Liev Schreiber on ‘Ray Donovan,’ Supporting Ukraine, and Irish Whiskey Company Sláinte

Liev Schreiber is in pitch mode. It’s a Wednesday evening, and the actor and Ray Donovan star is holding court in the Baccarat Room at Zero Bond, the exclusive, private club on Bond Street in downtown Manhattan. Zero Bond’s membership list includes A-listers like Tom Brady and Kim Kardashian, and New York City mayor Eric Adams has been a frequent guest visitor at the club. The Baccarat Room, on the fourth floor, is a small, plush enclave—thick brown carpet, mirrored walls, low-hanging chandeliers—that’s open only to founding members. Schreiber, who lives nearby, happens to be one.

On this night, Schreiber has invited a dozen or so of his fellow members to taste some expensive Irish whiskey. An expert is on hand to provide a quick education on the history of Irish spirits and offer tasting notes on how, say, the twenty-one-year-old Redbreast compares with an eighteen-year-old bottle of Teeling. Schreiber, however, is the star attraction.

The native New Yorker has a dual agenda for his guests. The tasting was organized to promote Sláinte, a new Irish whiskey company in which Schreiber is a partner. (It’s no coincidence that Schreiber’s Donovan character often toasted with “Sláinte”—or “health” in Gaelic—before downing a drink on the show.) He also wants to raise awareness about BlueCheck Ukraine, the organization he cofounded last year after Russia’s invasion to provide financial support to humanitarian aid groups on the ground in Ukraine. More to the point: He’d like to drum up some donations.


Shortly after the Russian invasion last year, Schreiber cofounded the nonprofit BlueCheck Ukraine to get financial support directly to Ukrainian aid workers on the ground.

Philip Friedman

His salt and pepper hair cropped short, the fifty-five-year-old Schreiber looks formal but relaxed in a blue corduroy suit, navy sweater over a white T-shirt, brown suede shoes, and a pair of chic, clear plastic glasses—basically, like a hipper version of Ray Donovan. He stands at one end of the room and shares his unorthodox but very personal sales spiel about the drink of the evening.

“Whiskey is my go-to depressing drink,” he says, drawing laughter. “Whenever something horrible is happening in my life, if my girlfriend breaks up with me or a family member dies, I drink whiskey. For me it’s the most emotional drink.”

That connection between whiskey and intense feelings, explains Schreiber, traces back to the night he first truly met his father. His parents had divorced when he was very young—an extremely acrimonious breakup—and his mom left the West Coast and moved back with Liev to New York City. Schreiber had no relationship with his dad growing up. But then, when he was nineteen and studying animal behavior at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, his father suddenly showed up. “My father rolls into my life with this bottle of Irish whiskey and we drink about two-thirds of a bottle, which for me was an extraordinary amount,” Schreiber tells his riveted guests. “The whole time my father is weeping and telling me how awful he felt that he wasn’t there. And we formed this relationship—my father was an actor, and I obviously became an actor—talking about Shakespeare and drinking and my father being dramatic and crying.”

Schreiber wasn’t much of a drinker at that point and to him the whiskey “tasted like gasoline.” When he asked his father why he liked it, his dad replied that Irish whiskey “tasted like blood and sweat to him. Which stuck in my head forever. Because I was like, ‘I have to be able to drink blood and sweat.’ It just seemed so masculine.”

Ever since, says Schreiber, “if I really want a spirit, that is the spirit I’ll reach for.”

Pivoting back to his role as a businessman, he pokes holes in his own pitch and gets the crowd laughing again. “It’s a terrible story for selling whiskey. It basically advocates alcoholism.”

And with that, everyone starts sipping high-priced blood and sweat.

“It’s hard for me to remember the last time I worked as an actor,” Schreiber tells me a few days after the whiskey tasting. He’s exaggerating for comic effect. Schreiber has hardly been idle by the standard of most actors.

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Schreiber (right) as Ray Donovan with Jon Voight, who played his father Mickey on the show. The Showtime series ran for seven seasons.

