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Liv Tyler on The Ledge, Battles of the Sexes and Lord of the Rings at 10

by S.T. Vanairsdale, MovieLine, July 8th 2011.

Liv Tyler ends an unusually long break from the movies this year, first with the wild dark comedy Super and today with The Ledge, in which she co-stars as the troubled, born-again Christian wife in the middle of a fundamentalist husband (Patrick Wilson) and hunky atheist neighbor (Charlie Hunnam) sandwich. Faith, sex, love, and mortality collide in writer-director Matthew Chapman's potboiler, which culminates in a suicide showdown also featuring Terrence Howard. It's madness! But it's also, as always, a pleasure to see Tyler back onscreen - where she has a confirmed interest to return even more frequently in the months and years ahead.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Movieline, Tyler spoke about The Ledge (opening today in limited release and available everywhere on VOD), her working habits, getting her character's fair share of time on the set, her father Steven Tyler's judging stint on American Idol, staying in touch with her '90s-era Aerosmith video co-star Alicia Silverstone, the Lord of the Rings trilogy a decade later, and, naturally, Gummi Bears.


Hello there.
Hi. [Moving jar of Gummi Bears to table] Do you want one? They're so good.

I might, actually.
It's crazy how good they are. They're all these amazing colors, too. The purple ones are... [Rolls eyes]

Thank you very much. This is such a treat!
You're welcome. It's helped me get through. I've hit a wall. A talking wall.

Oof. Well, I'll try to make this fast and painless. Let's start from the beginning: What was your first impression of the script?
I actually read it for the first time four years ago. I met Matthew. I just though, you know, you read so many scripts, and some are complicated and simple, and some are just interesting reads as a whole - a story. This was one of those for me where it was a perspective. I was engrossed by it; I wanted to understand and know more about it and was really sort of just taken into this world. It wasn't what I expected.

What did you expect?
I don't remember. I just remember completely enjoying the experience of reading it, like I was reading an incredible book or article. I didn't know what to expect.

What was your first impression of Matthew Chapman?
That's a really good question. I don't remember, because it was a while ago and I had a baby and my brain isn't the same as it used to be.

Let me put it this way: He's only directed a little, and most recently in 1988. What inspired you to think he could pull off your script-reading experience onscreen as well?
I never questioned his ability to be able to pull it off because he was so clear and specific and passionate about getting this thing made. I always really felt that strongly. I guess innately he was really amazing at telling this story and writing this material. And once we shot the film and we were there, we had very little time. We had a lot of dialogue, and there was a lot to convey in a very small period of time. In a visual form, you know? It became a collaboration, in a way, that we were all embarking upon. We had an intense relationship, for sure. There were days when I was the only woman on the set, and I definitely say what I feel. And... I don't know how to describe it. I think that sometimes when you're direct and very honest as a woman, it can come across as more harsh than if a man is saying it. I don't know why that happens.

What's an example from the shoot?
I don't know. There were just days where... Well, for example, there was a scene where I'm totally gagged and bound and tied to a chair. I was doing that sort of for Patrick, and we got to the end of the day, and it was a very small-budget movie, and they were going to pull the plug and finish the day. And I hadn't done my close-up yet, and I had, like, two minutes or five minutes or something. After sitting there all day giving so much to everyone - to convey all that emotion - and to have this very rushed "Come on! We've gotta go! We've gotta go!" was so unfair in a way. I definitely was vocal about saying, "Stop! Just give me a minute to do this." And just other things, shooting-wise. Matthew reminded me of something today where we thought we couldn't do this really important wide shot because we didn't have time to turn around. And I was like, "Why don't you just keep the camera where it is, and then turn me around?" [Laughs] I didn't even remember that! But it was things like that: In that moment when it's all very heated and action-packed, you might just blurt something out.

I asked Patrick Wilson this as well, but how and when - if ever - did the conversation with the director about character ever kind of cross over into a philosophical conversation?
For sure, that definitely happened. Especially with Patrick and Matthew. Patrick, as an actor, really prepares and really approaches his knowledge and understanding of his character and the world with an incredible mind. He was constantly reading and having quite intense conversations with Matthew and Charlie - often. And I would ask questions and listen; we would have similar conversations, but not quite the same.

To what extent was researching or developing this character an exploration of your own faith?
For me, my faith or my beliefs are quite simple. I didn't question them at all. I was definitely researching for the part, but also just as a curious person in the world, I found it quite fascinating to fully observe all these different ideas and opinions about religion and all sorts of things in life. I think I come from such a varied background as far as my parents and my family. I've seen so much since I was a baby, you know? I was around so many people. Half my family are Republicans, half are Democrats. Half believe in every kind of religion known to man, basically. I'd always grown up seeing those worlds and having those kinds of healthy discussions or, at times, angry discussions. But we still could exist together in the world.

