Rockstar’s daughter. Rockstar’s ex-wife. Screen goddess. Elf Princess. Hulk-lover… Forget everything you thought you knew about the owner of the second most famous lips in Hollywood.
THE THING EVERYONE KNOWS ABOUT LIV TYLER
She is Steven-Tyler-from-Aerosmith’s daughter.
It is the coldest day of the New York City winter so far. Liv Tyler is late for lunch, and I’m getting twitchy. Not because Liv Tyler is late. Not even because she is almost half an hour late. But because Sant Ambroeus – a West Village newcomer rammed with well-heeled thirty-somethings – is possibly the noisiest restaurant Liv Tyler could have chosen.
I have the second cheapest tape machine for sale on Tottenham Court Road: a machine guaranteed to pick up nothing but the Frank Sinatra medley thumping from eight wall-mounted speakers. Outside, the windchill factor dips to minus 18. I begin, quietly, to sweat.
THINGS YOU CAN READ ABOUT LIV TYLER ON THE INTERNET
She is 31. She is Cancerian. She married Royston Langdon, a musician from Leeds, in 2003. He used to front Spacehog. They separated in May 2008, are now divorced. They have a four-year-old son called Milo. She did a striptease for Alicia Silverstone in Aerosmith’s Crazy video when she was still a schoolgirl. Her mother is Bebe Buell, rock chick, ex-Playboy Playmate and supergroupie (as well as Tyler and rocker Todd Rundgren – the man Liv thought was her dad til she was eleven – Buell’s conquests include David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger and Elvis Costello. Not a bad haul).
The table Tyler has selected is at the back of the restaurant, in a corner, three inches from a Spanish tour group loudly debating Sant Ambroeus’ charms. I count eleven voluble older women in fur-trimmed puffer jackets and expensive blow-drys before I raise my own voice, try ‘Testing, testing 1,2,3’ – the tape-machine pretty much in my mouth – and record nothing but the Spanish for ‘I’ve heard they’re famous for their cakes.’ Shit.
THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT LIV TYLER
She laughs all the time. She likes Marks & Spencer’s carrots. She hates public speaking of any kind, once blacking out at a press conference from nerves. She turns into a wanton nymph in front of a still camera. Her voice is childlike, soft, like Marilyn Monroe’s. She says the word ‘normal’ eight times, with reference to herself, during our two-hour conversation. She uses English words like bloody and brilliant and spazzed and wanker. She fancies Johnny Depp.
A sudden flurry of snow in the street conveniently heralds Tyler’s arrival. Black wool cape, black tights, black eyeliner and black pumps. Her hair, cut in a long bob with a fringe, is darker than I thought it would be. She’s tall, but not big. She looks tired. And she is grinning sweetly.
“Hello! I am really sorry I’m so late.”
Not at all, I say. Think nothing of it. It’s fine. I’m Louise, I offer.
“Oh,” she smiles, “I’m Liv.” We shake hands, embarrassed. Because of course she knows I know she knows I know her name and it’s all a bit awkward for a moment. There is a pause.
WHY LIV TYLER WAS LATE
“Bobby, my best friend who’s living in my house, said ‘If you are still sleeping late, do you want me to wake you up?’ and I was like, ‘Bobby – Milo wakes up at five-thirty. I’m going to be wide awake at five!’ Then I woke up at ten. And I kept dozing and I came down to have a cup of coffee with him and I looked at the clock and it was a quarter to twelve. And I ran upstairs and I was like ‘Wait! What am I going to wea-a-a-r?’ And I couldn’t find any stockings – all my Wolfords were in L.A. or had runs, and then I found a bag of some new ones and I was very excited.”
I love your cape, I say. She frowns: “I’d completely forgotten it was Sunday. It’s far too loud in here, isn’t it? What can we do?” I don’t know, I reply. Um. Go somewhere else?
Tyler looks at me strangely, makes a decision. “I’ve got it! Why don’t we get a take-out from here and sit round my kitchen table and I can make coffee?” She orders scrambled eggs and a salad to split.
