Liv Tyler On Her Iconic Career, Living Through Fame And The Importance Of Female Friendship for Oyster #115
“I’m not really turned on by the grandiosity of celebrity and fame.”
Liv phones me 30 minutes late but it’s okay because I’ve busied myself, brushing and teasing my miniature poodle’s Miami cut. She tells me she’s been having trouble putting her two youngest children to bed — they’re two and three — and I empathise, imperfectly, nursing the scratch marks on my forearms.
“It’s like when your dog is sick and they’re waking you up all night,” she explains. “It’s that kind of feeling, every 45 minutes they wake up crying for me.”
I apologise and thank her for taking the time to call me, and I talk over her a lot — she’s soft and sweetly spoken, just like in the movies. Immediately she asks me questions: Where do I live? Berlin. But am I Australian? Yes. She tells me she has only been to Berlin a couple of times, but she loved it, she had an amazing time. I’m telling her how much I love the slow pace here, the sleep-ins and the slow starts. “Oh I love that, wow!” she says. I’m immediately talking to my best friend.
I admit to Liv Tyler that, before I answered the phone, I was very nervous to interview Liv Tyler. “Aww! I’m nervous to be interviewed,” she says. I say, “Liv Tyler, you are definitely the most iconic person I have ever interviewed. I’m serious about these nerves!” She tells me I’m sweet. I can’t stop calling her Liv Tyler.
“Every single time I have to do an interview, I am very nervous. Always. Yes,” she promises. “It’s weird, I actually really care about wanting to answer the questions from my heart. But you’re caught off guard a little bit and sometimes you can’t think of an answer right away and then it comes to you another day.”
I’m somewhat relieved that even Liv Tyler probably does that thing where you lay in bed imagining past conversations and start coming up with literally the best dialogue for yourself — furious that your brain doesn’t work like that IRL.
“I try not to be super vocal about anything because I feel like it’s so tricky — I get so nervous with journalism be-cause I feel like people exploit things,” she sort of warns me. “You might say one little thing and then you’re suddenly a sound bite — I can’t stand that. Obviously I have opinions about everything, but they’re changing all the time. There’s so much pressure.” I agree and want to assure her that I’m not going to do that to her, but I don’t because I’ve heard that you should not want to be friends with the person you’re interviewing.
“I love to interview people in my life,” she declares. This is the loudest and most assuredly she’s spoken so far. “I’m always asking questions. Every time I am a passenger in an Uber, I start interviewing the driver. I ask people a lot of questions.”
Of course I tell her she should be a journalist, you know, because she obviously needs career advice right now. I laugh awkwardly and she says, “Yeah…”
“When I am in front of a camera, and there are actors and everything, I feel really free and safe,” she says. “That’s probably the most magical part for me — that feeling where I sort of forget where I am and I just channel something else that comes out.”
“Somehow, acting brings out parts of your personality that maybe you didn’t know were there, or the character brings out some little part of you that has been dormant for your whole life, you know? And then when you get the chance to play these characters, some-times things come out of you that are quite surprising and that you don’t even know are inside of you. It’s an amazing thing to experience that.” I believe her and re-ally envy her spiritual connection to her work, which is a trade she so luckily found really early on in her life.
“It’s funny,” she explains. “My grandmother always used to say to me that I’m happiest when I’m working on a film or when I’m acting — she can hear it in my voice and the way that I write to her. There’s something happening where she can tell that I feel my happiest.”
“I have such a different relationship with my work and my acting now, because it’s something that I need to survive. But I don’t even really know it until I’m doing it — it’s almost like a vacation for me because it’s the only time that I forget where I am and who I am. I’m just so completely in the moment.”
“My relationship with myself and my work probably used to be… I’m trying to think of the right word to describe it… maybe I wanted to do everything right, I just wanted to get it right when I was younger, though I’ve always had an element of spontaneity or freedom to the way I work. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more willing to not judge myself so much and to just try all sorts of stuff.”
