by Natasha Poliszczuk, UK Easy Living, September 2010. Photos by Cliff Watts and Matt Jones, Scans by Lorna
At nearly six feet tall, Liv Tyler tends to stand out in a crowd. But despite her A-list credentials, it's the ordinary things in life that get her flashing that famously disarming smile...
Cast your mind back, if you will, to when you were a gawky, impressionable 11-year-old; an age when most children want nothing more than to be just like everyone else. Now imagine that you stand at five foot 11 inches in your bare feel. It is, you'd imagine, excellent preparation for a life led, at least in part, in the spotlight. It would certainly prepare you for unsolicited gawping, at the very least. "I spent my childhood towering over everyone, with them looking up at me," Liv Tyler says, thoughtfully. "I've always felt a bit strange in my body. I realised for the first time this year that the reason I'm happiest in flats is because I was so tall at such a young age. I feel more comfortable when I can blend in."
Blending in isn't the default setting for most actresses, although Liv—actress, face of Givenchy, scion of rock royalty (her father, of course, is Aerosmith's Steven Tyler)—seems to manage it surprisingly well. She gleefully relates the story of her journey from Paris (where she was shooting a fragrance campaign) to the hotel in Geneva where she's holding court. Having decided that it would be "an adventure" to get the train (adventures, it later transpires, are very high up on Liv's list of favoured activities), Liv and her five-year-old son Milo arrived at the station to find it in strike-induced chaos (the Givenchy PR raises her eyebrows to the heavens and emits a quintessentially Gallic sound of opprobrium). Undeterred, Liv clambered onto a train, complete with vast quantities of luggage (not because she's a diva who won't travel without a matching set of Louis Vuitton cases, but because she flew straight to Paris from a film set in Louisiana). "And there were all these people without seats, so this little boy came and stood next to Milo and watched Inspector Gadget; at one point his mother asked me to hold her baby while she went to get her cases. It was," she concludes, "an amazing experience."
If there is any gawping these days, it'll be down to Liv's arrestingly lovely looks. At 33, she is a disarming dichotomy between girl and woman: with her milk-pale, porcelain skin she looks much younger than she is, but her curves are luscious: in Hollywood where skinny is the on-screen norm, she has an oft-commented-upon, proper, womanly body. It's a combination which has taken Liv from wide-eyed ingénue—Stealing Beauty, Onegin—to a serious leading lady who can do drama—Reign Over Me—comedy—the forthcoming Super, alongside Juno's Ellen Page—and hold her own in a blockbuster—The Incredible Hulk and the epic Lord Of The Rings franchise.
With her breathy, lilting, Marilyn Monroe voice, and habit of tucking her long legs under her, there is still something of the ingénue about Liv. "I'm going to relax," she announces at the beginning of the interview, curling into a corner of the sofa—entirely unfazed by the grand surroundings of the hotel's penthouse, feet bare, hair still wet from her earlier head massage. "Have you been to the spa?" she demands to know almost immediately (the hotel has a terribly chi-chi Givenchy spa). "It's amazing. They've even got a doctor down there. I've been stalking him, demanding more vitamins!"
But her experience over the last few years has been anything but childish: in 2008, her five-year marriage to English musician Royston Langdon ended. Liv retreated, went incognito for a while (more of the aforementioned blending in), and just "stopped": she left the family home in New York and decamped to Los Angeles with Milo to have "a little break", taking off nearly two years. "I definitely feel happier now. I guess there's an acceptance that begins as you get older. My thirties haven't necessarily been easy," she says, carefully, "and there have been times, when I've been going through really difficult periods, when I couldn't imagine ever feeling okay again, or I didn't know what the future would hold for me. Living with that ambivalence was quite difficult, but, coming out the other side, I feel much more present, somehow; less worried about the future. I'm sure part of that has to do with being a parent: it compels you to live very much in the moment."
Milo is, unequivocally, the love of Liv's life. "He's so smart and funny—and has his own personality that has nothing to do with me at all. I am" she says, beaming, "floored by him every single day."
Nonetheless, she admits to the usual concerns about maintaining the fine balance between work and parenting: "It's universal, whatever your job, and I don't have it all figured out. I try to be as honest with him so he knows I'm doing my best. I think it's important that your children see you working—and enjoying your work."
Motherhood has also given her a new perspective on her own childhood. "It helps you to related and to understand in a way that you can't when you're young: you don't see your parents that way because you haven't lived those things. Suddenly, you say, 'Aha, so that must be how my mother felt.'" Emerging from a divorce and adjusting to separate co-parenting (Royston is, she says, "a beaufitul dad") has made Liv empathise with her own mother, model and musician Bebe Buell. Buell had Liv at 23 and, until Liv was 11, she thought the rock star Todd Rundgren was her father (his name was listed on her birth certificate). Then Liv met Aerosmith's Steven Tyler—and quizzed her mother about her remarkable resemblance to the singer and his daughter, Mia (those infamous lips...). Straightforward it was not, but Liv had a remarkably well-developed grasp on the concept of family as all-encompassing. She sounds like a very pragmatic little girl, the type who admits to tucking up her dolls every night; a small, constant point in an ever-turning bohemian household.
