by Mim Udovitch, Details, December 1995. Photos by Albert Watson.
By the time she had
her learner's permit,
Liv Tyler had been a
a model, and a video
vixen. Now that
she's old enough
to drive, she's working
directors and she
doesn't even have a
Mim Udovitch stays
out late with America's
sweetest sex symbol.
THESE ARE TWO STORIES ABOUT DANCING AND FAMILY:
When Liv Tyler was a toddler, she used to like dancing naked
to Stooges records. "Iggy! Iggy!" she would plead, tugging on
her mother's hem, then rip off her diaper and frug on the
couch ("That always made me happy," says her mother,
Bebe Buell, "Because it meant that the music was accomplishing
what he wanted it to.")
Liv is no longer a toddler It's a Thursday night in downtown Manhattan
and she is dancing to the music of Coyote Shivers. Dressed in a loose black jacket
and pants, she bobs in a delicate pogo, shimmying her shoulders slightly and singing along with
the band: "When I lick between your thighs. s-s-s-sugar high!" Shivers smiles his goofy, sexy smile
and steps back from the mike, his guitar worn low
enough to show his rock-boy hipbones, his bare torso
aglitter with little stick-on stars. To Liv's right, another
patron hurdles to the floor to form a mosh pit of one. The
mood, driven by Shivers' slaphappy, unreconstructed
punk, is sweaty and exuberant.
Liv is a child of rock'n'roll, and not just in the
obvious way. For her, this night at Coney Island High, where
Shivers is performing, is simply a different version of
what dinner at Friendly's and a trip to the roller rink
might be to another eighteen-year-old, or might even be
for Liv on another evening a special night out with the
family. Shivers is her stepfather, and Buell worked as a
musician for fifteen years, although, as she points out
ruefully, she is better known for having been a model and
consort of, as she puts it, "exceptionally intelligent men,"
such as Todd Rundgren, Steven Tyler, and Elvis Costello.
Buell has just brushed by, pausing to give her daughter a
kiss, smooth the hair off Liv's face, and do up a renegade
sweater button that keeps popping open to reveal Liv's
red lace bra. "You're not playing Betty Page yet, honey,"
she says fondly.
THIS IS WHAT LIV SAYS AFTER THE W SHOW ON HER WAY
downstairs to the dressing room: "Coyote's so great. He's
always good, but tonight he was so good. I got goose
bumps, my nipples were hard, everything." Okay, maybe
not exactly like every other eighteen-year-old's night out
with the family.
THIS IS ONE THING YOU KNOW ABOUT LIV TYLER: SHE IS
the hot babe who costars with Alicia Silverstone in the
video for Aerosmith's 'Crazy', which was, owing in large
part to her performance as a schoolgirl on a tear through
the strip clubs and skinny-dipping opportunities at
rock-video America, one of the most requested clips of '94. She
is very beautiful, bursting with the moment, a woman on
the verge. "I play a girl who's trying to put together all
the puzzles in her mind," she says of her starring role in
Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty (opening in
March). "It's kind of a growing thing. She's blossoming
... and turning into a beautiful flower." She laughs a
wicked, very unblossomlike laugh. Liv's impact is at once
provocative and pure, but there is nothing floral about it.
At the same time, as with Betty Page, the lines of Liv's
beauty, the conwexites and concavities that join her eyelashes and
cheekbones, her nose and mouth, are so graceful they
seem sprung to life from an artist's idealized pen strokes.
In fact, much ink has been spilled on Liv's lips already
(not literally, of course), usually by way of introducing
her resemblance to her biological father, Steven Tyler,
large-mouthed lead singer of Aerosmith.
THIS IS ANOTHER THING YOU KNOW ABOUT LIV TYLER:
Her biological father is Steven Tyler, large-mouthed
lead singer of Aerosmith.
THIS IS WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW
about Liv Tyler yet: She is not a
professional hot babe, she was
just playing one on TV. She is an
extraordinary actress. In James
directorial debut, Heavy, she plays
Callie, a young waitress who
becomes the emotional center of a
family-run bar in upstate New
York. From her very first scene,
she radiates an intelligence tinged
with weariness and vulnerability,
as if the character-like Liv, who
was sixteen at the time, a teenager
- has already been so
overwhelmed that the barely has the
energy for the experience of
"I always felt like I could see
the arc of this character in her,"
says Mangold. "I could see the
confused sixteen-year-old, and
I could also see this absolutely
together woman, and what was
so magical is this. I could see both, almost like you were
covering one eye and then covering the other."
