4/99 Driving through Los Angeles towards the ocean, actress Liv Tyler chats with her friend Helena Christensen about films, family, fish and fate
H.C.: I must admit it feels a little strange to interview someone I know so well. I guess I'll get to know you even better now. Where do you want to drive to? L.T.: Let's 'just keep going 'til we hit the beach...since it's such a lovely, greay and chilly day!
You know, I dont even remember how me met.
A friend of mine sent me some photos a while ago, and one of them is of us - you're kissing me and I'm smiling and blushing...I think that was one of the first times we met. It was in New York, and we were watching a band playing at Don Hill's.
That's sounds very romantic! I remember that evening...we met right there in the crowd. You had long hair and big, red lips. You looked mesmerizing!! I'm glad someone documented that moment.... This is a nice car - is it a rental? It smells like Indian curry!
(laughing) My godmother and I picked up Indian food last night.
I'm getting all hungry now! Mmmm, L.A. smells good , too. That doesnt happen very often. Can you smell the firewood and the pine in the air?
Yes, it reminds me of when I lived in Maine. In the winter, before the snow fell, it would always smell of chopped wood.
Did you grow up in Maine?
Yeah I did. Its incredibly beautiful, so crisp and clean...the water tastes of sugar, it's so sweet. I was actually born in New York City, but I grew up there. I lived with my mom in my Aunt Annie's house. I still sleep in my old room whenever I go - the bed is the same, so my feet dangle off the edge.
I wish my parents could have kept my childhood room the way it was, the pink walls, the loveseat, the Kid Creole and Betty Blue posters... It would probably be very therapeutic to sit in it once in a while, breathe deeply, and reminisce about the old, carefree days.
I really cling on to things, I can't throw anything away. I just moved and it was a relief to throw stuff away...but it was hard. I still kept every little note ever written (laughts) I also saved all my textbooks from school, in case I ever need to refer to them.
Or you can pass them on to your kids and they can benefit from your incredible knowledge! How scary is the thought of your kids coming to you for help with their homework?
My aunt's kids come to her for help, and she told me that it's all coming back to her, so hopefully we have it stored in the back of our minds... This reminds me of my mom, taking me to school in our blue Volkswagen rabbit. She would drive right up to the front, still in her pajamas, and drop me off while honking the horn, going, "Bye, honey!" And if I had been a brat she would say, "You better behave or I'll walk you to the door!"
She probably looked great!
Oh, yeah, she had these really cool sunglasses on and this very cute nightie.....
So how was it growing up in a small town in Maine?
Well, we lived in New York at first, but my mom was alone at the time. I was only a couple of months old, and I think she wanted me to grow up with lots of family around me. She basically left her whole life behind and went to Maine, where our family was - my uncle and aunt, my cousins. It must have been hard for her to move away and give up everything she loved doing, like singing. Even though she continued having a pretty successful band, she never really went after it, because she was raising me. I'm very grateful to her for doing that.
Was it hard not having a dad around at that point?
Well, I never really lived with my fathers, Todd [Rundgren] or Steven [Tyler] anyway, and yes, it did make me feel a little different, since everyone else had a typical mom and dad thing going on, but I had my grandfather and my uncle...and i visited Todd all the time. I always had a big family and got plenty of love and support. At this point I actually feel like I dont keep in touch with them enough. I worry about all these things, and I dont mean it in a complaining way, but it can be stressful sometimes, being a young woman dealing with a hectic career schedule, and at the same time taking care of my apartment and trying to see my family as much as possible. My career takes up a lot of my time, having to be on the road so much. I just want to make sure I'm not slagging off on things that are important
What were you like as a child? I can imagine you as this cute little girl, dressing up in her mother's clothes.
Oh, totally. My mom was so amazing. She was a singer and she'd been a model so she had all these beautiful clothes and makeup, and in the bathroom all her jewelry was pinned to the wall...it was more than a little girl could ever dream of! When she went out, she would always say, "Don't get into my stuff!" and the first thing I would do was go mad dressing up. She had this great record player, and we would always put music on and sing together...And i loved being outside, I mean, that was the beautiful thing about growing up in Maine. It was such an important factor for me that the first half of my childhood was spent in the countryside and the second half in a big city. That way I experienced both worlds. Anyway, so many things happened in my life at that point. I had been staying with my mom and then I lived with my aunt, then my grandmother, then I would go stay with Todd and his kids...and then I met my fahter and he had all this other family.... Suddenly I had this massive family and I felt very blessed, but at the same time, it was very overwhelming!
How was it for you, meeting your dad?