We briskly walk the single block to her house, both a little nervous. It is ridiculously cold. Tyler’s cape is beautiful, but it doesn’t look remotely warm enough. She talks to fill in the gaps.
No questions about her divorce, I’ve been expressly told by her publicist. Yet by the time we arrive at her front door, Tyler has spoken of nothing but the fallout from the end of her five-year marriage: “It’s a little bit sad… because this is the house I’ve lived in forever with my husband, and this is the first time I’ve been home in four months, and I just got in last night from L.A. and, well, a lot of stuff has gone. Roy moved a lot of stuff out.”
Tyler’s candour about her break-up and the obvious pain behind it are instantly disarming. It feels perverse not to tell her that you’re sorry, that you understand. So I break the first rule of the celebrity interview, and confide back.
We arrive at her front door. Tyler touches my shoulder and smiles. A kind, generous smile that says she knows just how it feels and that it’s all going to be alright: “You know, Louise, what’s hard when you are going through the pain of a break-up is when everyone says, ‘It’ll get better one day’ and you’re like, ‘Fuck off! You don’t know how I feel.’ But the truth is that, it takes a long time, but you do kind of wake up one day and you just feel a little tiny bit better…”
LIV TYLER’S HOUSE IN MANHATTAN
Is a three-storey brownstone. She uses the basement door, which opens onto a sitting room. There is a single chair and a coatstand with “matching Alpaca wool hats for me and Milo”. A black-and-white photo of David Bowie sits on the sideboard. A white upholstered armchair faces the door. The stairs going up to the rest of the house are to the left. To the right, there’s an archway through to a little room with green wooden cupboards and a butler sink. Beyond that is the kitchen.
Liv Tyler: [Hanging our coats] I won’t take you upstairs to the sad parts. There are pictures off the walls, and furniture gone… It’s freaky, it’s really weird. Thank god the kitchen doesn’t look too bad… I’m crap at interviews. I get really nervous and stressed. And afterwards I always think, ‘Oh my god what did I say, what did I do?’ No one’s ever been in my kitchen before. Not that it’s that exciting… [Laughs]
LB: Oh I don’t know. Yours is the biggest fridge I’ve ever seen. It’s like a shed.
LT: Isn’t it ridiculous? Usually it’s very full, but it’s empty because we’ve been gone.
LIV TYLER’S FILMS
Tyler was sweet in an angora jumper in cult hit Empire Records but got her real break losing her virginity in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty. Since then she has been in love with Ralph Fiennes in Onegin, Joaquin Pheonix in Inventing The Abbotts (he was her real-life beau for three years), Ben Affleck in Armageddon, Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, Ben Affleck again in Jersey Girl, Casey Affleck in Lonesome Jim and, most recently, Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk. Last autumn, she was terrorized by mask-wearing ne’er-do-wells in The Strangers.
LB: So. I watched your films back-to-back on the plane and in the hotel last night.
LT: And you fell asleep!
LB: No, I didn’t. Well. Only in the big slug-out at the end of The Incredible Hulk!
LT: [Laughing] I never watch my movies. I was actually just thinking that Milo might be ready to watch Lord of The Rings, because he’s really into dragons and princesses. He always calls me his princess: he comes into my closet and there’s this one dress, which is like a long kind of tie-dye dress to the floor, and he asks me to put it on every day. And I was just like, ‘Wait! I am a princess in that movie!’ I can’t find the coffee. Bobby must’ve moved it. [She goes to stairwell and shouts] Where’s the coffee? [An inaudible response from the first floor] Thank you!
LIV TYLER’S KITCHEN
The room is dominated by a pine table and big black shiny units. There are three tiny stickers on the fridge. Two of them say Milo, in a child’s handwriting. On the worktop is a mock-fifties diner-style CD player, a small watercooler, two blue storage jars, one saying coffee, and a bottle of lemon juice.