I think it's easy to forget amid the thriller element and the philosophical element that this is essentially a love story. Did you also find yourself on the set attempting to keep that in the forefront - to not let it get overtaken by the heavier issues in the script?
For me, that was very important, and I would talk to Matthew about that specifically: At the heart of this film was a connection between these two people. If that didn't work, then nothing else really mattered. A lot of that didn't necessarily have to do with words, though his words were incredible and brilliant and interesting. But we needed the time to capture those moments, which you can't capture when things are rushed and you don't have a lot of time. It's not just about saying the words and executing those things. It's about finding those moments and just allowing the actors the space to just be together and capture those things. I was definitely aware of that the whole time.

You're in relatively few films these days - maybe one a year. Do you consider yourself to be more selective than you were, say, 10 or 15 years ago?
In the time since I had my son - he's 6 now - it's been an incredible passion of mine to be his mother and to be around for him. I've always found it really hard to know how to go away for huge chunks of time and completely give over to that experience of playing another person living in another place. And I've done it kind of on-and-off since he was born, and have also had kind of an amazing luxury of financially being OK from other things. I wasn't always having to work on a film to make money. I've had a cosmetics contract with Givenchy for eight years, which has been great and was really part of a conscious decision on my part to be able to be present in his life. I'm still always traveling and working, but it was that thing of being so focused on the things that were going on in my life that I couldn't leave them to go off and make films in the same way I could when I was younger - when I didn't have anything else going on. And now I feel like I really want to be working more and working again on movies. I'm just like any other single mom, I guess, trying to figure out the balance of all of that and how that works. It's definitely been easier for me to go to Paris for two weeks and shoot a commercial for Givenchy with Darren Aronofsky for mascara for a day, and do a couple other things and have an amazing experience and then come back home than it is for me to go off and make a movie for a month or two and uproot us. Or not be around my son. I've been sort of trying to figure that out.

We're about 10 years removed from the whole Lord of the Rings phenomenon. What's your relationship with that phenomenon and the culture around it?
Oh my God. It was just such a big part of my life. I think of it so fondly. I sometimes think, "I can't believe that happened." That was such an extraordinary experience making those films, looking back on it now. I knew it at the time, but it was such an experiment and so risky in so many ways and done with so much passion and love. I'm still friends with a lot of people from Weta who I worked with. Just as a whole, I was completely floored by that whole situation. I enjoyed every second of it and was so proud of the success it was.

Is it true that you had a swordfighting scene cut from one of the movies?
Well, originally, Arwyn was part of the Fellowship at one point. There was this whole series. I think we even shot a couple of scenes where she was in Helm's Deep. I was there sort of training and horseback riding and swordfighting and doing all this stuff, and I never felt good about it. It's funny when I think back; I never felt totally right about it. And then we all decided together - we agreed that we didn't want to go in that direction. We completely reapproached her. [Co-screenwriters] Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens] decided they would go back in the appendix and really sort of cultivate this sort of love story out of that. She didn't have to go out and do that. They just created this whole new thing just to have her in the story - to fix what wasn't working or right. So that's what happened. And I was really happy about it.

You were?
Obviously I didn't have as much to do, but it just felt right. It felt really right to take the nature of this beautiful love story that these two characters had - which was so powerful and so incredible - and embellish it and lay that throughout those three films. [Pauses] I'm going to eat a Gummi Bear now.

Go for it. This is random, but do you stay in touch with Alicia Silverstone?
I saw her at a Halloween party a year or two ago in L.A. It was so nice to see her.

She just had a kid, right?
I think so. I don't have her number. I haven't seen her a lot. But I enjoy seeing her when I do see her.

How many times today have you been asked how you think your father did as a judge on American Idol?
Um, probably about 30 times. Almost everyone! Someone started to say, "Lastly, I've got one more question that's a little bit off subject..." And I almost said on television, "Oh, let me guess: You're going to ask me about my dad." And I stopped myself! I bit my tongue, and amazingly he asked me an amazingly different, shocking question about Bruce Lee, which was amazing, and which I didn't have an answer for. But I thought, "Thank God I didn't say that." But I don't mind talking about it.

OK, so how do you think your dad did on American Idol? Did you even watch it before he was on there?
I'd only seen it maybe... I don't watch a lot of television in general, but I'd seen it maybe a couple of times before I saw him on it. I enjoyed it tremendously. It was very exciting to tune in weekly and see my dad on television. A very interesting experience - sort of strange. But I feel really happy for him and proud of him that he was able to, at this moment in his life, try something completely new and foreign to him that he'd never done before, and be so naturally good at it. By just being himself! With his amazing, bizarre language and personality and this sort of magic that he has. To have a whole nation of people fall in love with him is really interesting to see, you know? All different ages and different walks of life come up to me and say, "I love your dad. He's so amazing." And I say, "Thank you!" Because it's just that person I've known for my whole life.