Liev Schreiber had a really screwed up childhood

Liev Schreiber is one of those really talented actors who finds a balance between a steady, interesting career and a quiet yet star-powered coupling with a fellow working actor. Liev’s partner is Naomi Watts, who just gave birth to their second son, and they seem really happy together. Liev’s career is filled with character roles in big movies and steady work on Broadway and off-Broadway theatre roles. Liev used to be one of my favorite actors (I’ve since moved on to actors like Clive Owen and Daniel Craig.) Most people will recognize him from the Scream franchise (he played Cotton Weary), but I can make a few recommendations for some of Liev’s best work: A Walk on the Moon (with Diane Lane) and Spring Forward (with Ned Beatty).

Liev’s two latest roles couldn’t be more different. First up, he co-stars in Defiance, that film about Jews who hide out in the woods during the Holocaust, also starring Daniel Craig and Jamie Bell. After that, Liev plays second fiddle (Sabretooth) to Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins, the untold story of the X-Men’s Wolverine. Liev’s been doing some press for Defiance, and most of it is as depressing as you’d think promoting a Holocaust movie could be, but I found this one interview in Britain’s Times that was a little shocking. Liev had a *really* screwed up childhood.

His acting, he says, has complicated roots and comes from a childhood that is infamously dysfunctional. A simple précis couldn’t possibly capture the texture of it (the essayist and writer John Lahr tried to do just this in a lengthy New Yorker magazine profile of Schreiber in 1999). The key points include an early divorce between Schreiber’s blueblood father Tell and his Jewish former communist mother Heather; some time in an upstate New York commune with Heather; Tell kidnapping Schreiber back from Heather; a custody battle won by Heather, followed by a childhood for Schreiber dominated by his mother’s penury (they frequently had no electricity, hot water, or even beds).

He endured her mood swings and bohemian proclivities (she made him take Hindu names, wear yoga shirts, and he was forced, briefly, to go to an Ashram school in Connecticut when he was 12). It culminated in a fractured ankle during football practice at Brooklyn Tech in 1984, when the 17-year-old Schreiber was forced to turn away from sports and eventually towards the stage.

Acting, says Schreiber, is therapy. “I may have been working out my relationship with my mother and my father all along, and I probably will be for the rest of my life. But then that’s one of the luxuries of being an actor — it’s about self-exploration.”

He is now based in Manhattan and in a long-term relationship with fellow actor Naomi Watts, and his life at the moment is defined by the couple’s two infant children, Sasha, 17 months, and four-week-old Samuel Kai. “Remember that voyage of self-exploration I was talking so fondly about just then?” he says, chuckling to himself. “Well it just ends. You go, ‘Awhh sh-t! No more me time!’” He then sighs and quietly confesses: “I am struggling, though. It’s f***ing hard. So little sleep. It’s 23 hours and 59 minutes of exhaustion. But then they do one little thing in that last minute that is just so compelling and fascinating that it makes the other 23 hours and 59 minutes worthwhile.”

[From The Times]

Yeesh. A communist mother, a kidnapping, a commune *and* an ashram? You couldn’t write this stuff. I always wonder about people who had extremely messed-up childhoods. Do they work extra hard to give their own kids the “normal” childhood they never had? Or do they screw up their own kids in the same old ways? In the interview, Liev also takes more about X-Men Origins, and his future theatre and film roles.

Schreiber’s next role is even more action-packed — he stars as the mutant supervillain Sabretooth opposite Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in the comic blockbuster X-Men Origins this summer. The role, which required four months of bulking up and working out (transforming his already imposing 6ft 3in frame into a thing of hulking beauty), is the final step in Schreiber’s transformation from a man who’s all brains into one with muscles too.

“I like to think I’m part of the new Obama transition,” he says, tongue deeply in cheek. “Obama is hermetically intelligent, he knows what he wants and he never screws up. So maybe now there’s room for intelligent action heroes too.”

