LIV TYLER TAKES A BREAK
She sunk her teeth slowly into the bun. She took her time. She wanted to savour everything: the taste, the texture, even the smell. Above all perhaps she wanted the expectation, the sense of knowing that any second the teeth would emerge from the soft, yielding bread and crash through the lettuce into the sliced tomatoes. That reached, she knew she stood on the doorstep to paradise: she was only one bite, one half a second, away from the thick smear of ketchup and the circle of chopped meat, fried and frizzed into perfection - the heart of the matter. Liv Tyler was eating a hamburger.
"And that is the first thing you feel like eating?" her fiancé Royston Langdon had remarked, eyes widening fast. She'd nodded, grinning like a child. "I'm an American girl," she'd said, "I'm back on American soil. And I'm starving."
All of this was true. She had just returned home from the biggest acting assignment in her short, charmed life, shooting "The Lord of the Rings" in far-off New Zealand. In so many ways she was grateful to have been cast: her part as the elf princess Arwen may have been small but here was a major, major project, three movies shot all at once, guaranteeing blockbuster exposure across the world for three years in a row. And the money! And the residuals! This she knew would give her career a tremendous boost. And yet, to be shooting for fifteen continuous months, far from friends and loved ones, to be on call week after week, stuck in the same costumes, the same hairstyle: that was the hard part.
Stuck at the same weight too. That was the hardest part of all. "You mustn't gain weight," the director Peter Jackson had told her; "I know it's inhuman, but this is the movies. No fluctuations allowed. We can't have you slim in the first film, and a chubbybum in the second. Besides, you're playing an elf. I've never heard of a fat elf. Sorry if I sound blunt," he'd said, "but I'm from New Zealand." It had even been written into her contract: during shooting she had to maintain a weight of 126 pounds, or face financial penalties. "It's for your own sake, Liv," her agent had told her, "you know you have a tendency to gain."
She'd sighed. She'd buckled down to it. She'd eaten like a mouse. For this she'd had years of practise, suppressing her natural appetite, shaving her five-foot ten inch body down to a conventional beauty machine fit for fashion photographers, movie cameramen, and the eyes of the world. Fast food was banished. Scarcely any alcohol. Slimline this and that. Day after day, month after month.
Until this moment. In her ears she could still hear the director's cry of "And it's a wrap!": the cry that said her torment was over, that she could rest, relax, and join the rest of the human race. So, finally at her place in the Hollywood hills, she was doing just that. She had ordered a takeaway. It had just arrived.
And now, Liv thought, it was time for the French fries. Bronzed, glistening with salt and calories, they tumbled over the edge of their cardboard container, a portion of coleslaw and sachets of ketchup lined up alongside. To Liv, even the cardboard looked good enough to eat. She picked out a few fries with her fingers, wafted their aroma under her nose, then led them gently into her mouth. Her teeth crunched down. "Oh-h-h-h," she murmured. She chewed slowly. She was in ecstasy.
And then the drink. She had ordered two. A 7-Up: silly, she knew, as there was bound to be some in the fridge already. But she wanted the complete take-out experience. She needed those bubbles zinging through her system. And a chocolate milkshake: how she'd craved over the months for its luxurious kick, for the feeling it gave of drowning in bliss. She thrust her straw through the container, sucked, and saw the brown slurp rising inexorably into her mouth - her private kingdom once again, where no movie director could dictate who or what went in or out. She wanted to keep it that way.
Liv flashed her searchlight smile. She was home at last. She was free.
"And then I think I'll have the sea bass. That's a big fish isn't it, Anton? I want something big. Does it come with French fries?"
"For you, Ms Tyler, it can come with the Taj Mahal." Anton lightly bowed his head.
Liv glanced around at her favourite Beverly Hills restaurant, the Blue Parrot. "Oh it's so good to be back!" she cried. And she beamed at the waiter, at her agent Sandy, sitting opposite, and beyond them at the whole world.
"I have this script," Sandy was saying as Anton scuttled away.
"Sandy, I'm on sabbatical. On vacation. Taking time out." She stroked the handles of her knife and fork, anxious to get them working.
