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In the Moment

Liv Tyler follows her instincts, giving herself over to the material. She tries on new personas in 'One Night at McCool's,' 'Lord of the Rings.'


NEW YORK — "I'm not with it at all," Liv Tyler says. "It's weird when one of your senses doesn't work properly. It makes you feel confused." The sense Tyler is referring to is that of hearing. She's fighting a cold. Her forehead is feverish. ("Feel it," she says, leaning forward.) Sitting at one of her haunts, an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, she is clad in an abbreviated ribbed shirt and denim hip-huggers that reveal a flat midriff. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Her skin is as porcelain as advertised. And those celebrated lips, well . . .

All these assets, and a few others, are on display in her new film that opens Friday, "One Night at McCool's," in which she plays a vamp who strings along a series of men (Matt Dillon, Paul Reiser, John Goodman). The role requires her to be all things to all people (a savior to Dillon, a sexpot to Reiser, an angel to Goodman).

Given her looks, overt sexuality would seem a natural for her. It's not, she insists. In fact, that's one reason why she took the role. In the past, she's played either the girl next door ("That Thing You Do," "Inventing the Abbotts," "Armageddon," "Cookie's Fortune") or the girl who innocently inflames men who are half-asleep ("Heavy," "Onegin") or half-dead ("Stealing Beauty"). A degree of self-awareness seems like the next step, doesn't it?

Even so, she had her doubts about the script, until she met the director, Harald Zwart. Zwart had no doubts about her. "I needed someone who didn't take herself too seriously and didn't need a lot of help to be beautiful," Zwart says. "When I met her, I could see that she could pull it off. She has a strong personality; she's not flaky."

Then, referring to a scene in which she washes a car with her body, he adds, "It was incredibly gratifying to get cleavage shots and foam up the thigh and all that stuff. She was a great sport. I gave her the focus marks and played some loud music and just told her to go for it, and she really went for it."

It's quite a departure from her previous roles, which have tended to be relentlessly innocent.

"It's always funny how people say that to me," Tyler observes. "I was 16 when I started out. A lot of the parts that I got I would audition for. It wasn't like I had a huge variety of options to pick from. I was just learning."


Tyler hasn't exactly been besieged by offers recently, either, although this has nothing to do with her age (she's now 23) and everything to do with Hollywood's short attention span and her unavailability. For the past year and a half, she's been shooting Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (all three installments at once) in New Zealand. Out of sight, out of mind.

She's resolutely trying not to take the industry's relative inattention personally. What's bothered her more is some of the press she's had to do for "McCool's," because it is personal. Reporters just can't seem to get enough of her unconventional upbringing.

Tyler, who was born in Portland, Maine, is the daughter of former model and rock band hanger-on Bebe Buell. Her father was musician Todd Rundgren, or at least so she was told, and so her birth certificate said. When she was an adolescent, she discovered--figured out, really--that her real father was Steve Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith. Her mother had kept her real paternity a secret because of Steve Tyler's wild rock 'n' roll ways.

Liv embraced Tyler, assuming his last name, and she and her mother moved to New York City, where she began a career as a model. Her first two films, "Silent Fall" and "Heavy," preceded her rather suggestive appearance in one of her father's videos, "Crazy," although a lot of people think that's how she got her start in film. A lot of people think her pedigree didn't hurt either.

"Somebody was asking me the other day, 'Do you think because your parents were famous, it helped you get into the business?' " Tyler says. "Half my directors have no idea about my family situation. ['Stealing Beauty' director] Bernardo [Bertolucci] had no idea who Aerosmith was. People always want to take away from the work that you did, like they want to think it was easy, somehow. I got those parts because I worked hard to get them."

Tyler may work hard, but it doesn't usually show. She doesn't have a bag of acting tricks. She's not a technician. She's not going to adopt an impeccable accent or otherwise so disappear into a role that she's unrecognizable. She doesn't try to seduce or charm the audience, either. According to Zwart, endless rehearsals and retakes are wasted on her. In the case of "McCool's," a push-up bra or a buttoned-up blouse was enough to tell her who she was supposed to be. She is, as actors like to say, "in the moment," to the extent that she sometimes makes her colleagues look like they are acting.

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