The Mark Gordon Company/Kobal/Shutterstock

He recently took on the role of Henry Kissinger opposite Helen Mirren in Golda, a film about Golda Meir, the first woman prime minister of Israel. The movie premiered this month at the Berlin International Film Festival and hits theaters later this year. He’s also part of the ensemble cast—alongside the likes of Margot Robbie, Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Ed Norton, Steve Carell, and Bryan Cranston—in the forthcoming Wes Anderson film Asteroid City, which is scheduled for release in June. And in May, he can be seen playing the role of Anne Frank’s father Otto in a limited series streaming on National Geographic and Disney+ called A Small Light, which focuses on the Dutch woman who hid the Frank family from the Nazis during World War II and saved Anne’s diary after the family was discovered.

All these projects have been intriguing and rewarding for Schreiber in different ways. But the truth is that they don’t quite fill the void in his acting life left by the end of Ray Donovan, the Showtime series that launched in 2013. Schreiber played the title character, a the brooding, often-violent Hollywood fixer, for eighty-two episodes over seven seasons. Showtime abruptly canceled the series in 2020, just before the pandemic. Then Schreiber co-wrote and starred in a Ray Donovan movie for the network that brought the story full circle and explored Donovan’s troubled youth in Boston. The movie debuted in January 2022.

Then, for the first time in about a decade, Schreiber found himself sitting at home on the sofa with time to ponder his future. “I came out of that kind of wondering what the next step was for me,” he says. He was “a bit spun” after so many years of inhabiting the darkness of the Donovan role. “I don’t really believe in the idea that your character hangs around you, but something about this did.”

Schreiber was also still processing his grief from the death of his father, Tell Schreiber. The elder Schreiber, his body racked with cancer, had chosen to end his own life legally the previous March under Washington state’s Death with Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill patients to request a lethal dose of medication. Liev had been at his bedside in the final moments. He felt grateful to be there, and for the time he’d had with his father as an adult, but guilty, too, that the relationship had remained complicated for him.

Schreiber struggled to process his father’s death. “I was really stumped by it.”

Growing up, Schreiber’s only connection to his dad had been a vivid memory of his arms. “I don’t know why,” he says. “They were muscular and powerful. That was all I had of him, was this memory of his forearms. I wanted to know the rest of him.”

When Tell roared back into nineteen-year-old Liev’s life with that bottle of Irish whiskey, they formed a tight bond but one that carried conditions for the younger Schreiber. “When he came to see me, he was so open and available and emotional,” he says. “Which was smart, you know? And so, we got close very quick. But it was always a cautious closeness. I would always let him down.” In what way? “I wasn’t communicative enough,” says Schreiber. “I didn’t reach out to him enough. It’s something I’ve struggled with in many relationships.” As conflicted as he was, Schreiber says: “I just loved being around him when I was around him. And that was enough for me.”

With his dad gone, he wasn’t sure how to feel. “I was really stumped by it,” says Schreiber. “I took a picture of him right after he died, and then immediately erased it. It was like, ‘Oh boy, I’m confused.’“

He was in such a funk that for a few months he didn’t have the desire to take on any acting jobs—which was very much not normal for him. “I mean, I love to work,” says Schreiber. “Work has always been number one. But there were about three months where I just didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

All these emotions were swirling around in Schreiber’s head when Russia invaded Ukraine in late February of 2022. “A lot of people in Hollywood think I’m Ukrainian because I directed a movie that not a lot of people saw,” he says. Everything Is Illuminated, which came out in 2005, based on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel of the same name, was about a young Jewish American man exploring his family’s Ukrainian roots—a narrative that hit close to home for Schreiber. His own grandfather on his mother’s side was a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine, and Schreiber had a close relationship with him growing up.

After two conversations with his BlueCheck Ukraine cofounders, he had a plane ticket to Poland.

While watching TV footage of Ukrainian civilians boarding buses to join the defense, he says, he fleetingly entertained the thought of signing up to go join them, but quickly banished it. He knew he could never say goodbye to his kids and head off for war. “I don’t have that kind of courage,” says Schreiber. And realizing that, he says poking fun at himself, “sent me into a deeper depression.”

