In two of her most recent roles, Liv Tyler went to outerspace, and then she was very much trapped on planet Earth.
The actress and model took a break in the first decade of the 2000s, but found herself tapped back into film when actor Jack Plotnick decided to direct his first feature “Space Station 76,” a darkly comedic satire of sci-fi movies from the 1970s that has the crew aboard questioning gender, sexual orientation, habits and morals. Plotnick spoke a language that resonated with Tyler, which put her in a role opposite of Patrick Wilson, Matt Bomer, Marisa Coughlan and more in a spaceship with a tiny budget.
Then she said “yes” to HBO's “The Leftovers,” which Tyler described as a confluence of all her dream job descriptions. It was regular work, that kept her in New York and close to her son Milo, with a character (Meg) that was a little bit “off.”
It sounds now like Tyler, 37, is very much back into her acting career, having learned a couple lessons about waiting patiently, and then acting on intuition. In our interview last week, Tyler seemed grateful to Plotnick and his weird little film (which made its debut at South By Southwest earlier this year).
Read our abridged chat below, about “LOTR,” the future of “The Leftovers,” the importance of making other creative people think your good idea is theirs and playing independent women when she”s one in real life, too.
HitFix: First and foremost, “Space Station 76” had some pretty fabulous sets and costumes. I was wondering if you took off with anything from the set as a little memento?
Liv Tyler: I did. You know what, there was this like owl cookie jar that I loved so much and Jack sent it to me and I took a fluorescent yellow plastic ashtray was there. I wanted a lot more, the little tchotchkes and gadgets from the movie.
It was amazing to see like it was such a small budget and the way the set looked that whole hallway and everything was incredible the way they built those sets. I was really surprised because we really didn't have very much money and nothing really worked, like the doors didn't really open; like someone sort of stood there with a string, and we were always having to like rig something up. Remember there was little robots or something someone literally just had like a piece of dental floss pulling it along. It was funny.
It's like a home movie in a lot of ways.
In what way did you get to be creative? What way did you get to stretch out as an actress in this movie?
Jack Plotnick had written me a letter and sent me the script and I read the script and I really liked it. And then I Skyped with him for like an hour and I realized that he was an acting teacher too and he's an actor himself. And he has like all these crazy amazing sort of philosophies about acting sort and sort of freeing yourself of – he has this whole thing where he talks about the negative voice is called your vulture sitting on your shoulder. And he has a website with all these positive affirmations. For some reason whatever he said really spoke to me and I really enjoyed talking to him about those things.
So I didn't really know what was going to happen; the project was so small and I was like I really just want to kind of go away and hang out with this man and be directed by him for a couple of weeks. And we were literally like a month of shooting, but I just wanted to be in his energy and be around him.
I definitely sort of gained a little bit more freedom I think. Not only on that project but sort of like after that project, like there's certain things that I sort of heard him say or learned from him that I definitely carried on with me.
Yeah. And it seems like it would be important for you, at this stage in your career, that you work with somebody who invigorates you about the career of acting really. Where were you at in your relationship to acting when this opportunity came up? How were you feeling about it?
I think that I wasn't really working very much in acting and I was spending a lot of time at home with Milo and I was doing a lot of modeling stuff so it sort of took me away only for a couple of weeks. Like I had a cosmetic contract with Givenchy for ten years and different things like that where I didn't really have to go away and be on a set for months on end and have just been going through a lot of life changes, in my personal life.
And having been a working actor since I was like 16, suddenly in my early 30s and stuff I was like what do I want my life to look like and be like and what do I get from this? I think a lot of times when you start acting when you're quite young and you're so busy and you're away all the time there's a natural thing that happens where you kind of hit a wall where you're just like “I want to nest and I want to be home and I want to be normal, I don't want to live that life all the time.”
There's like a moment when you sort of like emerge from that again and you like “Okay, well I did that now, too, and now I want to find a balance of both things.” That was kind of at the point where this came along.
I remember really specifically like talking to my agents and they weren't telling me not to do it or to do it but they were indifferent. I knew that for some reason that working on this project was going to be important for my experience and my life as a human being. I didn't know what would come from it or if anyone would ever even see it or what but I knew that it was something I definitely wanted to experience.
And Jack, he is such a bouncy interesting actor so much…
So enthusiastic, so fun.
I got to speak to him in Austin during SXSW, and something that struck me about him talking about it, he talked about how it was a very personal film about growing up in the suburbs in the '70s, about sexuality and about kind of you perceive what is normal and then you grow up and you notice that none of that was actually really “normal.” Were there any themes in this film that really hit close to home for you?
I definitely can relate to like always being an independent woman and always – I think that my character in the film sort of comes on the ship to work with the male captain. Though it's set in the future, the dynamic and that they have is a little bit more like sort of '50s, '60s or '70s and women then didn't necessarily have positions like that at that time. The other women on the ship are sort of wives and mothers and they don't know what to make of me when I come on.
