The actress talks about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable and going bananas on that tree.
HBO: What was it about The Leftovers that brought you to the series?
Liv Tyler: I feel like there are things being told in television that can't really happen in movies. I was very attracted to that. Then I read the script written by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta; it was shooting in New York and I'm a New Yorker, so the whole thing was very appealing. I knew when I first heard the premise that I was very interested – I love things that are a little bit off and a little bit mysterious and different. I grew up loving The Twilight Zone and Twin Peaks. I felt like it had some of those elements as well as so much depth, and so much heart and soul in the exploration of characters and the world.
HBO: In reading the script, what did you think of Meg?
Liv Tyler: When I got to the page on Meg I knew instantly that I wanted to play the part. It's really hard to articulate – it's like falling in love. Like when someone says, "How did you know?" and they say, "I knew in an instant." With this, it happened in one page and it was an instant feeling. It was the scene where they're sitting in a restaurant and having a conversation about their wedding. Meg is struggling to feel connected. She's searching for answers and she kind of snaps at her fiancé, "A wedding isn't about the vows, it's about the f**cking centerpieces." I understood what she meant. Then she covers it up and says, "I'm really looking forward to it." You know that she's not. Just that scene, there were so many layers. It was all there.
HBO: Have you read the book?
Liv Tyler: I started reading it immediately. And just this month, I started picking it up again and opening up to random pages and underlining things that I love. There's something about Tom's style of writing that touches me. I'll be reading something – it can be about any of the characters, but the way that Tom words things, I instantly connect to the way he describes the character's feelings. It's so simple but so poignant. And I'll stop and go back again, or write it down. There's so much to it.
HBO: How much of Meg's story has been filled in for you?
Liv Tyler: Damon explains his process as seeing where the story gods take him. He starts writing and things come and things happen. The idea of that is beautiful and it's been super interesting to be a part of. It's a constant evolution and that's what real life is like. Damon said to me in the beginning, "In real life you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, do you?" And he's right. At first, I was struggling how to handle it: "What do you mean I don't have a week to plot and plan and think about exactly what I want to do?" Now I love the challenge of it. We'll go to work and I'm like, "whoa, I do what?"
HBO: Is there something about Meg that makes her a vulnerable target?
Liv Tyler: Meg feels completely suffocated and trapped. She just wants to escape. To do anything to feel something different than what she's feeling. In my mind, it's like going for a respite from strife. She goes to the Guilty Remnant to get away from her present scenario – in her head for a few days – to see what it feels like… and then other things happen.
HBO: What's it like playing against someone who is silent, and knowing you'll likely fall silent yourself?
Liv Tyler: In the book, Laurie and Meg speak to each other. A lot of the book is about their bond and their friendship. With the series, they decided they didn't want Laurie to talk. That was hard for me but it accelerates our story.
It's interesting, the whole silent thing. As an actress, I tend to trim my dialogue back and feel I can convey certain things through emotions or feelings or looks. Sometimes my costars laugh and say that I should be a silent film star and that I was born in the wrong era. But it's very tricky. It took us a minute. We had one scene, it was three pages long. No one was talking, and we're writing and emoting and frustrated. It's being comfortable being uncomfortable. This whole process, there's been a lot of that.
HBO: Sunday's episode ends with Meg chopping with conviction. What's going on in her mind?
Liv Tyler: It's that breaking point, almost like fight or flight, when a primal part of your spirit comes out. She's put to the test and something snaps in her. She discovers her own power and her own rage and she lets it out.
HBO: What was it like to shoot that scene?
Liv Tyler: I've split wood before. My friend and I went to the store and bought an axe because he was going to teach me how to chop a tree. This huge snowstorm came on the day we were going to do it and we had to drive back to the city. So for weeks I was driving around with an axe in my trunk but with nowhere to go and chop… I still have the axe in my trunk.
The scene was supposed to be a series of three little scenes, but we ran out of light. And so we went to set and [director] Pete Berg grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "Just don't hurt anyone." He would call out, "Go back, run up the path, do it again." It was very primal and emotional but I just had to go for it. It wasn't a sharp axe so it actually hurt because I went bananas on the tree. It would ricochet and vibrate up my body; I had a hard time moving for a few days after. I couldn't raise my arm past my shoulders, and I thought, "Uh oh, maybe I went too far."