by Fred Topel, Industry Magazine, March/April 2011.
The daughter of Playboy Playmate Bebe Buell and Rock n' Roll legend Steven Tyler, Liv Tyler seemed destiny-set to be a blur of problems and addictions, but she has turned out to be one of the nicest, hardest-working single moms in show business.
As we watch with guilt and fascination while Charlie Sheen unknowingly reads from an age-old script of privilege-induced celebrity decrepitude while he staggers either to his fifth rehab stint or an early grave, we want to offer an antidote. The best we could imagine is to describe a life that seemed blueprinted for disaster, but instead turned into one of hard work, generosity, and simple success. It ain't as thrilling, but it's much, much better.
Because, if you were asked to assemble all the necessary ingredients to produce a train wreck of a celebrity existence, it would be hard to top the formative ones of Liv Tyler. The daughter of model, singer, and Playboy Playmate Bebe Buell, Liv, until the age of 13, firmly believed that she was the daughter of rock musician Todd Rundgren, only to be told that in fact she was fathered by Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler. It seems that Bebe thought it best to keep the true nature of her father's identity a secret, given that Steven was not behaving in a particularly responsible manner round about the time he became a dad. It's hard to blame her in this thought, given that at the time Liv was born, Tyler had just concluded a three year, pharmaceutically-enhanced relationship with Julia Holcomb, a 14-year-old groupie when she and Tyler met in 1974.
Given all this, Liv would have been entitled, with every justification, to a life of staggering, foulmouthed grand larceny (yes, gratuitous Lindsay Lohan dig there), but exactly the opposite was the case. Born in 1977 in New York City, the young Tyler developed a rock-solid work ethic while she was still in her teens (a tribute to her mother, no doubt). At first inclined towards modeling in her mother's idiom, she made a shift towards acting, and was given a shot at a small part in the 1994 film Silent Fall, alongside Linda Hamilton and Richard Dreyfuss. The film itself was eminently forgettable, but her few scenes made an impact on casting agents, and shortly thereafter she was offered a role in Heavy, a quiet, thoughtful tale of an overweight short order cook whose life is transformed by a lovely new waitress. With a decidedly un-Hollywood like capacity for not chewing up scenery in the process of making a point, Tyler stole the film (worth seeing, if you haven't already), and she managed to become a darling in both the indie and conventional entertainment worlds instantly and simultaneously. Four more films followed in as many years, most noticeably 1996's Stealing Beauty, in which she plays a young woman undergoing a sexual coming-of-age against the backdrop of the Italian countryside. It, too, is a beautiful and quiet film, and has attained cult status of the sort, at least among those who admire the female form.
As anyone who has been within half a mile of a movie theater or television set can attest, it was Tyler mega-break to be cast as Arwen, the Elvish beauty in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, which to-date has grossed an earth-shattering $3 billion plus. During this dizzying time, she began dating British musician Royston Langdon. They married in Barbados in 2003, and in 2004 she gave birth to her son, Milo William Langdon.
Tyler took a few years away from the post-Rings frenzy (again, a canny move, given the natural tendency of actors to extract every drop of publicity from any gig, and she looks to have no role in The Hobbit, currently in production), but has within the last two years started taking roles again. In 2007, it was Reign Over Me with Adam Sandler, a first horror turn in 2008's The Strangers, and co-starring with Edward Norton in that same year's The Incredible Hulk.
On April 1, she takes a rare stab at comedy when Super is released, in which an everyday guy (Rainn Wilson) transforms himself into "Crimson Bolt," a superhero with...substandard skills. Later this year will come The Ledge, a low-budget thriller in which Tyler plays an ex-drug addict, whose fundamental Christian husband locks horns with an atheist. The film was picked up by the IFC cable network after premiering at Sundance in January.
More or less single since she and Langdon divorced in 2008, Tyler reports that she is "far too fragile" for casual dating and spends her time being a mom, a hard-working advocate for the United Nations Children's fund and a recent Goodwill Ambassador.
