Rumor has it that movie star Liv Tyler has never formally studied acting. Tyler is the female lead in The Incredible Hulk, a movie about a man who turns into a big green monster whenever he gets angry. Thankfully, Tyler did not turn big and green, or even angry, when The Daily Yomiuri asked her to comment on the rumor.
"Yes, that's true," she said.
However, the 31-year-old has racked up years of on-the-job training. "I work incredibly hard, and I would say the nature of being an actor involves a lot of studying. Every time you're playing a part you're preparing and you're researching and you're studying and you're working with various types of teachers and actors and directors...I think I was 15 or 16 when I made my first film, so my training in a way, sort of schooling, was on the set and doing the real thing," Tyler said.
Moreover, she added: "I have someone that I love to work with. She is an acting teacher and a coach. I don't go to her classes, but when I'm preparing a character I'll sit down with her and we have private sessions and we talk for hours on end about coming up with ideas for that character and planning and mapping out the arc."
In The Incredible Hulk, Tyler plays Betty Ross, a biologist whose boyfriend, fellow scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) first morphs into the title behemoth during a lab experiment gone wrong. Also present on that fateful day is Betty's father (William Hurt), a military officer who wants to capture the Hulk and turn him into a walking weapon.
The film telegraphs this backstory during the opening credits, and then picks up five years later with Banner living as a fugitive in Brazil.
Asked if she had mentally filled in the missing years in her character's life as preparation for the role, Tyler said: "She gets hurt very badly [in the lab incident] and she's in a coma and when she wakes up basically he's gone. It's that question of is he alive, is he not alive? And we had talked about the idea that he would send her little things every once in a while. There was a scene that I don't think wound up in the movie that he sent her these little seeds for some sort of a very rare, special kind of flower that she was able to grow...and when he came back to see her he saw that plant in the house. But that didn't make it into the movie, but we did have a lot of things like that."
Tyler said she, Norton and Hurt "spent a couple of weeks all together in a room rehearsing, but we didn't really rehearse or practice our lines very much." Instead, they discussed the lab accident in detail in order to visualize "how that trauma affected all of us...so we would have that information inside of us and that mental picture to be able to play with."
Norton and Hurt each contributed to Tyler's on-the-job training. "Edward's very natural and he's incredibly intelligent...He has so much knowledge for the character and the part that he's able to do a lot of improvising. He just comes across as being so natural; it's very effortless for him," she said.
"William comes from a super, super trained background and was in school for many many many, many many years and does a lot of theater and he's very specific about how he likes to prepare and rehearse. It's like a whole different sort of style, which was wonderful for me, to get to work with the two of them in such different kinds of ways because there's so many lessons to be learned from both of them."
Anticipating the obvious follow-up question, Tyler continued: "You want to know about my way? Mine's somewhere in the middle. I do a lot of my preparation and that sort of thing on my own. It's very mental and very in my own little world, and then I need to throw all that away to be quite spontaneous, in the moment, on the day."
The Incredible Hulk is based on a line of Marvel comic books that dates back to 1962. "The thing that's cool about the comic books is that there's so many different interpretations because it goes on for so long, and there's like different authors and illustrators and you always see very different physical interpretations of what the characters look like," said Tyler, who admitted her own girlhood comic book tastes ran more to Archie and Veronica.
Like many recent comic book movie adaptations, this one has a dark side: The Hulk sometimes kills people, even if he probably doesn't mean to.
Tyler appreciates such films "because the characters are so complex and layered and they all have dark sides and light sides, which is really compelling."
But she also enjoys more innocent fare: "I used to watch the Hulk TV show and the Batman and Robin TV show with my mom all the time and I loved it...I did like the sort of campy aspect of it. I did like the sort of 'Wow!' 'Pow!'" she said, throwing punches at the air in front of her. "And was it Eartha Kitt as Catwoman? Oh, that was so amazing. 'Purr-rrr-rrr-rrr.' I loved that."
Is there a superhero role in Tyler's future? "I don't have something I think about every day and fantasize about doing, but it would be great fun...to play something so completely opposite of yourself and to have those sort of powers."