by Allison Glock, More, October 2015. Photos by Jan Welters.
Liv Tyler thinks she knows why she is always late.
"It's because I get so consumed," she says as she meets me around the corner from her
West Village brownstone, dressed in a smart black pantsuit and sandals, a delicate necklace glinting from her neck, the chain strung with tiny hearts.
"Every moment is interesting to me," she continues, a bit breathless. "So just walking out
of the house, I wind up speaking to everyone and asking how they are, and then before I
know it . . ." She shrugs and screws up her nose comedically. "I'm not very good at putting on blinders.
What's going on over there? What's over there? I get into everything."
Tyler, 38, smiles and removes the elastic band she's wearing on her finger like a
ring, then wraps her long, dark hair into a messy topknot. She recently gave birth to
her second son, Sailor, with Dave Gardner, a top sports manager who lives in London (her first child-Milo, 10 - is from her marriage to musician Royston Langdon).
But she shows no signs of fatigue or frump. Instead, she smiles and suggests a road
trip to Red Hook, Brooklyn, to look at an old friend's art gallery.
Her car, which she insists on driving herself, is freshly vacuumed, belying any
trace of her hectic family life as a working mother of two, save the children's CDs
tucked into the door pockets. As she pulls onto the Manhattan Bridge - "Maybe I'll
put on my glasses so I can see and not kill us" - Tyler jokes that she is often teased
about her vehicle, which by celebrity standards is dated and modest.
"I'm pretty smart about spending," she says. "I've had this car for 10 years.
Everybody makes fun of me, but I don't need another car. I don't even like new cars."
Tyler prefers knobs to touch screens. She longs to engage fully in her world,
using every sense. She fears that modernity is costing us intimacy and connection,
not to mention style. "Can we talk about why are there 3,000 different kinds
of taxis now? Why can't we go back to the '70s? I want those cool taxis back."
Currently starring as Meg Abbott, a woman lost even to herself, in HBO's
drama The Leftovers, Tyler is most recognized for (1) playing the luminous
elf maiden Arwen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and (2) being the daughter
of Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler, which she was misled about until
age nine, having been told by her mother that her father was rocker
Todd Rundgren. Suspecting deceit after meeting her look-alike half sister, Mia Tyler, backstage at an Aerosmith show, Tyler confronted her
mother, model and singer Bebe Buell, who subsequently confessed to
the secret. Remarkably, Tyler held no grudges, perhaps understanding
even at that innocent age that hers was a unique family tree and that
she would probably need to be the rooted adult in the mix.
"I used to take care of everything," Tyler says of her innate maternal
instincts. "I can even remember being six years old and putting my cat,
Little Man, to bed with a blanket over him before I went to sleep."
Tyler acknowledges, with no trace of
bitterness, that she has financially supported her mother and herself since she
was 13 years old, the age at which she gained
traction as a model and actress. "I bought my
brownstone when I was only 23," she says,
"which is the smartest thing I've ever done."
"During my upbringing, I saw glimpses of so
many different ways of living," Tyler continues - a
magnanimous way of saying that when her
mother traveled with her band, Tyler would split
her time between an aunt and uncle in Portland,
Maine, and her maternal grandmother in Washington, D.C. "My aunt and my uncle are still together
and still have the house that I lived in with them. So
I had that example. And then I had my mom and my
dad, and that was definitely more eccentric."
For Tyler, every paradigm held benefits. "I saw so
many forms of love and family," she says. "The main
thing I picked up from all of it is that where you live
and what your job is - those things are temporary. It's
your family, no matter where you are, that always exists. Whether someone is alive or dead or near or far,
your people are your people."
We arrive at Pioneer Works, a collective art space in
Red Hook, and Tyler parks the car. She hops out and
makes herself at home, kissing gallery director Gabriel
Florenz hello. She is a welcome fixture on the scene. She
takes in the latest exhibits, then retires to the expansive
gardens in the back, settling at a picnic table amid tall
grasses, her mind still on parenting.