Mangold is one of two directors with whom Liv has
worked whose movies have not won Academy Awards.
Aside from Bertolucci (most recently, Best Director, The
Last Emperor, 1987), she has also done business with
Bruce Beresford (Best Picture, Driving Miss Daisy,
1989), in whose Silent Fall she made her debut. And
her next two movies are with Woody Allen (Oscars too
numerous to mention) and Tom Hanks (we haven't got
all day here) at the respective helms. It's hard to remember
that she's only been acting for about two years. For
a year and a half before that, she modeled.
IS IS HOW MANY TiMES LIV HAS PLAYED A VIRGIN:
Twice; once in Empire Records, directed by Pump Up the Volune's
Allan Moyle, who has not yet won an Academy Award, and once
in Stealing Beauty. File this information away, it might come in
handy for Trivial Pursuit in the year 2000.
THIS IS WHAT LIV SAYS WHEN THIS TWO-VIRGINS IS BROUGHT
to her attention: "Oh, I know." Then she smiles a happy, mysterious smile.
IT IS A BRIGHT, WARM AUTUMN SATURDAY, AND LIV AND I ARE HAVING
coffee at the life Cafe, in New York's East Village, where we can
sit outside and smoke. She is blue-eyed, perfect-skinned radiance in
a black ribbed sweater, and wearing little pink barrettes with
rose-shaped twists at the ends. She looks young without makeup, or any
of the other standard elements of hot-babe drag. She is young, and
if you saw her on the street, loping along in her Ramones-style
Converse sneakers, you'd be jut as likely to think 'Who is that
tall, sensitive child?' as 'Hot damn, there goes a pair that beats a
full house!' Although you might think both. I'm not really in a
position to know all your sick secrets.
In another way, though, Liv seems beyond age altogether. She
understands the art of listening as few do, child or adult, leaning
forward, her gaze direct, occasionally emitting a throaty chuckle.
("Liv is someone I could literally watch," says Marigold, "and not
on some kind of voyeuristic, erotic level, but just the way she moves
her hands, the way she plays with a saltshaker, it's all extremely
riveting.") Interviews make her nervous, she says, and if she doesn't
exactly say it in a way that implies that she'll fight any man in the
bar who says different, it is fair to say that her nerves don't show.
(Okay, she does miss her mouth with a fork once, but that can happen
pen to anybody.) It also seems fair to say that when Stealing Beauty
comes out, and she blossoms into a beautiful flower in front of
thousands, the whole world is going to fall in love with her. We are
talking about whether her exposure to celebrity as a child
influences her feelings about her own burgeoning fame:
"For me, musicians aren't necessarily celebrities," she says. "I
mean growing up, I knew musicians, because that was what Mom
and Dad did. And even if they were famous. I didn't think of them
that way, because they were tall, skinny little dorky guys, like my
mother's boyfriends, you know what I mean?"
Still, Liv's childhood had more than the usual quota of tall, skinny
little dorky guys. And of course, biologically, one of these tall,
skinny little dorky guys was Liv's father, and experientially, two of
them were. Until she was ten, she was, in her own eyes, and in the
eyes of the world. Todd Rundgren's daughter. Rundgren and Buell,
who had been together since Buell moved to New York in 1972 to
model at age seventeen, had broken up after about five years, and
Liv was conceived in a rebound romance with Steven Tyler: "I
loved Todd Rundgren," says Buell, now forty. "But he was always
with other women, and he was also very, very eccentric-imagine
living with Prince or something. He was also a very loving, spiritual,
and good man. And when this knight in shining armor, or I
should say shining leopard, came along, I really fell for it. But I was
not cut out for the Aerosmith lifestyle, which was really, really, really
intense with drugs. I called Todd and told him what was happening,
and out of the goodness of his heart-or his ego, I'm not quite
sure which-he took me back."
Buell and Rundgren broke up again for good when Liv was a
few months old. "I went through hell," says Buell. "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. But I also thought Liv was better
off, because a lot of people would say-and it did make a lot of
sense at the time- Steven Tyler won't even be alive in two years."
Liv discovered Tyler was her father by chance. "I had heard a
couple of things. Like one time through the wall I hard. 'Well, I
don't think we should tell her until she's eighteen.' And then I met
my sister Mia," - Tyler's daughter with Cyrinda Foxe - "who is like
my twin. We were both chubby, and we both had perms we had
gotten on the same day without knowing, and we were both hyper-active
and short, and she looked exactly like me. And Steven and I
had the same legs and the same nose, and I kind at put everything
together. I was just so excited. I thought, Holy shit, I've got two
dads, and more brothers and sisters and grandparents."
