LOS ANGELES — Liv Tyler is not a damsel in distress. So playing someone in need of rescue required a lot of acting.
"There were days on the set when I'd be so frustrated because I'm such a survivor," the star of Super says. "There's a part of me that would like to be a damsel in distress, but I have such a natural ability to take care of myself. I'm very solution-oriented."
In Super, opening Friday, Tyler plays Sarah, whose husband, Frank (Rainn Wilson), becomes a superhero called Crimson Bolt. His mission: retrieve Sarah from the hands of a local drug dealer (Kevin Bacon).
"The script was funny, weird, dark and touching," says Tyler, 33. "It really made me laugh out loud. I felt so much compassion and love for Frank. He feels like a failure and doesn't fit in. Then he meets my character, who makes him feel whole. When she leaves his life, he's not ready for it."
The actress empathizes. "I related to that - being in love with someone and then he leaves you and you try to figure out why." Tyler's five-year marriage to Spacehog lead singer Royston Langdon ended in 2008.
Many of Tyler's Super scenes required her character to be in a drugged-out state. "I felt extra vulnerable because I was playing someone who was out of it all the time. It was an unfamiliar feeling."
On the other hand, the role gave her the chance to use behavior she has witnessed in real life.
"Although I've not had any personal experience," Tyler says, "I've definitely been around a lot of people in my lifetime who've suffered from the disease of addiction."
Her father is American Idol judge and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler, who has been in rehab for addiction to painkillers.
Tyler explains: "Certainly the whole process of AA and recovery I'm very familiar with, being the family member or the friend of. It was very interesting and quite fresh for me, especially with what my father went through in the past couple of years. I had a real understanding of what that felt like from both sides."
In her current outfit - black tights, black short shorts and a long-sleeve black shirt - the 5-foot-10 Tyler looks as if she could leap tall buildings in a single bound. But she is actually just a mom having a Hollywood glamour moment while away from her son, Milo, 6, who is back home in New York.
After starring in The Incredible Hulk opposite Edward Norton, Tyler took time off to deal with the breakup of her marriage. During that turbulent period, she focused her attention on Milo.
"I needed to be with him," she says, "take him to school every day and make his lunch."
These days, she loves watching her father on Idol. "I feel really happy for my dad and proud of him. There's so much character in his face. When he smiles, there's an 18-year-old person in there."
Tyler has another film opening this year: The Ledge, a thriller co-starring Patrick Wilson and Terrence Howard. She is also toying with starting a music career.
"I've always wanted to sing," she says. "It's been a dream since I was a little girl... But I started acting, and then life happened."
Liv had an unusual childhood. Until she was about 9, she lived with Buell and believed musician Todd Rundgren was her father. Then she went to an Aerosmith concert and met Tyler and his daughter Mia. Liv noticed that she and Mia looked somewhat alike.
Eventually she learned that Tyler was her biological father, and she decided to embrace the new circumstances. "I spent so much of my childhood trying to put all the pieces together and figure it all out because there were so many different stories - from Todd, from Steve, from my mom, from all my family, from other people who were around," Tyler says. "I felt like a little investigator, trying to come up with what actually happened. And then there was a moment when I decided I didn't need to know exactly what happened."
Now Tyler enjoys watching "the man I know and love" as a judge on American Idol.
"My favorite thing is when he's really listening, he gets this look on his face. Sometimes he closes his eyes, and it's the same way he is when he's eating or paying attention to something at home. It makes my heart melt."