Was Liv a preternaturally mature child? "I was born a little grown-up," she says with a grin. "I was very responsible and together—and very aware of my surroundings. I guess I didn't get to be a kid; I mean, I was in the sense that I had fun with my friends at school, but I was never a bratty kid. I felt very grateful for the things I had and how hard people worked to provide those things; I saw my mother struggling to make ends meet. I started working when I was 13, so I had a very specific hard-working ethic. Even now, whether I'm organising my closet, working on a film or making dinner for Milo, I'm very focused." Evidently, behind her relaxed, somewhat dreamy demeanour is a formidable capacity for application.
Liv's matriarchal role models—her mother and her grandmother, etiquette coach Dorothea Johnson—were, and still are, compelling influences. "Everything I know, I learned from them," she asserts. "Even now, I'll say, 'Oh, that's what my grandmother said.'" Even, it appears, when it comes to physical self-preservation. "My grandmother looks incredible. In-cred-ible. It's kind of scary, but it gives me hope," laughs Liv. Ah yes, beauty: blessing or latent poisoned chalice as age encroaches? Hollywood has, traditionally, given a rather chilly shoulder to women over 50. "Well, my grandmother gives me major hope; my dad, too, because he hasn't had any work done and he looks amazing; he doesn't have any wrinkles. Genetically, it's good—touch wood! I'm grateful for that. I ask them questions. I learn from observing them." She vouchsafes the unexpected snippet that her father is an excellent source of beauty tips (dab perfume on the soles of your feet, for instance), which invokes an irresistible mental picture of the two of them in (Givenchy, naturally) face masks.
"But ageing..." She pauses. "On the list of things I'm worrying about, it's not up there. I might wake up and think, 'I'm having a bad day' or 'I look tired today,' but I don't have anxiety about it. I'm sure I will in ten years, but right this second? No. I love my thirties and wouldn't go back for anything in the world. I've found my whole world has opened up. I have a bigger vision; a greater acceptance; the capacity to let things go."
That brief retreat from the world (not least the world of tabloid news and gossip magazines—she feels better, she admits, when she doesn't look at "the trash mags") has, from outside appearances at least, given Liv the conviction that not sweating the small stuff is the sensible path. Rock antecedents and film star career notwithstanding, she refuses to be sucked into the vortex of perfection-seeking. Since Milo was born she can, she insists, get ready in four minutes—"if I had to"—and prefers to be "mum-like: barefoot in the kitchen cooking dinner for Milo" rather than having someone cook for her ("It's just not for me," she says, wrinkling her nose), or espousing the latest fad diet.
Yes, Liv dabbles: in the past, she worked out with one of Tracey Anderson's acolytes (the teeny-tiny dancer who honed the bodies of Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna to sleek precision). "And it was incredible, but it took two hours a day," she declares, in the incredulous tones of a woman who has to fit exercise in between work and the school run. "I don't like the person I am when my life revolves around exercise and diet. It's so easy to do that in this job—you see a lot of people becoming like that." Instead, yesterday's 'exercise' involved playing duck, duck, goose, and hide and seek with Milo in her hotel room.
Despite the aesthetically pleasing package, which might well be designed to render the male of species dumb (and probably does, on occasion), Liv is a woman that other women warm to. Possibly because she is candid—as far as anyone in the public eye can be without risking indiscretion or tell-all syndrome—about the bad as well as the good (the transformative effect of motherhood—and the accompanying misery of the lack of sleep; her heartbreak at the end of her marriage); about being a chubby teenager, and looking "like Moby Dick" when she was pregnant with Milo. She has, she says with a shrug, to eschew the delights of 'normal' food for cucumber juice and salads before making a film—"it comes with the job"—and is resigned to "never having a flat stomach".
Today, she's beautiful but tired: she has not stopped since before she started filming Super, and had to contend with a bout of swine flu mid-way through. She is proof that even the most blessed regard the mirror askance at times. "I almost burst into tears this morning. You see what you see when you look in the mirror—and today I'm having a bad day. I feel happiest when I don't think too much, when I start to obsess, 'Oh God, someone's going to take my picture; maybe my trousers are a little weird...'—when I think like that, I get stressed out."
But she does live in that world of public scrutiny, some of the time. A week later, back in London, I flick through a magazine and there she is: in New York, shopping with fellow actress Eva Mendes. Tick: Liv's on-trend maxi-dress wins approval. But surely there are times when the pressure to look the part whenever you step outside your home gets to you; when the onus to conform to a relatively specific archetype feels overwhelming—or simply dull? Perhaps, but Liv gives it short shrift. "Personally, I find imperfections and flaws charming and beautiful. I like that all people don't look the same. I might have my own issues, but that's my relationship with myself. I don't measure it by what other people think, or by the images I see in the media. Besides," she adds, wryly, "I've been doing this since I was 14 and I see how airbrushed photographs are. I know what people look like, and I see what pictures look like before they're airbrushed—my own and those of my friends—and every image is so manipulated or tweaked. They'll take a hair off your arm; get rid of a pore or a freckle on your face."
She's right, and her willingness to admit to her part in the myth-making is endearing. Despite the hoop-la of fame and the ostensible glamour of her lifestyle, not to mention the tribulations of recent years, Liv's not so very far from the little girl who didn't get the chance to be 'bratty'; who started working at 13 and was always keenly grateful for what she had. The girl's grown up beautifully. But what about the heels—can she pull them off now? "I'm six foot tall in them! Okay, I feel great, but I can't wear them for long. I have to," she flashes the Tyler grin, "get my feel back on the ground."