A Hopeless Romantic
Dan Madsen, Lord Of The Rings Fan Club Official Movie magazine, Issue 5, November 2002
"When we wanted to cast Arwen," relates director Peter Jackson, "it was an incredibly difficult job, because, of couse, she is not a human being - she is an elf. She is very ethereal. She has beauty, but there has to be something more than beauty - there has to be a quality that almost transcends what you would expect to see from a human being, and Liv Tyler has that."
"She has a wonderful ability to be able to create an aura of calmness and wisdom and beauty around the character she plays. I can't think of anybody else in the world who would be better. In The Two Towers, she is doing some incredibly powerful stuff."
Starting out as a young model, gracing the covers of some of the leading magazines around the world, Liv Tyler quickly developed a need for more challenging work. Acting became her dream, and it wasn't long before the world took some of her stunning beauty and natural grace lighting up the silver screen. Several smaller films and a breakout role in Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty prepared the young actress for the bigger things. And they came - Disney's Armageddon, Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do!, and last fall, The Fellowship of the Ring. Liv Tyler embraced the role of Arwen, Elven Princess. It is a physically demanding part and yet one with a touch of softness at its center, a combination that fit Tyler perfectly.
Tyler recently took time out of a particularly hectic dat to talk with Dan Madsen and share with fans the story of her sometimes difficult experience bringing Arwen to life in The Lord of the Rings.
Liv, how did you first hear of The Lord of the Rings ?
I got a phone call one day from my agent saying that they were making this movie, and they wanted me to read the material. It's very rare to be offered something that you are really excited about! I was immediately really excited that somebody wanted me and liked me. But I was also a bit embarrassed because I didn't know anything about it.
My agent knew quite a bit about it, [and] I started remembering kids in school, mostly boys, I think, who played Dungeons and Dragons and read The Lord of the Rings - I know they are very separate worlds - but that was really all I knew.
I was not, as a kid, a particularly big reader; I was much more of an outside person. I had attention deficit, and I was just not a bookish kind of person. I was kind of creating my own fairy tales in my head.
Then I got sent the scripts and this incredible, large booklet of computer-generated images that was one of the first things that Peter had put together - to give some visuals to people. I looked at that and then read the scripts. I then spoke to Peter a couple of times on the phone. I was a huge fan of his work. I guess I just went for it. I usually make all my decisions from the gut, which is hard to explain sometimes because I don't [always make the decisions] that people think I should.
I really liked Peter. I could hear the compassion in his voice, which, to me, is really important when working with a director. I like working with a director who is very kind and knows how to talk to actors. I just thought he seemed like a really sweet person on top of being incredibly connected to the material. He seemed really excited about it, and he told me about some of the other people they were casting.
I went down to New Zealand, and the first day I arrived, I was by myself. I had flown from New York. I think Fran and Philippa came to pick me up. They still hadn't decided on Viggo, and for that whole first week, I spent a lot of time with Fran and Philippa at Fran and Peter's house. We looked at hundreds of hours of tapes of all these different actors, and we would go over the script. It was still a very undecided time. That was my first big introduction to the whole thing.
Did you know what you were getting into when you first came on board - that you would be filming three movies and be there for almost a year ?
I didn't know at all what I was getting into. I had my ups and downs during this time and, in the beginning, there was a lot of confusion about my character - not only with the fans but with us.
There was a while there that they didn't know what they wanted from me or from the character. Part of me thought that maybe it was all my fault - that maybe I wasn't doing something right. It wasn't that at all. It really was that nobody knew what they wanted in the beginning.
They had taken this big leap and decided that they needed this strong character, and they went down a rather obvious route - you know, "Let's make her physically strong and equal with Aragorn and everyone else." They then realized that that is not at all who Arwen is. I was really suffering a lot during that time because they just got farther and farther away from what I loved about the character and also who I am as a person and as the actress that they hired to bring the role to life. Ultimately, scheduling-wise, it was all over the place. Initially, they had said I would be there nine months out of the year, but it was all spread out. Sometimes I would be there for a month and come home for two months and then go back for a week or a day at a time. All I know is that I have 800 New Zealand stamps in my passport!
How did you get into the character of Arwen and understand who the elves are ?
I was scared at first. I felt insecure. It has been a hard thing taking on this character. I still think many of the fans hate me. I guess it's because some people complain that it's not in the book. But that doesn't really matter. Tolkien wrote this character very beautifully, and that's all we're putting on the screen. I have really fought hard to make Arwen be what I believe in.
Are you in The Two Towers more then The Fellowship of the Ring ?
Yes, I am. We went into the appendix of the books, and all of my stuff is really from the tale of Aragorn and Arwen. If you really go into it - even though it's only a short story in the back - it is very detailed. We have really taken directly from that the arc to show the real dilemma that these two people faced and to show how these two people, who love each other, make this work.
It shows what Arwen goes through with her father, and giving that up. Should she ? And is it right ? All those kinds of themes are what we played on. It's very interesting - a very timeless story. Obviously, people go through similar things in life all the time. What are you willing to give up ?
