Empire Magazine, September 1996. Photographs by Bettina Rheims
She's the progeny of the ultimate
rook'n'roll couple, she'd give
Helen of Troy a run for her
drachmas in the looks department,
and, goddamnit, she's acting just
about everybody off the screen in
Bernardo Bertolucci's new movie,
Stealing Beauty. David Cavanagh
is burdened with the unfortunate
task at jetting to sun-soaked
Tuscany to discover Liv Tyler,
the hottest face of the 90s...
Photographs by Bettina Rheims.
"Beautiful? My God, beautiful is not
the word. She's absolutely
gorgeous." That is just one verdict
on Liv Tyler, care of director
Bruce Beresford, who cast her.
when she was only 16, in her first
movie, Silent Fall. "What struck
me," says Bernardo Bertolucci,
whose new film. Stealing Beauty. Tyler graces
with some exquisitely subtle acting, "was that
when I was talking to her. I couldn't tell her
age. Suddenly she was 13 years old, a kind of
little baby. And then you look at her and she's
like Gene Tierney in The Shanghai Gesture
(von Stemberg, 1941) - a femme fatale. It was
"She's unbelievable," says Susan Minot,
the American novelist who wrote Stealing
Beauty's screenplay. "She's got something
I don't know how she knows what she's
doing, but she really does."
"Her parents nickname her 'Liver',"
wrote the Daily Star back in January, "and
that's quite appropriate. For she's certainly
going to bring home the bacon in 1996."
Liv Tyler is now 20. She had her 19th
birthday on the set of Stealing Beauty, the
movie she made with Bertolucci in Tuscany a
year ago, which is about to launch her as a
serious actress with fabulous potential. She
was the indisputable Face Of Cannes '96.
gazing smokily down from seemingly every
billboard, getting ambushed on arrival at the
airport by the paparazzi, who clung to her
baggage cart and wouldn't let go.
"I think it's wonderful and I'm very
grateful," she told Empire at Cannes in May.
"It's a great honour to be part of this film and
it'll never be so nice again. But I'm not taking
it too seriously, because if I did. I'd be floating
up on another planet."
It's the first week of July 1995 and the
breathtaking mountains of Tuscany
resound with cries of 'Fermi!' and
'Silenzio!' as Tyler prepares for another
take. Bertolucci has taken camera crews to
Katmandu, the Sahara and the Forbidden
City. Now he has come home to Italy - for
the first time in 15 years - to make a small,
sophisticated romance about a 19-year-old
New York girl named Lucy Harmon and the
effect she has on everyone around her.
Lucy, whose mother has recently died, is
staying at the remote Italian home of a
sculptor (Donal McCann), an old family
friend. Examples of the sculptor's work -
actually made by Tuscan resident Matthew
Spender, son of the late Stephen - clutter up
the garden of the house on the hill; their
anguished contours put Philistines in mind of
Tony Hancock's monstrous Aphrodite At
The Water Hole in The Rebel.
Uncomfortable in this odd milieu of art,
tranquility, decadence and jealousy, Lucy is
about to throw a tantrum. Tyler explains the
background to the scene.
"I'm a virgin," she smiles, "and Jeremy
Irons has just told the entire household about
it. And so they have nothing better to do than
gossip. I come up to the pool and hear them
talking about me - and he (Irons) runs away
like a wimp - so I go into my room, very
angry, and pack my things, feeling kind of
trapped and scared."
She does three takes and Bertolucci lets
her go. Those who know the Story of how
Tyler came to realise the identity of her real
father can find themselves spending
inordinate amounts of time staring at her lips.
It's very impolite, but it's also difficult to
stop. (The finished film will begin with an
even less gracious closesup of the crotch of
Making Silent Fall, she explained her
family history to Bruce Beresford this way: "I
said, 'Well, my father is Steven Tyler and he's
in Aerosmith and he's got a really
However, until the age of nine, ten or 11 -
the age changes every time she tells the
story - she was Liv Rundgren, supposedly
the daughter of rock musician Todd. Her
mother, Rundgren's then-girlfriend Bebe
Buell, had had a brief relationship with Steven
Tyler during a separation from Rundgren,
had got pregnant, had been reconciled with
Rundgren, had given birth to Liv (whom she
named after the Norwegian actress Liv
Ullmann, whose face was on the cover of a
TV guide she happened to be reading at the
time) and wisely decided to raise the child as a
Rundgren, since the Aerosmith singer was at
the time heavily involved in drugs. ("I find
drugs disgusting," said Liv in I993, "and I
don't like to drink alcohol either.")
Backstage at a Rundgren gig in the US, the
nine, ten, or 11-year-old Liv met Tyler, who,
she noticed, was paying her an unusual
amount of attention. She studied
his remarkable Jaggeresque physiognomy,
thought about her own, and promptly
guessed the truth. Her mother confirmed it.
