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Liv Tyler goes out on a limb for 'The Ledge' & talks about her rock-star father
by Carla Hay, Examiner, July 8th 2011.
If you've been wondering why actress Liv Tyler has been missing from the kind of blockbuster movies that she made early in her film career, it's because she has been spending the past few years for more personal time and fulfilling the most important role of her life: being a mother to her son, Milo. Tyler has not stopped making movies, but the movies she has been doing lately are low-budget independent films that get limited releases in theaters but are more widely available through video on demand. One of these movies is The Ledge, an emotional thriller that tells the story of how a hotel manager named Gavin (played by Charlie Hunnam) ends up contemplating suicide on the ledge of a high-rise building.
As Gavin begins to explain his motives to a cop (played by Oscar nominee Terrence Howard), who has been called to the scene to prevent Gavin from jumping, it is revealed that Gavin's married neighbors Joe and Shana (played respectively by Patrick Wilson and Tyler) have a lot to do with why Gavin is on the ledge. I caught up with Tyler at the New York City press junket for The Ledge, where she talked about the difficult but rewarding challenges of making the movie, which presents opposing viewpoints of being a Christian and being an atheist. I also asked her to share her thoughts on her father, Steven Tyler (lead singer of Aerosmith), and what she thinks of his 2011 memoir and his role as a judge on American Idol.
In both Super and The Ledge, you play a recovering drug addict who leaves her husband for someone else. Is that a coincidence? That was a complete coincidence, yes.
What was it about Shana in The Ledge that you really responded to and what motivated you to play this character? I actually met Matthew Chapman, the director [of The Ledge] over four years ago for the first time. I read the script and just had never read anything quite like it before. I was intrigued by the characters and their flaws and all the things that they are going through. They tried to get the movie made, and years later it all just came together at the last second. I happen to be friends with Charlie [Hunnam]. One of my best friends is the cinematographer [Bobby Bukowski]. And they all went to make the movie. And I suddenly felt left out of the movie. I kind of shouted out, "Oh God! 'The Ledge.' Shana! Wait!" Then Matthew heard I was asking about it again and he wrote a very nice letter saying that I had always his vision for the character and saying [if I would] get on a plane to Baton Rouge and make a movie with him. I packed my bags and left I think four days later. It was a very small-budget, very few days to shoot. There was a lot of material to get done that short period of time but it was worth it.
How was it working with Charlie Hunnam, since that you two were already friends before working together on The Ledge? Really good. How do I describe Charlie? He's a very thoughtful, stand-up guy. He was raised very well: English stock. He's just a good man. He's very considerate of everyone around him and hard working. He cared a lot about this project. He worked a very long time with Matthew to get this made and all that stuff.
When you first read the script, did you like Shana right away? Yeah, I was very intrigued by her, especially at that time. I had never played a part like that before - just the complexities. As a younger woman, I might not have understood her in a way I do now. I think the thing that resonated so much with me after having made this film was this idea in life that we're so quick to judge others, like, "Oh, look at what he's wearing or what he believes in" or "That's weird." You have all these thoughts about people, yet you really have no idea what someone has been through and who they are. Life is long and complicated. A lot of things happen, particularly with religion and politics, some people have very strong beliefs. We might not always understand them. But I recognized that in my character and in myself while I was playing her for a month in Louisiana that we're all just trying to cope in life and find a way through good and bad situations and those beliefs that these characters have. Gavin has the beliefs that he has because of loss and pain that he's been through. He lost a belief in something bigger than himself because he's so hurt. Patrick [Wilson's] character has this sort of opposite thing he's put all his focus and attention in redeeming himself through this religion. I'm not so quick to judge people in the same kind of way. [The Ledge] opened my eyes, for sure.
Do you keep a character in your psyche, even after you're finished playing the character? Yeah, coming home from filming is always intense - not only because you've spent this long amount of time as another character but because you're working so intensely. Nothing else exists in your world but making that movie, so when it's over you're definitely feeling a sense of loss or readjustment, for sure. It does take a while to shed being in that head space of somebody else all the time. It's also really exciting and great to be done with it and move on.
Did the cast and crew The Ledge try to lighten the mood to ease up on the heavy tone of the movie? We just didn't have any time. We shot this film in less than a month. We would work and work and work. There was a lot of dialogue to do each day. We would generally go home and memorize lines and go right back to work. I liked to go to the bar at the corner and have a whiskey, relax when I could, and listen to the jukebox, which was great in the little town of Baton Rouge. But we didn't much "letting our hair down."
Shana has lot of good non-verbal looks in The Ledge ... I do? Thank you.
Was that something Matthew Chapman told you to do, or was it just something you did on your own? It's not that calculated. I am the character and I'm just observing the situation, so whatever happens happens. I might have an idea sometimes about something specifically I want to do. "Look No. 31," but generally it's really not that thought-out.
What did you think of the notion that Gavin has that seducing women is about putting an idea into their heads. You think there is any validity to that theory? I'd rather just keep in context with film, if that's OK. I don't like talking about how it pertains to [people in general]. It depends on the situation, I suppose. It depends on who the man is.
