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Liev Schreiber

October 3rd, 2008 · 4 Comments


Isaac Liev Schreiber was born October 4, 1967. His father was a theater actor, his mother a “painter-slash-political activist.” Divorced by the time Schreiber was 5 years old, he grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Schreiber recalls, “I took a kind of beating. I was one of those ‘Can I play?’ kids, whom people didn’t want in the group. They would run away from me. And when I did get to participate I was kind of awkward and hyper. I would go into my head a lot. I was very good at making up stories.”

At age 12, Schreiber was caught stealing money from the yoga institute where his mother worked. Sent to an ashram school in Connecticut, he fractured an ankle playing football. His father paid for a doctor and also for private school, where Schreiber found his way into a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream playing Nick Bottom.

Working on a B.A. in semiotics at Hampshire College, Schreiber discovered he could connect with people through acting, performing monologues about characters he knew from the Lower East Side. He spent a year in England studying with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. A year after graduating from Yale School of Drama in 1992, he was performing on Broadway in In The Summer House.

Schreiber won the part of a butler in a feature film – the Parker Posey indie Party Girl – but was first glimpsed on screen as a drag queen opposite Adam Sandler in Mixed Nuts. Schreiber realized, ” … I wasn’t Brad Pitt and I wasn’t going to come right out of school and get those Harrison Ford movies. I was better at the smaller, more ‘charactery’ things that fit into my background as an actor than playing the leading man, or at least people would more readily see me in those roles.”


In 1995, Schreiber was on television in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of The Sunshine Boys and in the CBS mini-series Buffalo Girls. That summer, he was playing Sebastian in a New York Public Theater staging of The Tempest. Joining a production of Harold Pinter’s play Moonight, director Karel Reisz said of Schreiber, “This boy can do anything. He’s a mixture of urbane and rough. With that mixture, you can cook up a lot of meals.”

The following year, Schreiber was offered work in two indie films, reuniting with Parker Posey for The Daytrippers, and playing Catherine Keener’s ex in Walking and Talking. By December 1996, two big budget thrillers featuring Schreiber were in theaters; he was a kidnapper in Ransom and murder suspect Cotton Weary in Scream. Schreiber’s enigmatic performance in the Wes Craven blockbuster and its two sequels got the attention of Hollywood.

Winning the part of an astrophysicist in Sphere gave Schreiber the opportunity to work with Dustin Hoffman, one of his boyhood idols. Hoffman was producing a movie called A Walk on the Moon about social changes experienced by a family visiting the Catskills in the summer of 1969. Looking for an actor to play Diane Lane’s husband, Hoffman called director Tony Goldwyn. “There’s this kid I’m working with. You gotta see him. He’s special. He reminds me of me when I was his age.”

On the set of Sphere, Schreiber also met Marsha Williams, who was producing the Holocaust drama Jakob the Liar starring her husband Robin Williams. Joining the cast of that drama as well – playing a boxer in the Jewish ghetto – gave Schreiber the opportunity to work in Poland. The experience prompted Schreiber to start writing a screenplay about an American traveling to Ukraine to learn about his ancestry.


Eluding stardom, Schreiber became a steady voice in television, film and on the New York stage. In the 1999 HBO movie RKO 281, he gained 25 pounds to play the leading role of Orson Welles. In Paramount’s 2002 reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise, Schreiber was cast as special ops stalwart John Clark in The Sum of All Fears. Also that year, Schreiber lent his voice to the role of Young Dr. Freud, a documentary airing on PBS.

He’s narrated eight documentaries on the network’s The American Experience series, stating, “For all intents and purposes my education has gone on long after grad school ’cause I get these incredible jobs where I just sort of get to read these things that these people have spent years putting together.” Schreiber’s work with New York Public Theater continued, winning an Obie Award for his 1998 performance in Cymbeline. The following year, Schreiber was the Dane in Hamlet and in 2001, played Iago in Othello.

Though the script he’d been writing had turned into a lurid crime thriller and was never produced, the fiction editor of the New Yorker sent Schreiber an excerpt from a novel by Jonathan Foer titled Everything Is Illuminated, an offbeat look at a man also searching for his roots in Ukraine. Schreiber adapted a screenplay and made his directorial debut with the film, released in 2005 starring Elijah Wood. Schreiber then had a recurring role on four episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in 2007, playing a haunted forensics investigator.

Schreiber will next be seen as Victor Creed – alias Sabretooth – in the X-Men spin-off Wolverine. Speaking with CNN in 2000, Schreiber was asked whether he preferred film, television or theater. He answered, “I like it all. I’ve been incredibly lucky to diversify like that. When we used to sit around in graduate school and talk about the kind of career you want to have, I think everybody described my career.”


© Joe Valdez

Photo courtesy Broadway

Tags: United Federation of Character Actors

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Piper // Oct 4, 2008 at 8:36 am

    Wowy, wow, wow, wow. Joe’s got a new and different set of posts.

    Glad I could be the first.

    I like Liev. He’s had kind of an interesting/strange career thus far.

    He’s got a voice like the kind of voice you get when you’ve eaten too much peanut butter.

    I probably liked him best in Daytrippers.

  • 2 Moviezzz // Oct 4, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    He went to Hampshire? I did not know that (Hampshire is up in my area).

    Liev has always been an interesting actor.

  • 3 Mrs. Thuro's Mom // Oct 4, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    I didn’t know who he was until Scream, but after seeing him in both Twilight and The Painted Veil, I am even more impressed with his range and abilities. Nothing is better than an actor who can do it all and enjoys doing it all instead of trying to simply become famous. He rocks! I hope I am lucky enough to see him on stage one day….

  • 4 Joe Valdez // Oct 4, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Pat: I’ll have to remember the peanut butter if I ever seek a career as a voice artist. This is a bi-monthly feature I started to document how much work goes into a successful acting career. It’s a fun job, but it’s still a job. As for Schreiber, I really dig his ability to go from sophisticate to thug, something his childhood seems to have enabled him to do convincingly. I thought he would have made a terrific John Clark if the script for The Sum of All Fears hadn’t been so fucked up. Thanks for stopping by!

    Moviezzz: Schreiber did his undergrad study at the Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, graduating in 1988. We obviously agree that he’s had a unique career. I didn’t mention that he also played the Laurence Harvey part in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, the Gregory Peck role in the remake of The Omen and early in his career, was Ben Affleck’s deputy in one of Joe Bob Briggs’ favorite movies: Phantoms.

    Mrs. Thuro’s Mom: Thanks for mentioning Twilight and The Painted Veil. A description of every movie Schreiber has appeared in over the last 12 years would have mandated a 2,000 word career retrospective. His most recent stage work was playing Ricky Roma in a 2005 revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, for which Schreiber won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play.

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