Fred Topel for INDUStrY: Can you talk about the relationship between this couple in The Ledge? Their dynamic at first seems like a strange, almost abusive one. Liv Tyler: I think they love each other a lot. From the moment they come into each other's lives, I think that there is a tremendous amount of love there. There's a huge amount going on, too. She's struggling with her addictions. There are six different forces at work on that poor couple.
INDUStrY: Your next movie Super is also coming up, and your character there, Sarah, has been through addiction and been with the wrong guys. Were they both harrowing roles for you to play? LT: It was amazing how they kind of came about in my life because I, in the past couple years, have gone through quite a lot myself personally. In my small lifetime I have, but in these past couple years particularly. Becoming a mother...having a child...getting divorced—all of those things. I haven't worked a lot and I was trying to deal with those things in my life and I felt ready to go back to work. And I was reading a lot and it just happened that these were the two things that I felt very moved by and connected to. There was something thrilling about the independent element to them and the passion behind everyone working on them. It was a process of throwing everything away and not feeling conscious of my ideas about who I am as an actress or a person and just...going to work and seeing what happens. I felt very privileged to be able to play those parts because I myself had a lot of complex emotions and experiences going on.
INDUStrY: Is this like a new beginning for you? LT: Every day is a new beginning to me, honestly, I don't think about...things certainly happen in life that affect you tremendously. If things don't go the way you think they are going to go necessarily, it is an awakening of sorts. As far as making movies goes, every time I make a movie I feel like it is the first film that I have ever made in some way. I really love it, and feel very lucky that I get to do something I love so much as my job and that I've had a chance to do so many different kinds of films and parts and have experiences like that.
INDUStrY: Do you get to go back and do something in The Hobbit? LT: I don't know. Arwen's definitely not in The Hobbit. I don't know. I would probably know by now.
INDUStrY: When you look back at your body of work, does it remind you of certain periods of your life? Is it that connected? LT: No, I mean, obviously you're living that experience so it is a huge part of your life. I always am deeply affected by the parts that I play and the experiences I have with those people. I don't go back and watch the films I've been in often, though. Sometimes I think I should, because I don't really remember every part. I remember the experience of it. But it is an amazing way to express yourself, you know?
INDUStrY: How has motherhood changed you? LT: It makes you very brave. It definitely changes things.
INDUStrY: There is a moment in The Ledge when you are leaving jail and you tilt your chin, and a lot of women have said that moment is very empowering to people in abusive relationships because it sums up that Shauna is going off to be independent. Did you know that was an important moment in the film? Did you realize that? Did you get that empowering feeling from it? LT: From that moment? That day? Yeah. I think I might have been mad at [director Matthew Chapman] that day. I think that reaction was that I was walking down the hall and I was so...I just didn't know what to do. I'm looking at him and that just came out of me. Right before that, we were in a real prison in Louisiana, which is quite a scary place to be. And just before that take, the door next to the door I had to walk though was the solitary confinement door with a little glass window, and in the first cell of eight was a man just standing there, glaring...not moving an inch, one of the most terrifying humans I have ever seen in my entire life, and of course, I asked about his story and it really shook me up a lot.
INDUStrY: Do you miss New Zealand? LT: Oh, tell [screenwriters] Phllipa [Boyens], Fran [Walsh], and Peter [Jackson] that I miss them. I just wrote to them yesterday. I don't even know if I have the right e-mail, and I was like, "I want to come and visit so bad." I miss that place a lot.
INDUStrY: What did you love about it? LT: Oh, everything. The people, the beauty of the land, the food. I was amazed.
INDUStrY: What do you think of your dad on American Idol? LT: I loved it. I just had so much fun watching it I felt really proud. I thought they were so good all together and I really enjoyed it a lot.
INDUStrY: Your character in The Ledge seems to think you can't make money as a musician. Do you disagree? LT: I think that had a lot to do with where she was in her life, and her shame.
INDUStrY: Can you really open a bottle with your teeth like in the movie? LT: [Laughs] Definitely not.
INDUStrY: Do you think your dad could? LT: Well, I'll ask him.