The rock & roll princess talks about her big screen summer hits ''Hulk'' and ''The Strangers''

On initial meeting, Liv Tyler may be the closest thing we have to a real-life Snow White. Beyond her alabaster skin, raven hair, and bee-stung lips, the 30-year-old is enchantingly sweet, especially when earnestly dropping lines like ”the hottest thing since sliced bread.” So it’s not surprising that she’s often cast as the dream girl (Jersey Girl, That Thing You Do!). But spend some time with the daughter of rock star Steven Tyler and a true badass emerges. ”I remember when The Lord of the Rings came out and there’d be a certain project that my agent would be calling about and they’d say, ‘Oh, no, she’s too ethereal for that part,”’ says Tyler, who played elvish princess Arwen. ”And I was always like, ‘Ethereal? I was playing a f—ing elf. Of course I was ethereal!”’

Tyler is similarly outspoken, albeit in her typical hushed tones, when it comes to her decision to take a break from acting to raise her 3-year-old son Milo. ”I had a child because I wanted to be a mother and not because I wanted an accessory,” she says. ”I really wanted to take that time off, and I did. Now I’ve never wanted to work more in my entire life.” And work she has. Tyler filmed her latest projects, The Strangers and The Incredible Hulk, back-to-back. ”I was literally covered in bruises for half the year,” she says of the physically grueling shoots. The brutal thriller about a couple randomly terrorized by masked killers provided Tyler with the most challenging role of her career. ”It was as far as I could push myself in every way: physically, emotionally, mentally,” says Tyler, who spends much of the film running and screaming. ”I remember the producer calling me and saying that they had done one of their first test screenings and the audiences freaked out because they thought it was a snuff film.” But that didn’t keep audiences away from opening weekend, when Strangers brought in a surprising $21 million.

Shooting Hulk proved a challenge of a different kind: As the girlfriend of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), Tyler had to act opposite a to-be-CGI’d-in-later green giant. But the real drama surrounding the film occurred off screen with Norton and Marvel Studios, who had been engaged in a heated fight over the final cut. ”It’s hard,” says Tyler. ”I respect Edward enormously and I think he’s incredibly talented…. There are all these little arguments and disagreements, but ultimately the movie finds its way.” If Tyler doesn’t seem too caught up in the film’s struggles, it might be because she was dealing with behind-the-scenes issues of her own. On May 8, Tyler and her musician husband, Royston Langdon, announced their separation. When asked if this puts a cloud over promoting two films (both in theaters this month) she’s clearly proud of, Tyler’s answer is succinct: ”Of course.” Luckily, the actress has had great friends to lean on, including pal Gwyneth Paltrow, who, coincidentally, also plays the love interest in a comic-book flick this summer. Recounts Tyler, ”Gwyneth got Iron Man first and then she heard from the Marvel people they had offered [Hulk] to me. She sent me a really sweet message, just saying like ‘Go, go, Marvel girls!”’ But Tyler turns to her friend for more than swapping notes on sharing the screen with a superheroic costar. ”I really look up to Gwyneth,” she says. ”If I ever have a question about something, it’s always 911-Gwyneth. She has the best advice.”

As she looks to the next phase of her career, it seems that Tyler may be her own sage. ”I’ve never enjoyed my work more than I do now,” says the actress. ”I’m stronger and more prepared for it in a way that I wasn’t when I was 16.” And what would Liv Tyler really like to do? ”The only dream I’ve ever had is to do a musical. I wanna sing! I wanna dance!” What was that we were just saying about Snow White?

The Empire Strikes Back

Why a film that barely even made it to theaters is one of Tyler’s most beloved

In 1994, a cast of fresh-faced actors including Tyler, Ethan Randall, Robin Tunney, and a little-known blonde named Renée Zellweger began filming a quirky comedy about the young staff of a sprawling record store. Sadly, Empire Records received a very limited release (87 theaters) in September 1995, grossing only $273,000. But it found a major afterlife on video and a cult following thanks in part to a hit soundtrack, featuring tracks like Gin Blossoms’ ”Til I Hear It From You.” For Tyler, it was one of the best experiences she’s ever had. ”We had a ball,” she remembers. ”It was heaven. It was just the highlight of my whole youth. We all lived on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina in these little condos on the beach. We had more fun off camera than we had on camera.” That fun lives on, as Records has found a new generation of fans. ”More people come up to me, even young people now, and say they love it and I’m like, ‘Really?!’ I have to watch it again.”

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
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