His opportunity for action came a few weeks later. First, an old friend from graduate school at Yale called to suggest that Schreiber do streaming video interviews with Ukrainians about their experiences to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis unfolding. Schreiber rejected the idea. “I didn’t want the stink of my celebrity on anything,” he says. He groused to his friend that a better way to help would be to donate money. Shortly after, he got a call from a group of mutual friends with experience in the D.C. world of international aid. They asked him how serious he was about raising money for aid to Ukraine. “And I was like, ‘Did I say anything about raising money?’”

But Schreiber quickly bought into the idea, and the group formed BlueCheck Ukraine almost overnight. They embraced a “just do it” approach to getting the nonprofit up and running. “We had two conversations over the phone, and in the second conversation I had bought a plane ticket to Poland,” he says.

His first stop was the World Central Kitchen operation in the city of Przemyśl, near the Polish border, that chef José Andrés had set up to feed refugees fleeing Ukraine. While his BlueCheck cofounders were working the phones to set up meetings for him, Schreiber spent several days volunteering in the kitchen with Andrés and his team. “He came as one more volunteer, giving his heart to those men and women seeking refuge, rolling up his sleeves to spend long days chopping parsley and making tons of borscht and brisket,” says Andrés.

The core concept of BlueCheck, says Schreiber, is to get humanitarian aid quickly and directly to local nongovernmental organizations in Ukraine without all the friction of funneling money through a large, international aid group. BlueCheck identifies and vets them, along with pro bono partners, and keeps administrative costs to a minimum. “We don’t get any money,” he says. “It’s four guys with day jobs. The money goes directly to NGOs on the ground.”

It was Schreiber’s commitment to BlueCheck that helped convince him to enter the whiskey business. That and the persistence of his very persuasive partner—a Brit named Richard Davies. “I think he wanted to partner with me because I say ‘sláinte’ a lot in Ray Donovan,” says Schreiber. He waits a beat and quips: “That’s why I didn’t want to do it.”


Before his acting career took off, Schreiber thought he might pursue a career in advertising. Now he’s using those skills to market his whiskey.

Philip Friedman

Davies, fifty-one, is a onetime hot air balloon pilot who worked in the bar and restaurant business before venturing into spirits. He founded the Neptune Rum brand before exiting in 2019. That’s when he decided to get into the resurgent market for Irish whiskey. Sláinte, he thought, would be the ideal brand name. He couldn’t believe it wasn’t taken already and immediately set about getting the trademark. The next step was to persuade Schreiber to join him. “We had a mutual friend,” says Davies, who admits to being a huge Ray Donovan fan. “And ‘Sláinte!’ was his catchphrase in Ray Donovan. It was perfect.”

Initially, though, Schreiber resisted. For one thing, he felt like everybody—well, every celebrity—and their mother was already doing an alcohol brand. And for another, while he likes to drink on occasion, he wasn’t absolutely sure he wanted to be in the business of encouraging others to do so.

Davies, however, wasn’t ready to take no for an answer. Right after forming BlueCheck, Schreiber and his partners in the nonprofit held a fundraiser in Washington D.C. Davies attended and donated a cask of rare, eighteen-year-old single malt Irish whiskey. The gesture won Schreiber over and he agreed to join Davies as a partner in Sláinte. Schreiber and Davies decided to sell the eighteen-year-old single malt as a limited-edition product under the Sláinte brand for $499 per bottle, with all the proceeds going to BlueCheck. Davies says that they hope to raise about $150,000 from the sales. BlueCheck will also benefit from sales of Sláinte’s signature product—its everyday “smooth blend” whiskey, which retails for about $38. The company will donate $1 to BlueCheck for every bottle of the smooth blend it sells.

Schreiber is doing more than just lending his name to Sláinte. He’s gotten heavily involved in the brand building. After college and before his acting career took off, Schreiber briefly thought he might pursue a career in advertising. “For a minute, that’s what I thought I was going to do to make money, you know?” he says. “Because no one else in my family made any money.” His meteoric rise in the theater world and then Hollywood made that plan moot, of course. But in 2012, Schreiber cofounded a marketing agency called Van’s General Store with his friend Scott Carlson. Now Van’s General Store is working on Sláinte.

