Liv Tyler on her '70s Sci-Fi Parody Space Station 76

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It’s hard to imagine Liv Tyler being down on life—she’s always had such a transcendent, childlike wonder about her, even when her character is sad—but that’s exactly where she found herself a few years ago. Luckily fate intervened in the person of Jack Plotnick, the director and co-writer of this week’s Space Station 76. Tyler’s role in the film, as a young female officer who takes over the second-in-command position on the spaceship amidst hostility from the rest of the crew, doubtless allowed her to work out a few of those issues. More than that, though, it was her contact with Plotnick himself, who is also an acting teacher and somewhat of a philosopher, that turned her around. She joined us recently to tell us how.

Paste: Let’s talk about Space Station 76.

Tyler: I was coming home in a cab, and I was like, “Fuck, what was my character’s name?” I couldn’t remember for the life of me [laughter]. I literally had to go online and Google Space Station 76! I was like, “Oh, it’s ‘Jessica’. I knew that.” It’s only because it was like two years ago, and I’m getting old. I’ve played so many people now that, at this point, it’s like, “Hey, what’s her name?”

Paste: How did the project first come to you? Did it come through your agent? You had worked with Patrick Wilson before.

Tyler: Yeah, I’d worked with Patrick before. But it actually came from Jack Plotnick directly. It was in a moment in time where I was sort of on the fence about my entire acting career. I was like, “What do I want to be doing?” I don’t remember what I had last worked on, but I was not feeling totally creatively fulfilled.

I was home with my son, and I was doing a lot of modeling things. I was doing jobs for short periods of time, and I was taking care of my family. I was looking for something to kind of sink my teeth into, and this just came along.

It was really interesting because, I don’t know if you know a lot about Jack, but he is an actor, and he is also an acting teacher. He is this very enthusiastic and sweet person. He has a very specific kind of personality. I had a Skype interview with him.

I had read the script, and I thought that it was really beautifully written. It was very quirky, and just different. It reminded me of the tone of some of my favorite TV shows that I watched while I was growing up as a kid in the ’70s and the ’80s. It had such beautiful heart, and I knew that Patrick and Matt [Bomer] were of interest, and I thought that was a very interesting cast.

But the thing that sold me on it was that I spent an hour on Skype with Jack, which honestly felt like a therapy session. I just loved him, and I felt very compelled to have the experience of working with him. The film budget was so tiny, so I had no idea if anyone would ever see this film. I remember talking about it with my agents and stuff, and there were other projects that were bigger, and I was like, “You know what? I just really want to go make this movie. I don’t know exactly why, but I really want to work with this man. I know that it’s important for me in my life.”

So the main reason of wanting to take this was for me. I actually did learn some things from him that I have sort of carried on with me, which I am very grateful for.

Paste: That’s fantastic. Is it anything that you can be specific about? Or is it more general?

Tyler: Well, you can go online and look at his stuff; it’s all sort of “self-help-y,” positive affirmation kinds of things. He talks about how we all have a negative voice in our heads, and he calls it The Vulture. You know that feeling, especially as a creative person, where you have to go with an idea, and everything is childlike, and you’re just writing something that comes from your heart, or when you’re acting on impulse, there will be this voice that comes in your mind that says, “Oh, I don’t know. That’s not right.” And you start questioning everything.

He talks a lot about that negative voice in his workshops and in his writing. He also has all of these positive affirmations. I have one up on the wall in my bathroom. It’s one of the ones that always stuck with me that says, “I release and destroy my need to be perfect.” You know, we all have this idea that we’ve got to get it right and that everything must be perfect. His whole teaching is to just go in and do it. You have nothing to lose and nothing to gain in life.

I thought that was really interesting. I can be a perfectionist sometimes and become quite hard on myself, and probably on others too, just in my head. I also have a crazy attention to detail, so I notice things, and this really helped me to let go of some of that stuff.

Paste: That really reminds me of two of my favorite things. The first of which is a quote, and it’s a God quote, but it will resonate no matter how you perceive God. But these are the most powerful two sentences that I’ve ever heard anybody say: “There is nothing that you can do to make God love you any more. There is nothing that you can do to make God love you any less.” It’s who you are that counts, not what you do.

Tyler: Yeah, yeah.

Paste: And also what you were saying in reference to The Vulture, that’s so true. Now I want to look up this guy and learn more about him.

Tyler: It’s amazing. It’s super self-help-y, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m obsessed with it. I’m always reading books and things like that. But, as an actor, and I hate talking about acting, but the lessons that I learned from him were like these little seeds that he planted. They are things that have stuck with me and helped me as a human being in this world. I’m like, “You know what? Fuck it. I’m just going to go for this. I’m not going to think too much about this.” But, you really have to work hard to get that negative voice to go to bed, to get to the point where you’re like, “Hi, I hear you, but I’m not going to listen to you.”

Paste: Exactly. Just because you hear them doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.

Tyler: He taught me things that were so fucking brilliant. I’ve always had anxiety problems like stage fright and nervousness, not when I’m actually on set working with people, but when I have to do any type of public speaking or anything like that. I don’t like big crowds or auditioning, so I have this habit of saying, “I’m really nervous,” or “I’m scared.”

Jack said, “You’re not nervous, and you’re not scared. You’re excited, and your body is responding to that.” He sort of trained me to think that way. I now say, “I’m really excited, and I’m a little bit nervous.” [Laughs.]

It’s so interesting when you think about it like that. When you feel those feelings in you’re body—you’re like, “This is horrible. I’m scared. I don’t feel well.” But he was like, “No, no. You’re just excited. It’s a good feeling.”

Paste: That’s so amazing, and it’s such a self-talk thing. You feel your emotions, and you might immediately want to put a negative spin on it like, “Oh, I’m embarrassed. I’m worried.”

Tyler: Yeah it’s like, why do we over-analyze everything all the time?

Paste: Well, that’s a really amazing gift that he gave you. I have even more respect for this movie now.

Tyler: When we actually got to set things were a little rushed, and we didn’t get tons of time to experience those parts of things, but I’m so glad that I met him. The experience was very fun. It was a loving sort of collaboration.

Paste: That’s fantastic. So the movie is set in the ’70s, which is a time that you did not really grow up in, how did you get in the shoes of that? I guess it’s a ’70s view of the future.

Tyler: Yeah, I think that the issues and the things that the characters were going through were just timeless ideas. I mean, the relationship that I had with the captain was slightly old-fashioned in this world. I’m the second in charge. Since I’m a woman, he thinks that I’m a sort of ball buster. All of the other women on the ship are criticizing me because I’m a working woman, and they’re all either mothers or wives. He’s uncomfortable with my abilities, I would say. That was an interesting thing for me.