Interview April 99 - Liv Tyler
So nice girls finish last, do they? Why, then, does Liv Tyler seem to be way ahead of the pack? Drew Barrymore gets to the core of her friend's mystique with this intimate talk.
Liv Tyler - lovely, soulful, limpid Liv - is an anomaly on the current American film scene. The calling cards for actresses in her peer group are bitchy aplomb (Posey, Ricci, McGowan), Girl Scout sexiness (Hewitt, Gellar, Holmes), feisty, furrow-browed cuteness (Silverstone, Witherspoon, Zellweger), gorgeous vacancy (Campbell, Richards), and that less-valued commodity, penetrating intelligence (Danes, Polley). But those are earth tones, and Tyler is of the sky. No matter that she can play ordinary folks - her touching waitress, for example, In Heavy (1996) - she seems borne away from workaday sweat and grind by dreamy self-absorption. And that's exactly why she retains her mystery. Like some European actresses of the '60s - Jane Birkin, say, or the young Deneuve - she seems lost in deep spiritual questions, even if they sometimes take carnal forms. And where others stride, Tyler seems to float into movies, even when she's carrying them, as she did Stealing Beauty (1996), and then float out of them. What's carrying her? you wonder. Invisible fairy wings? Or her own airspace?
Tyler is an ineffably nice, feeling young woman, offscreen as well as on. If you didn't know that you might surmise it from watching her in films like her latest, this month's Cookie's Fortune, directed by Robert Altman, in which she is a runaway returning to her smalltown home, where she comforts a jailed family friend (played by Charles S. Dutton) and makes enthusiastic vertical love with her rookie cop boyfriend (Chris O'Donnell). It could shock us one day if she chose to play a vixen, a hormonal tempest, or any kind of neurotic - and she will need to if she is to extend her range. She's just twenty-one, so there is time for her to upset us in that way. But she disconcerts us already, for this era - and the habitual cinematic shtick that accompanies it - is characterized by cynicism, manipulativeness, and venality, whereas Tyler serves up the opposites. What an odd one she is. And what a gentle wonder.
DREW BARRYMORE: Hi, Liv!
LIV TYLER: Hi, baby! How are you?
LT: How weird is this?
DB: It'll be fine, Livvie.
INTERVIEW: Today's a historic day, because the president has just been acquitted.
LT: [sings] "Don't mess with Bill."
I: And it's also historic because we've got you both on the line; but now we'll get off and just leave you to it.
LT: How funny is Bill?
DB: He's just holding it in his hand, happy as a clam. [LT laughs] I always wondered what would happen with this thing.
LT: It's gone on and on forever. And the questions they were asking, like what his daily exercise routine is - what's the point?
DB: Maybe it's just male thrusting. Everything Is about male thrusting, whether it's exercising or the Oval Office.
LT: You know, I was just putting Etta James into my jukebox - I just got a brilliant jukebox - and I remembered the first time we met. It was in a bathroom, because we started singing [sings], "I want a Sunday - "
DB: [sings] " - kind of love."
LT: You were the only other person I knew who knew that song.
DB: Where was that?
LT: At the premiere for Everyone Says I Love You , a million years ago. I don't think we'd ever met before.
DB: We met during shooting. Remember?
LT: Oh, that's right. Sorry.
DB: That's OK. Maybe we even met before that. I bet our paths probably crossed when we were kids.
LT: I was definitely watching you in the movies.
DB: I've been watching you, too, ever since you were on my radar. I've been like [makes radar sound], radar's out for Liv. I was thinking about how similar our upbringings were, even though I was in L.A. and you grew up on the East Coast.
LT: It's funny - because of my dad [Aerosmith's Steven Tyler] everybody thinks I grew up in this crazy rock 'n' roll world. But I didn't even meet him for the first time until I was eight - and I didn't know then that he was my dad. I met him at one of Todd's concerts. [Todd Rundgren raised Liv as his daughter.] Actually, the biggest rock influence on me was my mother [Bebe Buell], who was in a really great band. But I grew up in Portland, Maine, and I didn't come to New York until I was ten or eleven. I really had a pretty normal childhood. But even if I tell people that, they don't want to believe it.