A movie star with Ukrainian roots raising money for aid to the country quickly attracted the attention of one very interested party—Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. The president reached out to Schreiber last year and asked him to fundraise for United24, the global aid initiative started by the government of Ukraine last May. United24 has so far raised more than $287 million.

Meeting President Zelensky has been thrilling, says Schreiber, “for me and my mother.”

Schreiber couldn’t initially participate because BlueCheck avoids any association with military or political donations to maintain neutrality. He didn’t want to compromise that. But Zelensky and the government carved out a role for Schreiber focused specifically on raising funds for medical aid and Schreiber joined United24 as an ambassador last July. (Other United24 ambassadors include actor Mark Hamill and country-music star Brad Paisley.) The fundraising he does for that organization, to finance projects like purchasing generators for hospitals, is separate from his work with BlueCheck.

Meeting and working for President Zelensky has been “completely thrilling,” says Schreiber, “for me and my mother.” He describes the president as “an extraordinary guy. He’s got a terrific sense of humor. He’s obviously a tremendously courageous person.”

There’s something else, too, that Schreiber finds intriguing about Zelensky. “I don’t want to harp on it too much, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s an actor,” says Schreiber, citing Zelensky’s understanding of character and narrative. He points to Zelensky’s decision to stay in Kyiv in the early days of the war when it looked like the Russians would take the capital. Schreiber, who first made his reputation on the stage, puts the choice in Shakespearean terms. “This guy knew that the second act had to be Henry V,” he says, referring to the Bard’s play chronicling the way the English king inspired his outnumbered troops to defeat the French at the Battle of Agincourt.

Given that Zelensky is such a compelling character and the inherently dramatic nature of the Ukraine war, has it occurred to Schreiber that his next juicy acting role could be playing the president onscreen? “Everybody is talking to me about it,” says Schreiber. But it’s not something he plans to pursue. “First of all, I’m too tall,” he says, jokingly acknowledging the distinct height disparity between the two. “I’d never get the part.” More to the point, he’s not thinking about the war and its impact in a fictionalized way. Schreiber is more interested in documentary projects to chronicle the cost of a year of combat and destruction.

Playing the president of Ukraine might not be on his radar, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking for his next great part. “I’m open, you know?” he says. So, his DMs are open? “Yeah,” he says, chuckling. “I just haven’t felt hugely motivated by anything I’ve read.”

One exception was the script for A Small Light, which is a retelling of the story of Anne Frank and her family from the perspective of Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who risked her life to try to save them. Schreiber read it right as BlueCheck was taking off and the wartime parallels were hard to ignore. “There was a resonance there for me about people caring for each other, people extending themselves for each other,” he says.

Schreiber says he misses the theater, and especially Shakespeare: “I’ve been itching to do a Measure for Measure for a long time.” But doing a play would be a tough sell at the moment. He can’t see himself giving up time with his kids on weekends. “That lifestyle is just harder for me now,” he says.

While he mulls his acting options, the work of supporting Ukraine through BlueCheck and United24 is providing plenty of personal fulfillment. “A lot of my energy is going to this right now,” he says. “But it doesn’t feel difficult. It feels good.”

And, having been to Ukraine a few times now, he’s confident that Zelensky and his people won’t be defeated. “They’re gonna win,” he says. “I’m absolutely positive of that.”

Slainte Irish Whiskey

Slainte Irish Whiskey

Back at Zero Bond, the official tasting has concluded with a sample of Sláinte’s eighteen-year-old whiskey—the stuff that’s selling for $499 per bottle. And after sampling five very expensive spirits, everyone is buzzing a little bit.

Schreiber asks the servers to bring in some bottles of the regular Sláinte smooth blend—the one that retails for $38. “Before everybody goes, could we give them a little taste of that?” he says. “The cheap stuff. That’s what I drink.”

Less expensive,” suggests Davies, his partner in Sláinte, before adding, helpfully, “More affordable.”

Schreiber, however, is on a roll now. “The stuff that I really, really love—and love to drink—costs nothing,” he says. You have to admit: It’s a pretty good pitch.

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Brian O’Keefe is the Executive Editor of Esquire. An award-winning writer and editor, he was previously the Deputy Editor and acting Editor in Chief of Fortune.

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