This is kind of interesting to me — in my eyes, Liv absolutely “tried all sorts of stuff” from the get go. I believe her career debut was in Aerosmith’s ‘Crazy’ video, MTV’s most requested video of 1994, wherein she skips school and enters a pole-dancing competition and effectively performs for a suited-up Alicia Silverstone. The same year she starred in a psychological thriller called Silent Fall, then she went on to play an over-achieving student in Empire Records, and within just two years of her debut she was plucked by Bernardo Bertolucci to play that fantastic lead role in Stealing Beauty. This, already, counts as all sorts of stuff.
In her most recent role as Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam in Harlots, Liv dives right into a storyline that is so funny and witty, but that’s also dealing with some important and relevant topics like gender politics and sexual abuse. “I read the character and I just absolutely loved her and wanted to play her.” Liv tells me. “I felt like it was almost one of the best characters that has ever been written for me and that I was able to fully portray, in how much she experiences and the sort of arcs that she has.”
“It was really fun to work in that environment with that many women, and with everyone getting to play really good, complex, interesting characters, because that is a struggle always. The whole show has a lot of women’s stories to tell.”
Liv tells me that she learned a lot from her character — she has a different perspective and a story that is so unlike her own. Though she struggled in scenes where her character was teased for not being able to look after herself: categorically the opposite of Liv, who assures me if she doesn’t know how to do something, she’ll “roll up her sleeves and figure it out.” But one of the most touching parts of the series is when Liv shares a kiss with Jessica Brown Findlay — it’s this incredible display of female friendship, the power that comes from women supporting women and the utter love that can flourish from trauma.
“I’ve been so lucky in my life to have my friendships and relationships with women — my grandmother and my mother and my aunt have been such an integral part of me being who I am,” she comments. “And I’ve had some of my very best girlfriends my whole life. I’m al-ways amazed when I meet women who aren’t really women’s women, because I don’t understand it. I’ve been really blessed.”
Funnily, Liv’s onscreen life seems to elude her. “I never watch anything,” she squirms. “Literally I haven’t watched The Leftovers, I haven’t watched Gunpowder, and I haven’t watched Harlots.” I decide it must be exactly the same as that time I accidentally heard my own voice on the answering machine, but she tells me it’s because she has two small children and barely has enough time to shower.
“For me, it’s much more about the experience of doing the work,” she adds. “When I’m in that zone I feel so connected, and I don’t always need to see the finished product to feel complete. I’ve had the experience, and it felt really good.”
She coyly admits that sometimes her older movies come on TV. “I see little parts of them and I sort of giggle,” she says and I can feel her blushing over the phone. “Or sometimes I see little clips on Instagram and I think that I should watch the film, but I never do.” Still blushing.
Her eldest child is just as shy as her — she tells me Milo doesn’t like a lot of attention, and she’ll occasion-ally show him something she’s done but it makes him cringe. “He went away on this amazing holiday to the Maldives,” she tells me. “It was beautiful and they do this night time thing with a cinema screen and you lay on sun beds… they asked me if they could screen one of my movies and Milo ran away. He wouldn’t watch it. It was so funny.”
Liv was born into a famous family, too. Her mum, a singer and model, Bebe Buell; her father-figure, a musician and intuitive genius in regards to computer technologies, Todd Rundgren; and her biological father who she met when she was eight, Aerosmith front man, Steven Tyler.
“I knew that they were different,” she answers when I ask if she was aware of their fame. “Even from a very young age, I lived with my auntie and my uncle, my grandparents sometimes, my mum sometimes… and then Todd was my dad and he lived somewhere else. I’d visit him or see him play live and then when I got close to my dad [Steven] it was the same thing. I was aware that people went to see them and admired them.”
It’s an incredible life — even without the fame, there’s this great abundance of closeness and care that Liv de-scribes when she’s talking about her extended family. And it’s the creativity and dedication that she reminisces about, rather than the public recognition.
