Home -> Articles -> Liv Tyler - right Girl, right place, right now!
by Peter Davis, Paper Magazine, June 1996
Liv Tyler and I are lounging on a garish, swamp-green 70's couch in my suite at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont. We've just ordered two jugs of java and a fresh pack of Marlboro Reds from room service. Lucky for me, Tyler and I share the same vices: chugging coffee and chaining ciggies - a rare find in California. The tiny, silver-haired waiter wheels in our goodie tray, clueless to the fact that he's about to pour coffee for the Liv Tyler, the 18-year-old glamour-coated celebutot (by now everyone knows that her dad is Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler) and teen model who's fast becoming Hollywood's next big starlet. "I've never been here before," Tyler admits after the waiter has hobbled out. "It's sweet. I imagined it to be like the Royalton, where every single fucking person who brings you your food is a model who wants to hang out and smoke a joint with you in your room." She cracks open the pack of cigarettes and arches her eyebrow suspiciously. "That's really creepy, because then they want to know about your personal life."
Tyler's personal life must run like a roller coaster of photo shoots, famous faces and raging, all-access VIP nights on the town. She's been linked in the tabloids with heartthrobs like Stephen Dorff, Evan Dando and Leonardo DiCaprio. Tyler disagrees with this image: "I'm more hermetic," she says. "I really don't enjoy that lifestyle. I don't like to be that social...it drains me. I don't know how models can do it and always look so beautiful. The more nights Helena [Christensen] goes out, the better she looks." The majority of models belly flop when they dive into movies, but Tyler has made the hazardous jump with ease. She clocked out as a mannequin at 15 with a TV commercial for Bongo jeans, right before winning her first role, opposite Richard Dreyfuss and Linda Hamilton, in Bruce Beresford's little-seen psychological chiller Silent Fall. The Bongo spot, in which a sand-sprinkled, swept-away Tyler rolls seductively on a Venezuelan beach, is currently in heavy rotation on MTV. "They stopped running [the commercials]. Then, as soon as things started to get better for me, they started running them all the time," she chuckles contentedly. "But even if everything hadn't worked out, I would have stopped modeling. Internally it didn't make me feel good. I was young and chubby. I still had all this baby fat." She tugs at her flawless, milky cheeks. "It was really hard because all I wanted to do was have French fries with my friends."
Tyler's talent is far too big for fashion spreads. To grasp her girlie charm and womanly beauty, you need to see her in action on the big screen. Sure, she rocked the house in Aerosmith's "Crazy" video, sashaying and pulling off a wicked pole dance in a strip joint for a drag-kinged Alicia Silverstone. ("I had the most unbelievable bruises all up and down my leg from that," Liv says.) But this summer, with the release of both Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty and the Sundance hit Heavy, Tyler will prove that she's well on her way to surpassing her rocker dad as a household name.
Stealing Beauty is Bertolucci's ode to the deflowering of a virgin. Tyler plays the virgin, Lucy Harmon, an American teenager who travels to Tuscany to spend a bohemian summer with expatriate family friends. Lucy's mission is to fire up a romance with the Italian pretty boy with whom she shared a passionate first kiss four years earlier. The minute Lucy arrives, the libidos of all the men in the house (played by Carlo Cecchi, Donal McCann, Jean Marais and Jeremy Irons) shift into erotic overdrive. In one scene, Lucy downs glass after glass of vino and inhales a few joints after dinner. Later, she lies in the arms of the boy who first kissed her. Just as they're about to lock lips...kersplat...Lucy vomits into his lap. In the end, she holds out for true love, blossoming with another virgin beneath a moonlit tree. But it is her relationship with Jeremy Irons' character, a writer wasting away with cancer, that is the film's most romantic one. "Jeremy's character is very sick. Lucy really brightens his days and gets him feeling better again. He gets out of bed to hang out and be around her," Tyler explains. "The film is about how everybody absorbs Lucy's energy and the way she changes."
With only three films up her sleeve at the time (Heavy, Silent Fall and the straight-to-video dud Empire Records), Tyler was transformed by her experience with Bertolucci. "He changed me. Working with Bernardo gave me a sense of confidence that I didn't have because I had never really studied acting. He's intense. He stays up until four in the morning. He can't sleep because he's plotting what he wants to do the next day. He's got it all in his head and he can visualize it perfectly."
Director James Mangold's indie flick Heavy revolves around Victor (Pruitt Taylor Vince), an overweight pizza chef whose obsession with college dropout/ waitress Callie (played by Tyler) becomes tantamount to his personal salvation. Heavy is thin on dialogue and fat on conveying plot through gesture and expression. "I wanted to make a very lyrical, almost silent film," explains Mangold. "I wanted to shoot back at all the glib, talky, postmodern films that are being made today by making a tenderhearted, meat-and-potatoes type of movie." Was Mangold nervous about casting Tyler, then a relative unknown with little acting experience? "In print this will sound fruity, but when she read for the part, I knew I was looking at a movie star. Liv communicates so much without words. You can literally see what she's thinking by watching her forehead." Heavy teams Tyler up with Shelley Winters, Debbie Harry (who plays a slutty rival waitress) and Lemonhead Evan Dando as her guitar- toting slacker boyfriend.
