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Coming Of Age

by Jefferson Hack, Dazed & Confused, September 1996. Photos by Joshua Jordan.

It is the night of July 1st and Liv is celebrating her 19th birthday (a date she also shares with Princess Diana and Debbie Harry). You'd expect champagne to be flowing and a gaggle of Hollywood's most precious to be lining their noses with the devil's own dandruff.

Well, not quite. It turns out to be a quiet family affair. Liv had an early night, because she had to be up early to film the next day. In between she got to "beat the shit out of a pinata". What is a pinata? "You know, one of the Mexican, papier mache animals you hang up and hit with a stick till all the candy falls out." It sounds like Liv's not too concerned with living it up. From an early age Liv was surrounded with the familiar vices and faces of an older generation of the rich and famous who were forced to clean up their rock'n'roll ways or clap out. It could be said that she'd learnt her lessons the easy way.

With six major films now completed and the lead role in Stealing Beauty. Liv has maneuvered herself into pole position in the Hollywood Grand Prix for formula newcomers. Now for her to win the race she needs to avoid the pit stops and be taken seriously as an actress.

Whichever angle you take when looking at Liv you can't escape her obvious beauty. Most young, sexy actresses are either considered stupid and/or talentless; basically defective in a non-physical way. These are the received contemporary truths and if this were the rule it would make Roseanne brainier than Einstein.

In conversation Liv talks intelligently about her career and deflects unnerving personal questions with charm and maturity. She is also unexpectedly spiritual in a decidedly idealistic way. In the vacuum of Hollywood that sucks the spirit clean. Liv's down to earth attitudes banish received truths back to where they came.

In many ways Stealing Beauty is a landmark film in Liv's career. It is rare in film for a relatively unknown actress to be cast in the lead part, with renowned actors like Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusak and Donal McCann in supporting roles. Even rarer for that film to be directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, who is regarded by many as a master of his craft. His credits include the controversial Last Tango in Paris which starred Marlon Brando, Oscar winning The Last Emperor ('84) which, along with his last two films, The Sheltering Sky ('90) and the less successful, Little Buddha ('93) completed a trilogy of epics.

Although Stealing Beauty is regarded as a return to form for Bertolucci, it doesn't seem like an important work in the canon of his achievements. Ultimately the film will be remembered for Liv's performance. The camera consumes her actions and the plot keeps her at the center of attention. This warm, feel-good film is the ideal vehicle for an untrained, instinctive, natural actress like Liv. Watching her being watched is as liberating as swinging naked through a tropical sunset. 'There is a constant movement in her face. It is the movement of ideas which are going on in her head.' explains Bertolucci at Liv's ability to transfix her audience's gaze.

The story of Stealing Beauty is, like most films now made with Hollywood funding, easily explainable in a couple of sentences: Young American girl visits relatives at their villa in Tuscany. Comes of age and discovers the identity of her biological father. Add another word, 'Bertolucci', and it's a wrap, as they say.

Stealing Beauty starts with the dynamic of a pop promo and sharply unfolds to come dangerously close to looking like a Merchant Ivory production. Lucy Harmon (Liv) is a 19 year-old virgin. An unlikely combination, but one that serves the plot: who will be the first to pop Liv's olive? Will it be Jeremy Irons, the resident poet whose health improves dramatically by her presence? Donal McCann, her sculptor uncle, one of the cameo Romeos, or Joseph Fiennes, (Ralph's younger brother) her far more eligible first snog? We also learn that Lucy's late mother was a famous poet who stayed at the villa when she was conceived. Perhaps one of the older male suitors is also her real father?

Much has been made of the similarity of Lucy's search for her father and Liv's real life paternal experiences Her mother, Bebe Buell arrived in New York in 1972 as a 17 year-old model with the Ford model agency and soon became one of the most indemand models of the time. She was a committed rock'n'roll fan who married the musician Todd Rundgren. As part of New York's rock elite she hung out at Max's Kansas City and became personal and intimate friends with the likes of Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart, Joey Ramone, Johnny Thunders, Debbie Harry, lggy Pop, Gene Simmons and Elvis Costello among others.

