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Elf Princess

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."

Elf Love

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, risking typecasting.

"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 touching."

"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 different."

"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 affair.

"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."

Elf Adventure

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 costumes."

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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