"I know, I know, but I'm getting pressure. They'll go with someone else. You've been back a month now. Couldn't you just read a few pages? It's a lot of fun. You go the moon with Johnny Depp…"
But as she looked into Liv's face she knew her client wasn't listening. She sensed something else as well. She couldn't find Liv's usual cheekbones. They weren't there. The face was smoother, rounder. Damn it, she thought, she's put on a bit of weight.
"This script, Liv - "
But Liv's mind was elsewhere. She was thinking ahead, beyond the Caesar salad shortly to come, beyond the sea bass, to the Blue Parrot's desserts. Was this going to be a pecan pie day? She visualised the nuts squatting an inch thick inside the pie's crust, jostling each other, edged in by succulent, sticky goo. She imagined her teeth cracking down on the wedge and opening up the pie's glories - the clash of textures, hard and soft, the richness, the heaviness. She also looked forward to enjoying something she'd been taught was sinful, something her body would regret.
Liv stroked her stomach absentmindedly. "You didn't happen to see what the dessert specials were, did you?" Sandy's look suggested an explanation was necessary. "I'm so hungry these days," she said with a giggle, "but I'm just letting things ride."
From across the table, Sandy considered Liv's breasts and tried to estimate her waistline. Was that the outline of a midriff roll or just an innocent crease in her sweater? She didn't want to make an issue of this.
"Liv, enjoy your vacation, but just remember, you've got to go back before the cameras one day. You'll have publicity to do, the Tonight Show - "
"One day," she said, dreamily, "a long way off". Her eyes lit up. Anton had arrived with the Caesar salad.
Liv put aside the book and laid back in her seat by the pool. In the two months since she'd returned from New Zealand she'd been through her Harold Robbins paperbacks, survived one chapter of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," and was now embarked on the poems of Rod McKuen. She'd read one at a time, savouring the words slowly and the thoughts that lay within them - thoughts simple but profound, about love and nature and being oneself.
"His stuff's so beautiful, Royston. He should be our Poet Laureate. Listen to this: "I am the poem. The poem is me."
Royston, still a little the worse from carousing the night before, was carrying a tray of drinks - three bottled beers for him, 7-Ups and a margarita for her - and looked at his girlfriend, long and luscious, sunning herself, naked except for her bikini. "Beautiful?" He belched involuntarily. "You're the beautiful one."
"That would sound much better, Royston, if you hadn't belched inbetween."
"Sorry. That's what comes of being in a rock band." Suddenly, his eyes were drawn to the gentle curve of flesh on her midriff. As she sat up to reach her margarita the flesh buckled and bulged, forming two comfortable rolls of fat sandwiched between her thighs and breasts. "Hey," he said, admiringly, "you're putting on some weight. You're getting quite a little tummy!"
Liv glanced down at the fruits of her increased food intake. "Do you mind?" she said. She fingered the flesh around her belly-button. She'd known for weeks she was putting on weight; even if she had never looked in a mirror or stood on the scales she would have felt her body steadily softening and rounding out as she soaped herself down in the shower, applied suntan lotion, or zipped up her favourite slacks. The last time she stood on the scales, the dial told her she weighed 140 pounds: an amount that would have meant she was booted off "Lord of Rings" for good or at least got her stomach stitched. Now, she reasoned, the fourteen extra pounds were neither here or there - except, that is, on her softened stomach, her widening thighs, and the breasts just starting to march out into the world. She had no engagements. No cameras were prying. She didn't mind the new pounds at all. But did Royston?
"No, honey," he said, "I don't mind. There's more of you to love." He kissed her on the cheek, sat down beside her, ripped open a can, and settled into her own reading matter - a supermarket tabloid.
"Tell me if you want any help with the long words," Liv said with her delicious high giggle. Then she leaned back, closed her eyes, rested her hands on her tummy, and purred with contentment. The sun beat down. Time stretched out benignly before her. Peter Jackson and the Wellington studios of "Lord of the Rings" were far away. There was nothing to do, nothing to hurry for.
Royston suddenly thrust the tabloid in front of her. "What's this word?"
