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Bringing it on home for Jersey Girl

By Steve Head, FilmForce, April 2, 2004

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You know Kevin Smith movies – even his end credits are personal. And that continues as it should with Jersey Girl, for at the end of the credits he passes a note to Liv Tyler:

"Liv – My new favorite actress. You elevated Maya."

For Liv, Maya is the anti-Arwen, as she explains, "With Arwen, I had all these other things and layers that I just slipped into in a second." Whereas with Maya, she's "just this young girl."

She's captivated fans from Empire Records to Armageddon and The Lord of the Rings. And soon Tyler will be seen in Steve Buscemi's Lonesome Jim.

But right now, like Kevin Smith says, "It's all about a Jersey girl." And maybe a Rivendell girl, too.

Hi Liv!
Hi, good to see you again!

It's all about Jersey Girl now, a nice change for you. Can you explain the phenomenon that is Kevin Smith?
No, actually I don't know if I can. [Laughs.] I actually wasn't all that familiar with his work. I'd seen Chasing Amy and Dogma. I was sent the script and he had actually offered me the part, and I was just really intrigued because people are crazy about him… My younger male friends, my agent, my godmother… like all different ages of people just are huge fans of his. So, I read the script and loved it and met with him.

Do you know how to describe it? What is it?

Well, I love the fact that he deals with the profane and the sacred, together, often verbally in the same sentence. And Jersey Girl is about redemption, it's a religious movie on a certain level. At the same time he's a trash-meister. He loves reveling in scatological stuff and profanity and sexual playfulness. So I find that clash of the sacred and the profane fascinating.
I think that why I'm an actor and you're a journalist, because you just said it all so well. [Laughs.]

Then we'll take that quote and say you said it. [Laughs.] Do you think your character -– is Kevin's dream girl?
Hmm. You should ask him ... I feel like he really likes women. And you really get this sense that he's always creating these sort of not very one-dimensional women, who have so many different layers to them. You really can't put your finger on them, or know exactly how they'll respond. I really think that's amazing. There's a character in Chasing Amy who was like that as well. I really enjoyed getting to play this part because she sort of was so many things. She's not only incredibly intelligent, but she's funny and very kind and also very feminine at the same time.

And very sexual ...
Yeah, and very open, and very outspoken.

How freeing was it for you to play this role? It's different from other things we've seen you do, and especially coming off of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it's light-years from Arwen.
Yes, actually, it was kind of hard for me at first. All I ever wanted… I mean, my dream was just to do very contemporary, more relaxed kind of films. And my first day of work [on Jersey Girl] was the scene in the diner. And they'd already been shooting for about a month, so I was a little bit nervous about sort of coming in, and I had like five pages of dialogue there. And that is kind of her most bold moment. And I actually just found it sort of difficult at first to not be Arwen anymore because I was so accustomed to… wig, and ears, and costume, and speaking with an English accent, and really not being myself in anyway. With Arwen, I had all these other things and layers that I just slipped into in a second to be Arwen. And for so many years, so suddenly just sitting there and being… just this young girl was kind of hard for me; I felt a little bit naked at first and kind of uncomfortable, but…

How did you find your character then?
She was really interesting because Kevin... I always sort of feel like he's already directed the movie in the screenplay – it's so complete. And you really do follow the script in a lot of ways, in particularly with the dialogue. But he does allow you to sort of play and try things. It was so weird how for me she just sort of happened. We never rehearsed and we didn't sort of practice anything or work together at all before we started shooting. And for my character I was never exactly sure what I was going to do. Again, that was a really big scene, the diner scene, and she just sort of came out. So I started that thing with my character laughing at all of my own jokes and stuff… that sort of happened. And we were looking at the monitor going, "Oh my God, Who is she?" So I just sort of took it from there and went with it.

And the funny thing here is, your character is really sort of a nerd. A cute looking nerd, but a nerd nonetheless.
I know, she's such a dork it's unbelievable. [Laughs.]

She knows a lot about movies ...
She does.

And she holds the conversation with him on that level.
She does.

And the subject of movies, was there any video in that video store that your character works in other than Men in Black that wasn't a Miramax movie?
[Laughs.] I don't know. I didn't get to look over all the videos that much.

It's funny just to see all the posters... Same studio.
I know, I know.

And from movies to, you know… Have you ever turned the tables on a guy and come on to a guy like you did to Ben's character? For you is that unusual, or usual?
Well, I've been with my husband for six-and-a-half years, and before that I was with Joaquin [Phoenix] for three years, so I'm not a dater at all. I don't know. I mean, I'm flirtatious. I may have flirted. But I think she really sympathizes with him and she thinks he's a sweetheart. And she can't believe he hasn't had sex for seven years. And it's almost sort of like a clinical psychoanalysis; like going to the doctor.

She called it a mercy jump...
[Laughs.] And she's like, "Right now!"

In Jersey Girl you sing. I mean, you're that daughter of a rock star, your husband's a rock star, whatever. But have you ever done something like this in your prior performances? It was really good.
Thank you. It was fun to shoot.

Did you practice a bit for it?
None. I mean, I've always sung my whole life. I've taken lots of voice lessons and I love to sing. But I've never really sung professionally at all.

