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Downtown lolita

Vogue UK, February 1996. Photos by Albert Watson.

Bertolucci's new heroine is 18-year-old rock-child ingenue Liv Tyler. Toby Young meets her in New York

Waiting for Liv Tyler in a busy restaurant in Greenwich Village, I thought it would be sensible to ask the maitre d' to help me look out for her. But I wasn't quite sure how to describe her. "She was a famous model." I said sheepishly, not wanting him to think I was boasting about the company I keep "But, er, she's only l8."

In six months' time this problem won't arise as Liv Tyler will be, if not quite a household name, certainly one that any New York maitre d' will recognise. Two years ago, she graced the covers of a rack-load of magazines as a model. Now, with four new movies in the can - one with Woody Allen, the independents Heavy and Empire Records, and Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty, in which Tyler plays the lead - her face will soon be back on the newsstands, this time as a star.

When Tyler appears, miraculously only 10 minutes late, she looks like a typical East Village teenager, with a long brown overcoat, black trousers and a floppy, leopard-print hat pulled low over her face. The first thing you notice about her is how gawky and self-conscious she is, a refreshing quality in someone who has been in the spotlight since she started modeling at 14. As Jeremy Irons, her co-star in Stealing Beauty, points out, "It is wonderful to see someone at that age who still has a little awkwardness, and such a relief compared with all those Californians who are 12 going on 32."

Perhaps he's thinking of Alicia Silverstone, the 18-year-old star of Clueless with whom Liv appeared in the video for the Aerosmith single Crazy last year. Liv's father is Steve Tyler, Aerosmith's large-lipped front man, as you may know though if you don't, you'd be in the same boat as Liv was until she was 10 years old. Her mother, the Seventies model Bebe Buell, was living with the guitarist Todd Rundgren when she became pregnant with Liv and, since Tyler was both an alcoholic and a drug addict at the time, she decided it would be better to let her think that Rundgren was her father.

Liv first met her real father backstage at a Todd Rundgren concert when she was nine. "My mother came up to me and said. 'I want you to meet someone.' She pointed at this guy and I said. 'Is that Mick Jagger?' And she said. 'No. it's Steve Tyler.' I'd never heard of Aerosmith."

Tyler began taking an interest in his daughter and, as they saw more of each other, the truth began to dawn. "I gradually worked out that he was my father," she says. "We have the same lips, the same legs, and he had this other daughter a year younger than me and we were like identical twins."

Liv Tyler seems almost preternaturally well-adjusted for such a product of rock'n'roll culture. "It was the Seventies," she says breezily. "Things were different." You'd expect her to have gone through rehab herself by now - or at the very least be hanging out at the Viper Room with Courtney Love and Drew Barrymore. The only trace of her background is that her best friend is Keith Richards's son Marlon; otherwise she seems... well, so normal. Wasn't it at least traumatic to discover that the man she'd been calling daddy for 10 years wasn't her real father? "I was over the moon about it," she says. "It was like, two dads! Isn't Christmas going to be a blast!" She sounds just like the upbeat heroine of the sitcom My Two Dads.

The fact that she appears so undamaged may be due to the protectiveness of her mother, a self-styled 'human pit bull' who also serves as her manager. "She's so smart, very sharp, very strong," says Liv, "and she used to be part of the business. She's good at what she does."

It was Tyler's air of innocence which appealed to Bertolucci. The main character in Stealing Beauty, Lucy Harmon, is a virgin at the beginning of the film, who receives her sentimental education over the course of a romance-filled summer in Tuscany. Tyler is well cast for this, since she is about as far from being a conventional Hollywood starlet as it's possible to be without seeming sexually repressed; the kind of teenager who manages to be the apple of her fatherís eye without giving him sleepless nights. This same virginal quality appealed to Woody Allen, who has cast her as the latest in a long line of pubescent actresses who serve as forbidden love-objects in his films.

Isn't she concerned about working with such distinguished directors without having had a single acting lesson? "My films are my acting lessons," she says. She gestures towards the window, indicating the streets of New York. "This is my acting lesson." She does admit to some slight trepidation about being in a Bertolucci film, but says he soon put her at ease. "He's such a good listener. He's really patient. He just treated me like an equal."

Though Allen's will be her fifth film, Tyler hasn't neglected her education, having graduated from a New York private school earlier this year. Will she follow in Jodie Foster's footsteps and go to college? "I would love to go to NYU and study loads of things," she says, "but I would like to make a couple more movies so I can be financially secure. Then I'll take a lot of time off." isn't she financially secure already? "I certainly haven't made millions."

It's symptomatic of the world Liv Tyler has been brought up in that she thinks you need millions in order to be financially secure. Yet it is a tribute to her that in spite of having a life that most teenage girls can only dream about she appears to be completely unspoilt. As she gets up to leave the restaurant I tell her I'm going to stay behind to pay the bill. "Oh," she says, looking embarrassed. "D'you want some money?"

Of all the celebrities I've interviewed, she's the first one who's offered to pick up the check.


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