Imagine growing up in Portland, Maine. It's pretty easy for a lot of us. But then imagine walking down Exchange Street in the Old Port for some shopping and seeing your face up on movie posters as the feature actress in Stealing Beauty, the award winning Bernardo Bertolucci film where you play opposite Jeremy Irons;
Heavy, James Mangold's masterpiece of low-tide dolor that is delighting the critics with its ambition, understatement, and charm; and That Thing You Do, the sensational big-box funfest where you've stolen the show as the lead female performer in a movie written by and starring Tom Hanks.
Imagine for a second that you're actress Liv Tyler, 19.
By the time Liv comes home to Portland
"this Thanksgiving or Christmas-I can't wait," her career will be rocketing so fast she'll probably suffer from re-entl)' burn when she touches down here in the city she loves.
We've reached her by telephone at New York's Ritz-Carlton for this interview, where her publicist has instructed us to ask for her as "Mrs. Fogg."
Now that you know your way around Cannes, New York, and Hollywood, how do you know when you're in Portland? LT' I know I'm in Portland when I'm going over that little bridge by the airport and you can see the planes on one side and then up on the hill you can see the Western Promenade. I absolutely consider Portland my hometown.
So there's a big emotional connection here? LT' Yes.
Heavy takes place in a raw New England setting. Did you draw upon your Maine experience to come up with your waitress character? The place reminds me of Portland, but somewhere along the coast, outside the city. LT' My character in Heavy is maybe who I would have been if I'd never left Maine. I felt like here she was, livin' here and keepin' it together. So there was a lot of Maine in that. When I read that screenplay, I just cried and cried.
We saw Heavy last night. LT' Oh, did it play in that little place that shows' the movies on Exchange Street? I love that place! We used to go in there all the time. I was hoping that was the place.
I tell her that Steve and Judy Halpert, owners of The Movies on Exchange Street, say that Stealing Beauty did more business than any other movie last summer, and she seems definitely happy about that.
LT' Pardon me, but I'm going to have a cigarette.
She self-mockingly breathes the words as if we're in old Hollywood and she's part of the Studio System. I'm distracted by someone in our office pointing to the television screen: "Hey, Liv's the new Pantene girl!"
LT' I just kind of felt like smokin' a cigarette.
What originally brought you and your mom to Portland in 1980? LT' To be near my aunt, Anne Noyes (of Yarmouth, who is married to Ted Noyes of Noyes & Chapman Insurance, and who is, through another degree of separation, brother of Nick Noyes, librarian at Maine Historical Society). My wonderful, wonderful aunt. I love her so much!
In Heavy, people are drawn to a place where jets are taking off. It seems to connect them to a world beyond their reach but at the same time is intimately local. Was there any place in Portland where you'd go just to reflect on things? LT' Growing up, at my aunt's house in Yarmouth, I used to go to a chicken coop she kept in the back yard with a bed and box springs inside. It was a dump where I could go think. I also liked to go in the barn. See, I was really young. I remember my favorite place was Two Lights. We used to go all the time, and I used to run underground in what do you call those places? Yeah, coastal forts. We ran in the shafts below the coastal forts. Catacombs.
Have you considered buying any property in Maine-as a getaway? LT' I have my aunt's place now as a retreat when I come to Maine-a getaway place.
Why did you pick Waynflete instead of King Middle School leading up to Portland High? LT' I went to Waynflete becausemy dad offered to pay for private school. Hey! Kinda preppy, I know ...When I was younger, we used to play a lot at the Reiche jungle gym. I got lice at Reiche! Can you believe it? I was taken up to a special room and everything.
Your mother used to play at the Tree with her bands. How did you like The Tree back then? LT' Iremember Herb Gideon. His son used to live near us, and I'd play with him. I loved the Tree. It's just that I loved Geno's better, you know, where you go downstairs beside the Chinese restaurant?
I tell her what happened to the Chinese restaurant on Brown Street.
LT' HuShang's is closed! I can't believe it.
I tell her there's still a HuShang's onExchange Street.
Did you have a favorite restaurant while you were living here? LT' My mom and I used to love going around to the Woodfords' Cafe on the corner, up the hill from the Civic Center. Do you know that little place? Delicious and cheap.
