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Streaking to early stardom

by Brenard Weinraub, Cosmopolitan, August 1996. Photo by Bettina Rheims.

This teenage model-turned-actress has acquired a core of stability, inner strength, and sanity that defies her upbringing in the high-speed lane of rock and roll!

A teenage actress on the edge of stardom is not supposed to drive up to the Beverly Hills Hotel in a slightly battered car. But here's Liv Tyler, one of the most sought-after young actresses in town, stepping out of her unfancy blue Honda and loping into the hotel without even glancing sideways at all the eyes fastened on her. "I'm really just an ordinary girl," she says, taking a seat in the garden of the Polo Lounge and ordering some coffee.

Ordinary? Hardly. The daughter of a onetime fashion model and a rock star, a girl who knows the druggie New York club scene like most teenagers know their local mall, an actress who seems sensitive and down-to-earth one moment and a chain-smoking hipster the next, Liv Tyler is, let's face it, not an ordinary girl. At eighteen, she has completed five movies in two years and seems destined tor a major career.

Darkly beautiful, with blue-green eyes and a throaty, sensual voice, Liv is almost intuitively natural on-sercen, a rare gift for such a young and untrained actress. In her latest release, Stealing Beauty, directed by the legendary Bernardo Bertolucci, she stars as a virginal American teenager on the edge of womanhood visiting the Italian countryside and gliding into an affair with a local boy. "I mean. I'm eighteen now, so I really can,t play a virgin again," she says, perfectly straight-faced.

Besides Starling Beauty. the model-turned-actress has appeared opposite Richard Dreyfus in a psychological drama. Silent Fail; the straight-to-video Empire Records; and Heavy, a gentle art-house film in which she plays a waitress with whom an overweight man falls in love. Shelley Winters, who also appears in the movie, has said of Liv, 'I think her gift is enormous. I saw a certain amount of innocence and purity in Liv. I hope it's enough to protect her in life.'

Not long ago, Liv finished filming That Thing You Do, the first movie directed by two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, to be released in the fall. In the comedy-drama, she plays a top role as the girlfriend of a rock-and-roll musician in the l960s, a part that fits snugly, given her history as the daughter of Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, whose famous full lips and dark, luxuriant hair she clearly has inherited. Recently, she's also completed a starring role opposite Joaquin Phoenix in Inventing the Abbotts, a drama set in the Midwest of the l950s in which she plays one of three sisters drawn to a boy her family considers the wrong sort.

Liv, a vegetarian who eats a lot of fruit, orders a salad and lights up the first of several cigarettes. At five feet ten inches, she appears trim but not bone-skinny in jeans topped by an Armani blazer. In truth, Liv is sexy, even a bit voluptuous. "I am a voluptuous girl, I'm meaty," she says, laughing. "I need to keep in shape, stay toned, so I swim when I'm in L.A., and I do sit-ups and butt exercises and face weights for the backs of my arms, where girls tend to get chubby. I don't have much in the way of hips, thank God, but I've got a good butt and a good belly." She laughs again.

A young woman who seems self-possessed and yet childlike, Liv does not think of herself as beautiful. "I don't know anyone who looks in the mirror and goes, 'Wow. I'm beautiful,'" she says. "And if they do, they're usually lying to themselves. I mean. I don't really look at myself in the mirror - and if I do, it's because I have a zit on my check or something like that."

At moments like this, Liv seems like just another teenager. "I'd love to so to college," she says. "I mean, there are so many things I've missed, like learning about literature and art. I'm a terrible speller, I spell like a five-year-old." She shakes bet head. "I'm like a walking ball of eagerness all the time - I'm always learning. I've got a lot of friends who are like, twenty now and not doing much, and I always say to them, 'Go to school, learn anything - just a bit of knowledge helps - instead of sitting around and talking on the phone and smoking pot and going to clubs."

The club scene in New York and L.A. the one Liv knows so well - appalls her. "I'm over that already," she says. "When I was, like, fifteen and living in New York. I used to go out all the time. But not now. I just don't like it. I find it heinous; I don't think it's enjoyable at all. I mean, it's just kind of slimy, and everyone's there to pick one another up and dance and pull up skirts and get drunk as skunks. A lot of people go to clubs just to get hammered, and I find that boring. I mean, that's not life, because suddenly you wake up miserable at twenty-five and say. 'What am I going to do?'"

It's unlikely that Liv will ever ask that question. Plainly restless, driven, and very ambitious, she seems at times almost square, despite or maybe because of her background, which is probably far more interesting than the scenarios of most of the films she's being offered. "I certainly didn't have a normal upbringing," she says. "But it was loving." Her mother, Bebe Buell, was a model popular on the melt scene in the 1970s and even had a song. 'Party Girl', written about her by one of her ex-boyfriends, Elvis Costello. By various accounts, Buell was in a relationship with rock star Todd Rundgren before becoming pregnant by Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who, at the time, was lost in a maze of drugs and also alcohol.

Buell, not wanting her little girl to be raised by a man drowning in drugs, went to Rundgren and asked him to sign the birth certificate, saying he was the father. "Steven was using lots of drugs, and that scared my mom," says Liv now. "He was an addict and really having a hard time and living in his own world." As Buell told Details magazine last year, 'I went through hell. I was very young, and it was very scary. I was in a lot of denial, because I didn't want life to be going like this. I wanted more security, and really, all I had was my family."

In any event, shortly after Liv was born, Buell and Rundgren split up again, and Buell, who had relatives in Portland, Maine, moved there to raise her daughter outside the sphere of rock and roll. "I lived with my aunt and uncle and two cousins, who are like my brother and sister, in a beautiful house in Maine." Liv says, "and then, for two years. I lived with my grandparents in Fairfax, Virginia. They'd take me to the theater and museums. They were very much more conservative than my mom, who was just a rock and roller. So I had these different worlds, and it made me a kind of multipersonality."