She peered briefly, then handed the paper back. "Liposuction."
A light switched on in Royston's head. "Ah," he said. Then he smiled broadly.
Liv looked at him out of the corner of her eyes. "You were joking, right?"
"Of course I was joking."
He turned a page. Another page. "But look at this!" He pointed to a picture of a young woman snapped walking along a beach, stomach hanging out, heavy thighs, flesh coloured an extra-lurid pink by the cheap paper and bad printing.
Liv shot upright, grabbed the magazine and panicked. "That's not me, is it?"
It was Mariah Carey, looking relaxed, pretty, and a little plump. "Oh, it's Mariah. Poor Mariah. Why doesn't she just put on weight and have done with it? It's obviously what her body wants. Up and down. Up and down. Being thin didn't stop her record company dumping her, so what has she got to lose?"
"She's not losing her figure, Royston. She's just acquiring a new one."
Royston looked across fondly at his sweetheart, softening fast around the middle. "Following in her footsteps, are we?"
Liv giggled again and let her thoughts drift off in the sun. She considered reading another poem by Rod McKuen, but found it hard to summon the energy to lift the book and turn a page. She gazed at the pool, turquoise blue, and wondered when she last took a swim: weeks ago, it seemed. Then she turned her mind to the contents of her fridge, a favourite topic. Today she imagined the freezer compartment. She imagined she was two inches tall, undertaking an inventory, counting the giant pots of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, giving the cartons an affectionate pat as she moved along, clipboard in hand.
Advancing as in a dream, she saw herself lifting off one of the lids, staring down at the swirls of purple, orange and black, thickly speckled with nuts. It could have been a Jackson Pollock painting. She imagined a spoon digging in, excavating, and carrying the precious load to her mouth. She licked her lips.
"Liv," Royston said suddenly, breaking into her reverie, "do you know what's for lunch?"
"Ice cream," Liv purred, "it has to be ice cream."
Mia, Liv's half-sister, was currently visiting, and they were having a fabulous time. They had danced to Liv's 1950s-style jukebox, shaking legs and swinging hips. They had sat by the pool. They had made and eaten a black currant cheesecake. Now, both in sweat pants with shirts hanging loose, they were sprawled on the sofa, mouths agape, transfixed by a documentary on PBS, "The Secret Life of Sardinesa." A shoal of sardines as wide as Australia was swimming vigorously through the sea's blue murk: a mass of wriggling bodies, curling up and down, purpose and destination unknown.
"I never knew sardines were fish," Liv said. "Well I suppose I did, but I've never seen them swimming around like that."
"You thought they just lived in tins in the supermarket?"
"Yes. No. Oh, I don't know, I never thought about it. The natural world's amazing, isn't it?" Both of them at the same time reached for the chocolate-chip cookies, strategically placed on the coffee table. Both of them laughed.
"I can tell why you're putting on weight!" Mia cried. "You'll soon be getting as big as me! It must be in the genes."
Liv smiled and patted her stomach. "No, Mia, it's in the food."
Mia had been visiting for a week now. She'd been away on a photo shoot abroad - the first plus-size model to visit Siberia - and hadn't seen her sister in months. Liv too had been away, basking with Royston away from LA's bright lights on a secret holiday in Fiji.
Escape had become essential. She'd grown tired of getting chivvying calls from her agent dangling film projects before her, filling her mailbox with scripts to read. "I've worked solidly for over a year, damn it," she'd said. "I need a break." But Sandy had persisted. "Liv," she'd bleated, "how can you pass up the chance to play Lady Macbeth?" For a few seconds, indeed, that had been tempting. Ethan Hawke was set as Macbeth, and Uma Thurman had been set too, but then she got pregnant, bailed out, and they wanted Liv. Distinctly flattering. But she'd finally said no. There'd be work enough to do when the publicity machine for the "Rings" films got rolling. She needed her rest.