The real kick here is the sheer breadth of Schreiber’s professional evolution. A Tony award-winning stage dynamo, he has repeatedly wowed New York critics and crowds alike with his headlining Shakespearean roles (from Cymbeline to Hamlet to Henry V and beyond) since graduating from Yale School of Drama in 1992. “I do think there is some truth to the notion that you have little to fear from any role if you can comfortably break down a Shakespearean soliloquy,” he says, without false modesty.

Furthermore, he adds, children give you some much needed perspective on your work. Because despite the fact that he has a summer blockbuster on the way, and a romantic comedy with Helen Hunt called Every Day, plus a Jude Law sci-fi film, Repossession Mambo, he is still wildly unsure of his career prospects. “You can never be comfortable as an actor,” he says. “It’s like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. The minute you name an event it ceases to exist. It’s like that with acting. The minute you say you’re happy with your career, it’s gone. Over.”

[From The Times]

Definition alert! The Heisenberg Principle is that the act of observing an event, changes the event. Not exactly Liev’s definition, but I understand where he’s coming from. I understand how Liev can be nervous about the stability of his career, especially with two young children at home. Hopefully, Liev’s star continues to rise, and his happy remains as happy and healthy as it is now.

Liev Schreiber is shown on 1/7/09 at a Defiance photocall in France. Credit: WENN

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24 Responses to “Liev Schreiber had a really screwed up childhood”

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  1. SolitaryAngel says:

    I’ve loved Liev since Sphere…I’m especially *excited* by his sexy transformation as Sabretooth in the new X-Men film!

    It’s awful, what a childhood he had; that he admits he’s not over it, but will struggle always, is heartening and heart-wrenching, too. I wish him all the best, and I LOVE a man who has brains AND brawn! Sooo sexy….

  2. Kaiser says:

    I love Sphere too, Solitary! But I didn’t want to admit it, for fear of looking like a geek.

    Have you ever seen Spring Forward? It’s a beautiful movie.

  3. elisha says:

    Doesn’t sound that bad to me…..? The custody stuff does, but the religious stuff not so much. Especially compared to the Phoenix family.

  4. Codzilla says:

    I thought their oldest child was named Alexander.

  5. Baholicious says:

    I’d say River and Joachim Phoenix are pretty good examples of what happens when you have ‘hippie’ parents who drag their kids around on a bus and join a variety of communes…except that one of those communes was a cult called Children of God, which passed kids around like bowls of peanuts.

    Winona Ryder grew up in this cult too.

    We need to take this into account before we pass judgment on their actions today because all three of them are/were very troubled people.

  6. D says:

    My absolute favorite Liev Schreiber role was the cross-dresser in Mixed Nuts (Chris aka “Arnold”)-he is f-ing hilarious. It’s a movie pretty much NOONE has seen (& one I am regularly introducing friends to, all of whom LOVE it :D) & has become one of my family’s Christmas movies (along w/ Christmas Vaction & Scrooged). It’s a comedy that came out in early/mid-90s, directed by Norah Ephron, starring (Liev, ‘course), Steve Martin, Rita Wilson, Madeline Kahn, Anthony LaPaglia, & Juliette Lewis (to name a few main characters).

    Codzilla: Their oldest son’s name IS Alexander-Sasha is a nickname for Alexander (gen in Russia/Eastern Europe)

  7. minx says:

    Mixed NUts is a great little movie but my favorite Liev movie is Walk on the Moon.. Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen. A really good story too.

  8. Angie says:

    I love Liev too! I think my favorite was RKO 281. It was on HBO. Something about his voice…:)

  9. SolitaryAngel says:

    @ Kaiser: No, but it’s now on my list! Thanks for the heads-up!

  10. Amy says:

    Growing up in a commune isn’t that bad, as long as it isn’t a sex cult like the one the Phoenix kids were raised in. I really expected something more outrageous from the story. The kidnapping is very dramatic, yes, but expected something worse by the title.