Liv also remained close to Todd Rundgren ("A huge influence in my life"), discovering her real father only by accident. They had first met when she was eight or nine - she can't recall exactly - and attending a Rundgren concert with her mother in Boston, Tyler was there with his girlfriend, Theresa, who's now his wife, "and they'd just gotten out of rehab a week earlier." Liv recalls. "I was introduced to him, and we just fell in love at first sight. He began buying me Shirley Temples. And he was, like, real old-fashioned. And suddenly he was, like, in our lives, sending me presents and stuffed animals. And whenever he came to town, we'd see him play and hang out with him."

Still, Liv didn't know Tyler was her father. But then, at the age of twelve, she remembers, she and Buell were in Tyler's dressing room as he was pulling on some trousers. "I went, 'Oh my God, we have the same legs,' and I pulled down my pants and showed him," she says. "He and my mom looked at each other and just disappeared for about a half hour, they were so freaked out." Shortly after that,at another concert, Liv saw a girl onstage whose appearance startled her. It was Mia, Tyler's daughter with Cyrinda Foxe. "She was like my twin," says Liv. "We were both wearing Aerosmith T-shirts, and we both had terrible perms and were really chubby. We were both hyperactive and short. And Steven and I had the same nose and legs. And I mean, I just... knew. I looked at my mom and she looked at me, and we went outside, and Mom told me everything I was just so excited. I thought, I in going to have two dads and more brothers and sisters and all these grandparents."

Liv's relationship with Tyler is a friendly one. (He lives in Boston, and they often speak over the phone.) About two years ago, she teamed up with him and Alicia Silverstone to film Crazy, an Aerosmith video in which Liv plays a nubile teenager fleeing school, taunting naked boys, and being about as sexually provocative as a sixteen-year-old can be within the law. "I have no problem with it, and Steven has no problem with it," Liv says. Asked if she harbors any anger toward her father for dropping out of her early life, she shrugs. "He wouldn't have been in my life anyway, He was a drug addict. It wasn't until he decided to take that step to sobriety that he changed his life forever." Liv toys with her fork. "Actually, he's my friend," she says. "And I enjoy him a lot."

By far Liv's closest friend and the person who manages her career - is Buell. The bond between the two is intense. "There were times when I was her mother," says Liv. "She gave up her life to raise me. There was a grant deal of love." And also a great deal of mutual respect. In Buell's words, 'From an early age, Liv showed me her desire to achieve. She had goals I had a pretty good idea that she was focused and born to act.'

Liv's odd upbringing taught her to adapt to the most unusual circumstances and also imbued her, in a curious way, with a sense of family. "I mean, I know we're weirdos, but what's conventional?" she asks. "Mom and Dad and apple pie?" The most important men in her life are her three dads: Todd Rundgren ("He's an intellectual; he taught me about music"); Steven Tyler ("We have the same sense of humor, we're on the same wavelength"); and the rocker Coyote Shivers, her mother's twenty-eight-year-old husband ("Cody's an amazing friend"). When her movie career doesn't take her away from home which it indeed has done for much of the last two years - Liv lives with her mother and Cody in an apartment in New York's Greenwich Village.

As for romantic interests, Liv insists she's just too busy to be seriously involved with anyone. "Hey, that's none of your business," she says with a laugh but clearly meaning it.

Unlikely as it may seem, Liv insists she was "an ugly little girl." Rolling her eyes in mock horror, she says."I had huge hands and feet; I was awkward, totally chubby." But at the age of fourteen, after moving back to New York with her mother. Liv blossomed into a tall girl with striking cheekbones. A family friend, model Paulina Porizkova, took some photographs of the girl that were subsequently published in Interview magazine, which led to numerous modeling assignments while Liv was still attending York Prep ("Call it Dork Prep"), an Upper East Side school. "It was really a great thing I was traveling and making money, and I just felt very lucky," she says. "But then it became more of a job than I wanted it to be. It became tedious." On a trip with her mother to Venezuela to make a jeans commercial for MTV. Liv said she'd like to find an acting coach in New York and take a stab at movies. "I was just curious," she says. As it happened, curiosity paid off: Within months, she was cast in Silent Fall.

The modeling life, according to Liv, is hardly glamorous. And she's puzzled that so many young women are fascinated by it. "It's weird," she says. "I mean, models are beautiful, and they're freaks of nature because they're born that way. They're fabulous-looking, they're skinny, their breasts are beautiful, every part of them is beautiful. But a lot of people don't look like that and they shouldn't look like that, and it shouldn't be, like, the only way to be beautiful is to look like some girl in a picture. Everybody is born different," she adds. "What makes people beautiful is their originality, the character within themselves - not looking like everyone else and following in other people's footsteps. Besides, you're never going to look like some beautiful model. So get over it."

Such straightforward and clear-eyed comments may come as a surprise. But then, Liv seems to be older than her years, a teenager who grew up in the fast lane yet managed to acquire a core of stability, inner strength, and sanity that was missing in most of the people around her. Her parents have just about acknowledged that. 'Let's put it this way,' Bebe Buell has remarked. Liv admires Jodie Foster. I admired Anita Pallenherg [the girl best known for hanging out, groupie-style, with Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones].'

Twirling her hair, Liv says. "I'm a lot different from my parents. I was talking to my dad this morning, and he said to me, like, 'Where did you come from? You're like an animal from another planet!" She grins. The early-afternoon sun lights up her lovely face. "Maybe I am from another planet. I just hope my decisions about my career, about my life, are better than a lot of people's I know."

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