Liv Tyler is cold. Really, really cold. She also has a headache, she needs a caffeine boost, and, truth be told, she’d walk out the door if she could. “Would you like an Aleve?” asks one of her publicists while retrieving a small bottle of pills from a designer handbag of indeterminable animal-kingdom origins. “Would I like to leave?” says Tyler, her exhaustion suddenly replaced by a gleeful, half-joking outburst. But no. The 33-year-old actor will endure more than a few interviews before heading to the premiere of her new film, a taut thriller about infidelity and evangelism called The Ledge (which opens July 8), in which she plays Shana, a woman torn between her Christian fundamentalist husband Joe (Patrick Wilson) and her atheist lover Gavin (Charlie Hunnam).
To ward off the room’s oppressive central air system, we struggle to open every window from a suite inside Manhattan’s Crosby Street Hotel. Tyler, the star of such varied films as Stealing Beauty, The Lord of The Rings, and, most recently, Super (in which she portrayed Rainn Wilson’s drug addict wife), kicks off her Louboutin heels and settles into a plush settee. Her kind smile and a slight nod suggests she’s ready to begin. Over the course of our conversation she subtly cracks her toes.
Press days can get really tedious. How are you holding up? I don’t mean to complain because it’s part of the job, but press junkets are hard. I can’t help but give sincere answers and I feel like they’re always so manipulated and very rarely used in the way they were intended. I also feel like I’m just an actress—I don’t necessarily want to share all of my thoughts and views with the world, but it’s almost expected.
Did this part scare you as an actor? Absolutely. That was part of the draw. But it’s very frustrating shooting a movie in such few days with not very much money, especially something that’s so detailed and intense and dense, story-wise.
Although sometimes fewer resources and less time can contribute to greater creativity. If that’s the case, that’s great. But when quality has to be compromised, it can be tricky. [Pause.] I’m not saying that happened in this case, but when budget gets cut into all these little pieces it does somehow… you think, If we only had that it could be better. I don’t necessarily mean spending loads of money. I mean, like, three million dollars versus one million dollars.
The movie raises some tough questions about faith. Did it cause you to reassess your own perspective on religion and spirituality? For me, it was more about people and the things that happen in our lives, the decisions we make, how they effect us, and how we cope with that.
But it does, ultimately, question the importance of trust in something bigger than ourselves. It didn’t change my existing belief system, but it definitely expanded my understanding of the things other people believe in. It’s so easy to judge people and think, They believe in this so they must be like that. How we cope with the world and how fragile we are, well, it’s what makes us individuals. In this film, that idea is taken to such incredible extremes because Patrick [Wilson’s character] is completely insane—or is he?
Paired with Super, The Ledge seems to suggest your desire to tackle more challenging material. Was this a conscious decision after your hiatus from acting? That sounds so cool but, honestly, these just happen to be the two things I read and fell in love with. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but it was an incredibly liberating experience for me to see what I could do. I’m an actor—that’s all I am. I’m not anything else. I’m just an actor and I love my job, and I like the people I work with. I don’t think too much about “career moves,” I just want to have experiences.
Has the process always been that organic for you? If I’m being honest, yeah.
That’s really surprising. They call it the movie business for a reason. That hasn’t been my experience. I’ve just always enjoyed making different kinds of films and playing different characters. I don’t know that I’ve ever tapped into one schtick. I’m still learning and exploring. There’s something magical about leaving those decisions up to chance, and watching where they then take you in your life.
Had you been reading scripts during your break from acting? Since having Milo, basically, I haven’t worked nearly as hard on films as I had leading up to that point. I’ve had the incredible luxury and amazing opportunity to have a cosmetic contract with Givenchy for almost eight years now—which is unheard of! And that’s made it possible for me to be home with Milo, and it’s given me something very solid to fall back on.
Were you itching to get back? I am now, in a crazy way. I’ve always had a tendency to work very hard on a couple back-to-back movies and then say, I need to not do that again for a while. I don’t feel like I could ever just make one movie after the next after the next. I’m not built like a machine. As a parent, especially this year because Milo’s starting kindergarten, I need to find a balance between work and family. I’m always aware of this beautiful little person who needs me to be around.
You’ll be on The View tomorrow. Excited or terrified? I’m not terrified, but I’ve always had a little bit of stage fright. There’s just something about a live talk show, but I’m getting much better at it.
I think the pre-interview is so weird, the idea that you’d call in before appearing on the show to settle on funny anecdotes with one of the producers. It’s really funny when it’s someone like Jay Leno, because based on what you talk about in that pre-interview he creates very specific jokes and punch lines, and even suggests responses to jokes. I’m always so worried I’m going to miss my mark.
There are stories floating around online that you’re co-writing an etiquette book with your grandmother. Well, my grandmother’s writing a book, but I wrote the foreword and I’m very involved in the process—dealing with the publishers, the look of the book, and everything that’s in the book. I’m also writing little sidebars about the things she’s taught me and how they’ve affected my life. But it’s completely her book.