  11. Ruby says:

    What the heck is going on with Daniel Craig and the grandad cardigan in those pics??
    Bring back the tux, Danny boy…

  12. ak says:

    The first time I ever saw Liev was in Walking and Talking with Catherine Keener. He was so adorable.

    I had no idea Liev had a bad childhood. I wonder if his younger brother (also an actor, can’t remember his name, but he in The Wire Season 2) was caught up in that, too.

  13. Baholicious says:

    @Amy: It’s not as though their parents knew it was a sex cult, come on. That’s what cults do: draw you in on a pretense and then present you with a completely different reality.

  14. morgs says:

    @ Baho: I had no idea they were raised in the Children of God cult. That cult is crazy crazy. I read a huge article on it in Rolling Stone about how David “the chosen child” killed one of his former “nannies”(his molester) and then killed himself. No wonder some of these kids are effed up.
    @D I made my parents take me to see Mixed Nuts twice in the theater. It is one of my favorite Christmas movies ever!

  15. Mrs.Darcy says:

    Loved him since A Walk on the Moon, sounds like he channels his turbulent upbringing more healthily than some actors.

  16. anastasiabeaverhausen says:

    Well, I had a super screwed up childhood. SUPER DUPER screwed up. I got a lot of counseling as an adult and am now giving my daughter the most normal upbringing imaginable. It’s possible.

  17. Ally says:

    I’m sure Mr. Schreiber is a great guy despite his difficult childhood, but especially as he ages, he has a face for radio.

  18. sissou says:

    @anastasiabea : Sorry for your childhood, but thumbs up for the good upbringing of your daughter !

    I’d love to give a normal life to my beloved 3 kids, but I’m right now in a divorce from their cheating and mentally abusing father… well, at least it wasn’t physical abuse, so still a step up from my childhood.

    Hey, they do have some years of childhood ahead, so there’s hope… But until they’re adult and tell me so, I’ll fear I’ve screwed up their childhood as well.

  19. barneslr says:

    It’s possible. My mother had a horrible childhood, but instead of letting it ruin her life, she decided that it was going to end with her generation. She and my dad did everything they could to give my and my brother wonderful childhood years.

    I didn’t know until I was an adult that she had gone through such terrible things (and there are many things that have never been said out loud, and I don’t think I need to know the details of). Now a lot makes sense-her joyous laughter when her own father died, her lifelong battle with anorexia nervosa, her bizarre relationship with her own mother.

    So, it may never leave you, but it can be overcome. The first part of mom’s life was bad, but she and my dad decided that they were going to have a good life together, and they will celebrate 50 years of happy marriage in September.

    The wonderful thing about being human is that we can overcome a lot of adversity if we really work at it.

  20. Alison says:

    I had a completely unstable, screwed up childhood, along with my siblings. Most of us do not have kids and my one sister who does struggles to keep her homelife idyllic for her child. It’s working. The kid is the most confident, well-adjusted, honest and happy persons I’ve ever know. I often wonder if I had more stability in my homelife growing up, if I would still struggle with anxiety and depression.

  21. jenny says:

    that was NOT a screwed up childhood. Painful emotionally for him, but screwed up is getting beaten, being denied medical care because your mom is too broke and going ot bed hungry many nights and-or eating out of garbage cans. And you know what? it really isn’t all that uncommon. not every one had “blue blood” parentage or are even in the upper or middle classes. some people had to struggle so hard to live, but his SISSY story gets called *really screwed up* ???
    GIVE ME A BREAK. he had a good life.

  22. CB Rawks says:

    I’m with you there Alison, and I also do not have kids. It was a conscious choice I made, for fear of ever accidentally, even MOMENTARILY, becoming like my mother.
    I’d rather die than hurt a child like she hurt me.

  23. CB Rawks says:

    D, I love Mixed Nuts!
    I love it when Madeleine Kahn gets stuck in the elevator.
    And I LOVE Garry Shandling! Just generally.

  24. unavalibale says:

    michal jacksons child hood was bad to

    rip michal jackson your music will always live on xox