Whatever the details, the result was a hybrid of the best parts of
family love and rock'n'roll. Liv's childhood memories alternate
between scenes of domestic comfort - her uncle's nightly Triscuit
and cheese while he watched the news, washing the car with her
grandfather, learning to ride a bike, tucking her stuffed animals in
at night - and going on treasure hunts at Joey Ramone's apartment
for money he hid in the butter dish and forgot about. When she
was about four, she woke up from a nap backstage at a Kiss concert.
"All I saw in front of me were these silver boots with dragons
on them," she says, holding her hands apart to indicate platform
heels. "And then I looked higher and there
was this man, and he went" - she sticks
out her tongue in imitation of Gene Simmons's tradematk - "'How you doin',
little girl?' And I went, 'Wamaaaa!'"
Still, there are limits. When her mother jokingly refers to "Uncle
Keith Richards," Liv says, "He's not really my uncle. I've only met
him twice." Her best friends, however, are Uncle Keith's son,
Marlon Richards, and daughter-in-law Lucie de la Falaise.
In short, Liv actually ended up with more family than most.
"With Todd, I always think of him opening my awareness to
things, playing music, and he had a big TV screen and lots of
books and he was Dad. And with Steven, we just have a really fun
relationship, and we've both got the dirtiest minds. And with
Coyote, Coyote's just my friend, he's so loving, and I think of him as my
real dad, because he's around, you know, he's there for me."
Okay, make that three tall, skinny little dorky guys. "I would
just adapt to each situation," concludes Liv. "And it's probably
helped me a lot as a human being. I just go and I make myself
believe that this is my new world, and it is my new world. But I
also stay the same person, because I always had a home, and l was
always unconditionally loved, I was so loved as a little girl."
THIS IS HOW LIV GOT INTO ACTING: "WHEN I WAS SIXTEEN, MOM
and I were in Venezuela in the middle of the jungle, living in tents
and eating chickens roasted on sticks by Indians, and taking canoes
for like twelve hours, shooting these Bongo jeans commercials that
run on MTV. And through all our conversations and jungle fevers,
I decided, When I go home, I;m going to do everything I can, read
every book I can, and find a nice teacher and maybe a place I can
get involved in something, and learn everything I can about acting.
I'm determined to do at last one film before I graduate from high
school, and then I came home and I got the part in Silent Fall."
Liv loves her mommy - "I love my mommy," she says - who is also, through
her company, RST (stands for Buell, Shivers, Tyler), her manager.
("I defy anyone to launch a client the way I've launched Liv,"
says Buell, who did not have a life as interesting as the one she'd had without
acquiring a dash of feistiness.) In Heavy, the strong woman shining through
the teenage girl is obviously a maternal legacy, and Liv is obviously
the product of loving home, which is where she still lives.
Now that she's eighteen, Liv no longer has a curfew, although she never
went out on school nights anyway. ("On weekends she could stay out until two or three,"
says, Buell, "of four is she was with my drag queen friends, because
then I knew she was safe.") She is also now allowed to have boys stay over, but
she's in no particular hurry. "I meet boys all the time and I find that there are
only a few select ones who, are honest. I just hope I get to meet someone
someday. Like Lucie - Lucie's so lucky to have Marlon, and he loves her. There's
a sneakiness about a lot of boys, and I guess it's just curiosity. But to me,
there's a certain way to go about being curious."
THIS IS WHAT GOES ON INSIDE LIV'S HEAD:
Liv's business. On-screen and in person, there is a suggestion that a little flame is
burning at center of her being, casting a glow that anyone can back in, but closely guarded
at the source. Somehow you can always sense this, even when she's shaking her leather clad
butt in her dad's video.
THESE ARE A FEW THINGS PEOPLE HAVE TO
say about Liv's talent: "Enormous! I think her gift is enormous," says Shelley
Winters, who appears with her in Heavy. "I don't know to whom she compares
who's her age, because artistically and intellectually she's way ahead. You
know, sometimes you see kids at ten or twelve act, and you want to kill them,
they're so good, and the reason is that when kids make-believe, it's absolute,
and there's no mask. When you act in movies you have to tear your mask off, and
Liv has no mask yet."