Do you think it was Gavin's male fantasy that this technique would work in seducing a woman? That's interesting. We'll have to ask Matthew Chapman, because he wrote that. Obviously, he believes that. It's an interesting question. Putting it towards Shana, it's just that she's so locked up in her world. I always felt like that she never trusted herself or her own instincts because if she did the things she wanted to do, it led her to a very dark and bad place. I think she's very repressed. Sometimes that happens in life. You meet people - male, female, old, young - and you have a chemistry with them and it's unexplainable. I think that it's quite scary. Clearly, [Gavin] enhances that.
Joe and Gavin are pretty stubborn in their beliefs. How do you see the characters in The Ledge? I would say that I feel that the actors brought more substance to it. I didn't see them as completely black and white. I think that's what interesting in the story: that idea of "Don't judge a book by its cover." "What you see is what you get" - it's not very true in this situation because they've had such colorful experiences. In that moment, maybe their views are black and white, but ultimately you see that comes from the loss and pain they've all experienced.
Without giving away any spoilers, there's a very dramatic, emotional scene involving your character at the end of The Ledge. What kind of direction did you get to prepare for that scene? Actually to be honest, Matthew and I did get on that day. I didn't scream at him, but I kind of got angry at him at one point in the day. Because the shooting schedule was so tight, I sat bound to a chair with a ball in my mouth literally for about six hours and didn't get a close-up until they said, "Sorry we have to wrap now. This day is over." I had maybe a minute to do all that performance ... It was so rushed and not fair in a way to me. I was really mad about that.
So you were really tortured in order to do that scene? Yes, but I didn't have to stay like that. I did that for Patrick because I wanted to be able to be fully present for him. Making movies this small, when you really don't have a lot of time is hard, because at the end of the day all the creative people want to make the best movie possible, but where the money comes from - the producers - yes, they want to make the best movie, but they also want to make the cheapest movie possible. I don't mean that in a critical way. It is what it is. There's no more money. When it's the 10th hour or the 12th hour, there is no overtime. You have to walk away and it's really hard sometimes, because if you didn't get to finish everything that you wanted to or realize everything that you wanted to, to let it go is really hard.
Early in your film career, you did blockbuster films like Armageddon and The Lord of the Rings movies, but recently you've been doing low-budget independent films, such as The Ledge and Super. Do you find working on lower-budget films more challenging? Well, it's interesting because a lot of these films might not get made if they weren't made in that form. And so that's great, because these interesting projects are getting to actually happen. It was really fun for to make [The Ledge] and to make Super. The last film I had done before that was The Incredible Hulk, and I had taken a year off and I hadn't worked. It was really interesting. On The Incredible Hulk, we could go double-time and triple-time to shoot for 24 hours if we wanted to, and had all the money in the world to some extent. To make a movie like [The Ledge] where everyone is init for the passion of the project, it's kind of thrilling in a way too to think, "OK, you've got this much money, these people and this many days. Go!" There's a thrill in that to test yourself in that and see what you can get done.
Speaking of The Incredible Hulk, you played the Hulk/Bruce Banner's love interest, Betty Ross, in that movie. So are you going to be involved in The Avengers movie, since the Hulk/Bruce Banner character is in The Avengers? I don't know. I don't think so. I would probably know about it if I was. I'm not sure. I can't answer. I kind of know some things but I can't say, I don't think.
Your Shana character in The Ledge is a hotel maid. Do you think you've gotten better at making beds now that you've played a maid? I didn't have much time to practice. No, I just kind of winged it. I did want to go there and spend a day with a maid and watch her make a bed, but it didn't happen.
Your father, Steven Tyler, wrote the memoir "Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?" Have you read the book yet? I started to read his autobiography. It's a funny thing reading your parents' autobiographies. My mom has a book too, and it's just one of things where as a human you want to know more about your parents and the way they see things and the things that have happened to them. But as a child, maybe ignorance is bliss. It's a complicated experience reading a book like that about your parents.
What surprised you the most about your father being a judge on American Idol? I can't say that is surprised me. He surprises me all the time, just as a person. I find him [to be] magical and crazy. Honestly, the biggest feeling I've had about that whole thing is I feel so proud of him as a person, because as a family we had a really rough couple of years. It was not easy, and he pulled himself out of a really hard place, and really worked hard at it. I know it wasn't easy for him. For "Idol" to come up and present itself to him, for him to be brave enough to take that experience at his age to do something completely new and different, he was ready for it. I see him really happy right now. He's filled with light. And it's so sweet to see the world discover his personality for the first time, because that's the part [of him] that I know so well. People know his music, but I didn't even know that they didn't know that part of him.
What's next for you? I'm not sure what movies I'm going to make. I have not been so focused on making movies in the past couple of years, because I've been through a lot of personal stuff. With my son, we moved to Los Angeles, and then we moved back [to New York] this year. He just started kindergarten this year. I didn't even read a script, honestly, for about six months because I don't want to be tempted to go away and work. I knew that I couldn't leave him. I had to get used to being a parent of a kid in school and create some stability for him. So I'm just now starting to focus and read a lot [of scripts]. I have a couple of things that I'm attached to that I'm hoping [to do]. I'm just not sure exactly what's happening. We'll see.