After a five year marriage to Todd, their relationship became increasingly strained. He was a workaholic and they were both having affairs: 'I felt that every time he would do it. I had to do it: an eye for an eye'. That was when Steven Tyler came into her life. Liv was conceived in 1976, but although Bebe was in love with Steven, his habitual narcotic and alcohol problems, combined with Bebe's pregnant mode of self protection made her return to Todd. Liv was born in July 1977. Four months later Bebe and Todd split up and mother and daughter moved to New York. When Liv was three years old Bebe wanted her to be raised in the country and they moved to Maine. It wasn't until Liv was 11 that she discovered by chance that Tyler was her biological father. 'I had made a pact with Todd to not tell her until she was 18,' recalls Bebe. That summer, in 1989, Bebe moved back to New York from Maine with 12 year-old Liv.

It sounds like a turbulent upbringing, but Bebe's unconditional love for Liv and their strong bond has made Liv resilient and level headed. They still live together in New York when Liv is not working. Bebe is now married to Cayote Shivers, a 28 year-old musician, and runs BST (which stands for Buell, Shivers and Tyler) a management company which also represents Debbie Harry's acting interests and through which she has guided and controlled her daughters career to date. 'She's always made her own decisions since she was 15 years old. I may have guided her and given her advice, but I never would ask her to do something she didn't want to do,' reveals Bebe.

Liv was 16 when she played a pole dancer in a strip club, lipsynching to her biological father's lyrics alongside her teenage pal Alicia Silverstone in the Aerosmith video for 'Crazy'. It went on to be one of MTV's most requested clips in 1994. She modelled at school and, with her tradable surname and inherited pout, she landed her fair share of pre-pubescent publicity. Every year since, Liv has been making films.

She made her debut at 16, opposite Richard Dreyfuss in Bruce Bereford's Silent Fall. At 17 she was in the impressive independent film Heavy, which starred the underrated Vince Pruitt Taylor, Shelley Winters, Debbie Harry and Evan Dando. Liv also snatched the lead in the uninspiring teen film Empire Records and then, during the making of Stealing Beauty, she celebrated her 18th birthday. Directly afterwards she flew back to New York to appear in a cameo for Woody Allen. It has ended up not being used. Then off to LA to shoot two more films literally back to back. Yet to be released, they are Tom Hanks's directorial debut, That Thing You Do and Inventing The Abbots alongside Joaquim Phoenix, by Circle Of Friends' director Pat O'Connor. Set in 1964, That Thing You Do is the story of a rock'n'roll band who make it big. Liv plays the girl friend of the lead singer who becomes instrumental in their success.

Bebe Buell no longer manages Liv. 'I can't keep protecting her.' she says: although it seems that she will still be closely advising her. While in LA, Liv is staying with her grandparents. She describes what she is wearing. "Overalls and a little blue and white striped T-shirt and no shoes. I have a chop-stick in my hair and I'm smoking American Spirits." She blows the smoke into the telephone receiver, her oscillating on-screen sexuality now apparent in the fluctuating tones of her conversational voice. She is a phonic fizgig with a wicked laugh and no tolerance for answering the same old questions.

Dazed & Confused: When you're modelling or choosing a role, do you ever think that people might be using you for your looks or you sexuality?

Liv Tyler: You've got to have a little control. When I was younger some of the covers weren't really me. I'd go over in my black pants, sneakers and my T-shirt and they'd 'tart' me up. The kid in me would enjoy it because it would be fun. They'd put black eye-liner on me and I'd strut around and have a blast. But the pictures are trashy looking. They aren't me. They want to make you look sexy but I don't think someone looking 'tarty' is sexy. What comes from inside is sexy. I think a woman in a simple dress just sitting there is ten times more sexy than a 'pose,' I don't think they have a clue what sex is.