"What amazes me about her ," says Jeremy Irons, who appears with her in Stealing Beauty,
"is how wonderfully open she is an instrument. She has very clear channels between what
she's thinking and what she's showing. Working for somebody like
Bernardo can easily run somebody's head, and what stunned me is that there was none
of that. She knew about Woody's picture while she was doing ours, but there was no sense
that she fancied herself as rather good, no outrageous demands. She was just a working actress,
very professional and delightful. Her mother has done a brilliant job with her, I think."
"What I'm always looking for," says Bertolucci, "is a kind of constant passage of ideas on
the face, like clouds in the sky. And with Liv, you see all this what makes her different.
She is phenomenal when one thinks of her age."
THE OBJECT OF ALL THESE RAVES - WHO IS
after all, only eighteen, even if she can light up an Aerosmith video like a comet, and invest
her highly implausible character in Silent Fall with a dignity that cluded some of the other
actors in that film - is herself too shy to comment on her strengths as an actress.
"I don't know," she says, looking down at the Life Cafe table and twisting a wisp of hair
that's escaping the little pink barrettes, "I was thinking about this the other
day because I was watching tennis, and I hate sports, I never watch sports.
But after, I think at was Andre Agassi or somebody won, and they were asking
him questions, and he was critiquing what he had done. And I can't do that. I just
can't. I hope I'm doing okay."
Liv, according to Buell, has always been an old soul. "She became a friend to me
very, very young, and a confidante, and understood my complexities when other
people didn't," says Buell. "Liv has always had her own agenda, and I've always
respected her wishes and followed suit. She's profound, and hat was the word
I used to use for her when she was three, and my mother would go, 'What do
you mean? How can a three-year-old be profound?' I'm not sitting here trying to talk
about Liv like she's Buddha or something, because she's not. She's a human being.
But she truly has the ability to reach people, she's kind of a universal soul."
WE ARE HAVING COFFEE AGAIN, THIS TIME AT
a cafe across from the Third Avenue multiplex where Buell and Shivers, who are
eating at another table, are going on a movie date later on. We have just come
from Liv's First Charity Event, where she posed, pink cheeked, for Polaroids with
Aerosmith fans and ran the Go Fish booth for pediatric AIDS fund raiser, which
also featured RuPaul manning the Whack 'Em Cats. Liv is soon to start the
Woody Allen film, about which, in the tradition of Woody Allen films, she is not
allowed to talk, although she did meet Soon-Yi. She is planning to spend her
evenings in, watching his movies on video.
"I listen to a lot of Etta James and Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday and that
kind of girlie music where you float around the room and feel all... you know,"
she says, when asked what music she likes. " And then I listen to the Beatles and
I sit there and think. Why is their music like this? These men are singing such
lovely nice things about women, but you don't meet men that would think such
lovely nice things."
"You're in a heartbreak mood, aren't you?" "I'm always in a heartbreak mood, I'm a romantic."
In a white camisole that used to be her godmother's, she is a beautiful young
woman, inside and out. I have just asked her what makes her unhappy or afraid,
and this makes her laugh her throaty laugh.
"I cried on my birthday in Italy," she says. "We were night-shooting, and for some
reason I was just really sad, and I cried. I cried in between each take, just
kind of in a little corner. This is gonna sound silly, but I was sad than I was
turning eighteen, because I thought seventeen was such a nice age, because you're
young, enough to get away things still, but you're old enough, too. And I was just sad.
I thought, Wow, from this day on you only get older. And lots of things frighten me,
but I do them."
"I saw a certain kind of innocence and purity in Liv in the rushes that was wonderful,"
says Winters. "I hope it's enough to protect her in life. I hope that Liv,
because she's so bright and so nice and had such a good education and a good mother,
has enough armor to be plunged into Hollywood so early, I don't quite know who's
survived it so young."
"I like to think what she is now. I don't want to think what she will be in five years,"
says Bertolucci. "This is the great thing: When she i happy, she is exploring
sadness, like it was kind of an unknown planet. She's really walking through life
like somebody that's ready to absorb."
"I feel the most happy with the people that I know care about me," says Liv.
"I'm happy most of the day, actually. I mean, look, if I get bummed out. I get
totally bummed out, and it will show that I'm bummed out, and I don't go out
because I'm so bummed out. But the majority of the day I'm really happy. I love
life." She smiles her happy, mysterious back-to-back-vigin smile and asks for the check.