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Liv It Up

By Juan Morales, LA Confidential, Spring 2004. Scans and transcript by Bogyo

Hot on the heels of Rings, Liv Tyler swaps Middle Earth for the Garden State in Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl

Liv Tyler will always cherish the time she spent making the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, she's certain the year and a half she devoted to the role of elf princess Arwen in director Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved novels will be one of the most profound and memorable experiences of her career. Even so, after going through three hours of hair and makeup every day, not to mention doing many of her scenes alone, against a blue screen, emoting to a blank space that would later be filled in with digital effects, she was hankering for something a tad more intimate.

"While we were making Lord of the Rings," says Tyler, "I always thought, When this is over I just want to make a movie where I'm sitting in a diner having a conversation with somebody. The weird thing is, that's what I did on my first day of work on Jersey Girl!"

The new film, a surprisingly tender romantic comedy from writer-director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma), stars Ben Aflleck as Ollie, a hotshot New York City music publicist whose life is thrown into a tailspin when his wife dies (played by former fiancee, Jennifer Lopez), and he loses his job--and, by extension, his sense of identity. Tyler plays Maya, a free-spirited video-store clerk who befriends Ollie and his 7-year-old daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro), and helps him to see that his new life in working-class New Jersey, where he lives with his cantankerous father (George Carlin), has a lot more going for it than he realizes.

Adjusting to family upheaval is a subject Tyler knows well. For the first several years of her life she grew up in Maine with her mother-former Playboy centerfold, model, and rock-star paramour Bebe Buell and musician Todd Rundgren, whom she thought was her biological father. But at around the age of 9, she discovered that her real father was Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, with whom Buell had a fling while estranged from Rundgren.

A five-foot-ten stunner by the time she was 12, Tyler began modeling at 14, after moving to Manhattan with Buell. She began acting shortly afterward, and made her screen debut at 16 opposite Richard Dreyfuss in the thriller Silent Fall, directed by Oscar nominee Bruce Beresford. She went on to star in such films as Stealing Beauty, That Thing You Do!, Inventing the Abbotts, Armageddon, Cookie's Fortune, and One Night at McCool's before her distant journey to Middle Earth, aka New Zealand, in the Rings saga.

For the moment, after so many trips abroad that she had to have extra pages added to her passport, Tyler-who will soon join Affleck's younger brother Casey in the low-budget drama Lonesome Jim, directed by Steve Buscerni-is thrilled to be able to spend some quality time in the spacious New York brownstone she moved into last fall with her husband, musician Royston Langdon, and their sprightly King Charles spaniel, Neal.

As it turns out, Neal and Tyler have something in common. Not long ago, after the airing of a Sex and the City episode in which Elizabeth Taylor, Charlotte York's King Charles spaniel, competes in a dog show, Tyler got a proud e-mail from the breeder who helped her find Neal. "It turns out that the dog on the show is Neal's aunt, his mother's sister," Tyler says with a laugh. "So I'm not the only one from a celebrity family."

LOS ANGELES CONFIDENTIAL: Are you settled into your new home yet?
LIV TYLER: Yes, finally. I had quite a major shock when I first moved in. I didn't really anticipate how enormous the responsibility was. We lived in a tiny apartment for three years, and although it wasn't really big enough, we were very used to being there together. Now our house is enormous, and as a New York girl who has always lived in apartments, I'm just not used to it. It took me a while to adjust.

How much time do you spend in LA?
I'm usually there for work a couple of times a year, or for meetings and stuff. When I was about eighteen to twenty, I spent a lot of time there; I did That Thing You Do!, Armageddon, and Inventing the Abbotts in one long stint. I had a blast because I was so young, and being from New York, was over the moon about having a car and listening to music while I was driving.

Is there anything special that you like to do in LA?
I love the natural sulfur spring at Beverly Hot Springs. First you soak in really hot water, then you go into the really cold water, and then you go into a back room and they scrub you and rub you in milk, honey, cucumber, and all sorts of things. I always do that right when I get off the plane. It makes me feel like I've arrived.