D&C: They don't, that's the point.

LT: Sometimes I see sexy photographs but that's because the woman is sexy. She's sexy from within herself. I think originality is sexy.

D&C: Have you ever wondered what you'd be like if you were a man?

LT: I can be a man. I have a huge dick, didn't you know that? (Laughing) I have big feet so I probably would have a nice wanker.

D&C: A nice what?

LT: Nothing. I'm being a child. I like to wear men's clothes a lot. I think it's nice looking to wear pants, shoes and men's suits, but I like being a woman.

D&C: Do you write?

LT: Right now I haven't been. The last journal I kept was during the movie. I wrote every day and kept pictures and drawings.

D&C: Is that a diary, or did you take it further than that?

LT: When I was younger I used to write other things like short stories and perverted stories. But my mum would find them and I would get terribly embarrassed and I sort of stopped doing that.

D&C: It's kind of the closest thing you can get to being caught masturbating by your parents, isn't it?

LT: That's never happened to me. Thank God. I have, like, four bolts on the door.

D&C: You've played a virgin twice. Once in Empire Records and once in Stealing Beauty. It seems like young people have stopped worrying about AIDS so much. I'm 25, and I remember when AIDS came it was a big stigma for me, being 16 or 17. Now the issue has died down people don't seem to worry as much. Do you know anyone who has died from AIDS?

LT: I do, but they're older people. You know, the older men that you've known as friends of friends. I think that it's just such a terrifying thing. All one can really do is protect themselves, but it's just not fair. It's so frustrating. I think kids think. "Well. everybody else got to fuck around without condoms: why do we have to worry about it?'. There's been disease around forever. It used to be worse didn't it? All those dirty diseases people had.

D&C: But AIDS is the killer one. And there tends to be this attitude of. 'It won't happen to me, it's someone else's problem'.

LT: You just have to be careful, which you should anyway, out of respect for your body. How can you let someone enter the most private part of your body without even knowing them? You have to be aware out of respect for yourself even more than for fear of getting AIDS.

D&C: That's a good attitude. Have you slept with a lot of men?

LT: What a question! I'm not telling.

D&C: For some people it's more important than for others.

LT: I think sex is an incredibly personal thing. When you're young you make mistakes sometimes. You're with people and you're really excited by them and you make love to them and then you never want to see them again. But then you're screwed, and you're going. 'Fuck I've been with someone that I want to forget about completely'.

D&C: So you've blown your philosophy for having respect for your body.

LT: Not if you enjoyed yourself. I think what you learn when you get older, if you're going to have a partner in life it means more. It's so incredible when you meet a person who blows your mind.

D&C: Is this someone in particular you're talking about?

LT: When you meet someone that is so incredible that they become your best friend it's fascinating, because you bring out the best parts in each other. If it's well-rounded then it's beautiful. I just don't think it would be worth being with someone unless you were absolutely fascinated with them - head over heels in love with them.

D&C: Do you think you've found the right man?

LT: I've fallen in love with a spaceman. I have to admit it.

D&C: Does seeing your image everywhere make you more or loss conscious of your looks?

LT: I think every human being has a thing with checking themselves out and not being satisfied. On a personal level - not even having anything to do with this business - as you age you become more comfortable with yourself. When you're younger you're always checking out what you're wearing and you change a hundred times a day. As a girl, I still change a hundred times, but it's more to find what I'm comfortable in. When I look at all that stuff, it's really more frustrating than anything. When you're shy it's hard to...

D&C: You're not really shy, are you?

LT: I don't really know. I'm not at all in some ways, but in other ways I am. l'm not shy at all around people I know. I guess I really just don't give a fuck when I'm out and about, but in certain situations I'm incredibly shy. When I first start a movie I'm very shy. During that first scene it's almost embarrassing, having to get up and perform in front of 50 people you don't know.