She confesses that her greatest desire in life is to be "a good
mother," which for her means being "a present and stable one."
For years that intention prevented her from seeking out professional opportunities that didn't fit her "children first" parameter.
"I didn't see how I could go away for three months to make a film
and be the mother I wanted to be," she says. Then, last year, Milo
took her hand at the dinner table and told her, "Mommy, I want you
to go forth and make some movies." Tyler laughs at the memory,
saying she pushed back, asking her son, "But what about you?" To which he
replied, "I'll be OK."
"My favorite thing about being a parent is that I learn so much from the
push-and-pull dynamic of mother and child," says Tyler. "Having children,
I learned about my own strength."
Designer and longtime friend Stella McCartney sees that fortitude in
Tyler, but also a contagious playfulness. The two met years ago at a gathering at mutual friend Kate Moss's house. McCartney says they got on
immediately, "like we'd known each other for years," and jokes, "guess
it was something in the water that our parents drank."
Tyler and McCartney often relax at each other's homes, chatting
into the night. And while both lead what can only be called an exceedingly rarefied life, neither is above poking fun at it. "One of my
favorite memories of Liv is when we attended our first Met Ball
together," says McCartney. The theme was "Rock Style," and the
two decided to don ROCK ROYALTY tees instead of the standard
gala plumage. "We did our own hair and makeup. Showed up in
a taxi. We really went for it," she says. The gag landed the pair
on the cover of WWD, and "we were so mortified."
"When I was younger, I was braver," observes Tyler. "Then I
had a weird moment in my early thirties when I felt more insular and protective and not wanting
to be out in the world as a celebrity
but close to home. And now?" Tyler
smiles. "I feel OK with the combo."
It is late afternoon, and Tyler is
restless. She exits the gallery and
strolls the Red Hook sidewalks, admiring the new, trendy boutiques
and the old holdouts - a funeral
parlor, an American Legion hall.
She receives a text. Back at the
brownstone, they are hanging family photos. Her contractor installed
pictures of Buell in the bathroom,
and while the shots are striking,
Tyler says she isn't sure she wants
to look at her mother every time
she pees. She adds it to her to - do
list, saying she'll "handle it later."
"We're always doing something,
right? My dad says you're a human
doing instead of a human being. It's
so true. We're always doing, doing,
doing. Sometimes you should just
stop and look around you and take
in what's happening."
Tyler has made a habit of just
that, helped by Transcendental
Meditation, which she practices as
often as she can. "The nice thing
about TM is that there is no judgment in it," she explains. "You want
your thoughts to come in and go out
while you just sit with yourself for
those 20 minutes."
When it is suggested that for many tapped-out working
women, finding that extra time sounds like an unnerving proposition, Tyler laughs. "The last thing you want to do when
you're stressed out and busy is sit and close your eyes, but it is
transformational. Instead of struggling with thoughts, which can
be obsessive-and everyone relates to that-it clears your brain.
Even when I'm driving around thinking, I forgot to do this and
I've got to do that, I don't feel so panicked. Now I enjoy the crazy
moments more than I used to. I appreciate them for what they are."
That clarity and calm has been particularly useful over the past
year or so: Not only did Tyler have a new baby, but she also stepped
into serial television for the first time, a sharp departure for the film
veteran. "With a film, you have the script, and you know the beginning, middle and end," she says. "With TV, they write as they go. I
have no idea what my character is going to be doing." Tyler says when
she needles notoriously secretive show creator Damon Lindelof for details, he counters, "Do you really need to know, or can you just accept?""Which is frustrating," she says. "Part of me loves it, and part of me
hates it, having no control. Being comfortable in the unknown is hard for
humans; even if we don't really know what's going to happen, we kind of
trick ourselves into thinking we have a plan. This latest career move has
been an exercise in letting go."