After Lord of the Rings, was it a relief not to have any special effects to worry about on Jersey Girl?
I actually found it a little hard at first. On Lord of the Rings I had grown very accustomed to acting by myself, and imagining things, and working with blue screens. So suddenly, when I was playing a contemporary girl like myself, I felt almost naked. I had to get used to the idea that what we were shooting was actually going to appear on screen, because in Lord of the Rings, so many things were airbrushed and enhanced. There were elements of scenes that I was not aware of, and would only see in the completed film.

Are you comfortable watching yourself on screen?
No. I like to watch everything once, just to see how it turns out, but it's kind of torturous. You always see the things you wish you'd done differently, which I think can happen in any kind of profession. Athletes play a game, and then afterward they get asked questions and they get to critique their performance, what they did right and wrong. Actors don't really get to do that at least not in public.

You've said that Kevin Smith writes great female characters. What do you mean by that?
They're just really well-rounded. My character is smart, yet she has other elements that you may not see in romantic comedies. For instance, she has a horribly foul mouth. I don't know where it comes from exactly, but there's this feeling that Kevin is still trying to understand women and figure them out, which is good.

You worked with Ben Affleck on Armageddon a few years ago. By the time you did Jersey Girl, he had become a big star. Was there a difference?
Certain elements of that were shocking for me. On my first day of work we were shooting in this little diner, and when we got there at about six in the morning there were probably fifty people there. And then, by the end of the day, there were a couple of thousand people and news crews. It was like he was a Beatle.

Now that he and Jennifer aren't together anymore, the public fixation on their relationship could overshadow the movie itself.
I hope that doesn't happen, because it really is a good film, and he's really good in it. I hope that people can put aside their obsession with Ben and Jen's relationship and just see the movie for what it is. A lot of the time when I do these interviews, that's all that anybody asks me about, and it makes me uncomfortable. I have a hard enough time talking about my own relationships and private things, let alone someone else's.

There was a backlash against the paparazzi when Princess Diana died but they seem to have come back in full force with the competition between the weeklies, not to mention the tabloids.
I don't like to put anybody down, or anyone's job down. I've been incredibly lucky. There's a handful of paparazzi in New York, and most of them are nice. I've walked down the street before and said, "Go away," and they did. But now there is another level. There's more of them, and they're more ruthless, and they really seem to have no regard for your privacy or the fact that you're a human being. I guess the way to turn that around would be to start stalking them with a camera and see how they like it.

How did you come to do Lonesome Jim with Ben's brother Casey?
Casey is a good friend of mine. He goes out with my friend Summer Phoenix, who I've known for a long time, and is almost like a sister to me. He and I were talking one day, and I said "Have you read anything good lately?" He started telling me about Lonesome Jim, and I said, "Is there a part for me?" He said, "Actually, yeah, there is. The producer asked me about you." So I read it and I met with Steve Buscemi. I was shy going into the meeting because I felt like the aggressor.

I take it that's not your style.
Not always. But I'm trying to be more proactive in that way. A lot of times I'll see films I love and think, I want to write the director a letter. Then I sort of chicken out because I think, Well, everyone must be doing that.

Lonesome Jim sounds like an even smaller film than Jersey Girl.
It is. We're shooting it on video, in sixteen days. I'm incredibly excited, but also kind of terrified because I've never done anything like that in my life.

You love karaoke, and you've taken voice lessons. Have you ever had any offers to make a record?
I love to sing, but I've probably been hesitant about singing because that's what my dad does, and does so well. When I was younger I wanted to go against it, and really focus on acting. I've wanted to do a musical ever since I was little. And then all of these beautiful musicals started coming out. I loved Chicago; I saw it ten times. Maybe somewhere deep inside my heart I would love to do a record, but I would rather do a musical. If I could both act and sing, I would much prefer it.

In November you signed a contract with Givenchy. What does that entail?
It's a four-year contract for fragrance and cosmetics. Then, separately, they asked me to do the fashion campaign, but just as a model.