There is a mark on the wall above the fireplace where a clock belonging to Langdon used to hang. On the floor is a child’s red chair, a fire engine, a white-board. There are white metal bars on the window. On the table is a bowl with a single apple, a bottle of stain remover, a jar of Himalayan pink salt and an ashtray with an empty packet of Marlboro Lights.
LB: You smoke?
LT: I do sometimes. And now that no-one’s here I can smoke here! [She sits down, her knees under her chin] So… the trauma! I thought, ‘I’m going to be cool: I have a house full of clothes so I’m just going to bring a carry-on bag with my essential toiletries, my computer, my books and my underwear.’
And then I get here and I realise that just before I left I did a huge closet clean-out. I gave away everything. So I was like, ‘Fuck.’ And then I remembered Stella – McCartney – had given me that cape for my birthday! I opened my coat closet and it was sitting there with a golden halo around it. So thanks for saying you love my cape.
I haven’t been shopping for five months. I stopped reading all fashion and trash magazines. I don’t want to be influenced any more by what’s in and what’s out and what makes somebody cool or not cool. In the middle of the night I’d go and take a pee, and on the bathroom floor would be a magazine, and I found myself memorising banal headlines like 500 Best Black Tops. So I read only books – A Farewell To Arms, it’s a heartbreaker, oh god – and decoration magazines.
LB: Where’ve you been decorating?
LT: I’ve been doing a house in L.A.
LB: But you’re a New Yorker!
LT: I am a total, no-doubts-about-it, one hundred per cent New Yorker. It’s been reallyhard. My boy says to me probably every two days, ‘Mommy when are we going home?’ Basically what happened is that ever since I had Milo, I was feeling a bit stressed being in this neighbourhood. It changed so much here; I felt like I was being watched all the time.
LB: And were you?
LT: Well there are a lot of people and a lot of tourists. There’s even like a Sex And The City tour where they walk past everyone’s houses. And I just, for my boy, I wanted him to have the things that I had growing up in Maine; and Roy had, growing up in Leeds. I was confused about what to do. And then when Roy and I broke up, it was very hard to be in this house without him. So we decided to move to L.A. for a little. I kind of thought, ‘Well I’ve been an actress since I was sixteen and I’ve never lived in L.A., so let me see what it’s like.’ [Liv goes to the phone and orders full fat milk, a New York Times and two packets of Marlboro Lights]
LB: So when do you think you’ll want to get back to work?
LT: When it was all happening, I went through six months where I didn’t read a single script. I just wasn’t ready to work in any way. I feel like now it’s the New Year I’m ready.
LIV TYLER’S NEW HOUSE IN L.A.
Is Spanish-style, 1920s. Terracotta tiles. Lots of grass and a single lime tree. Her dog Neal loves it. When she moved in there was nothing in the house: “Not a telephone, not a fork.” All the towels and glasses are from Calvin Klein: “I had this amazing gift certificate for going to an event for them, and I was like ‘Yes! I finally used one of those things. Swag is great!’” Tyler sleeps in pajamas with Milo’s blanket.
LT: I miss the seasons. I got back last night and it was snowing which was incredible. [She goes to the front door to get the delivery, shouting back] I grew up in New York and Maine so I love the cold. I’m a complete Eskimo. [She comes in with a brown paper bag and unpacks it] Ciggies. One for you, one for me… It’s strange. I have more privacy in L.A. because you can run around in your yard. But the paparazzi are very weird, because they actually stalk you. Like they have someone wait in the car all the time, so whenever you leave –
LT: Yeah. I’m really boring: I take my son to school; I go to the grocery store. So I don’t play their game. But it’s confusing because they kind of trick you. Some days they’re really obvious, and then some days you’re driving and you look back for them, and they’re not there, and you’ll feel like a weird narcissist. And then you’ll think: ‘Oh, I’m free.’ So you’ll have two weeks where you can be in your sweats with no makeup on. And then, suddenly, you realise they have been there all the time, just hiding out.