I'm a hopeless romantic, so this is a great story for me, playing a woman who never gives up her faith ... ever. She knows she is going to die, but she doesn't care. She just wants to love Aragorn. She wants to have that experience. I think that is very beautiful - to really live. So many people live their whole lives miserably because they don't take these chances. Actually, all of these characters risk everything. It's nice to see that.
What was it like looking in the mirror for the first time in costume and seeing yourself with pointed ears ?
It was very interesting. As soon as you get into your costume and makeup, you feel totally changed. Usually, that's enough to just trigger the feeling of being in character. But whenever Arwen has her hair up, and the ears are exposed, I always feel completely insecure and vulnerable.
I always feel really shy and a little bit needy when my ears are out! When they are not showing, I feel more confident. Viggo is completely obsessed with the ears! Every single scene we shot, he tried to throw in a moment when he touched the ears purely for the audience. He thinks that there are going to be some people out there with a fetish for elves' ears! (Laughter) Every single shot we did together, he would stroke my ear, and I was trying to keep a straight face and act! He would be looking at me lovingly and stroking my ear. It is so funny!
We have fun together. [But] it's been hard, too. Viggo has really worked hard on this picture. It is hard because everybody is so sweet and wonderful, but we would get things sprung up on us all the time, like Elvish lines an hour before we are going to shoot a scene, or scenes changing first thing in the morning ... certaing things that we have to be so flexible with all the time. There is only so much of that that you can take before you start to crack. You either laugh yourself to death or get really pissed off! Some days, it is either/or.
Is the elven language difficult to memorize ?
It is very beautiful. I really enjoy learning it. I guess it is like learning any language. Roisin Carty, the dialogue coach, will write it down for me and then put the exact translation for each word next to it. Then she takes herself sating [the lines] over and over for me. It is just a memorization thing. It is kind of musical in a way; it is like memorizing a song. I just listen over and over, and the sounds start to connect.
There was a moment where I had a line that I kept saying in a different way, and I just couldn't get it, and I was getting frustrated. It was a wide shot. I had all of these Elvish lines, and I was beginning to panic. It turned out that I was saying it right and that, evidently, there had been some miscommunication, and someone had given us the wrong line. I was actually remembering saying this line before and saying it correctly. I almost instictively was saying it correctly, even though others thought I was saying it wrong. That was really amazing to me. I realized I knew it better than I thought I did.
How did you like wielding a sword and riding a horse ?
The sword fighting was really fun. I wish I could do more of it. I wish there was a way to squeeze more sword fighting into the movies because that was really wonderful - not the aggression of it, but the poetry of it. It is like dancing. You learn how to do it in complete slow motion, and it is very graceful and elegant. The better you get, the more and more it speeds up.
It is a memorization thing; we learned these elaborate sword-fighting techniques in training, and [sword-master] Bob Anderson told us that you never change what you have done with the stuntmen because once they have learned it, you can never change a move. That's how people get hurt; your body has memorized the moves in a particular way. I thought that was so interesting. The horse stuff was a little bit harder for me.
How much of the riding scene did you do ?
I don't want to say because I want everybody to think it is me! (Laughter) I had an incredible double names Jane, who is phenomenal. She actually bought my stallion, Florien.
When you started on this film, there was no way you could have knows how enromously successful it would be. Has it changed your life at all ?
It hasn't. Not really. That must seem so weird, but it hasn't. The films are huge, though, like Star Wars.
I actually went to see Star Wars Episode II when I was in New Zealand. They have this incredible movie theater in Wellington with a VIP section where you pay $25 and sit in a reclining seat and have fruit and cheese and champagne. It was fabulous! I went with Ngila Dickson, the costume designer, and we laughed through the whole thing.
My favorite moment was when Natalie Portman's shirt gets cut by something in that gladiator scene, and her shirt strategically slices off to show her stomach! A one-shouldered crop top! It was very camp.
The Lord of the Rings is now a box-office contender with the likes of Star Wars.
I am very proud to be a part of it because of how beautiful it is. When I saw this movie for the first time, I just couldn't believe how spectacular the performance were and how developed everything was. It was also incredibly stunning to look at.
Being down there making it, there were times when it felt like we were making Meet The Feebles or something - you just couldn't tell. Especially doing green-screen and blue-screen, you just feel like an idiot. But to see it all work and to see Peter's vision come to life was very impressive for me.
Are you going to be making any public appearances where fans can meet you ?
I've never been asked to go to a convention or anything like that. It sounds like fun. I don't ever get to meet fans except those who ask for my autograph.
As a young actress, what have you learned from actors, such Sir Ian Mckellen, who have been in the profession for so many years ?
I am completely in love with Ian McKellen - I am so glad you asked me about him. He is one of my favorite people I have ever met in my whole life. Ian is just this incredible actor, and he has done all this incredible work for so long. You'd think he would be this bigger-than-life kind of person, but he is just the sweetest man.
