Film Scouts Interviews

Liv Tyler on "Stealing Beauty"

by Henri Béhar

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May 15, 1996

She is everywhere. From the old harbor to the new Port Canto, from the Majestic Hotel to the Martinez. On posters, on magazine covers, on television. Although her co-stars are such heavyweights as Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Italian luminary Stefania Sandrelli and French veteran Jean Marais, -- not to mention her director, Bernardo Bertolucci, a star in his own right -- it is her face, and her face alone, that dots the Croisette above the title "Stealing Beauty". Not since Nastassja Kinski in Roman Polanski's "Tess" has a teenager been asked to "carry" a whole picture. A responsibility that did not escape her during the shooting of the film in Tuscany, Italy, in the summer of 1995.

"I was terrified. I was afraid it was going to be this huge kind of big deal and that once on the set I wouldn't be sure which way to go. It turned out to be just the opposite. It was just very laid back, and everyone was very comfortable and warm and loving and nice."

She pauses.

"And patient."

Why made her think it would be such a heavy deal?

"Just because of all the things that I had heard about *Bernardo Bertolucci*! It had been such a big deal for me to get this part..."

When she first heard she had the part, "I screamed, at the top of my lungs!," she recalls, laughing. "I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I was feeling... I don't know if "down" is the right word, but I had, like, a week to wait until I knew. I had just come home from doing a screen test, and I remember sitting in my room and kind of waiting and then taking a nap and waking up to the phone ringing--and it was my agent. We talked for *fifteen* minutes, then I finally said, 'When am I going to find out?' And he said, 'You don't know yet?' You could have heard my scream all the way to Tierra de Fuego!"

She would have gone through a crash course on Bertolucci movies if a) she had been able to find the tapes -- "Even Kim's Video on Bleecker Street had run out of 'The Conformist' and '1900' " -- b) if she didn't have to rush to the Cannes Festival where James Mangold's "Heavy" was to be shown at the Directors' Fortnight; c) return to the States and graduate from high school; then d) pack up and go to Tuscany.

"It did go kind of fast, didn't it?," she dryly comments.

Indeed. Although she always knew she wanted to be an actress, she says, "I thought I would have to first graduate from high school, go to college and study, then get a drama teacher or go to a drama school." She started out as a model. Just before she went to Venezuela to make some Bongo Jeans commercials, she got herself an agent and a small article (with photograph) in the New York Times, in which she expressed her desire to act.

Of course there was this little matter of her name. As everybody and their mothers know, she is the daughter of Aerosmith's lead singer Steve Tyler. Patiently, wearily -- she's obviously done it a million times -- she explains:

"I was born with the name Rundgren. 'Tyler' is a new thing for me: I found out that Steven was my father when I was nine. My mother and my father -- Todd Rundgren, at the time -- were having some differences, so we moved to New York to start over. I was very excited about finding my new father, and it seemed natural to just pick up the name.

"It became very frustrating: from that point on, every single article mentioned that 'Liv Tyler, the daughter of Blah! blah! blah!' I mean, it's okay, and I'm very proud of him, but it just got boring after a while. A couple of times I thought I should have kept Rundgren... But then, a) wanting to be more a part of my real father was only natural; b) I liked the name -- and it *is* a great name! c) to be honest, at that time I had just gone into 6th grade, I was still wearing braces and a perm, I really didn't think of a '*career*."

She remembers vividly her first audition with Bertolucci.

"I walked into the room, it was very quiet, I was very nervous. I sat in a chair and I could feel my ears turning red... Bernardo asked me several questions about everything, life, what I was doing, you know..."

Did he or she do most of the talking?

"He did. I wasn't going to talk my head off. In that situation you think of that person as being an authority figure, like a teacher or something. You don't walk into the room and start saying 'I think so and so, and this and that.' NOW I would work the room!"

Bertolucci explained who Lucy, the central character, was: a nineteen-year-old American girl who comes to Italy in search of... "a lot of things about the people around her, about herself. This is the first time that I have ever been able to find that kind of happy medium between myself and a character. Because I understand her, and like her, very much, it was easy for me to be her, and be *with* her constantly."

A self-described "laid back energetic" -- "I need excitement! I like to sit on my ass every once in a while for a day but I can't do that all the time" -- Tyler is in almost every scene of "Stealing Beauty". As often happens, there comes a point in the making of a film where "ownership" of the character switches from director (Bertolucci) and scriptwriter (American novelist Susan Minot) to the actor that portrays it. "It's true," Tyler says. "They handed you the ball, it's all up to you now." At some point, the actor knows the character better than they do.

"Neither 'better' or 'worse', just differently. As long as you find yourselves on the same wavelength about her. Otherwise, it would be horrible."

Early on, unlike many a model turning to acting (Cindy Crawford springs to mind), Liv Tyler, both cleverly and tactfully, decided to go for ensemble pieces (in James Mangold's "Heavy", she shares the bill with Shelley Winters and Deborah Harry). No "the lead-or-bust" tantrum, then...

"...or now!" After "Sleeping Beauty" was completed, Tyler was offered "a tiny little cameo" in the new Woody Allen film.

"At first I went, 'Boo-hoo, I didn't get the big part.' But the more I thought about it and sat on it, the more I thought it was really cool. I hate it when I admire a person and they don't get out of my face; it's, like, the most annoying thing! And I don't want it to happen, I don't want to just make five films and be rich and have fifty pictures of me and be done. I want to be Maggie Smith or Vanessa Redgrave, make lots of films, and even greater ones when my hair is grey!"

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