D&C: Does it get any easier now after doing five films?

LT: Yes. I think for me, Stealing Beauty was a big turning point.

D&C: It was your first starring role?

LT: It was just a nice confidence thing. I don't ever feel completely confident in my work and I don't think I'd want to do this job anymore if I did, because there would be something wrong with me. To have someone like Bernardo really believe in me like that, and listen to my ideas was great. Sometimes I'd do a scene and he wouldn't direct me at all and I'd wonder. 'What's wrong? Why isn't he telling me to do anything?', and then I'd realise it's kind of a compliment. He was trusting to see what I would do. That's a wonderful feeling.

D&C: Does that mean some of the preparation you did for it went out the window?

LT: I don't really do so much preparation. I don't understand it: I know it's because l'm not trained. I know a lot of actors and they write a million notes and read the script 800 times and know it backwards. I just find you have to be so open when you come on the set. It is very important to know your character and know what you want to do and know your lines, but when you come in every morning they change so much. Sometimes the whole scene changes completely. So if you prepare yourself in one way only you're screwed. So I like to be a little more laid back about it, a little open. That for me is the main part. If I don't feel totally comfortable and honest in a scene. I suck. 'Cause it's about feeling totally natural with the other person, isn't it?

D&C:Can you remember when your mother first told you that Steven was your father?

LT: I was living in Maine, but I had already met Steven in Great Woods in New England. We went to this outdoor concert. It was when Aerosmith were opening for Guns'n'Roses. And we'd gotten there late, so instead of going back and saying hello, we just stopped and watched the show. I saw this girl standing on the side of the stage and she had on blue shiny spandex trousers, little sneaker high-tops and a long Aerosmith T-shirt. She was chubby with long blond hair. She was just standing there tapping her foot and I just thought it was me. And I looked at my mother and I asked her if it was true and we talked about it. Later on that night I met Mia and we stood there for about a second and just looked at each other up and down.

D&C: It was a set-up. (laughing)

LT: We just ran around and played for hours. She had set up this relationship with Guns'n'Roses, who I'm sure were just in the room drinking and getting high. She would send little love letters to them and then they would come out and play with her. They would chase us around. Everybody kept asking us if we were sisters and she kept saying 'Yes'. I didn't know that. Apparently her mother had always told her she had a sister but I had never been told that so I didn't know.

D&C:Can you describe the different relationships you have with Todd, Steven and Coyote for me?

LT: Do I have to? They re all very different. More than anything they re all my friends. They're not really father figures.

D&C: Have you spoken to Todd and do you still speak to him?

LT: Yes.

D&C: It must be amazing to have all these older men to talk to. Do you find yourself confiding in them at all?

LT: It's hard, you know, because I'm always working a lot. And with (Steven), he was always working a lot and I could never find him. Now it's both ways. It's incredible to know them. They're all wonderful people. I enjoy the relationships I have with each of them.

D&C: Did you ever have a nickname when you were young?

LT: Liver was everybody's favourite.

D&C: Why Liver?

LT: My mom calls me Bones or Boner. I think I have a million nicknames. As a kid, Liver was the big one. Or the Jolly Green Giant - that was quite big. My friend Sean calls me an ostrich.

D&C: I'm sure you're not happy about that.

LT: No, they're not very flattering. (affecting a high pitched voice) I'm a colt really.

D&C: Do you wish you were older?

LT: It's really strange, because I've been getting really sad on all of my birth days. I think age is beautiful and although I don't want to rush it. I'm looking forward to being a little old lady with white hair.

D&C: That's very idealistic. I'm sure it's not as much fun as it sounds.

LT: It's so sad: you see so many people that are so miserable that they blow up their face with lip things and take parts out and wear these terribly tacky young outfits. It's so beautiful - age - when you age gracefully.

D&C:And one day you maybe making age sexy.

