Liev (pronounced Lee-ev) is the son of Heather, a painter, and Tell Schreiber, a theatrical actor with a small role in The Keeper (1976). When he was one, the family moved from San Francisco to Canada. His parents were divorced when he was five. He and his mother moved to New York, where she drove a cab. During that time, they lived as squatters in abandoned buildings. His mother taught him to read, and she also forbade him from seeing color movies. He grew up seeing silent and black & white movies at a local revival house and particularly enjoyed those of Charles Chaplin. His mother now lives in an ashram in Virginia. He began acting at Hampshire College and continued at the Yale University School of Drama in 1992. He originally wanted to be a playwright, but his teacher encouraged him to become an actor.