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Liev Schreiber: Birth of a Pitchman

Can the actor Liev Schreiber pull off the role of a real-life ad exec?
Schreiber, who often plays antiheroes, cracks a small smile
Schreiber, who often plays antiheroes, cracks a small smilePhotograph by Harry Gould Harvey IV for Bloomberg Businessweek

The actor Liev Schreiber has never limited himself to a particular medium. He’s worked in film, theater, and television and narrated dozens of documentaries. He wrote and directed the 2005 adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s debut novel, Everything Is Illuminated, and has dabbled in voice-over work for Infiniti car commercials. “Coming from a family with no money, I had always had my eyes on the prize,” he says. But his latest career move sounds like the whim of a relatively rich man: He started an advertising agency. Schreiber acknowledges it’s a strange next step. “In my own industry, I know the parameters, and I know what my function is, and I fulfill it,” he says. “I think there’s a learning curve [in advertising] for me, and I’ve always enjoyed a learning curve.”

Schreiber, 46, teamed up last October with friend and ad industry veteran Scott Carlson to form Van’s General Store, a boutique agency that calls itself a creative collective. (The trendy term basically means a group of people who aren’t traditional ad folk.) Carlson, whose wife went to high school with Schreiber, has spent 20 years in advertising, most recently as the creative director of the agency Mother, whose clients included Coca-Cola and Stella Artois in its late-aughts heyday. The subject of advertising kept coming up between the two men, until one day Carlson asked Schreiber to look at a short film he was working on. “When he invited me into the editing room with him, and we started to have conversations about branding and strategy, I found that I really enjoyed it,” Schreiber says. The work benefited from the actor’s input, Carlson says. “He redid the ending and made it an interesting story. He instantly made it better in a way that I would have never imagined.”