Liv Tyler is, unquestionably, a rare and fantastic beauty. Even at 38, the star has retained the coltish allure of her youth: porcelain skin, expressive, dark-blue eyes, a grin that somehow manages to be both goofy and straightforward. But despite all that, it’s Tyler’s voice that really cinches the deal on her stardom. It’s breathy, high-pitched, disarming; one writer described it as the “susurrus of a stream.”
At the moment, that voice is lamenting the state of her water glass. We are installed in a cozy nook at a French bistro in New York City, around the corner from Tyler’s stately townhouse in the West Village. I had just watched as Tyler, who had arrived a few minutes late and flustered, ripped open a packet of sweetener and proceeded to pour its contents into freshly poured tap water.
I assumed this was part of some newfangled Hollywood diet I will soon be reading about in the tabloids. It’s not. “I just poured sugar in my water,” says Tyler, who, to my relief, is palpably surprised. “That’s how tired I am.”
Tyler is exhausted. Sailor, her eight-month-old son with fiancé David Gardner, a sports agent who counts David Beckham and Kate Moss as close friends, is teething and sick. She and Gardner didn’t sleep for two days. Gardner’s family is also visiting from the U.K., and Tyler is on full-time mom duty to 10-year-old son, Milo, from her first marriage. Right before that, she was in Austin, filming the critically acclaimed HBO show The Leftovers, a dark, dystopian saga that takes place a few years after a worldwide event, called “the Sudden Departure,” in which 2% of the world’s population inexplicably vanish on the spot.
“We just wrapped, and I was supposed to have these two weeks off as family time, and then that didn’t happen,” says Tyler. “Now there’s so much going on.” Indeed, Tyler — whose last big blockbuster was 2008’s Incredible Hulk —is in the midst of a career renaissance of sorts. In addition to her well-received performance in The Leftovers, she’ll be appearing as a small-town sheriff in an indie film, Wildling, directed by newcomer Fritz Bohm and starring up-and-coming Brit actress Bel Powley. Tyler also just designed a capsule collection for Belstaff.
“Whenever I tell anyone I’m playing a cop, they just start laughing,” says Tyler of her new role. “I’m like, I’ll show you!”
But even Tyler can’t deny the humor in it — she, the pillowy-lipped daughter of rock star Steven Tyler and Playboy model Bebe Buell, is as far away from a cop as one get. “The costume is hilarious,” says Tyler. “I came home the other night in it, fully dressed as a sheriff, and started handcuffing the boys. They were hysterically laughing.”
The levity in her personal life is a welcome departure from what’s been happening on the set of The Leftovers. Tyler says filming the project is so intense, she sometimes feels like she has PTSD. “I have crazy flashback dreams,” she says about portraying Meg Abbott, a bride-to-be who becomes enmeshed in a mysterious and creepy cult, the Guilty Remnant. “I’m playing someone who is nothing like myself. But in being her, she becomes a part of me. Sometimes when I come home after filming I have to remind myself, OK, you can’t say that, you can’t do that. She says and does some pretty crazy things.”
This season, her character, Meg, reached new heights of depravity in the third episode, when she — spoiler alert —sexually assaults another main character.
“That [scene] was pretty crazy because I didn’t know how Meg was going to be worked into the second season, and I had just had a baby,” explains Tyler. “So we got scripts for the first three episodes — and that was my first scene in the whole season. Sailor was two months old so I was a little bit like, what? I have to do what?”
“I just remember thinking,” continues Tyler, good-humoredly, “‘I just had a f***ing baby, I can’t believe that’s the first scene you write for me right after.’”
For the record, Tyler isn’t angry. In fact, she seems to revel in the challenge. Though she said it was difficult to think about being so physical so soon after giving birth, she’s quick to add, “but it was kind of amazing, because I had to get back in shape.”
Another challenge Tyler is hungry for: stepping into a role behind the camera. She produced a short film starring David Beckham — her husband’s BFF — earlier this year for Belstaff, and she’s also signed on to produce Wildling.
Eventually, she’d like to try her hand at directing. “I’m always directing everything in life, I can’t help it,” says Tyler. “It’s definitely a part of my nature. My brain is very visually aligned so I definitely relate to everything in a very cinematic way — almost like there’s a little movie going on in my head all the time.”
Tyler said she never wanted to be a megacelebrity — but if there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years, it’s that rock-star daughters — particularly ones that look like Tyler — don’t get to choose. Fame is almost inevitable. Tyler accepts her role graciously — if a little warily. She understands from watching her parents that fame is both a blessing and a slog. When we leave the restaurant, for instance, Tyler nods in the direction of a portly man taking our picture. Down the block, I spot another one, lying in wait. The paparazzi never go away.
Tyler acknowledges how strange and stressful it can be to have her off-duty moments captured for public consumption, especially when she doesn’t feel her best.
“I go through periods where I just want to wear sweatpants and a puffer coat, and I wish I lived in Maine where I grew up and I could just jump in the car and go to school,” she says. “And then I stop myself and say, wait, you’re so lucky you get to live in New York City and you have beautiful clothes. Pull yourself together.”
Tyler’s off-duty outfits have, unwittingly, provided inspiration for her recent capsule collection with Belstaff. “I was in a design meeting and they had all these mood boards, of each thing we want to make,” she explains, “And most of the pictures were looks I’d literally thrown on to walk Milo to school in the morning.” Tyler tends to favor flat shoes, ankle-length pants, a great coat. More recently, she’s been drawn to masculine-inspired pieces; today she’s wearing piped Gucci black pants and a black T-shirt. (When paparazzi photos of that day wind up, inevitably, in the Daily Mail, the headline blares: “Natural beauty Liv Tyler keeps it casual in all-black as she lunches with a pal in New York.”)
Dressing for red carpet events has proven far trickier. “Samples are a size zero — they’re so tiny,” says Tyler. “I’m 5'10", a giant, and I wear a size 10 shoe. Sometimes I just have to settle for what fits.” She says a sample came in the other day from a designer brand she often works with, and the bra looked like it wouldn’t even fit her 10-year-old. “It was like a training bra,” she says with a disappointed sigh. “But if I were 5'2" and really petite [like a lot of actresses] I could wear those things.”
Samples, she notes, weren’t that small when she first started modeling. “If you look back at Helena Christensen or Christy Turlington, they were probably a 4 or a 6 — they had beautiful bodies, very lean, obviously, and gorgeous,” she says. “They obviously took beautiful care of themselves — they weren’t malnourished.” Today, sadly, is a different story. “The girls walking the catwalk [now] are very, very thin and very tall,” she says. But when I ask her what she thinks of that change, Tyler demurs. “I hate to make big statements because people just run with it and take it out of context,” she says. “The whole industry has changed, it’s hard to comment.”
Though Tyler began modeling at just 14, she says the industry didn’t have a negative impact on her teenage years. “The thing is, I didn’t really look that young and I didn’t feel particularly that young,” she says. “I didn’t have a young person’s body then. I was 15, but my body was fully developed.”
Like any woman, though, Tyler says, she has days when she wonders whether she should try harder to fit into certain beauty standards: “I’m looking at photos and thinking, wait, should I look like that? Do I need to do that? Do I want that?”
But Tyler always manages to find a way back to herself. “I’ve always felt this strange combination — a will to be myself and to keep what is authentic about me [juxtaposed with] this other side of my work, which is very much about beauty and physical appearance,” she explains. “I think there is a lot of pressure [in Hollywood] to look the same, now more than ever. But I always try to remind myself of who I am, and stay true to that, to not compare myself to others.”