You were here during the holidays last year, weren't you? LT' I took my aunt's Volvo and went to the Mall last Christmas and went shopping. Everything had changed! Then I saw Jenny Murphy. "Muff! " I called to her. She looked at me and just froze. Then she smiled. We hugged and then she took me to my friend Sasha Papacristo's (87 Pine Street in Portland's West End), and we saw Sasha and her friends. Then we went to Java Joe's on Exchange Streeet, and there were kids there I hadn't seen in 5 years.
Did it seem odd? LT' It was totally insane. There was this boy I used to have a crush on and ask for a date every day. I had all these great boyfriends, not like lovers. I remember their faces, not their names. I was 12 years old when I left, a little kid. Last Christmas I also saw Beth Blood of Suitsmi. She used to babysit me. I used to love to go to her place because she had kittens with double paws.
Where exactly did you live when you were in Portland (1980-1990)? LT' First we lived on (34) Park Street, then we lived on High Street. What a change! There are two little brownstones on High Street with an iron gate in front of them and they're cream colored? We lived on the one on the right. In our gray house on Park Street, we lived downstairs. My friends and I used to go in the attic and go through old cans of hairspray and junk. We were little kids! It was fun. Then I'd hop the fence and go run around our house if I wanted to be alone.
Did you ever do any acting while you were in Maine? At Waynflete? LT' I never did any acting in Maine other than acting like a nut. My first audition was in California when I was 15.
What was it like working with Jeremy Irons in Stealing Beauty? LT' I loved working with Jeremy Irons. I loved his wife, Sinead Cusack, too, who was with him on the set. All those scenes, talking with him, I loved it so much. It felt like it was going well even while we were acting.
You've acted with Jeremy Irons, Tom Hanks, Debbie Harry, and Shelly Winters now. Did they have any advice for you? LT' People don't give me advice. You just work, and then at the end they hug you and say don't ever change! .
You can't tell me Shelley Winters didn't have any advice for you! LT' (Laughs) No.
You've worked with directors from Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango In Paris, The Last Emperor, Stealing Beauty) to Tom Hanks in his directorial debut with That Thing You Do. How were the two of them different? LT' Bernardo is a master mind of filmmaking. Everything is in his head. He doesn't sleep at night when he's making a movie because he's thinking about the movie all night. So they're totally different. The only way they're similar is that they're totally honest. Both are capable of saying "that sucks" if what you're doing isn't working. Tom is always funny. I would leave at the end of each day with my jaw aching from laughing so much. He was definitely different, really light and funny. Always funny. Well, almost always. He's got a great sense of medium going on.
What's your next film? LT' I made another film, Inventing the Abbotts. Pat O'Connor was the director. He did Circle of Friends? Billy Crudup was a great actor I worked with there. It's coming out the first of March.
Is there anything you'd like to say to the people of Maine in general? LT' To Maine, I'd say, 'I love you!' I just love Maine. I miss it so much!
I thank Liv for her time and, like the rest of the world, marvel at how natural, channing, and unspoiled she is.
Daughter of musician-model Bebe Buell (of The Gargoyles while in Portland in the 1980s and cover model for magazines such as Mademoiselle, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, and Vogue), whom we featured in our Winterguide 1989 issue of Portland Magazine, and mega-rock-star Steve Tyler of Aerosmith,
she's part Elizabeth McGovern, part Audrey Hepburn, yet all original.
With the interview at a close, Inotice that my 14-year-old son, Colin, has been standing close by. I'm glad he's taking such an interest in the business. In fact, he is taking, I must say, an unusual interest in this story, and I ask Liv if he can talk with her a minute, because he's a real fan and would like to congratulate her. LT' That's so sweet! I'd be glad to. I didn't expect her to say yes, but I hand over the phone and they talk for a surprising amount of time, her musical voice audible halfway across the room. This is Liv's real test for being a star-more revealing than any question I could ask her-and she's passing with flying colors.
Here she is at the Ritz, with a heavy schedule and everybody after her time, and she's finding a few moments for a handsome young 14-year-old fan with a newly lowered voice, stealing his beauty, as a matter off act, and smart enough to realize the value of it.
If kindness is a measure, Liv really is from Portland.
'What did she say?" we ask Colin. as he finally puts the phone down. "At the end?" he smiles.
- "Thank you very much. You just made my whole day... I'm really blushing and having a heart attack or whatever."
All we can say is, don't ever change.
By Colin Sargent