After a fun-filled day at Chateau Marmont, Marshall Heyman catches up with actress Liv Tyler back in New York on balancing a new small-screen gig with her own modern family.
Even if you’re not a day drinker by any stretch of the imagination, when actress Liv Tyler suggests ordering Bellinis as an afternoon refresher, she is not one to be refused.
“Come on! You can have one,” purrs Tyler, and before you can even open your mouth to form a negative response, the 36-year-old daughter of Aero-smith front man Steven Tyler has ordered two Champagne cocktails.
“Might as well, right?” Tyler says. “We’re in an Italian restaurant.”
Not just any Italian restaurant, but the West Village’s Sant Ambroeus, a hop, skip and a jump from the Manhattan home Tyler shares with 9-year-old son Milo (his father is her ex-husband, Spacehog singer Royston Langdon). Sant Ambroeus is about as Los Angeles as New York gets and, after a grueling winter, today is perfect West Coast weather. Actor Willem Dafoe just walked by and Tyler’s friend, Vito Schnabel, who she’s known since he was a baby, is sitting outside breaking bread with Vionnet owner Goga Ashkenazi.
“Can I go give Vito a kiss?” Tyler asks, and she does.
By the time Tyler returns, so has the uniformed waiter with the Bellinis. “Delicious,” she says. Now Tyler, who has appeared in such big-screen fare as Armageddon, The Incredible Hulk and Lord of the Rings, is ready to dive headfirst into talking about her new career in television.
In late June, she will appear on HBO’s “The Leftovers,” a one-hour series based on the novel by Tom Perrotta. Co-starring Justin Theroux, the show is about what happens to a community when a group of people (husbands, wives, children) suddenly disappear into thin air. Since it was co-created by Damon Lindelof (“Lost”), it will no doubt have Easter eggs, red herrings and confusing subplots. Even the pilot episode is hard to discuss without spoilers, and it’s hard to gauge where things will go next.
Tyler didn’t have much experience with shows like this before. She’d only watched some of the first season of “Lost.” “It came out right when I had Milo, so I would breast-feed,” she recalls. “It was like 30 minutes on each booby.”
Over the last few years, Tyler had been thinking about moving to the small screen for several reasons. After a 10-year contract with Givenchy perfumes ended—“in stepped Amanda Seyfried,” she says—she was looking for a stable job. Having enjoyed “True Blood” and “Entourage,” she found herself attracted to HBO’s programming. She wanted to stay in New York and raise her son there, “and the experience I always had being an actor in movies is that it goes by so fast,” she says. “It isn’t until the last week of filming that you feel like you’ve finally found your way and you’ve got the character down.”
In addition, she was attracted to ensemble acting, the kind she did in several films with the late Robert Altman. “It’s just being a piece of the puzzle,” she says. “I want to be involved with amazing people where they’re creating the brilliance and I get to show up and be a part of that work. I never wanted to be a star. I never moved to Hollywood to ‘make it.’ I just like to be an actor.”
If she hadn’t been one? “It’s my secret fantasy to be a travel writer,” she says. “I want to go on crazy, wild adventures.” That or a photographer, she explains. “My friends call me the Henri Cartier-Bresson of Instagram,” she says, referring to the French photojournalist.
Until those dreams become a reality, there’s always the possibility of playing them on-screen. Tyler was particularly attracted to her character in “The Leftovers” because “there’s something unstable about her,” she says. “She’s a little bit of a loose cannon. The world in this show is utter confusion and mayhem and everyone’s dealing with it in different ways.”
Getting used to the complicated way television gets made—especially television made under a wily writer like Lindelof—has been equally confusing. “We’re all trying to find out little bits of information at a time,” she says. “But then I realized, sometimes [the writers] don’t even know, because they’re actually creating the material as we go along. Once I understood that, it’s been a zen experience for me.”
It also enables Tyler to spend more time being a mom. Together, she and Milo spent a little bit of time in Los Angeles as an “experiment, to have a house and a yard and a happy dog.” Tyler says she loves the West Coast. Her friends, like Frankie Rayder and Summer Phoenix, live in L.A., and to this day, their favorite place to meet up is the Beverly Hot Springs spa. Other favorite things: the desert, especially 29 Palms, and playing Frisbee—yes, Frisbee—in Silverlake.
“But I’m really an East Coast girl, you know?” she says. “I wanted Milo to know what it’s like to walk to school and know the guy in the corner store and go run around and play in the park and play basketball with neighborhood kids.” With spring in bloom and the West Village suddenly full of activity, “it’s literally like ‘Sesame Street.’ ”
Milo, who may run off with his friends but “still holds my hand when we walk to school in the morning,” is more interested in math problems, Minecraft and “Adventure Time” than his mother’s career as an actress. Langdon showed him the Lord of the Rings movies and “that was the first time he understood what I did,” Tyler says. “But he wanted me to teach him how to speak Elvish. I said, ‘I only know my lines from the movie in Elvish, baby!’ ”
She hates going out when he’s around. “I have a little Mr. Rogers in me, I’ve got to be honest,” she says. “The moment I get home, I run up the stairs and put on my favorite sweatshirt.” Soon, she will have another place to stay. She’s looking at properties in upstate New York.
As a homebody, either in the city or upstate, the focus is on her family. “I’ve always tried to put my family and my own mental health first,” she says.
Last year, she released an etiquette book called Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top which she co-wrote with her maternal grandmother, Dorothea Johnson, whom she lived on and off with from the ages of 6 to 9 years old and keeps in very close touch. Mother Bebe Buell recently relocated to Nashville to continue her career as a singer-songwriter and has been urging to join her at a spa not unlike the Beverly Hot Springs in New Jersey. She also keeps in close touch with her dad, who came to visit her at Chateau Marmont on the set of our photo shoot.
Tyler didn’t meet her dad until she was 11 years old. “He’d already lost everything and was getting it back again,” she recalls of the Aerosmith singer. “I’ve always been very aware of that, and I just try to practice gratitude and be grateful for who I am. I don’t take anything too personally—when great things happen and people are telling you how fabulous they think you are nor when people are telling you they don’t like you.”
Frequently, she’s approached by fans of her father’s. “Every police officer I ever see, all the moms and all the cops always love Aerosmith,” she says. And with his recent stint on “American Idol,” he became popular with an entirely new generation.
“I hear him sing a song like ‘What It Takes’ or ‘Sweet Emotion’ and the whole room is singing and a part of it. It’s a beautiful feeling,” she says. “But it’s not like there was ever a period in my life where people weren’t aware of him. I have to block it out a little bit just to be sane.”
She’s also had to block out a dreaded question that she hears on a regular basis: “What are you doing next?”
“I set very high standards for myself,” she says, finishing off the Bellini so she can get ready to pick Milo up from school and go to their favorite East Village sushi restaurant to celebrate Langdon’s 42nd birthday. “I want to do a really good job at the things I say that I’m going to do. I don’t want to do an OK job at a million different little things. I’m going to allow myself the beautiful luxury of just being totally in the present and enjoying this experience and not thinking about what’s happening tomorrow, or next year or next month.”
Now that’s an outlook even more refreshing than a glass of Champagne with peach nectar.
Photographed by Matt Jones.