“I was around a lot of creative, special, talented people — one person can play the banjo, that person can paint, that person can sew — whatever the thing was, I was always really curious about what people could do when they could do it really well,” she explains.
“From that, people were drawn to you or you were drawn to them. It kind of got you more attention, you know?” I didn’t really know.
I just can’t imagine what it would be like to be exposed to the kind of hedonism that comes from artistic communities and families. My youth was pretty straight-laced aside from having two rebellious brothers, born into the boredom of a small suburb. So I really wondered how Liv saw herself when she reflected on her childhood. She throws around the words “tomboy” and contradicts them with “girly”, and it strikes me when she says her daughter is just like her: “Her toes are al-ways pointed, but she is so strong and tough.”
She eventually goes into her childhood, with a lot of innocence and normality. “When I was a kid I was wild, I was kind of hyper and ran around like crazy,” she tells me. “We lived in Maine, in the countryside, and I just loved to hang out with my friends. Growing up I was in nature a lot, I was really free.” I can tell by the sound of her voice. Is that weird? I don’t interrupt.
“Then we moved to New York when I was eleven, which was so different, amazing, eye-opening,” she says. “It was the perfect time because I was just starting to blossom into a young woman.” Like poetry.
“In high school I was shy — I had moved to a new place and my old friends weren’t there. But then I met my best friend outside of school, Lucie De La Falaise — we met when I was 14 and she was dating Marlon Richards. So I used to go and hang out with them after school. I would do my homework and we would have fun adventures. In New York, you could just be free. It was the 90s.”
Her way of describing things strikes me again. Liv Tyler is quite a connected and humble being — too discreet to feel the need to convince me of her strengths (when I ask her if she thinks she’s a strong person she says that she is resilient and curious and resilient in her curiosity), and she’s too decent to fully brag or seduce me with juicy teen-fame stories.
“I love simple things,” she assures me. “I’m not really that turned on by the grandiosity of celebrity and fame. I love beautiful things… and I so appreciate all of the amazing experiences I get to have, and the finer things in life. But the things that really make me happy and re-ally touch my heart are just incredibly simple. I think I’ve always been that way my whole life. I’d say my mother and my father are also like that.”
I leave her to pause a little and she continues, “May-be being second generation after seeing… you know, I watched my dad have a tremendous amount of success and lose absolutely everything. That was very humbling for him because he had to go to rehab and kind of get his life back again. I just feel like, you know, you can’t take things for granted. Things come and go.”
Her centeredness is stark. My introduction to celebrity was probably in the early 00s, when youthful self-destruction through DUIs and not wearing underwear was absurdly normalised in its tabloid documentation, and my experience with it continues in the hyper mis-take making of social media and call-out culture. How has she come out unscathed?
“It’s so funny, I think back to the year Stealing Beauty was premiering in Cannes and I think I was only 18. My poster was everywhere, all over the town, and every-body wanted to meet me and talk to me,” she explains. “All I wanted to do was go back to my room and hang out. I was staying in the Clint Eastwood suite and all I wanted to do was take a bubble bath in Clint East-wood’s bathtub. He might not have even stayed there, but at the time I thought he had.”
“I never really liked too much attention, which can be good and bad,” she continues. “If someone gives me a compliment it just goes in one ear and out the other, and if someone says something really horrible it’s the same. I just learned not to value my self-esteem and who I am as a person on the popularity of a film or how famous I am at the time. I guess I had the perspective of how it can be there one time and not another. And life is the most exciting part, really living, you know?”
words by Hayley Morgan, photography Darren McDonald @ The Artist Group, fashion Michelle Jank @ The Artist Group, hair Ken O’Rourke @ Streeters London, make-up Liz Pugh @ Premier, manicure Toni Jade, photography assistants Alex Tracey and Hadassi Reuben, digital operator Ben Catchpole, fashion assistants Francesca Martin and Beatrix Blaise, production Nina Rassaby-Lewis @ The Artist Group.
Shot at Sunbeam Studios, London.
Special thanks to Heather Miller and Bianca Bianconi.