Beauty Liv Tyler is hot -- and cool Actor: The 18-year-old star of Bertolucci's 'Stealing Beauty' and the low-budget 'Heavy' is in great demand.

July 07, 1996|By Bruce Newman | Bruce Newman,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

In the absence of an official count, it can only be stated as a theory that Liv Tyler has two more teeth than God gave Burt Lancaster. She possesses the most endearing overbite seen in Hollywood since Gene Tierney. Whether Tyler, the 18-year-old star of Bernardo Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty" and the low-budget "Heavy," has actually heard of any of these people is another matter.

Tyler is cool. She has cool. Before a camera, however, her temperature runs several degrees above normal, these changes passing like a progression of seasons across her face, each with its own light.

"It is really like a flash under the skin, you know?" says Bertolucci. "There's a beautiful phrase of Cocteau, 'Le cinema fait la mort au travail' -- 'Cinema is death at work.' If you have somebody in front of the camera for 10 seconds, or two minutes, time is passing on her face. Time and death at work. Here it was like seeing life at work."

At least six other directors have been similarly transported, which is how Tyler has managed to make seven films in the past 2 1/2 years. Her performances will include a featured role in Tom Hanks' eagerly awaited directorial debut, "That Thing You Do," and a cameo in "Everybody Says I Love You," Woody Allen's new musical.

She will also be featured in "Inventing the Abbotts," a follow-up to Pat O'Connor's "Circle of Friends."

Tyler is hot. She has heat, which is even more important in Hollywood. Whether Tyler's acting gets the kind of recognition she has won for her beauty remains to be seen.

She had her introduction to stardom at the baptismal font of the Cannes International Film Festival. A huge plywood likeness of her face sat on the lawn of the Carlton Hotel throughout the event, and from every parapet and promontory, Tyler's soulful blue eyes seemed to be staring back.

"It just didn't feel real," she says of her time in Cannes. "You go from a little bit of stuff here and there to suddenly one day your face is everywhere."

A model at 14

She got her start as a model at the age of 14 and then took only a year to decide to become an actress, after a grueling commercial shoot in the Amazon. "Mosquitoes as big as Chihuahuas!" reports her mother, Bebe Buell, a former model and Playmate of the Month.

"I was a fat kid with braces, so modeling was nothing I ever dreamed about," Tyler says. Working only after school, she quickly transformed herself into a top teen-age model while managing to graduate from high school in three years.

Writer and director James Mangold cast her as Callie, the young waitress who stirs the pot in his independent film "Heavy," after a single reading at his New York loft. The film, about a shy, overweight pizza chef who falls for the sweet-natured, beautiful Callie, won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

"I was shooting her with a little Hi-8 camera, and I couldn't stop zooming in on her," Mangold recalled. "She thinks through her skin. You can see it. It's really lovely to see human thought just running through someone's mind and spilling out their eyes. I was convinced, even though she hadn't been in a single film, that a movie star had come into my home."

He was so sure, that when Tyler was cast three weeks later in "Silent Fall," a studio release starring Richard Dreyfuss and directed by Bruce Beresford, set to start production the same time as "Heavy," Mangold decided to wait for her.

After a bad experience making "Empire Records," a picture that was given a release calculated in minutes rather than dollars, Tyler decided to sit back and wait for something substantial. "After I finished 'Empire Records' I was pretty devastated," she says. "I was even feeling like if something incredible didn't come up, I didn't ever want to do this again."

When told that Bertolucci wanted to talk to her about his next film, she was not certain who he was but dutifully wrote down titles like "Last Tango in Paris" and committed them to memory.

During their first meeting, in Bertolucci's hotel suite, the director posed questions about her life, while reposing regally on a chaise.

"He sat on kind of a throne, and he had such a beautiful voice I just wanted to close my eyes and listen to him speak," Tyler says. "And I kind of did for a couple of seconds, but then I thought I wouldn't be concentrating and I would get myself in trouble. I didn't really understand it at first. I didn't understand how a movie about a young girl -- only about a young girl, especially me -- could be interesting for two hours."

For Bertolucci, it was the woman sitting before him who posed the question around which he hoped to formulate his story. "A stimulant for me is to be curious, if there is some mystery in the person in front of the camera," he says. "To look at this mystery is my way to discover the character. And there was something that I found mysterious in Liv."

Strange coincidence

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