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Liv for today

by Mim Udovitch, Details, December 1995. Photos by Albert Watson.

By the time she had her learner's permit, Liv Tyler had been a rock'n'roll princess, a model, and a video vixen. Now that she's old enough to drive, she's working with Oscar-winning directors and she doesn't even have a curfew anymore. Mim Udovitch stays out late with America's sweetest sex symbol.

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.

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.

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.

Her biological father is Steven Tyler, large-mouthed lead singer of Aerosmith.

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 Mongold's forthcoming 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 adulthood.

"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.

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.

to her attention: "Oh, I know." Then she smiles a happy, mysterious smile.

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."

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."

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.

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."

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."

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.

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