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Trouble maker turned achiver

By Luaine Lee, Scripps Howard News Service, 1997


"She is a mixture of sensuality and innocence", says film director Bernardo Bertolucci. "She is a girl who moves constantly between the ages. I couldn't tell how old she was when I met her. She asks a question and she's a girl 13 years old. Then she turns again and she's 25."

The famous Italian filmmaker is talking about Liv Tyler, the 19-year-old who portrays that ageless vision in a string of movies including his "Stealing Beauty," Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do!" and her latest, "Inventing the Abbotts." It's not surprising that people find her a puzzling contradiction.

Ms. Tyler is the daughter of former model and big band singer Bebe Buell. For the first decade of her life she thought her father was rocker Todd Rundgren, with whom her mother had a liaison in the '70s. But when she was 10, Ms. Tyler discovered -- thanks to the amazing resemblance -- that musician Steve Tyler of Aerosmith was really her dad.
"That was quite a revelation", she says, rolling her wide eyes and flinging her pony-tail as she talks. "That was a big thing to discover -- that my father was my father. It was an awfully exciting time in my life knowing my family would only be bigger with uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins", she says.

She grew up in an apartment in Maine with her mother. Times were not easy. "I remember when my mom and I got our first credit card. It was a big deal", says Ms. Tyler, sitting in a beige side-chair, her long legs stretching under the coffee table. She wears a lavender V-necked cardigan ("one of those Pradas they keep sending me that fall apart after the second wearing"), black pants, clunky ox-blood shoes and a small butterfly pin on her lapel.

Ms. Tyler began modeling when she was only 14. An agent saw her picture in the newspaper, contacted her and began sending her out on tryouts. Four auditions later, she found herself in a movie, "Silent Fall", with Richard Dreyfuss.
"It was so weird. I'd never even seen a movie set before in my entire life ... I remember walking in the room and the AD (assistant director) taught me so much. She kind of pointed to me and said, 'OK, that's your mark.' I said, 'You mean I have to land on that without looking?' I was terrified."
Ms. Tyler says she never really longed to be an actress. But she was tired of modeling, "playing dress-up", as she puts it. "I was very curious about it, didn't really see many films growing up. It was more of a curiosity. And then, really quickly, things happened. I thought it was something you had to learn, you had to read books and someone had to teach you how to do it", she says.

On-screen Ms. Tyler projects an ethereal calm, something Pat O'Connor, director of "Inventing the Abbotts", calls "a soulfulness, a wistfulness." But Ms. Tyler was hyperactive and a trouble-maker as a kid. "I was loud and obnoxious and had a perm and braces and had the worst case of attention deficient on the face of earth", she says, palms thumping her thighs.
"The problems that I'd had in school disappeared when I started acting because I had something to focus my time on and to discipline myself. And I knew that immediately. I was like, 'Oh, my God, I'm becoming more disciplined! I can sit here and not blurt something out.' " She often found herself chastised because of her actions. "I got in trouble. I was in the hall at least once a day, standing there, 'Please, don't make me go. I'll be good. I promise.' "

With the completion of three high-profile movies back-to-back, Ms. Tyler has taken the last seven months off. "I felt I needed some time to settle down and have some time. I'd been playing all these characters that were really young and I needed time to have life experience. Between 'That Thing You Do!' and 'Inventing the Abbotts' I had four days in between. By the end of it, if Scorsese were on his hands and knees for me tomorrow -- not that that will ever happen -- I would just have nothing for him", she says. Part of that hiatus may have been because Ms. Tyler fell head-over-heels for co-star Joaquin Phoenix while they were making the "Abbotts." "I fell in love for the first time in my whole life when I met Joaquin", she sighs. "We have a wonderful connection, and we're such wonderful friends. I've never been able to communicate with someone so well. So that part of it is wonderful." She admits to being romantic, but sprinkles that with a little common sense. "Just someone loving you, being your friend and being supportive is romantic." She pauses, taking a breath. "Well, everything's romantic when you're in love. What someone does is the most beautiful thing in the world and the cutest thing in the world and the funniest thing in the world."

While most teen-agers are boning up for their SATs or worrying about pimples or trying to fill their Saturday nights, Ms. Tyler has been working. She doesn't think she missed anything. "I got to do all the normal things I wanted to do and 10,000 things more", she grins. "I got to go to Italy and to France. I think I'm always going to be a big kid -- and a mixture of a young person and an older person. I think life wouldn't be as nice if I wasn't that way."