Liv and kisses
by Barry Didcock, The Sunday Herald, April 29th 2001
She skips from Lord Of The Rings' Queen Arwen to high comedy, passing by some erotic drama on her way - now she's breathing down the necks of Hollywood's leading ladies. Barry Didcock bows down before Liv Tyler
"MY boobies," says Liv Tyler, curling a long leg under a be- denimed bumcheek and sitting up straight in her high-winged armchair, "are all over Hollywood." A pause, then realisation drops like a cartoon anvil. So does my pen. "Don't you dare " she squeals.
Too late. In fairness, all she means is that right now hometown LA is plastered with billboards for One Night At McCool's, a spicy black comedy directed by Harold Zwart which has just opened here and the US and which marks the debut of Michael Douglas's Further Films production company. It's also Tyler's first film release since wrapping Peter Jackson's three-part Lord Of The Rings epic. And the poster? Tyler and a wicked leopard skin dress joined in vampish, figure-hugging union.
The film casts the 23-year-old actress as Jewel Valentine. Gold- digger by day, gold-digger by night, she waltzes through the lives of three men while each recounts his story in wildly differing versions. To blue-collar loser Matt Dillon, she's trouble in a red dress, to his slimy lawyer cousin (Paul Reiser) she is a porn star fantasy, and to cop John Goodman, the virginal embodiment of his dead wife. Hemlines rise and fall, though one thing that never drops is the body count as Jewel embarks on a double-barrelled killing spree.
It's certainly a film for the cine-literate. There's a sex'n'suds car wash scene lifted straight from Cool Hand Luke (and every big- hair metal video since) and a vicious send-up of a famous Michael Douglas role in the film's bullet-riddled denouement.
"The car wash scene we shot in two takes," says Tyler proudly. "They set two cameras up, gave me a bucket and hose and put me in front of a car. And the whipping scene we did in one take. I was mad because I wanted to do it again."
The "whipping scene", in which Reiser acts out his dominatrix fantasy, was shot on a closed set with only a lighting crew present. "They didn't want to look, but they really wanted to look," laughs Tyler who bestrides Reiser in hotpants and a leather basque, definitely the better end of the deal - he's face-down in leather chaps and a pair of snowy white Calvins. Douglas, meanwhile, spends the film with his hair teased into an awesome quiff and his jive-ass strut is accompanied by a 1960s-style musical motif that nods to his days as Karl Malden's sidekick in The Streets Of San Francisco. "It's funny because he's got so much hair," says Tyler, "but he wanted it to look like a toupee".
So did she feel comfortable dressed like Pamela Anderson at the Oscars? "Of course not," she yelps. "Getting from the trailer to the set took so much courage. I had to go 'OK, I'm really confident about this'."
Despite Douglas's presence and backing, the film is about as low budget as Hollywood gets. For Tyler, it was a sobering contrast to the high-profile world of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Shrouded in secrecy, boosted by hype and internet leaks, its "bigger than Star Wars" tag brings with it a weight of expectation. The three parts were filmed back to back in New Zealand and Tyler features in all of them, along with fellow It Girl Cate Blanchett.
"The Lord Of The Rings was just enormous," she says. "There were hundreds and hundreds of people and I couldn't get to know everybody. But it wasn't a big-budget movie in the sense that Armageddon was a big-budget movie, where there was planes and helicopters and fancy food every day. It was really basic in that way. But the project was big."
No dominatrix outfits to be worn, but she did have a different sort of prosthetic adornment to worry about. "I had little pointy ears, very small, very subtle. But they looked kind of big on me. I looked like a donkey. I had lots of different costumes, very, very beautiful, slightly pre-Raphaelite, no waists, no confined areas at all, just very free and of the earth." And like any self-respecting Middle Earther, she also had a sword. "I wanted to keep it," she hoots. "I was going to try and smuggle it home with me but I thought I would get arrested. They said they were going to send it to me but I don't believe them." She also wanted to keep her ears but couldn't because they were made of perishable gelatine - one melted on a car dashboard.
Swinging from one film set to its polar opposite without disintegrating has become second nature to Liv Tyler. She left the Deep South shoot of Robert Altman's black comedy Cookie's Fortune for the chill of St Petersburg to film Martha Fiennes's Onegin, then bounced back to Altman for Dr T And The Women, which filmed in Dallas. Bernardo Bertolucci, meanwhile, took her to Europe for Stealing Beauty, where she starred as a sexual ingenue alongside Jeremy Irons, and found herself back there when she shot Plunkett And Macleane in Prague.
For the Italian director, Tyler was merely a romantic foil, part Lolita, part Bo Derek. But Martha Fiennes found something deeper and Tyler's reputation as a screen siren starts there. Altman, meanwhile, uncovered her potential for comedy. It's that which she puts to such good use in One Night At McCool's, though even she isn't sure whether it's a strand she'll develop amid the uncertainty caused by the looming Hollywood writers' strike, which is making many leading players squeeze in as much work as possible. Typically, Tyler is more laid-back about things.
"I've finished The Lord Of The Rings and I'm just happy to be home," she says. "I don't believe in squeezing anything in before anything. I'm just totally patient and waiting till that thing that makes my heart skip a beat comes along again."
Currently occupying that role offscreen is fiance Royston Langdon of British rock band Spacehog. The pair were engaged, romantically, on Valentine's Day and so far both Mum (Bebe Buell, aka Playboy Playmate of the Month, November 1974) and Dad (Aerosmith frontman and rock's wildchild Steve Tyler) have pronounced themselves happy with the match.
Whether Tyler will still be married in 2003 when the third part of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy comes out remains to be seen, given the number of marriage break-ups in showbusiness, especially Hollywood's unique brand. One thing is sure though: in 2003 Tyler will still be younger than Julia Roberts is now, a fact which may give the latter pause for thought. Two parts Elizabeth Taylor to one part Meg Ryan - and with a rockstar for a dad - Liv Tyler could soon be Queen of Hollywood.
And as the memory of Erin Brockovich fades and Tyler puts on the weighty mantle of Most Popular Actress In America, Roberts could soon be reminiscing about the days it was her boobies that were all over Hollywood.