LIV TYLER’S ADVICE FOR MENDING A BROKEN HEART
“There’s nothing worse than heartache, being lovesick. It’s like there’s a physical sickness. You go through a couple of weeks where you think, ‘Oh, I’m okay, I feel better,’ and then suddenly, out of nowhere, it hits you again… You also realise who your friends are.
“When Roy and I broke up, Bobby literally moved in with me and helped me get through everything. And my other best friend, Victoria, she’s with me in L.A. right now. The hardest part is when they leave… It also brings up a lot of issues: you might feel like a failure, or like there is something wrong with you. I see a lot of people run away from it, or they act like they don’t care. But if you don’t let yourself mourn, it’s going to come back and bite you on the ass. You can’t run away from yourself: you kind of have to just deal with it.”
LT: Oh! You have to listen to Gram Parsons, he’s my favourite.
LB: Ah. ‘We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning‘.
LT: Oh my god! You know him? ‘Hearts on fire…’ [Starts singing]
LB: ‘Love Hurts’ is my favourite.
LT: Ah, ‘Love Hurts’ is my favourite. It’s so true. Ah, how does it go?
BOTH SING: “Love hurts, love scars/Love wounds and mars/Any heart not tough nor strong enough/ To take a lot of pain…”
LT: I can’t believe you know that! I love that. [We dissolve into laughter] Music gets you right in your gut. He’s literally all I listen to at the moment…I must have it here. [Liv goes to the CD player, looks for his CD] Oh no! I can’t find anything. [The doorbell rings. It’s the food. She gets the intercom. “Oh yeah, Hi, can you come down to the basement?” She comes back in with two paper bags] Okay, this is so fun. Where are the plates? Oh they’re over there. Everything’s mo-o-oved!
LB: So you literally haven’t been here for four months?
LT: Not once… It has been really good for me because it’s a new place without memories. Without stuff, you know? Excuse me I’m just going to the bathroom. [I hear a little voice from the toilet singing ‘Hearts on Fire’. We both laugh. She comes back in, smiling] I can’t believe you know that song. I went to this little spa in the desert by myself two weekends ago because I had a cold and I needed to sleep for two days.
And on the whole journey, I was so nervous to drive: I only really learned how to pump gas on my own the past six months because Roy would pump gas! I’m always afraid it’s going to come out and spray! I listened to Gram Parsons the whole way and sang at the top of my lungs and I fucking loved it. [I take a piece of kitchen towel over to the two enormous silver bins. On one is a label saying ‘Crap’, on the other, ‘Recycle’. I laugh] Yeah, Roy did that.
LB: So what’s a kitchen towel?
LT: That’s crap.
LB: Let’s do some childhood questions. Was there a recurring theme on your school report?
LT: I used to get in trouble for speaking without raising my hand a lot. And even the year before I graduated, when I was a fully working woman, I would get sent out for speaking out of turn! And I remember standing in the hall going, ‘Oh for fuck’s sake.’ And my headmaster, who was really sweet, would walk by and roll his eyes at me.
LB: Did you feel different to the other kids?
LT: I definitely knew that my family was eccentric. My mom was this wild woman who was in rock bands.
LB: All everyone goes on about in interviews is –
LT: My dad. Well, it’s because people always glorify it. No matter what I tell them, they invent their own version. I remember reading once that I was friends with Mick Jagger when I was a kid. All these weird things that never happened…
LB: So what did happen?
LT: When I was born my mother was very young and she was struggling, she needed help. So I lived in Maine with my aunt and my uncle and my cousins.
LB: She left you with them when you were born?
LT: When I was three months old. For three years. And she would come and visit a lot. She was trying to sort her life out and figure everything out.
LB: Okay. So was she working out of town?
LT: She was probably here. Modelling and stuff.
