You have to have a little bit more pride in the town you live in, believing many in America will not even have heard of it, when none other than The Leftover‘s Liv Tyler tells you she not only knows it but has been there several times. It’s a name-dropping story for the locals that’s for sure. Then, about to ask her about the whole 90’s scene with her generation of young movie stars, Liv cuts in and asks me to guess who she was with just the other day, having not seen her in years. The pair had lunch and caught up on old times (like when hey starred in an Aerosmith video together). None other than Alicia Silverstone. Small world all around. But before we could get too hung up on approaching 40, I started the interview with the delightful Liv Tyler, the ice well and truly broken in several places indeed.
Robin Write: Now, I remember the nineties fondly, they were just great for the development of indie cinema for starters. Other than the obvious, I remember you from movies like Empire Records, That Thing You Do!, and of course Stealing Beauty. What did that mid-nineties spell mean to you? Do you want fans to remember you for those movies, those roles?
Liv Tyler: I was just a kid, a teenager, graduating from high school. And acting, just kind of beginning my life, it was a nice time. I am really grateful as an actor now when I go to work and see how things are. I am grateful I was part of that generation, things were a little bit different then, the whole process was different, it was not completely the modern world yet, there was still a lot of the old school ways of making films. I am grateful to work with some of those film-makers, it was amazing. I think about how my children might remember me [Laughs]. There might be an actor or an actress and there might be one film you really connect to, and that’s how you always think of them. There seems to be a big nostalgia now for the nineties in the way things were and the way things worked, and it is so fun to see people interested in it.
RW: So you started your career with modeling. Was that what you wanted to do? When and how did this transcend into acting?
LT: I was so young, and it was happening so fast. I was living in Maine, and I moved to New York in the summer I turned twelve and I just kind of blossomed. I was really tall, but had like a perm and braces and I was chubby. Then I just kind of suddenly started to change my mom was very good friends with Paulina Porizkova, the supermodel, and her husband Ric Ocasek. Paulina was taking pictures and she asked if she could take photographs of me, so that was kind of the first pictures I ever did. And from that I started modeling. It was not something I particularly wanted to do, it just sort of happened. You try it out, it was such a fun world to get to experience, so sophisticated, incredible, and amazing. When you’re a teenager it is not necessarily what you want to be doing with your time. I had a little bit of a love hate relationship with it, and then my acting stuff just happened so quickly. I was asked to go on a couple of auditions, and because of my family history I think people were a little more interested in me as a person, which I am really grateful for. That definitely helped me in the couple of years I was modeling, there was more interest in my whole story I guess. I had my first audition, and before I had a chance to have a desire or a dream of my future – I use to want to be a marine biologist [Laughs], and I wanted to be a singer – it gave me a nice purpose in those tricky teenage years that can be hard. I absolutely fell in love with acting, so I am glad I did that.
RW: When did you feel like Liv Tyler the actress in your own right, and not the daughter of whatshisface from that rock band?
LT: You know I never felt like I was just the daughter of someone or in the shadow of someone. I always felt my own person. I feel very blessed, and it was not a hindrance for me. It was something that I don’t think ever effected the way people looked at me. I think if anything it made people go “Oh that makes you a little bit more interesting.” The only sort of downside of it is that it makes people have this preconceived idea of how you grew up, like everyone just assumes that I grew up on a tour bus or in LA. I grew up in Maine in the country with my family. I had a very grounded, a very beautiful upbringing. My mom and my dad were definitely very eccentric, magical, crazy beings, but I had a lot of normal stuff in my life as well.
RW: That’s good to hear.
LT: Yeah. It was never really a problem for me thank goodness. I remember my dad always coming to the premiere of my movie or seeing a screening with me, and he would be like “What happened? Where did you come from?” [Laughs] Like this thing just happened. We have always been kind of independent in that way.
RW: I guess a lot of audiences have admired you over the years for your serenity, your ethereal screen presence. You certainly played against type in HBO’s The Leftovers. You were brilliantly sinister. Almost a bad guy. What attracted you to such a different role in Meg? How did you get the part? Is it something you were looking for?
LT: I am always looking for interesting characters and interesting parts, and sometimes they are very few and far between. It takes time to find those ones that are right, that are good. I think in my first movie ever I did a movie called Silent Fall. I played a woman who killed her parents. I don’t know if I have ever played anyone quite like that before. I was very interested with what was going on with television in America. I know in England TV has always been incredible, and a lot of wonderful actors have done television. But in America it really wasn’t like that, you were a movie star or in movies, or you were a TV star and there was a big divide between it with the quality of the work or how that work was perceived. Those barriers have really come down. I noticed with TV I was enjoying it a little bit more than the films I was seeing, so I decided to take an interest in trying to find something.
RW: I think with the quality of TV now actors who made movies are now making TV shows.
LT: Yeah, and as an actor that is incredible. I was encouraged to find something to be the star of, and I was like “No no no,” I want to be part of an ensemble cast on a show on a network I respect. If I wanted to be a part of that thing you get with television that is so unique and different, I didn’t want to take the mold of a movie actor. I wanted to do exactly what this show is. It’s a nice platform. You can still work and do other things but still be part of that. Whereas if it is always you, it can take up all of your time and you can’t do other projects. I’ve always been such a fan of the quirky, complex kind of storytelling like Twin Peaks and The Twilight Zone, shows like that, and wanted there to be a show like that again, and this [The Leftovers] has some of those elements.
RW: I know you do a bit of work outside of the acting, you’ve done a bit of charitable work outside of acting, like being an ambassador and the support of United Nations Children’s Fund. Is that something you are still doing?
LT: A little bit, but not enough, I do a lot of things locally. I have done work with UNICEF over the years but past couple of years I have been at home having babies. [Laughs] I would love to be doing some charity work. David, my fiance, works very very closely with UNICEF and is about to go to Africa next week. I honestly haven’t been involved in that, a lot of that stuff for the past couple of years, that I can be proud of, that I can share. There are a lot of things I am apart of here in New York that are local things where I can help out when I can.
RW: Building a family is something to be proud of.
LT: Yeah absolutely. I have just been doing so many new things, having two kids back to back, then working on The Leftovers, and just produced and starred in little independent film just last year working with Belstaff which has been really fun. I have been producing a couple of short films for them. I’ve been designing a capsule collection, about to do the second one which was fun. Though I have been part of fashion and costumes all my life, I have not actually designed anything myself.