And you did the stage number with Raquel and Ben. Did you get to spend much time with Raquel on and off the set while you were working?
Oh, yes, yes. A lot. I thought she was so cute, it was ridiculous. And she's just so smart and professional. I spent a lot of time with her. I just wanted her to feel really comfortable, and that's kind of in my nature. Spent time with her and played with her and laugh with her.

She wants a sequel to Jersey Girl.
She does. [Laughs.] Is that what she said?

Yes, with you and Ben married.
Oh my God, that's so funny. [Laughs.]

And you're sharing the screen with Ben again. You guys to work together really well. It comes across.
The best advantage is I really like him a lot as a person and I feel like we have a really nice chemistry together. It just makes it all that better that we're friendly and we communicate well.

And you've spent a lot of time with Ben's bother, Casey.
Yes, they're completely different people, and they're both very sweet. Casey is a really good friend of mine. I actually know Casey a lot better than I know Ben, even though Ben and I have worked together a lot. I've kind of spent more time with Casey because he goes out with one of my best girlfriends.

You're currently making a movie with Casey. What can you tell us about that? Who are you playing?
Basically it's called Lonesome Jim and Casey is Jim. And you basically see him in the beginning of the movie as he's living in New York as a writer and he didn't make it. And he comes home to Indiana and he basically has a nervous breakdown. And it's sort of a very dark comedy about him, you know, coming to terms with his family. And everybody is very eccentric. And Mary Kay Place and Seymour Cassel and Kevin Clark and all play his parents and his brother. And he goes out for a drink one night to a bar and he meets me in a bar. And my name is Anika, and I'm a single mother and a nurse, we go home and do it on the first night, actually. [Laughs.] But we become friends.

Isn't that like your Jersey Girl character?
I know, I feel like I've described Maya, but they're nothing alike at all. [Laughs.] They sort of become friends and she sort of helps him, heals him, things like that.

Can you talk for a second about the whole sense of completion with Lord of the Rings and how it culminated on Oscar night?
In some ways it hasn't quite hit us yet, I think. Because it's just been sort of a whirlwind. Like, the day after the Oscars I left and came back [to New York] and I haven't really had a moment to reflect. I know it is over now. I know that. But I don't necessarily feel that quite yet. It was just such an exciting night, and it couldn't have been more perfect that it happened, like, with the third film – really at the end of everything – to win all those awards, it was just really amazing. And we were looking at each other, all of us, like, Oh my God, is this really happening?

Were you concerned as it was getting all of the technical awards that this may not be a sweep? Like, they might pass us up on the key Oscars?
It's not that I don't care, but in any way it's amazing to win awards or to be nominated for things. I'm sorry that I'm a little bit confused by the whole thing, because... I mean, there were so many amazing movies this year. And I don't understand necessarily that thing about there being a winner, like it's a game show, you know? Just being involved and having people recognize the movie, for me personally, that means everything.

Were you in Peter's [Jackson] hotel room at four in the morning when they had all eleven Oscars sitting on the table?
No, I was in bed. Is that what Peter did? I went home right after the ball.

It seemed like you didn't want to go up on stage, and Peter asked you to come up.
Well, actors don't usually go up on stage when they win for best film, but...

Billy Boyd was jumping out of his chair.
[Laughs.] It wasn't that I didn't want to go.

It seemed you were almost shy about it. Did you feel like you weren't deserving of being part of that?
Well, I just felt shy because usually when you win for best film just the producer goes up. And I was just sort of like, Oh my God, are you sure? You know, it was just that kind of a moment. I didn't mean for it to seem like I wasn't grateful or I didn't want to be there.

Do you really wear glasses?
Yes. No, that was just a look. [Laughs.] Yes.

Elijah [Wood] said the other day that he just wants to get stomped by King Kong ...
[Laughs.] That would be hysterical. That's so his humor.

But that he seriously spoke with Peter about doing something. Have you talked about working with Peter again?
I haven't talked about that. I mean, I'm desperate to work with him again. I would love to also work with Fran and Phillipa again. I want Fran to direct a movie.

She did direct some scenes on Return of the King…

Some of yours?

What did she direct of yours?
One of the smartest things about Peter is that he's really trusting of the people that he works with. I always feel like one of the nicest traits of a really good director is their ability to be able to really listen and to really recognize the talent of the team around them, and not be sort of uppity about that. And Peter is very much like that. And it was impossible for him to be everywhere. Sometimes there were five units shooting at once, and so there were quite a few different units with all of us being directed by different people. But for me, there was a definite theme of Fran and Phillipa always being there when I was working. You really got the sense that he left those sort of romantic scenes, the Arwen scenes, kind of up to the girls to do. Which I thought was really beautiful because it adds such a different element to all the movies.

They were there for every single scene I shot. Sometimes Peter would be there; most of the time Peter would be there. Sometimes he wouldn't. I really depended on what was going on.

Are you guys going to get together for The Return of the King: Extended Edition DVD? Is there any plan yet to get together to contribute to that?
I don't know. I mean we all live all over the world, so I don't know. I don't know of any definite plan yet. I know we all have to do things for the DVD, but I don't know if it means we'll all get together in one room and record it.

Thank you, Liv!
Thank you! Have a very good day!