Does that mean print advertising?
Yeah. I was driving up Madison Avenue the other day and there were giant pictures of me in fashion outfits in the window of the store. I thought, Oh my God, how weird! It's been a really fun experience for me because it's such a beautiful luxury brand, and it's something I really like. A lot of times endorsements are mainly about the money, but this isn't. It's been a dream; I feel like a princess. I feel like part of the family, not just a spokesperson.

Aerosmith has been touring with Kiss for months. Do you go to any of the shows?
I went to one, which freaked me out because when I was a little girl my mom took me to see Kiss perform in Maine. I was probably three or four years old, and it was a traumatic experience for me because Gene Simmons came out of the dressing room and I was about as tall as his boot and so scared that I started to cry my eyes out. About a month ago we went to one of the shows, and there was Gene in the same outfit, doing the same tongue wagging and blood spitting. It was deja vu.

What's it like watching your father onstage?
I find it one of the most inspiring things in my life. I completely lose myself and forget that I'm related to him, and just feel excited.

Is there a difference between rock star fame and movie star fame?
Absolutely. I think rock star fame is much more heightened. Actually, when we did the last Lord of the Rings press tour, and we were in New Zealand, Germany, England, and everywhere else, we thought we were like the Beatles. That's what Peter Jackson kept saying. I guess the difference is when you're on tour, and you have scheduled dates, there are fans waiting for you everywhere you go. That's sort of what our press tour was like. We'd arrive at the airport and there would be barricades with hundreds of screaming girls. I thought, Wow, this is hard work--and my dad has gone through this for years.

Before you found out that Steven was your biological father, was your name Liv Rundgren?
Yeah. I've got the world's most confusing name situation. I'm Liv Tyler Rundgren, and now I've added Langdon. I have different credit cards and IDs with all the different names, and I'm trying to squish them all into one.

Was it hard for Todd to adjust to that shift in your relationship?
I think it was hard for all of us. I don't like to talk about it too much because it's very personal and I want to respect everybody's feelings. It was hard on everybody, and certainly hard on me as a child, just trying to figure out how to balance everything and to not think it was my fault in some way. Now that I'm an adult I try to remember that they were adults, but they were young. My mom was only twenty-three when she had me; I'm twenty-six now and I can't even make the right decision half the time. I'm happy that everything worked out the way it did because it's made me the person that I am.

You're about to celebrate your first wedding anniversary. Is married life different than when you two were just living together?
I've definitely settled down. Everything happened quickly in that we got married, and moved into this house. There were a lot of changes for me, and at first I did have that little identity crisis that happens: feeling kind of overwhelmed and thinking, Who am I? Nobody really prepares you for that. I'm enjoying it enormously now. I feel really lucky to have somebody so special in my life who will love me no matter what. Especially in the business that I'm in, where your career can be so up and down. It can be such a strain that it's comforting to have something so special and real with somebody.

Fortunately, you've had a great career.
Yes, but you have to accept that you're never going to be hot all the time. Even at twenty-six, I have experienced that, and it's the danger of the business. That's why your personal life is so important. You can never forget the realistic things because the success and the good things come in waves; they don't exist all the time. You have to be able to function as a human being, and not need that attention or praise from the outside, or else you'll just be miserable.

After 10 years of making movies and having done thousands of interviews to promote them, how do you feel about doing press in general?
This is the hardest part of my job for me. Not so much individual interviews as promoting the movie, where you might do sixty interviews in one day, and it's more about being a machine. I struggle with that part a lot, but it's something you have to come to terms with because it's really important. If you don't promote your movies, I don't think people will hire you.

It's hard, but I think it's one of those things where you're better off not paying too much attention. For instance, I always like to watch all of the awards shows on television, but when I watched the Golden Globes this time the show wasn't as exciting as it could have been because it had been analyzed and talked about so many times-who was going to win, and why, and what they were going to wear. When it finally happened, it wasn't as thrilling. I think that's a shame. We need to stop discussing everything so much, and just let things happen.

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