DB: People have their own ideas of how things are. They want to live vicariously through you, or envy you, or glamorize your life. But it is interesting what your more was like - that's one similarity we have. When I was growing up, my morn [Ildiko Jaid Barrymore] managed the Troubadour, and she got to know every cool rock 'n' roller. She was out partying with Jim Morrison, you know, in his leather pants. She was so cool. And then she worked at The Comedy Store with Steve Martin.
LT: God! My favorite movie ever, in the whole world, is Three Amigos! . I'm always reciting things from it.
DB: I love Steve Martin. He wrote this incredible play called Picasso at the Lapin Agile. It is so profound the way he combined history with where we're at today. I think that's what we're all trying to do: respect our history and know where we came from, and amalgamate that into today's time.
LT: Sometimes it'll dawn on me who my family is, the lives my mother and father have led, and it just hits me so hard. I'd love to trace my roots, especially on my Italian side. My father's family name is Tallarico. I'm sure there are millions of Tallaricos out there somewhere. I love Italy. I haven't gone back since I made Stealing Beauty. It would be so emotional to go back because that film is so special to me.
DB: Tell me why.
LT: It was such a growing experience. Working with Bernardo [Bertolucci] and living in Siena - it was amazing. I had this beautiful hotel room and I was good friends with everybody there. We'd laugh and run around and roam the streets after dinner. It was summertime and it was so delicious.
DB: Was your character in Stealing Beauty the role you've played that's most like yourself?
LT: That's so hard to answer. I think the point of getting into a character is to separate yourself from yourself as much as you can. It's sort of like an out-of-body experience.
DB: I completely agree. The whole thing is kind of a Journey, and that actually brings me to my next question: What is your favorite Journey? It could be spiritual, it could be travel, it could be a journey you need to go on.
LT: It would be hard to find one particular thing that stands out. I mean, I find every day an unbelievable journey. [laughs] I'm such a weird person because I find myself in moments with this huge grin that won't go away, and I'm like, "I am so happy!" Isn't that a nice feeling?
DB: It's the best feeling in the world. And when you have those moments it takes a lot of work not to be afraid that they'll disappear, that they'll evaporate with the acknowledgment.
LT: When I was a kid, I used to try to capture all those moments by taking millions of pictures, or writing it all down - and almost missing the moment because of that. It's hard to learn to just let things happen.
DB: I want to ask you about love: What is the one thing about being in love that you desire the most?
LT: I suppose it's the feeling of having a complete, unbelievable kinship of the soul. That is the most incredible sensation in the world. I don't even know how to describe it.
DB: Someone asked me the most amazing question the other day, and it freaked me out. I still don't know if I can answer it. This person said, "You could have one solid relationship for the rest of your life - stable, reliable, calm, but not passionate. Or you could have a bunch of relationships for the rest of your life, and most of them would end in heartbreak, but you'd have had incredible adventures, and you'd. . ."
LT: You'd have lived.
DB: Right. And which would you choose? What's so scary is that young women tend to be out there looking for that knight in shining armor who's also a reliable, stable force.
LT: That's an extension of family somehow. It's the feeling that everything will always be OK. And you'll always be loved. I think everybody tries to recreate that in their lives.
DB: And even if it wasn't there in the first place, that ideal of stability is what people really want.
LT: I think the most important thing is to love somebody for who they are, and not to confuse them with what you want them to be.
DB: But that doesn't mean you're settling, right?
LT: No. But if it's not good enough, you gotta get out!
DB: Absolutely. OK, let's talk about your new movie, Cookie's Fortune. How was that experience?
LT: Well, first of all, I had such a big year. I did this film Plunkett and Macleane with Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle. It's about highwaymen in London in 1750, with a modern twist. It's very graphic and real. While doing that, I also did Armageddon. Then I did Eugene Onegin with Ralph Fiennes, which was such an intense experience - literary, passionate, Russian. Then, five days later I was in Mississippi, with no hair anymore, for Cookie's Fortune.
DB: Is that what you cut your hair for?