And so Liv Rundgren became Liv Tyler,
and her mother took on the challenge of being
her daughter's manager.
"I trust her and she knows what I want,"
Tyler says, starting to laugh. "And I don't
have to pay her millions of dollars. Most
young actors, they're so silly - they have
publicists and managers and they just spit
legal fees. They lose all their money
She is sitting in her trailer, parked up in a
lane in some woods. Stealing Beauty is her
fourth film - alter Silent Fall, there followed
parts in Heavy and Empire Records - and
she has only just graduated from high school.
At 14 she accidentally became a model, when
photographs of her were sent by a friend to
Interview magazine. Two years later, bored
with modelling, she told a journalist she had
aspirations to appear in a movie, whereupon
Beresford snapped her up immediately.
"As a kid, I always loved to perform," she
smiles. "So many people were musicians in
my family. My mother was always a singer (in
bands called The B-Sides and The Gargoyles)
and she'd play all these gigs. I would get
dressed up in all her clothes, like a four-year-
old tart with gloves and shoes and boas and
jewellery. I had this little red plastic guitar and
I'd come out and perform for all the family
friends and embarrass myself terribly."
At 17, she was the sexually provocative
Catholic girl in the video for Aerosmith's hit
single, Crazy, co-starring with her friend
Alicia Silverstone. Ironically, Silverstone was
then quoted in an interview as saying that she
had the part of Lucy Harmon.
"She called me right before I left," Tyler
remembers, "and I told her I'd gotten the
part. And she didn't really say very much.
Then I read the article and thought. ‘Oh God'."
Until she got the role, she knew little of
Bertolucci's work, despite seeing The Last
Emperor many times as a kid (she was ten
when it came out) The directors perception
is that she has he manner of a person in
transition between girliness and womanhood
(with elements of both), a view echoed by
45-year-old producer Jeremy Thomas. Does
she understand why these men might
"Yeah," she concedes, "but I've been like this since I was a little girl.
A lot of it comes from growing up with a single mother; being a child,
but also a confidante and a friend to her, helping her with her
problems. I am aware of it. I notice it in the way I think sometimes."
Where dealings with the media are
involved, Tyler in person is more girl than
woman. Her voice is a level, teenage, descant
whine with few emphases. Most situations
she discusses are either nerve-wracking
(meeting Bernardo, acting in an important
scene, 'carrying' Stealing Beauty) or, by
contrast, too enormous to worry about
(stardom, pressure, long-term career
ambitions). She's the sort of person who tells
you the names of all her pets. One of them, a
Chihuahua called Chiquita, lollops around
the trailer as he speaks. (The American
magazine Details observed, memorably, that
the animal is 'the size of Iggy Pop's penis'.)
Conversely, she is an extremely
professional interviewee, wary of
indiscretions, quick to seize on weak
questions ("I don't understand that; what do
you mean?") and easily able to deal with
heavy journalists who ask her: "Do you care
about beauty, and the fact that it's stolen?"
About 100 yards from the trailer, in a
clearing next to a lake, Bertolucci is setting up
the shot for a scene where Lucy reminisces to
a much younger girl about her first kiss. Her
reverie will be interrupted by a group of
hunters, noisily descending the hills with
shotguns and dogs, who are chasing a wild
boar. An early version of this scene had to be
aborted when the original boar panicked and
made for a group of actors and onlookers; it
was overpowered by means of electric shocks
and heavy blows with planks of wood. Bring
on Boar II. The big joke on set is that we will
all be eating Boar I for dinner.
Tyler finds this upsetting and has been
given half an hour by Bertolucci to calm down.
"I had my 19th birthday on Saturday,"
she says, "and we walked in (to dinner) and it
was so beautiful, and I looked over to my left
and in the middle of this grand long table of
food, there was this fucking dead pig. I have
always loved animals. I would barely even
kill an insect."
The scene eventually gets under way; the
boar, however, will not appear in the final cut.
Tyler's acting in the clearing is barely
perceptible - a bashful grin here, a flick of
hair there - but it will look impressive on
screen. Indeed, while at no point in the movie
does she appear to emote, her character is
convincingly, uncannily true to life. This is
some achievement, since she's surrounded by
Italian technicians whose language she does
not speak; since the script calls for a loss-of-virginity scene that would unravel most
18-year-olds ("I found it terribly tortuous,"
she will later say); and since everyone on the
film has a different opinion on what Stealing
Beauty is about. It's a Chekhovian drama,
full of tension. No, it's a light comedy. Nah,
it's a mystery story. Au contraire, pal, it
doesn't fit into any genre.
Unbeknownst to Tyler, Bertolucci sees
parallels between the virginity of Lucy
and his own return to Italy, after many
years, to start again and "do something
fresh". Lucy's virginity, he points out, is her
own trophy of individuality - hers to keep,
hers to lose - and although Tyler is
oblivious to this section of her director's
agenda, she knows intuitively how to play it.
