by Ian Spelling, Starlog Magazine, November 2001.
Liv Tyler holds court in the eagerly awaited J.R.R. Tolkien film trilogy.
Liv Tyler was gobsmacked.
The night before this conversation, the actress sat in a screening
room in Cannes. France, and for the first time glimpsed finished
footage from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which will kick off
December 19 with the release of The Fellowship of the Ring. Her
director, Peter Jackson, had assembled 25 minutes of film that
included snippets from the saga's introduction, an extended Fellow-
ship battle sequence with the Hobbits (Elijah Wood, Sean Austin,
Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen),
the Elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-
Davies) and Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), scenes of Tyler in action as
the Elf princess Arwen Evenstar and teaser images of the subsequent
Rings adventures: The Two Towers and The Return of the King, due
for release in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
"It was pretty shocking and amazing," Tyler delights. "We had
already seen footage of us acting and the other characters, but to see
it with some of the enhancements was unbelievably fascinating and
also scary. I was actually scared, I kept screaming out and going,
'Oh. my God!' I was really reacting to it. It was spectacular. What we
saw last night wasn't even completely finished and it's incredibly
impressive. The cave troll has feeling and emotion, and when it stabs
Elijah [as Frodo], it makes an expression for a second — like it feels
a little bit sad or isn't sure of its conscience. That's what I felt, and
what a difficult thing to do with a computer!"
One scene not shown, however, was Tyler's big special FX scene.
"For the whole sequence," she says, "I'm supposed to be talking and
reacting to a Ring Wraith, but I was really talking to a neon pink golf
ball on a dolly, with two cameras on me and Peter saying what was
going to be happening. I just had to make it all up, react to it and try
to make it real."
Although Arwen Evenstar of Rivendell is a memorable character
in J.R.R. Tolkien's Rings trilogy, she figures far less prominently
than most of the saga's other familiar names. In fact, most of
Arwen's journey unfolds not in the main text of the books, but in the
appendix, which includes a large chapter devoted to Arwen, the
mortal Aragorn and their love.
"There were many rumors surrounding Arwen and who she was
going to be," Tyler says of the character's role in the films. "We toyed
with many different ideas. I think it was important to Peter, Fran
Walsh and Philippa Boyens when they were writing the scripts that
there be a feminine presence in the stories. There are only three other
female characters in them, so it took some work to figure it out."
Hard work was required of all involved in the Rings trilogy. For
most of the cast, saying 'yes' meant spending up to 15 months in
New Zealand, far away from friends and family and the Hollywood
scene. It meant putting tremendous faith in Jackson and playing the
same character for an unusually long time. It meant, in some cases,
"There was a certain amount of blind leaping involved with Lord
of the Rings," acknowledges Tyler. "Obviously, we were very clear
about some things from reading the books and the scripts. In terms of
Arwen, I loved the whole story between her and Aragorn. It's so
beautiful and timeless, like Romeo and Juliet. There's a hopeless
romantic side to the struggles that Arwen and Aragorn go through to
be together. The challenges and the decisions they face I found really
"Also, to play an Elf was amazing," she
notes. "They're the most magical of all the
Tolkien characters. They're like Buddhas,
perfectly centered all the time. They don't
move around too much. They're very graceful.
They can communicate without words.
They have very keen senses of smell, hearing
and sight. It was as very challenging to play. We
Elves couldn't forget, even for a second, who
we were and what we were playing. That was
quite different from the type of acting I've
done in the past, where the scenes were very
natural and you could forget completely
where you were and get lost in the dialogue.
This was much more technical. I had to
speak Elven, and it had to appear natural and
feel relaxed. For me, it was something very
"We also all did plenty of training. It was
sort of required when we came on, no matter
what your part was. Everybody had to begin
some kind of a physical routine, mainly to
prepare us for the stamina we would have to
have to shoot everything. It went on for the
whole film, but particularly in the beginning
— there were about two months where
we did horseback riding, sword fighting,
working out with trainers, archers, dialect,
movement classes. There was everything you
could ever dream of to prepare for — and it
wasn't specific to the character as much as it
was in general."