I was actually at one of Todd's shows with my mom. I was sitting there watching Todd play - I was so proud of him, you know, my dad being up there - and then suddenly my mom said to me, "I want to introduce you to someone," and I was like "I dont want to go." So she pointed at this guy sitting by the bar, and I was like "Is that Mick Jagger's son ?" and she laughed so hard. "No, thats Steven Tyler," she said. I connected with him immediately - it was almost like I fell in love with him. I thought about him all the time! I didnt find out he was my dad 'til about a year later...
Wasn't it hard to suddenly have to split your feelings between two fathers?
Well, Todd is my dad as much as Steven is, in different ways of course, but at that time, yes, there definitly were some upset feelings - more so for the adults involved that for me, because I was still a little kid and I just sort of accepted it. Now that I'm an adult, it just means a lot to me that I still have this beatiful relationshop with Todd. He did a wonderful thing for me.
So from when you were about 11, you lived in New York, Where is your home now?
Home is New York.
And as far as I know, every time you're in New York, you're at home sleeping!
(laughing) Well, when I work, I don't get to do that much, so when I'm home, I go for it! Hey, how's my driving? You know, I got a perfect score on my driving test and I couldn't even parallel park... I really hate all the left turns!
I know....sometimes the only way out is to close your eyes and floor it! Do you like L.A. - besides the horrid left turns?
I have that typical love-hate thing with L.A.: I'm definitely an east coaster, but if I'm home for too long and it's cold, I start fantasizing about L.A., thinking "I could be in a house instead, enjoying the sunny weather in my garden." We always stayed in very small apartments, when I was growing up, so I love the thought of a house...but then I want to go back home within less than a day. No, that's not true; I enjoy being here for a while. I stay with my godparents , and I usually wake up early and go, "Pancakes! Cinnamon toast crunch! Milky tea"
Milky tea is good, so comforting... Tell me something completely different - how do you learn your lines for a movie?
Oh, that's the easiest part....it's sort of the mechanical part of the whole process. It just comes to you naturally. Even if you can't remember a line correctly, whatever comes out usually sounds right.
With me it would be: "Okay, take 52! Get it right this time, for Christ's sake!"
That's the hard part - to not go into a tailspin of hating yourself when you mess up. You always think people are judging you even more than they probably are.
How does acting affect you mentally?
It's a strange job, acting. Sometimes when you're sad, you have to act really happy, and the other way around...you just have to turn it on and off. You kind of leave your own self and enter this other space.
It must be an amazing experience to be able to live as an entirely different person for a little while.
That's definitley a reason why acting attracted me in the first place. I just did this movie called Plunkett & Macleane, and I had to have an English accent, which was amazing. It was so much fun to learn accents, you suddenly really listen to yourself speak, you listen to the tone of your voice and analyze it!
Speak some English for me, please?
No, I can't don't make me do it! [this comes out in a perfect English accent] But for this movie I also had to learn to shoot old pistols and load them, which of course I wasn't very good at. (laughs) And then for this other film I did, Cookie's Fortune, which was directed by Robert Altman, I had to learn how to clean catfish, which I really sucked at! I mean, I thought they would be little and dead - like little, little and very dead - and I would be some sort of sushi chef. But then they brought us this guy's shack and there they were, giant, I mean, enormous - and alive! And they gave me a pair of huge toenail clippers, and I'm , like, supposed to clip their finds off, snapp off their heads, rip their guts out, and skin them alive! I was like "Forget it!" Lyle Lovlett did it and got really good at it!
Are you able to talk to directors about not doing something you feel uncomfortable with?
Oh, absolutely, but I guess there is a challenge in trying to overcome your obstacles and going for it anyway. It feels rewarding at the end of day.
It is such a satisfying feeling. Why do we always let fear or insecurities get in the way of things we want to accomplish? I get so mad at myself for being such a wimp sometimes....I know I'll regret it when I'm 80! So I take it you ended up doing the fish thing?
(giggling) Well..sort of.
Talking about fish, are you a good cook?
I love to cook! I make good soups and pasta sauces....
Tell me a nice, easy, foolproof recipe.
Well, there is this one; I buy millions of beautiful fresh tomatoes..
Yeah, literally! Then I boil a big pot of water and drop the millions in there. After a while the skin starts peeling off, and at this point you take them out and use the same boiled water for the pasta.
Isn't the water dirty now?
Well, you wash the tomatoes first!
Of course...I told you it had to be foolproof!
You then run them under cold water and peel them, and then stick your thumb through the middle and sort of squeeze all the seeds out...
I just know this is when it all goes wrong...
