Liev Schreiber has long been drawn to the spoken word, since he was a boy growing up on the Lower East Side.
"Even before I was acting, I was always that kid in English class who wanted to read out loud," the actor said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he films the Showtime drama " Ray Donovan. "
"I'd always liked Shakespeare. I had a thing for old language. I felt really excited and alive and electric whenever I was doing that kind of text."
Since then, the 46-year-old Mr. Schreiber has reveled in speech.
He won a Tony for his 2005 Broadway performance in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and earned nominations for "Talk Radio" in 2007 and "A View From the Bridge" in 2010.
And he has narrated documentaries for HBO, PBS and National Geographic and studied Shakespeare at England's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
But as the title character in "Ray Donovan," which returns for its second season on Sunday, Mr. Schreiber is a man of few words.
Ray Donovan, a Hollywood "fixer" for scandal-prone celebrities and elite athletes, relies on intimidation and the occasional baseball bat to keep his clients out of trouble.
"He averages about 10 lines an episode," the actor said of the character, with a laugh.
Initially, Mr. Schreiber underestimated the role but has since discovered the complexities of channeling the character's "level of conflict and existential nausea," he said.
"It's tricky to go to that place every week in a new and interesting way. You don't have the lines. You don't have the language to hide behind. You only have a state of being and reactive behavior."
Jon Voight, who plays Mr. Schreiber's on-screen, ex-con father, said Mr. Schreiber initially felt "a little at odds with the stoic centerpiece that is Ray Donovan."
Mr. Voight said the character may have seemed too simple for his co-star, who he described as "the whole package," an actor with complexity and emotional range.
For the coming season, Mr. Schreiber stepped into the role of director for one episode, which brought new challenges.
An already demanding schedule of 14-hour days morphed into two 100-hour weeks spent mapping out scenes, scouting locations, guiding actors and editing.
"It was probably the standout experience of the year for me," he said, "but it's just so time-consuming."
Mr. Schreiber said he's unlikely to direct another episode because the demands depleted his already limited family time. He and the actress Naomi Watts, his partner of nine years, have two sons, 6-year-old Sasha and Kai, 5. They live in Los Angeles when "Ray Donovan" is shooting and in New York during its hiatus.
Mr. Schreiber was raised by his mother, who held down an assortment of jobs to make ends meet, including driving a taxi and selling handmade puppets on the street.
"I miss New York so much," he said. "I miss the streets. I miss my friends. I miss the anonymity. I miss the theater most of all."
While Mr. Schreiber has become a recognizable face in movie theaters, with major roles in such films as "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and "Salt," he considers himself a stage actor first and foremost. His friend, the playwright Eric Bogosian, backs him up.
In "Glengarry Glen Ross," in which he played salesman Richard Roma, Mr. Schreiber's committed, engaged approach set a high bar, Mr. Bogosian said.
"You're not going to find many actors more intense than Liev," he said.
In a television show that could run for several seasons, that acting style can take a toll.
"It's going to leak into your life," Mr. Bogosian said. "I've seen it with other actors, where it can be really crushing after a while."
Mr. Schreiber admitted that working on a television series, particularly one as edgy as "Ray Donovan," is tiring.
"There are only so many hours in the day, and Ray owns them," he said. "The most difficult aspect of the show is how dark it is and then the places you go. It's one thing to go to those places for a week or two, but to stay there for six months is brutal."
Still, Mr. Schreiber expects that the show's hiatus, which begins in August, will give him time to recharge and even miss his alter ego.
"But right now, when we're in the thick of it," he said, "it's difficult to imagine doing it much longer."