Her Leftovers costar, Justin Theroux, says he's always considered
Tyler a "downtown New York girl," but
when they started spending time together, her childlike air engrossed
him. "You'd think someone who has
experienced what she has might become jaded or cynical," he says, "and
she's neither of those things. She's
sunny-side up, not sunny-side down.
Liv carries this incredible optimism
in life. There's a wonder to her."
Tyler's guilelessness has also
made TV challenging for her. "I
can be shy. I turn beet red and can't
breathe," she says, acknowledging
that the large staff and turnover associated with a TV production
initially scared her. But she overcame.
"My grandmother tells me I'm happiest when I'm working, that she
can hear it in my voice," she says.
In the days leading up to her TV
commitment, she asked a friend
to film her. "I spoke to my future
self. Like, 'Future self, this is present self.' I said, 'If anything comes
from this, then I'm not meant to
give up on acting.' And if it didn't,
I was giving myself permission to
pursue other interests, like directing or writing music, fully."
It begins to rain, and Tyler seeks
refuge in a coffee shop. She orders
hot tea and stares longingly at the frilly little
cakes in the display. She reveals that tomorrow
is her birthday and, though "38 is a crazy number" and
"it's not fun when you see things start
to change," insists she is sanguine about the
prospect of aging. "When you're in your teens
or twenties, there is an abundance of ingenue
parts which are exciting to play. But at [my age],
you're usually the wife or the girlfriend, a sort
of second-class citizen. There are more interesting roles for women when they get a bit older."
"One of the things that's always been tricky
for me is I started working so young," she
continues. "If you Google me, the photo that
always comes up first is me at, like, 13. A moment captured from another time." In some
ways, a more generous time-pre Instagram,
Twitter and all the instant criticism those
conduits can invite. "I escaped all of that. I
was always allowed just to be myself."
It's not that Tyler resents being frozen in
electronic amber as an ingenue, but she does
find it disconcerting that the public continues
to think of her that way when she sees herself so differently, as a grown woman juggling
career, partnership and kids. "I feel like I'm
conducting a giant orchestra, because there's
so many moving parts," she says. "It's like,
'Over there, you guys do that!' And then, 'Over
there, you do this! All together now!' " Tyler
sighs. "It's kind of what it feels like to be a
mom, isn't it? In the modern world?"
While Tyler always knew she'd be a natural
parent, she had fewer firm notions about marriage: "I had this
philosophy that you should only get married once. But then, of course,
that changes." Tyler admits that she'd like to marry again, that
she is, romantically, even more open to the "sweetness of
marriage" than she was on the first go. "I definitely believe we have
lessons we learn through our relationships," she says. "You're
meant to work through and mirror each other. It's the thing
in someone that drives you the most crazy that is maybe a
part of yourself somewhere."
She and Gardner, whom she already refers to as "my
husband," are blending their families and lives, his in London
and hers in New York. "We're doing everything we can
to be together, but right now because of work we're going back and forth," she says.
All the marriage chat reminds Tyler of her sister Chelsea's recent wedding in Big Sur.
"We were on the top of
this mountain. I was holding Sailor. My dad gave a blessing he'd been writing
for months, and it blew my mind. It was the most enchanted, beautiful
thing ever. I wish my eyes had been cameras so I could have made my own
little movie of what I was seeing."
Tyler's doe-eyed veneration can, from the outside, look like blessed naivete, but after some time in her company, it becomes clear that her outlook
stems from a hard-won wisdom, her optimism a choice she makes where others might cave to suspicion or self-regard. Tyler has decided to move through
the world with genuine gratitude and awe, to be, as she describes it, not only
"open to everything" but "one of those people that no matter where I go, I find
the beauty in it or the thing about it I love.""She's a seeker," echoes Theroux. "She's looking for the next most interesting
experience in life, in love, in everything.""I'm not a big regretter," says Tyler plainly. "There are so many magical
things that happen all the time."