Tyler's resume gets better. Woody Allen gave her a cameo in this fall's as-yet-untitled, star-packed song-and-dance extravaganza. Although mum's the word for everyone involved in a Woody Allen project, I beg Tyler to break the code of secrecy. "Unfortunately, I can't talk about it at all. It's a bummer because it's going to be really funny." Tyler was initially warned that Allen "wasn't going to talk to you or direct you, so be prepared," but she found the director's on-set approach to be the opposite of his shy-guy reputation. "He'd come over and direct Lukas [Haas] and me. He'd say, 'Do this and be nervous,' and he'd come over and do it and it was so fucking funny that when he walked away you just couldn't do it the same way he did it because it's all him." I try to squeeze out a few droplets of the story line, but Tyler claims she's in the dark. "You don't get to read the script; you just know your part. Lukas and I were plotting how we could rob everyone of their sides and make a whole script."
Also in the can is Tom Hanks' directorial debut, That Thing You Do. "I play Fay, who goes out with Jonathon Schaech's character. It's about this band in 1964 that is a one-hit wonder," she says. "My whole story unfolds with my boyfriend - all this shit happens. The band makes it big, and then they break up." Tyler was a tad worried about the film's soundtrack: "Coming from a musical family, I was nervous about the songs. I thought, If my father hates these songs, I'm dead. But I was shocked, because the songs are great and would have been big hits back then."
Tyler recalls an idyllic childhood of "cookouts, inner-tubing and swimming in the lake" in Maine, where she lived in "a big, beautiful house" with her mother, former model and notorious backstage diva Bebe Buell, and numerous maternal relatives. She was raised believing that rocker Todd Rundgren was her father, although she says she didn't live with him or see him everyday. I ask about the first time she remembers meeting her real dad. "I fell completely head over heels in love with him," she says, a smile stretching across her face. "I met him when I was around nine. We spent the whole night together singing and playing. When I left, we were both so sad and we hugged and hugged. I went home and put his poster on my wall. He started sending me Easter and Christmas presents. I had these big red lips he gave me and all these stuffed animals that I slept with. They were so sacred to me." Had Liv figured out yet that this generous and affectionate family "friend" was in fact her father? "Not then. I just loved him so much and I didn't know why."
When Tyler was 11, she accompanied her mother to see Aerosmith in concert. "Guns N' Roses was on, and there was this girl standing to the left of the stage who looked exactly like me, except she was a little chubbier, a little shorter and a little younger. We both had on spandex, T-shirts and sneakers, with really long, permed hair. I looked at her and then I looked over at my mom. She had tears in her eyes. We went off to a bench in the woods and she told me everything." Tyler pulls a nubbie off her red cardigan and releases a humming sigh. "That was quite a night for everybody - my mother, my father, my father's wife."
Tyler sparks up another cigarette before continuing. "I'm sure it changed me a lot. There has to be a piece of you that was missing that is finally there when you find your real father." Was she pissed off at her mother and Rundgren for misleading her for so many years? "No, I was really excited. I went, 'Aaaah, I've got a new dad, two new grandparents, new brothers, new sisters!' I was just really open and excited to get to meet and know everybody. Unfortunately, there were egos involved so it didn't work out that way, but in the end everything was for the best."
The other night, Tyler and her father had an impromptu slumber party. "It was nice hanging out with him. We do all our beauty treatments together. It's so much fun because he has all the good creams and stuff." I envision the two lusciously lipped Tylers with mud masks on and cucumbers over their eyes, wads of ultra-pricey lip moisturizer on their smackers. "He was making me all paranoid, telling me about all the germs living on your eyelashes and in your eyebrows that are like crabs. It was so funny - like you should put a Kleenex over the door handle when you open it."
Keeping it a family affair, Buell is also Tyler's manager. Historically, greedy stage 'rents like Teri Shields and Kit Culkin have been held responsible for sabotaging their children's careers, but Buell constantly refers to her daughter as "my best friend." Says Tyler, "I'm just happy it's been simple. Mom has done great things for me. Out of our living room, she's been my publicist, my manager, everything. What's so nice is that I trust her. She doesn't have ulterior motives."
Besides a red-hot Hollywood career, what makes Liv Tyler tick? She says she's too busy to find a boyfriend and has no stomach for the fast lane, save for an occasional party at Don Hill's. ("I can always bring all my friends and get drinks for everybody, and I love Don," she says.) Tyler twists a lock of her long, brown mane around her finger. "I've always had unconditional love from everyone in my family. I don't like to hang out with shitty people. I've got really great friends and family," she explains. "I have my own little world."