"There isn't a single second in the film
where I don't believe her," Bertolucci says
emphatically. "I believe her all the time."
"This is the first time I've ever liked and
understood a character," Tyler reckons.
"She's a lot like me in a lot of ways. I found
with parts I did in the past that I didn't
understand certain things, or why the script
was the way it was. I just did my job and it
was over. Maybe it's the age thing (with
Lucy). Being at this age where you're very
strong and very sure of things, and then in
another way you have no clue."
Lucy has, in fact, come to Tuscany to
search for her real father, whose identity she
has narrowed down to three possible
candidates. Perhaps that's why Liv Tyler is so
comfortable in the role. No student of acting
she has never had formal training - she
learns by watching others. She is eager to
stress that she has seen a lot more of life than
Lucy (one of her best friends is Marlon
Richards, son of Keith; her own mother is
arguably the most illustrious 'rock chick' in
history), yet she confines revelations about
her private life to a simple inventory of her
New York household: Liv herself, her
mother, her stepfather (a guitarist named
Coyote Shivers) and a supporting cast of cats
and dogs whose names can be provided on
request. She is, as Bertolucci says, a mixture
of young and old.
"I don't want to make three silly movies
in a row to become a star," she says, keeping
her voice level. "I don't care about that. I
want to work with people like Woody Allen,
and I'll wait as long as I have to. (She has since
made a cameo appearance in Woody Allen's
forthcoming musical Everyone Says I Love
You - Ed.) My mother has always said she
really wanted me to work in Europe with a
good European director. We both started to
pray for that... and then this happened.
That's usually how my mother and I work. If
you have something in mind that you want,
and you think about it, it comes."
It is June I996 and she has come to Cannes.
Already there are squabbles breaking out
over her. Stealing Beauty is "in
competition", which has brought
Bertolucci to the festival too, but Liv Tyler is
the interview everyone wants to grab. Five
journalists have squeezed on to a hotel
balcony and each is attempting to conduct his
own personal one-to-one conversation with
the Face Of Cannes. It's all going splendidly
("It was incredible to trust Bernardo so
completely, etc. ") until the guy from Radio 1
starts snapping at the showbiz reporter from
a British tabloid, who has been interjecting
with remarks such as, "Ooh, you clever
thing!" and "Oh, no, poor you!"
"We're trying to do this for radio," the
Radio 1 man tells him sharply, "and all the
time that you're sort of wittering on in this
way, we can't use any of the stuff we get."
"Well, we've all been put in here together
haven't we?" the tabloid bloke explains.
Tyler tries to placate them: "Yeah, I mean,
we're all just having a nice conversation... "
"What I mean is, you could stop," says
Radio 1, hotly.
Fractious scenes, to be sure. Manfully, the
tabloid bloke controls his urge to gush,
except he giggles all the way through Tyler's
account of Stealing Beauty's sex scene.
"There was more nudity in the script
originally," she begins, "and I was like, 'No
way, sorry.' Of course, the thought of
showing your body parts is a terrifying
thought - I find it terrifying. Let alone
showing the whole world. And I fought it
until the very end ('Heehee! Did you ?'). But
it was done in a nice way and a very beautiful
way, and it wasn't unnecessary or boring ('It
certainly wasn't.') It wasn't, 'Here, I'm
naked, look, haha!' ('Haha!')"
"But the script called for an olive grove,
and I'd imagined an olive grove to be this
really fluffy, warm, incredibly wonderful
spot. In fact, it was this painful, stone-and
vine-infested piece of soil ('Ouch!') and I had to
lay flat on my back. I had the greatest bruises."
Everybody's a year older now, including
the Chihuahua. Tyler's character in Stealing
Beauty has, according to Bertolucci, become
a strong identification symbol among
teenagers in Italy. Two days prior to her
arrival in Cannes, Tyler was in California
shooting Inventing The Abbots with Pat
O'Connor, a movie about the relationship
between two families. She is also in Tom
Hanks' directorial debut, That Thing You
Do, about a mid-60s pop group, which she
made after Stealing Beauty was concluded.
"It was a completely opposite situation,
because Tom is this incredible comedian,"
she says. "During rehearsals we would be
laughing until we pissed our pants.
Practically," she adds.
In ironic contrast to her own real
adolescence, she plays a smalltown girl who
has never encountered pop musicians before.
In reality, Liv Tyler encounters one every
time she goes home. (Always remember, no
matter how down-to-earth Tyler appears to
be, she lives under the same roof as a man
who calls himself Coyote Shivers.)
"Right now," Tyler concludes, "I just feel
very open to what is given to me. I'm trying
to experience everything and learn
everything. I'm hoping to do something
completely different to what I've done
already. I've played a virgin twice, and I've
always been a nice girl. Which I don't mind.
But I want to... maybe grow up a little."