Complicating matters was the fact that
Tyler wasn't among the actors on set the
entire lime. She would shoot for a
few weeks, return to the U.S. for a
bit and then head back out to New-Zealand.
Though she got to
squeeze in other work, such as a
supporting role in Robert Altman's
Dr. T and the Women, it made the
Rings experience an exhausting
"I wish I had done all my
scenes in one big chunk of time,"
Tyler admits. "I didn't ever get a
chance to work my way up. The
guys got a chance to work together
consecutively, and I didn't get that
opportunity. That was a struggle
for me. Sometimes I would work one day in
a week, or else I would go home for two
months and come back for a day. So it was
confusing, but it gave me a wonderful opportunity
to reflect and to see things I certainly
wouldn't see on a usual movie, because
they're over so quickly."
On the set itself, Tyler almost always
found herself surrounded by testosterone.
After all, she, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel,
Miranda Otto as Eowyn and Robyn Malcolm
as Morwen are just about the only ladies in
the films. "Every movie I ever do, it's me and
the guys," Tyler jokes. "One Night at
McCool's, Armageddon, Pretty much every
movie. Obviously, there were many women
on the crew. I bonded with the costume girls,
especially Ngila [Xena] Dickson, the costume
designer. I spent a lot of time working
with her and coming up with ideas for the
Though Tyler spent much of her time on
set with Mortensen — "He was amazing. He
was Aragorn for a year-and-a-half," she
declares — the main man on the Rings set
was, without question, Jackson — the latest in
a long line of unique directors with whom
the actress has worked. Tyler fumbles for
words when attempting to compare and contrast
Jackson, Armageddon helmer Michael
Bay and Robert Altman, who directed her in
Dr T. as well as Cookie's Fortune.
"It's great that I've worked with so many
different directors," Tyler notes. "Every
moviemaking experience is completely
different, Bob, Michael and Pete are very different
and not very different. They're all very
talented and clear about their visions and
incredibly intelligent and nice. There are
some similarities between Bob and Pete in
their quirkiness and the way their minds
work. Their styles are different, though. And
Michael has a totally different style."
Bay's SF blockbuster cast Tyler as Grace
Stamper, who falls for Ben Affleck, much to
the initial dismay of her father (Bruce
Willis), the oil rigger who enlists Affleck to
help save the world from an asteroid on a
collision course with Earth. Tyler, who spent
most of the film doing various degrees of
hoping, praying and pleading, lent the film
whatever bit of w warmth it exuded.
"Armageddon was such a different experience,"
she says. "It was a huge film, which
Lord of die Rings is too, but Armageddon
was a different kind of big. I don't know
quite how to explain it. It was a Bruce Willis
movie, a SF movie, a special effects movie
and a Michael Bay movie all in one. And, as
I said, I was the girl again."
Switching back to the Rings trilogy. Tyler
recalls how as a kid she often heard boys
talking about The Hobbit, but she herself
wasn't all that familiar with Tolkien's tales
before stepping into the ring. "I don't know if
that's a gender thing or an American thing,"
she wonders. "It may also be a generational
thing. I know that my mother [Bebe Buell],
for example, was incredibly affected by the
book. They were all reading it in school and
smoking pot. Then there was maybe a period
of time when people didn't know about it,
but now it's happening again. So many kids
are being encouraged to read it in school."
"When we started on the films. I got
immersed in it. I didn't have a choice but to
do that," the actress reasons. "It was an enormous
world to dive into. There were the
books and so many books about the books,
which helped. There's so much material. It's
endless. You can really get lost in it. There
are just so many technical elements and so
many different places and names. Some people
really love that. That's fun for them. Yet
the stories are also very simple. They're
about courage, love and friendship, all these
beautiful things people relate to. Frodo is
doing a big thing saving the world, but anyone
can relate to that in his or her own little
way while they're reading it."
"All the people on these films were
incredibly passionate about Tolkien's
books," Liv Tyler sums up. "One of my
favorite places to go to get help was the
WETA workshop [the special FX house]. All
of the people Richard Taylor hired were
young kids and they were all obsessed [with
the books]. And they were the ones working
on these creatures and creating this world.
You feed off that as an actor."
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