman, 61, also the creator of cable TV police drama "Southland." "These figures have been around since the beginning, where there is a lot of money and the stakes are very high."
But Ray, who can get his A-list clients out of the worst circumstances, has little recourse for his insidious father who is looking to reconnect with his family in Los Angeles.
'DEEP UNDERSTANDING OF MASCULINITY'
The series is a tangle of plots and personal moral codes in which characters try to make things right in the wrong ways.
"I think that (morality) drives Ray and he's got a distorted but intact sense of what is just and what is right," Schreiber said. "He's trying to understand how to coexist with that in a society that doesn't necessarily value it, and still make a living and be a good father to his children."
The pilot episode begins with Ray receiving a panicked call: the male star of an upcoming action film was caught with a transvestite prostitute and a pro football player woke up in a hotel room with a woman dead from a drug overdose.
It is a easy switch for Ray, putting the actor in place of the athlete - after all, as one of Ray's clients says, it is easier for an action movie star to rebound from a trip to rehab than getting pushed out of the closet.
The series also takes a dip into deep end of the male psyche as Ray's brother, Terry, struggles to get by as a boxing instructor with Parkinson's disease and his other brother, Bunchy, uses booze to cope with childhood sexual abuse by a priest.
"I think Ann has a really deep understanding of masculinity and the facade of machismo," Schreiber said.
"It's almost like the models most men are working off of are antiquated in terms of how to behave and what to expect from relationships and how to interact socially with women," Schreiber added.
"It may be Ann's point that at some level all men are difficult," the actor explained. "So many people ask how a woman could have such deep insight into male behavior - they're sort of the experts, aren't they?"
Showtime is owned by CBS Corp.
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Jackie Frank)