Then you put them in a bowl and cut them into little pieces,add chopped garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, and basil, and let it sit. While the pasta is cooking, take a pan, heat some oil, and put shallots, garlic, and oyster mushrooms in, and finally add the tomatoes, a bit of lemon juice, creme fraiche, and parmesan...
That sounds delicious! Let's get back to you; I know you're 21 years old, your star sign is Cancer, you're tall, beautiful - inside out, and you're very talented! What do you dream of?
I mostly dream of the things that are happening in my life at the moment, in a sort of heightened form. It feels like I dream for a very long period of time. I'll wake up in the middle of the night, but my dream always continues when I fall back asleep...and it lasts all night long. Sometimes I dream of things that are about to happen! And I dream in color!
Acting must sometimes feel like you're in a strange dream.
True. I live out this great dream, and I'm being directed by some of my favorite directors. I feel so blessed that I get to do what I love and make a living off it at the same time.... My work is so pleasurable
When did you start acting?
When I was 16 I was with a modeling agency, and some movie people called and asked me to audition for them, which I did. Later, there was a photo of me in a newspaper and my present agent saw it, and found out I had done a reading, so he got the tape, and next thing I was in his office with my mom....and he signed me! A couple of months later I got my first film.
Weren't you terrefied?
I'm almost more terrified now.. . I mean, auditions are very uncomfortable no matter what. You walk in and act out this part in front of people you don't know - nobody can really be good in those situations.
I almost feel I can identify with your characters, there is a certain vulnerability there and at the same time there's strength. They seem very real, very approachable. You've played some great characters.
You think so? It's hard, because everyone has different opinions about roles and which ones you should be doing. All I ever do is to trust my heart and my instincts. Sometimes you read a script and something in it just connetcts to you personally, for some reason you relate to it, you feel a sensitivity towards it.
Your relationship with the director must be of great importance when it comes to bringing this sensitivity to the surface.
It is so important. When I filmed with Bob [Altman], we were in Mississippi, staying in the local people's houses, and Bob was my neighbor, so we were having these barbeques in the garden and local musicians would play... We had such a good time! And the movie is so funny, really moving....you can't not like it. I felt so free doing it. I would also love to work with Bertolucci again - he is amazing! I learned so much from that movie.
Stealing Beauty - what a pleasure that was to watch. Such extraordinary visuals...
Making that movie was definitely a magical experience. [Liv's phone rings. Its her boyfriend, Roy. She coos for a little while.] Oh, he is so sweet. When we hang up, he doesn't say goodbye, he goes, "Bye for now." He is so caring. He sends me these beautiful love letters, he writes them in ink and seals them with the letter "L"!
To mail a love letter to someone...that's a wonderful and rare gesture.....
Have you ever thought about acting?
Yeah, every time I watch an amazing movie, I feel so inspired..but then when I listen to my voice on the answering machine I go, "No way!" Anyway, you'll be watching a movie like Braveheart, and you imagine yourself as the young bride, tied to the post, waiting for Mel to come save you....but in reality you're stuck there for six hours, freezing to death in your corset while they're setting up lights!
(laughing) that's so true!
Do you believe in destiny?
I believe that everything happens for a reason. I remember the day after I found out Steven was my dad, I just sat in this chair all day long - I was sort of in a shock and I couldn't really speak. At one point my mom came up to me and said, "Everything happens for a reason - something beautiful might happen, something sad might happen, but it's all for a reason ...it's all a learning experience." And that has sort of been my religion in life. I believe people have enormous spiritual power, and that we are not even aware of the things we can will to happen. I mean, you know the saying, "Be careful of what you wish for...." Or you will be thinking of someone and you run into them...
But those are some of the reasons that make life so magical. You start believing that there's more between heaven and earth than meets the eye, and that to me is a comforting thought, when things get a little melancholic....
Life can seem unbelievably sad sometimes, and even though humans can overcome so much, we're very delicate. At the end of the day, we're all pretty lonely. It is so important to be honest about our feelings, to keep ourselves sane, to be true to ourselves....even though it can be hard. I mean, it's easy enough to be cynical and negative.
Sometimes it's when you're in a state of sadness or true happiness that you feel most alive!
We're getting really deep here...
(laughing) Well, not that deep....It's nice to talk about these kinds of things, since we all have those thoughts tumbling in our minds.
Hey, we're here, finally - the beach!
Look, there's David Hasselhoff and all the babes!
And there's Courtney Love with all the dolls! How wonderful! Why don't I live on the beach? Oh, my God, smell the ocean...smell the salt...smell the catfish!