Liv Tyler… not too bruised and battered from the looks of this photo.
Diana Wichtel talks to Liv Tyler
New Zealand Listener – May 20, 2000
Lord Of The Rings remains, despite the odd teaser on its website, a very hush-hush project. “I’m not sure how much of it I’m allowed to talk about,” worries imported star Liv Tyler, in the throaty tones of a fledgling screen goddess. With a hint of pre-emptive self-mockery – surely people haven’t been taking the piss? – she volunteers, “I’m an elf.” We know. Arwen. Daughter of Elrond. “Young she was and yet not so,” etc. Elf royalty.
It’s probably fitting that the elf queen should be played by Tyler, daughter of Aerosmith’s legendary Steven Tyler and career rock girlfriend Bebe Buell, step-daughter of another music legend, Todd Rundgren. Rock aristocracy.
So, how fares Arwen in deepest, darkest Wellywood? Tyler must be able to tell us something – anything. Having our own Peter Jackson, once better known for blowing up sheep, film J R R Tolkien’s immortal trilogy here is a big deal for us. We’re . . . nervous. Tyler will say that she has been shooting nights in bad weather and she’s fairly shattered. “My body clock’s just kind of like blah.” They’re not working her too hard? “This film is definitely the hardest film I’ve ever worked on in my life.” Physically? “In all ways, really, but mainly the physical stuff. Bruises and rain. Because I’m one of the only girls, I have to be extra brave. When the boys hurt themselves, they pretend like nothing happened and just keep going. I’m kinda like boo-hoo and I have to try and keep going, too.”
She’s trying to toughen up. “It’s a good test,” she says brightly, “of one’s strength.”
Tyler, 22, and with almost as many films to her credit, is a trouper. She has worked with Bernardo Bertolucci (Stealing Beauty), Robert Altman (Cookie’s Fortune) and Martha Fiennes, sister of Ralph, in Onegin, the Fiennes’s adaptation of Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel Eugene Onegin (opening here on June 1). She’s happy to wax lyrical about all the above, especially Altman. She took time during her Christmas break to appear in his latest movie. A tiny part, but she was happy to do it. “I’d walk across the room for Bob.”
So what’s it like working for Peter Jackson? “He’s a little hobbit,” squeaks Tyler so affectionately that, wherever he is, Jackson must be experiencing the sensation of having his cheeks well and truly pinched. “He’s such a sweet man. He’s really passionate about the material. You can watch his face when he’s watching the monitor and he’s completely engrossed in what’s happening. That’s always a really nice thing to see.”
Much as we’d like to pursue Jackson’s resemblance to a small furry-footed hole-dweller, we’re really here to talk about Tyler’s sumptuous period piece, Onegin. Tyler plays Tatyana, tragically in love with the cold fish Onegin. The tale of complex emotions and relationships was one she could relate to. “I’ve always been a sensitive girl,” she says drily. And her own background has enough tragic behaviour and domestic complexity for three Russian novels and a good Hollywood screenplay. She grew up believing that Todd Rundgren was her father until a chance meeting with Steven Tyler at a concert had her putting two and two together and making Dad. “It was a lot of little things. The moment of realisation was when I met my sister.” When Tyler came face to face with Mia, Steven Tyler’s daughter from another relationship, it was an unnerving moment. “We looked like twins. Both really chubby, perms and braces.” Chubby? Ex-model Tyler? “I was a total porker.”
So she was 11 before she learnt the truth. Which was that her mother did not want to bring up a child around the drug casualty that was Steven Tyler at the time. Did Tyler ever feel angry about the deception? “Um . . . this is not interview material,” she chides, before characteristically answering anyway. “S*** happens. I’ve never really had the sensation of anger about it all. Everything worked out for the best. As an adult, I’m able to be close to all of them, which I’m really grateful for.”
So, she never went through teenage rebellion? “What did I have to rebel against?” Indeed. If anything, she was extra focused, extra hard-working. Qualities that she has needed in her chosen profession. For Onegin, she filmed on location in Russia. But the toughest scenes involved trucking in snow and ice to re-create a St Petersburg ice-skating scene in the English countryside. In spring. “That was hysterical. The ice kept melting. Everyone kept falling. My knees were fluorescent purple with bruises. I had to go home because my knees were so messed up.” Heavens. Sounds worse than Lord Of The Rings. “That,” she corrects with feeling, rainy night shoots clearly still on her mind, “was nothing.” For mercy’s sake, Peter, let up on the girl.
No really, insists Tyler, she’s having a blast. Enjoying the work, the change of scene. Maybe, from this great distance, she can shed some light on the whole thing thing that’s going on in Hollywood. “I don’t understand it. I mean, I’m hungry, I eat. I don’t find anorexic and really skinny women particularly attractive.” We get onto Kate Winslet, who seems to have struck a blow for the more voluptuous end of the spectrum. “But she’s had to struggle through it. How dare anybody ask her f—ing how much she weighs or even comment on it? Who cares?”
Was coming here a chance to retreat from such industry pressures? Tyler sees it more as a chance to test herself. “Can I commit to something for a year and a half, essentially give up my life to work on the film? I’m completely on the other side of the world from everything I know.”
A hard thing to do. “Well . . . it will never be this hard again. I won’t get the chance to make three films in a row again.” Let alone as a small woodland creature. Does she ever catch herself thinking that grown people running around being hobbits and elves is a bit . . . silly? Great peals of laughter from Wellywood. “All the time. I can’t help it. There are these little Monty Python moments. Have you seen . . . I think it was the Life of Brian, where they didn’t want to bother learning how to ride horses? This guy walks around with a coconut going clip-clop, clip-clop.” (Actually, it was Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)
Not, she hastens to make clear, that she finds Lord Of The Rings more than usually hilarious. Committed as she is to her craft, Tyler finds that the whole industry cracks her up. “The movie business is completely comical. Sometimes I’m like, ‘What am I doing?’ We put so much into making it seem so real and so painful and so everything. And, at the end of the day, it’s just a movie.” As we speak, Tyler’s off for a well-earned three-week break. Then it’s back for a lot more Lord Of The Rings. Rain and bruises. Clip-clop, clip-clop.