LT: Yeah. We just lived and worked in this tiny town and the people were so kind to us. We rented these houses and we had porch swings and fireflies. Every time a new actor would come, Bob [Altman] and his wife Kathryn would cook a big dinner and we'd all get together and Lyle Lovett would play music. And Bob just has a way about him - you feel really free with him and free to let moments happen. I would always come up to him at the end of a take and say, "So, is there anything you wanna tell me?" He'd say, "Shut up and don't think so much." [laughs] It was a really beautiful time. It went by way too fast. There was no money, and we only shot for about a month and a half, so that was kind of a bummer. But I've made so many great friends from it - Julianne [Moore] and Glenn [Close], who are just amazing. And I got to meet Patricia Neal, who's extraordinary.
DB: Now, Liv, I have a bunch of fun questions for you, like: What were your favorite television shows growing up?
LT: The Dukes of Hazzard, He-man, and The Brady Bunch. I remember when I was in first grade I was living with my grandparents in Virginia at the time and they cut my television privileges back to like half an hour. And I remember crying, because that meant I couldn't watch He-man and The Dukes of Hazzard. It was the biggest crisis.
DB: It's so amazing that there's a time in your life when the big issues are getting to watch television shows, and then you get older and the problems are so big.
LT: What were your favorite shows?
DB: The Incredible Hulk. I was scared of him, but I was also turned on by him. And I liked Superman.
LT: I bet we watch similar shows now. Dave, right? That's probably the only show I actually watch.
DB: David Letterman is my boyfriend In my fantasies.
LT: One time I called him because I wanted to say hi, and he wanted me to come up to his office. And it was really far away and I was running late for dinner with someone, so I said, "Can't we just talk on the phone?" And he said, "No, you have to come up, and I'll buy you your dinner." And I went over there, and then we went to Nobu, and he paid for it! Bought us this amazing feast. So I wrote Dave a thank-you note.
DB: I bet he loved that.
LT: "Dearest David. . ."
DB: "Dearest David, let me start by saying, 'I love you.'" [both laugh] What a gentlemanly thing to do. I love it when men surprise you. I love when a man conjures up a whole scheme, and then reveals it later on. That's what I think I desire most in a man - the capacity to surprise.
LT: That's a good one. And I love presents. I love giving presents - and getting them.
DB: Yeah, me too. I just want to be thought of. OK, next question: Do you wear a watch?
LT: I'm weird with jewelry, I don't wear it that much. But I have two watches I really love. I have one watch that my dad got me in Japan. When you press a little button, blue glow-in-the-dark stars fly all over the room.
DB: No way!
LT: And then I have a Pulsar from 1972. The screen's totally blank, but when the heat of your finger touches it, the little numbers come up.
DB: You've got like cool Charlie's Angels gadgets.
LT: I like to know what time it is all the time. It's a nervous habit, like picking at your cuticles.
DB: I tend to clock everything and it gives me an anxiety attack. So I don't wear a watch because I like to be freer than that. I like to not be under the spell of time.
LT: I'm definitely straggling with that now, especially being away for so long and then coming home. I get mini heart palpitations trying to figure out how to balance all the personal things with all the work things. There's not enough time in a day.
DB: No, there's not. OK, what's your favorite street in the country?
LT: I would say Lafayette Street, in Portland, Maine, which is this beautiful road that goes past my aunt's house. I suppose I'd choose it just for comfort reasons. It's so funny to go back to my old home there, because I drive by and I look in the window, and I can see myself sitting there looking out the window. It's so funny that somebody else is living there now.
DB: Did you ever go and knock on the door?
LT: I haven't. I probably should. I'd love to go in and just smell it. I bet it smells the same.
DB: You know what? A few days ago I went and knocked on the door of the house I grew up in. The woman who lives there doesn't speak English. The only words she said were "Come back later." And I said, "i will." I'm going to find an interpreter so I can get into that house. I brought my dog, Flossie, too, because I wanted her to see it. Flossie is like my little daughter. I can't wait to have kids.
LT: Me, too. I really look forward to them. But I'm definitely not ready now. I always knew I wanted to have a big family, with four kids. And I have this vision of a house in the middle of nowhere, just kids and animals.
DB: That's a perfect dream. I hope you get to fulfill it. So nice to talk to you, Livvie!
LT: All right, baby. I love you!
DB: I love you, too.