LB: But you won’t remember any of that…
LT: I do. I remember being with my aunt in Maine. And it really feels like home to me… Then I lived with my grandparents in Virginia. And then I kind of lived with my mom full time. And Todd Rundgren was my father. Todd basically decided when I was born that I needed a father so he signed my birth certificate. He knew that there was a chance that I might not be his but…
LB: Did you feel any sort of resentment towards your mother?
LT: It was hard for me as a kid, because I was definitely sad and angry that I didn’t have this Perfect Mommy thing. But now I have a lot of empathy for her. I mean going through everything that I’ve been going through the last couple of years, I really understand… so…Todd was my father. He completely supported me and put me through amazing private schools and I would go see him three times a year, he lived in Woodstock –
LB: And did you call him dad?
LT: Oh yeah. I still – I sort of stopped calling him dad but, you know, when he… He’s the most, I mean, I’m so grateful to him, I have so much love for him. You know, when he holds me it feels like Daddy. And he’s very protective and strong.
LIV TYLER’S FIRST MEETING WITH STEVEN TYLER
“I was like eight. I didn’t know who Aerosmith was. And my mom said, ‘Come here I want to introduce you to someone,’ and I was watching Todd play and I was like, ‘Ugh, I don’t wanna come!’ And she pointed to this guy standing at the bar and I was like, ‘Is that Mick Jagger’s son?’ And he bought me a Shirley Temple, which is grenadine and soda bubbly water with little fake plastic cherries. I was such a tomboy, I had an 80s skirt on and I was sitting with my legs open and I remember him saying, ‘You need to cross your legs, young lady.’ I fell madly in love with him. I had no idea who he was.”
LT: After we met, he, Steven, started calling and we’d go see him. He was just out of rehab, so part of going through those steps is making amends by reaching out to my mom after years of being a drug addict and not ever being there. He’d never met me before.
LB: But he knew?
LT: He knew. I mean he knew something… You know that relationship is still sort of hard. He’s very busy, my dad. He’s not around very much; it’s sort of hard being the daughter of a rockstar. There’s definitely, at times… it can be painful… especially for me, I can’t speak for all of his…[She trails off]
LB: Do you talk much?
LT: Honestly? In the past few years we haven’t been very close. He has been going through a lot of things on his own and he has not been the… he hasn’t been around that much for us. So that’s been hard. But I probably shouldn’t be talking about this… I wish, I wish, I really wish he was around more, to know Milo more, and… but he has to go through what he goes through.
LB: I read a piece where you interviewed Kate Hudson and you talked about the fact that people don’t understand that having famous parents can be difficult. I guess they just think about –
LT: The glamour of it. [Putting plates away] You look at people’s lives from the outside, and everything seems a certain way. But Kate and I are completely different: she grew up in the middle of California with movie star parents; and when my mom finally moved to Maine we lived in this tiny apartment and all my friends lived in fancy houses… In order to feel good about myself, I need to do normal things, whereas Kate probably grew up in a house with a lot of help and nannies and housekeepers, and that’s normal to her.
LB: How does that need to be normal sit with moviemaking?
LT: Well. That’s why often in my career I’ll go to work intensely and then I really won’t work for a year, because I need to come home and just be my version of whatever normal is.
LB: Is there ever a time when you think, ‘I would trade it all in, to be a regular Joe?’
LT: No, because if I want to do that I go to Maine, to New Hampshire, to Boston, to Upstate New York.
LB: Do you worry that if you got more famous, the celebrity thing would get worse?
LT: I don’t really think about it.
LB: Okay. But to be Angelina Jolie-level must be unbearable, right?
LT: I know, but that’s her. That’s why I stopped reading all those magazines. I just don’t even want to be thinking about it… I mean, so far, it’s okay. Maybe I’m living in the past in the sense that when I had my first big moments, there was no such thing as paparazzi in that kind of a way.
LB: Well it used to be that the general public wanted that distance between us and film stars. Now all everyone wants is to know –
LT: What toilet paper they use! [Laughs] I do interviews all the time where they say, ‘We’re not going to ask you any personal questions; we just want to know all about your skincare routine and what you eat.’ You don’t get more personal than raiding my medicine cabinet and knowing every ounce of vitamins in my body!
