SEEMINGLY IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE, THE TEENAGE STAR OF ’90S MOVIES EMPIRE RECORDS AND STEALING BEAUTY HAS BECOME A 25 YEAR SCREEN VETERAN AND MOTHER OF THREE, AND NOW CO STARS WITH BRAD PITT IN THE JUST RELEASED SCI FI EPIC, AD ASTRA
BY JOEL KELLER
In many a mind’s eye, Liv Tyler is still the teenager who took on ingénue roles when she debuted in the mid 1990s, in films like Empire Records and Stealing Beauty. Readers might also have caught her as the dutiful girlfriend of a ’60s pop star in 1996’s Tom Hanks directed That Thing You Do!, or as the high school aged love interest in the next year’s Inventing the Abbotts. But in reality, Tyler had been on film years prior since 1993, in fact, when he father, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, cast her in videos for songs like “Amazing” and “Crazy” (the second also launching Alicia Silverstone’s career). Now, seemingly incredibly, she’s 42, mother of a 3 yearold daughter and 4 year old son with fiancé David Gardner, and also has a 14 year old son with ex-husband, Royston Langdon. Combining this brand of busy home life with acting hasn’t proved problematic, however, as in recent years the NYC born Tyler has starred in the three season HBO series, The Leftovers (alongside Justin Theroux and Christopher Eccleston), as Amelia Earhart in the short film, Falling Up, in the Hulu period drama series, Harlots (now in its third season), and most recently alongside Brad Pitt in the science fiction epic, Ad Astra, which was released on September 20.
In the film, she plays Eve, the wife of astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt), who thinks about her in flashbacks as he goes on a dangerous mission to find the truth about his missing father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), who went missing during a mission 16 years earlier but was recently reported to be alive.
“I connected on such a human level to [Roy] and the relationship with his father,” she said at a press conference during the movie’s August 29 premiere events at the Venice Film Festival in Italy. “I felt my character was a dream at times; she comes to him in his memories and imagination.”
Directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant) from a screenplay by Gray and his longtime associate, Ethan Gross (writer for the FOX series, Fringe), the film also stars Ruth Negga (Loving, and the AMC series, Preacher) and Donald Sutherland. Detailing the script, Gray explained in a Twentieth Century Fox/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures interview that, “United States government officials come to Roy and tell him that his father, who he thought was long deceased, is alive and out at the edge of the solar system. Roy has got to communicate with him. They have to find him because he might be doing something horrifying, committing potential acts of terrorism in the rings of Neptune. They want to use Roy to lure him out of silence.”
Of Roy and Eve’s relationship, Gross explained that, “Roy feels fully alive when he’s up on top of the Earth’s atmosphere, when he’s away, when he’s exploring. And he has a relationship with Eve, who cares about him and he seemed to care about her, but he’s got something…a block in him that makes him push her away. And it’s caused by his father’s abandoning him years ago, [which] led to his inability to have intimacy in his life, just like his father.”
She let it go unsaid during the Venice press events, but Tyler has some experience connecting to a father figure she didn’t know. Born in 1977 to former Playboy Playmate, Bebe Buell, Tyler’s original last name was Rundgren. Why? Because Buell was in a long term albeit sporadic relationship with ‘70s rock star, Todd Rundgren, and Tyler spent close to the first decade of her life thinking he was her father (his name is even on her birth certificate). But when she went backstage at an Aerosmith concert at nine years old, she and Steven Tyler got along famously. Then Liv noticed how much they looked alike, and made the connection. She formally changed her last name to Tyler in 1991.
“I have sisters and brothers from him, but who, if I didn’t know them and they walked in the room, we look like the same person,” she told the New York Times in July. “We have different mannerisms, similar things that just go a few generations back.”
She’s maintained close relationships with both Rundgren and Tyler, even sticking with her father during his ’90s and early aughts drug troubles, but it took her years to sort out why Buell, Rundgren, and Tyler didn’t simply tell her the truth.
“Everybody had a different interpretation [of ] how they participated,” she told The Telegraph in 2008. “And you know what? I’m OK with that. All that matters is whatever kind of relationship I can have with them now.”
She’s so close to Tyler, in fact, that he was there to cut the umbilical cord when her son, Sailor, was born four years ago. “I never would have dreamed in a million years [that I’d be] having a baby with my dad there,” she told the New York Post in July. “It was an amazing experience.”
Tyler took on modeling gigs at the tender age of 14, and by then her rebellious streak, likely brought on by a somewhat chaotic childhood, took a new form, as she also told the Post. She started acting within a year.
“I am not so great with authority and being told what to do,” she said. “It was a more natural progression for me to be acting.”
From there, it was those appearances in Aerosmith videos and breakout roles in Heavy, Empire Records, and Stealing Beauty that established lasting Hollywood momentum. Interestingly, what’s been the most predictable aspect of her career in the decades since is its relative unpredictability. For instance, she followed an epic stint as the half elven maiden, Arwen, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by playing a snarky video clerk named Maya in Kevin Smith’s 2004 film, Jersey Girl. Over the next ten years, she starred in the Marvel epic, The Incredible Hulk, the 9/11 era set drama, Reign Over Me, and the critically acclaimed but little watched HBO series, The Leftovers, among other projects playing characters who shared precious few personality characteristics.
Which brings us back to the two most recent roles. She played Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam in seasons two and three of Harlots, an aristocrat dependent on her brother for her well-being, but scheming to keep her secrets hidden. Getting into the 18th-century corsets, hoop dresses, and other accoutrements was arduous, as she told the Post. “It’s a bit tedious because it takes so long and is a little uncomfortable. But in the end, it’s so fun to get to be this person, you know?”
Since her part in Ad Astra was mostly through the imagination and memory of Pitt’s character, Tyler had less dialogue than might be expected in such a role, so communicating emotion in other ways became the challenge. “It’s interesting to watch the final film and watch the connection [between Roy and Eve], because it’s very unspoken,” she said during the Venice festival.
It’s a characteristically mature view from a woman who’s pretty much seen it all in the business, to the point where she’s more content living in London with her children and Gardner’s 11-year-old son than amid the hustle of New York, where she used to reside full-time.
“I usually only go away from the kids when I’m working, but that in itself is a vacation because it’s exploring a different facet of myself, a part of being a woman, a mom,” she told the New York Times.
Alongside an extended movie and TV career has been a range of high-profile modeling and other fashion gigs. She has had a ten-year relationship with Givenchy as the spokesperson for its fragrance and cosmetics lines, has designed in collaboration with the London-based Belstaff clothing brand, and is also a brand ambassador for Triumph lingerie. For the last, she helped develop a capsule collection that celebrates body confidence: part of an effort, as she explained in a company statement, to be “a modern woman in every sense, a mother and actress with a fierce sense of femininity that women across the world can relate to.”