LT: You know. women like Isabella Rosselini. I'm not saying she's old, but she's to die for. She's one of the most beautiful women on the planet. It's weird that I get sad on all my birthdays. I'm only 19, I'm still totally young to the average Jo. I used to get great pleasure going out and being 15 and having a conversation with an older man for half an hour and he'd ask 'How old are you?' and I'd say I was 15 and he'd have a heart seizure. I'd love it.

D&C: Do men shy away from you know that you're no longer 'Liver'.

LT: Men are funny, they try and talk to you about interesting things, but really they’re just trying to stop you for two seconds to talk to you about anything. I don't really notice it, but if someone wants to talk to me I'll talk to them. So many people just come up to me and say the stupidest nonsense things.

D&C: I'm sure you've done it before.

LT: When I was at Cannes I got invited to see Crash and it was incredible. We were late so they had a police escort through the streets. It was brilliant. When we arrived. I got out and I saw Patricia Arquette and I think she's stunning. I love her mouth, with her little teeth. We have a friend in common, so out of total star-struckdom I went up to her and said: 'I love you. You're so beautiful'. I felt so bad.

D&C: Did she take it in the right way?

LT: Yeah, she did. Well, my friend went out with her and said she had remembered it and I felt so stupid but she totally understood. I just remember there were a million 'papa-nazis' around and I just wanted to tell her she was beautiful.

D&C: I wanted to clear up any rumors about some of the other actors you've been romantically linked to in the press. Like Leonardo DiCaprio, Stephen Dorf and Evan Dando.

LT: I never went out with Evan. Everybody always says that. It's so absolutely hysterical. I love him.

D&C: And Leonardo? He's a very gifted actor.

LT: Yes, he's talented. But it's just so hard when you meet people and if you've dated for a few seconds you're automatically linked to them and it's written about before you even know if you're friends with those people. I've not been lovers with all the people I've worked with. I would find that terribly difficult because it's important to work. But I can see how that can happen with some people.

D&C: How old were you when you lost your virginity?

LT: I really don't want to tell you that. I guess it shouldn't matter. I have nothing to hide but some things have to be personal.

D&C: Don't you think it's an important issue for a lot of young women?

LT: I still am a virgin. (Laughing) You lose it when you're ready.

D&C: And you were ready?

LT: Oh yeah, I had a beautiful experience. Every person knows when they're ready. Every situation is different. Some people say they have terrible situations, others say it's great. It depends on what you choose for yourself. It was fun.

D&C: Some things are best left as secrets.

LT: I absolutely agree with you. When you make a film or choose to be an actor, your personal life becomes so hard. I enjoy things that are personal; I didn't want to become an actress so that the whole world would know when I lost my virginity and that's how I think about everything.

D&C: Would you marry?

LT: I'd love to be married. Strangely enough. I don't think the kind of marriage with a license is necessary because divorce is so terrifying and such a terrible thing. I think if you love someone enough you can marry them in your own little ceremony. You don't have to make it a legal thing.

D&C: You could have a little black magic ceremony.

LT: That would be nice.

D&C: Can you do impersonations?

LT: No, not really actually. I can listen to a song once and remember every single word and I can remember all my lines. I'm not very funny at impersonating people. I should get better because I'm supposed to be an actor.

D&C: That's terrible. You've got to give me an example of you talent now.

LT: I don't have any hidden tricks. I can't bend my fingers weird or do anything weird with my tongue...

D&C: ...you can go crosseyed though?

LT: Yeah but...

D&C: ...did you ever used to go cross-eyed as a kid?

LT: No...

D&C: ...just because your eyes go funny sometimes, on screen.

LT: Did you notice that? Did you? I was going to tell you. Bernardo told me that. Do they really? I never noticed that, but Bernardo always told me that I focus on people so much. I usually look at people's mouths when they talk. I stare at their eyes most of the time... Bernardo would tell me sometimes that there are some scenes where I would look very closely into somebody's eyes. And I would go kind of crossoeyed. I wonder why that is. Uh Oh.


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