There's a little bit of a conflict between Patrick's character and mine, of him sort of questioning my competence and my abilities. I can't say that I've experienced that necessarily as an actor in Hollywood, but there's definitely a way as a young woman you have to learn how to communicate in order to not always step on the toes or hurt the feeling sometimes of the men that you're working with, if I can say that in a delicate way. That doesn't necessarily have to deal just with gender, but just being a younger person working with more seasoned people, possibly.
I definitely related to that sort of idea of quietly just showing what you've got… I learned how to choose my words, even when I can see something clearly and I think 100 percent my way is the right way and it's my opinion is right you have to sort of work things in a way that sometimes it makes the other person think it's their idea. Or that you care about their opinion a little bit more.
What went into the choice in working on “The Leftovers?” Were you looking for television and where you specifically hoping for the role of Meg?
I was really liking what I was seeing in TV for a few years. There was something that appealed to me about the idea of having like a semi steady job, having never had one.
But having done the Lord of the Rings, we shot of those movies over the course of three and a half years and I was quite young. I think I was like 21 when we started filming, so that was a huge part of my life. I always kind of missed that experience of that connection that you had with everyone and that feeling of like filming for a while and then going away and then coming back to it and coming back to the character, the way that felt coming back to those people, to the place. That was something that I definitely missed when the “Lord of the Rings” was over and I kind of had a longing for it but I didn't really understand exactly how something like that would ever happen again.
I'm not a big TV watcher at all in my life to be honest but I just started to notice that there was certain things that I was watching that I really liked and just thought the stories were so interesting and complex and so much more than films because a film is much shorter and you can only cram so much into a film. And sometimes there are stories that people don't want to tell in film that they are comfortable telling on television.
…As an actor I was like “I wonder what that would be like to get to continuously play this person and come back to it again and again and have all this brilliant weird stuff written for you and turns and arcs.” So I was definitely looking but not necessarily in the most like pushy way, like just in the back of my mind. I'm not the most aggressive person and I always sort of have felt like things come along when they're meant to come along; it happened for a reason. And I just started to notice that in my career and little bit that I needed to be a little bit more proactive about pursuing exactly what I wanted and not sitting around and waiting for that thing to appear.
So I just started to focus a little bit more clearly on what I would be interested in. It's so funny because I always said I wanted it to be HBO and I always wanted it to be a little bit bizarre and a little bit dark and a little bit off because I've always been attracted to shows like that. Those are the ones that get me going. I watched “Twin Peaks” all the time and I'll sit and like I'll have to pause it and rewind it and write things down. I like things like that but I didn't know if anything like that would ever really exist.
When I read the script for “Leftovers”… My big fantasy life of my great dream was to be able to be home and be with my son and find something that was shooting in New York so that I could be a good mother and also have a job.
And that's what I was like putting out to be the universe forever and then it really just kind of came. There [were] a few years there where I was like “I'm not so satisfied with the way things were going” but I knew that I had to be patient and something was going to come and that I was sort of like going through things that I needed to go through.
I've always believed that I don't ever make anything that I'm not in love with and I don't really want to do, which is maybe not the smartest thing for like career choices always. But I feel like I've been fortunate enough and blessed to be able to make that decision.
When this came along I felt like this was so worth waiting for. The times that I had not felt as fulfilled as I was hoping to I was grateful for those times when I found not only the project but the character. And that was such a big sort of letting go about that. In the pilot, there was one scene with no idea where they're going to take your character, what's going to happen. So it's very, very different coming from the world that I came from where you're agreeing to an entire screenplay and you've talked a director and million times and you know when you're going to start filming and when you're going to wrap. It's like a whole other universe because you never know what's going to happen. You're signing on to like an experience basically.
As far as “unknowns” of the finale of “The Leftovers” is concerned, it looks like we're going to get a lot more of Meg in then next season. Is Meg going to be stepping up leadership?
I don't know. I don't think anybody knows. I've been asking Damon and he doesn't even know. I was like uh, this is so weird not ever knowing anything and he said “Try being the person that everyone's asking what the answers are and you don't know.”
Yeah. Have a fun with that. Are there any known knowns in your future? Any other projects that you're vying for that you would love to take up now that you've kind of stepped back into an acting career that you love?
Right now there's like things I'm reading and things that I like but I'm just so excited that I got to be a part of “The Leftovers” and I'm enjoying going to be a mother and be with my little boy and I can't wait to go back to work. I'm just sort of like taking the 37-year-old approach to it all. I don't feel like “Oh my God I have to do this and I have to do that,” I'm so grateful and felt really content with the way it's all going and I can't wait to go back to work; I can't wait to find out when we're going back to work and what it's going to be like.
“Space Station 76” is in select theaters and on VOD and On Demand now. “The Leftovers” season one finale aired earlier this month.