What I have learned from him is not to take it all too seriously or take yourself too seriously. And to always remember the fun and humor in what we do. I have worked with actors before - who I will not name - and had a really bad time because all they care about is themselves. They are not giving at all. It is misery working with them; they just think they are so great and important.
You know, every actor gets scared. I was on set one day watching Ian, and they changed all these lines on him at the last minute, and he was nervous because he was trying to memorize all these lines. It was so cute, because I get like that when they give me all this Elvish. It is terrifying because I have to stand up there in front of 50 people, and the whole shot depends on whether I can memorize the Elvish or not. If I can't, I have to go back and do it again 800 times, and you don't want to let anybody down. But I love Ian. He is so sweet and so honest and naughty! He is an incredible character, and I have really enjoyed getting to know him.
Did you bond with a lot of the cast members while you were filming in New Zealand ?
We're all like family in a way. If you ask me what hand cream everybody used, or what year everybody was born, I wouldn't be able to tell you, but I do know the essence of their souls and who they are as people. That's just from being around each other so much. We've all changed a lot, too. Elijah was 18 when we started making these movies, and he's now 21. He's really grown up.
I know that New Zealand has its share of big-city excitement, but it probably doesn't compare with what you are used to here in the United States. What was it like being disconnected from your normal social scene for such a long time ?
I had envisioned New Zealand as being much more provincial. I really thought we were going to live in this little country-bumpkin town, and I wanted a little country house with a white picket fence and a porch. They were renting all these houses for us, and that's what I asked for.
When I got there, I was surprised. There is a lot of youth culture there, and incredible restaurants and food and night-clubs. Even though Wellington is small, it is like a little mini-London. That was an adjustment for me because I didn't really want that at first. But then it was actually really fun for us to all be able to go out and let our hair down and dance and get drunk and have fun after working so hard.
The people are so sweet there and so kind. The crew on this movie was fantastic. I just adore them so much. I cried when I left because they are very special and so a part of the whole experience. They watch each take and each performance. I just did a hair commercial in Los Angeles, working with a L.A. crew, and it was so different. That's what they do all the time, and they are so used to watching and working with people. I like the energy that everyone had in New Zealand. They really pay attention. It's not just that it is new to them - it's that they really care.
Did your father [rock legend Steven Tyler of Aerosmith] see The Lord of the Rings ?
My dad fell asleep when he watched it! (Laughter) I brought Steven with me to see it. When I saw it for the first time, they had this little screening in New York, and I went with Ian McKellen, my boyfriend, my dad, and a few other people. My dad brought this huge bag of sweets with him and all these ice cream bars. There were wrappers rattling the whole time. I thought Ian McKellen was just going to kill him! He fell asleep for only a few minutes, probably just from the sugar - which is a good sign because usually he falls asleep through the whole movie! I think he was a bit bummed out that there wasn't more of me; he thought I would have a bigger role.
My other dad, Todd Rundgren, saw the film where he lives in Hawaii, and he wrote me a really long email saying how much he loved it. I was so proud that he liked it!
Liv, what was the most challenging thing you had to tackle on these films ?
Myself! Everything! Everybody had their challenges, but I did have a particularly hard time because they didn't know what they wanted. That was a lot for me to endure, but the reward of it now is having someone tell me that they like it. That means so much to me. I love when someone tells me that something I did made them happy or scared or whatever. Getting the chance to keep working has been really exciting, too.
Do you have one of your Arwen action figures ? How does it feel to have your own action figure ?
It's very interesting. The ones I like the best are the special-edition ones that they have in New Zealand - all the busts and bronzes. They're incredible.
Is it strange to see yourself as a sculpture or a figure ?
What I like about it is that it is someone else's vision of me. My friend, Ben, did the full-body sculpture of me in New Zealand. The body was incredible! I told him I only wished my body was like that! (Laughter) That was his fantasy version of me. I loved that because [the figures] really don't look like you. They are somebody else's interpretation of you. My favorite one was the figure with the horse and Frodo, when the little Evenstar lights up when you push her back.
Is it true that you have some wonderful new costumes in The Two Towers ?
I have some incredible costumes in this film. Ngila Dickson outdid herself this time. The colors and velvets are amazing. One dress is made of the richest and most incredible red velvet from Paris that cost a gazillion dollars! It is so beautiful. I wanted to take them all home, but I can't have any of them! It is so fun to wear those costumes.
Liv, what will be the most lasting memory for you from working on these films ?
While I was making it, my feelings were, "Oh, this is so hard." I was homesick and complaining and feeling generally worn down. Already, [that feeling is fading], and it will continue to [fade] as time goes by. I just feel complete and utter joy at being able to go through everything, I feel a lot of warmth toward all the people who have worked on it.
I don't know anybody in my whole life who has worked as hard as these people. Peter Jackson hasn't had a vacation for almost six years. He works every day! I look back and remember everything - it's like when you have a bad relationship, and when you remember it, you only think of all the good things. That's how I feel about this. I feel excited and happy and proud of everyone and so pleased that I was asked to be a part of it. I feel a great deal of pride for the quality of the film and the people who made it. I am so happy to have been a part of it!
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