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'The Ledge' star Liv Tyler makes the most of her movie roles - and motherhood
by Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News, July 3rd 2011.
Liv Tyler is tall - as in, supermodel tall - with a distinctively breathy voice and a direct gaze that, on film, has won over heavies and heroes and Tuscan villages.
We've seen her gallop through Middle Earth, purse those perfect lips and be the thing that makes men avert Armageddon.
But Tyler says her real secret weapon is ... her nose.
"I always wear a different smell for every character," she says. "My sense of smell has such a keen emotional connection for me. It's funny, but I can't wear my own normal perfume when I'm playing a character."
Out of the ordinary, sure, but inspiration is inspiration, and Tyler, who just turned 34, is finding exactly that in lots of places as she approaches her 18th year as an actress. Being a mother to an almost-first grader is another source of it, as are movies that challenge her.
The latest of those is The Ledge, opening Friday, in which she plays Shauna, a fearful, confl icted woman whose intensely evangelical husband (Patrick Wilson) takes it upon himself to save a nonbelieving neighbor (Charlie Hunnam) who also happens to be Shauna's lover. Their conflict leads to the ledge of a building in a test of faith. Terrence Howard plays a cop equally on edge.
"Making the movie, I became much more just interested in observing without judgment," says Tyler. "I'm a curious person and have a diverse background - half my family is Republican, half is Democrat, my mom went to Catholic boarding school. This movie helped me understand the intensity that others can have. I feel like I understood that for the first time."
Her background is so famously diverse it could be a movie itself.
Tyler's mother, Bebe Buell, was a musician and model ubiquitous in the '70s rock scene. When Tyler was young, she believed rocker Todd Rundgren, whom her mother was dating, was her dad. When she was 9, she learned her biological father was Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler.
"I remember my first conversation with my dad," she says. "He asked me if I wanted to order a Shirley Temple, and then he told me to cross my legs because I was sitting in a chair wearing a skirt and a big sweatshirt. We were in Boston, at a rock concert.
"I remember that vividly. And to this day, even when I get out of a town car and there's paparazzi, my knees are locked together!"
She grew up in Maine, moving to New York when she was 12. "My upbringing was a real village.
I lived with my grandparents for a while, and my mom, and my aunt, and I had varied experiences from all these different people.
"Of my teen years in New York, I just remember riding the subway uptown to school, and feeling this gratitude that I could experience all the different people and places and cultures in the city." She co-starred in small films starting in 1994, including the indie classic Heavy, but made her first big impression in director Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty in 1996. She went on to co-star in Inventing the Abbotts, Armageddon and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In 2008, the thriller The Strangers opened big shortly before her other, more traditionally huge, summer film, The Incredible Hulk.
"I try to connect with things that move me for some reason," she says. "I'm always looking for those characters and stories that I want to tell."
Last summer, she moved back to her apartment in the West Village so her son, Milo, 6, could attend kindergarten. It turned out to be an education for Tyler as well.
"Trying to get up on time, get breakfast ready, get lunch packed - it took me the whole year to adjust!" she says. "Especially with my coming from such a gypsy lifestyle. Having to sort of answer to school has been intense."
She says the experience of being a mother has fine-tuned her artistic side, too.
"The other weekend we were driving back from Long Island, and Milo was in the backseat and wanted to hear a story. I actually think I'm not that great at that, but I had to pull a story out of my hat! I made up a tale about a crabby crab from New Orleans. My best friend was driving, and I just created this whole thing, and he fell right to sleep.
"I've grown up tremendously in the time I've been a mom, It's taught me more about being in the present and not trying to do things perfectly all the time. Those moments of laughter and messing up, those are all important, too.
"Though, in first grade, we're really going to dive in and get it right. Lunch will be made the night before!"