LB: Are you ever affected by what people write about you?
LT: I remember when Stealing Beauty came out and there was some review. The journalist said I looked like a horse eating out of a trough!
LT: And I’ve never forgotten that as long as I’ve lived. Although I’m okay with it now, because I am kind of horse-like!
LB: Have you seen Stealing Beauty lately?
LT: I was at home the other night in LA and I’d just put Milo to bed and I came into the TV room and the nanny was sitting watching it on TV. And it was the scene where I am lying in bed crying and I wipe a tear away and it’s a bit ambiguous as to what I do with my wet finger, and then Jeremy Irons walks in and he sniffs my finger. And I was like, ‘Oh my god. Linda, you can’t watch this.’ And I watched it for five or ten minutes… It’s weird because I am always looking back. All the images that I see, or all the interviews people ask me about, or all my films are me as a young child or a younger woman.
LB: Did you notice any differences between then and now?
LT: I remember thinking I seemed a little bit tougher and stronger; I’ve gotten a little bit softer in my old age… I often think I should watch these so I can remember who I am, or who I was at that time. And I never do. I kind of get scared to.
LB: Are you ever shy when you meet someone famous?
LT: I am, shockingly, a pretty shy person. With my friends I’m opinionated and talk a lot and am kind of an extrovert, but I would never just walk up and introduce myself to someone. You know whenever you meet people like Lauren Bacall or Jack Nicholson or Martin Scorsese, that’s always like ‘Huuuuhh!’ for anyone, no matter who you are.
LIV TYLER’S DINNER WITH MARLON BRANDO
“He was so naughty. He had this real child-like personality and he was doing all these funny magic tricks for us. Like he had this red scarf stuffed in his pocket of his jacket and he did a trick where he took it out and did this thing with his hands and then went [she waves her hands] and none of us could see where he’d put this scarf. It turned out he had a fake thumb on. And the scarf was stuffed in the fake thumb! That was pretty amazing.”
LB: What traits do you take from your parents?
LT: God that’s hard… I would say that both my mother and my father have this child-like joy and optimism that comes out of them. My mom has definitely been through some painful things in her life, and she has always taught me that everything happens for a reason. And that has really helped me a lot in the past couple of years. I’m a very grateful person: I see that there is a lot of beauty in the world. There’s a lot of sadness and pain too.
LB: But when you’re full of sorrow, it can intensify the world around you.
LT: Yeah. You feel everything. It smells different. You think when you’re younger that you have it all figured out, and you have all these plans and goals… And then certain things happen that stop you in your tracks.
LB: You mean you learn that if you love, there is the possibility that you lose, and that’s how it has to be.
LT: Yeah. And the scary thing about that is, that it might make someone not ever want to give fully or passionately again because they don’t want to feel loss. I am the opposite of that. There is an incredible sense of loss when you move on, but I just wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Because I want to feel that, I want to… It’s huge. So, that’s what I’ve been trying to live this year: stop trying to be the person everyone wants you to be, or the person you think you need to be to please everyone; just be yourself. [Bobby comes in] Hello. What’s the time?
LB: It’s 2.46.
LT: Wait – I have to be somewhere at three. Fuck!
The interview has overrun by fifty minutes. Tyler sprints to the loo, grabs her bag, shrugs on her cape, apologising all the while for chucking me out. On her doorstep, a hasty but warm embrace.
“Thank you!” she says. “See you at the shoot tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what they want me to wear.” I tell her that her cape is much too thin for this cold. “I know,” she laughs. “I’d normally be bundled up in about twenty coats and scarves. But I wanted to look glamorous for you! I’m fucking freezing.” And, with one last smile, she’s gone.
Photography: Miguel Reveriego
Fashion: Grace Cobb
Words: Louise Brealey
A full version of this article first appeared in Wonderland #17, Feb/Mar 2009.