So they'd stolen away, leaving no phone numbers, finding a love-nest far away where no-one knew or recognised them, where days were spent horizontal in bed, horizontal on the beach, loving, reading, drinking, eating. After six weeks, Royston had to leave to prepare for a tour with his band, but Liv lingered two happy weeks longer with no-one for company except Rod McKuen, the sun, the beach, and the room service menu. There was seafood smothered with coconut cream. There were delicious pancakes filled with rice. There were Indian dishes, chunky meat curries. Seaweed. Breadfruit. And across the way there was a pizza parlour and a McDonald's: perfect for when her tastebuds got nostalgic.
She was now, she knew, seriously heavier. Before her trip 140 pounds had grown to 147. By the time she got back home to her bathroom scales two months later, she had gained another twenty. She had rounded out all over, transformed herself from an awkwardly lanky young woman into a beauty fast approaching the voluptuous, with ample hips, a generous waist, melon breasts, and a chubby-cheeked face that only needed slight encouragement to bring out its hidden treasure - a double chin.
Mia was very impressed. "You've really fattened up, haven't you?" she'd told her sister, feeling the fat around her waist as soon as they hugged. "You told me you'd been gaining weight, but I never expected it was this much."
"Well, I really put on the pounds in Fiji. It was kind of chicken feed before."
"You were eating chicken feed?"
And out had come Liv's bell-like laugh. "Everything but!" They had talked a lot about it: about different body sizes and society's expectations, about the importance of being oneself and not being a factory product. They remembered their childhoods, when they had both been on the chubby side. Goaded by agents and the constant reiteration that beauty and riches lay ahead, the teenage Liv had burned off the puppy fat, while Mia's had just multiplied. Now, it seemed, Liv was finally coming into her own, claiming her lost kingdom as a woman born to be plump.
But would she slim down when the movie cameras next called? That was the big question. Liv was uncertain. She never wanted to scale herself back to her "Lord of the Rings" dimensions; that much she knew. She loved her new body, its curves, its softness, the way bulges suddenly formed as she sat naked on the bed's edge, the way her fingers in certain areas could dive into her flesh like a finger sinking into butter. She also loved the excuse to buy new clothes. Thank God "Lord of the Rings" was all wrapped up.
But could Hollywood accept the girl who used to be so finely sculptured, so long and slender, parading about with a prominent belly, almost 40 pounds heavier? She thought not. Would she have the courage to stick to her guns and tell Hollywood to accept her fatter or take the proverbial running jump? She didn't know. And how much further was she going to go? Had her appetite taken her as far as it could? Royston had loved her getting bigger, but there might come a time when he'd step in and say, "Liv, take a look at yourself, you really need to diet". So many questions; so few concrete answers.
By now the sardine documentary was winding down. Sharks and dolphins were moving in, worrying the sardines into a tight ball close to the ocean surface, cutting off any escape route. They were preparing to chew through them.
"That's the trouble about being a fish," Liv said as the end credits rolled, "everybody eats everybody else."
"Now what shall we do?" Liv sounded plaintive.
Another pause. Mia thought. "I know what might be fun. You remember when we used to play dressing up? Why don't you try to put on some of your old clothes, the ones you can't fit into?"
Liv looked confused. "But I can't fit into them."
"That's the point. It'll help you celebrate getting fatter. Don't you just love wearing tight clothing?"
Liv still felt uncertain, but Mia was family, so she agreed. They went off into the bedroom. "And lose those sweat pants!" Mia cried. "I want to see jeans, old jeans."
Rummaging through her closets, Liv found a pair she wore in "Cookie's Fortune", only a few years before. On the last day of shooting she'd got the director, Robert Altman, to sign them on the rump as a joke. They were very special. "Oh God," she cried, "I hope these still fit!" Gingerly, she began pulling them up her legs. The cut was generous, so they squeezed successfully over her thighs and made it round her bottom. But at the front, she quickly realised there was no hope of pulling the sides together and zipping them up all the way; her fat sat resplendent, the outline of her belly swallowed up along with her waistline in the flesh girdling her middle.
"Oh my, look at this! There's no way I can zip these!"
"Liv," she said, "I think you've put on some weight!" Liv grinned proudly. Mia had been right; this was fun. "Ok, now for a top. Give me a tight blouse or t-shirt."
Movement was limited inside her jeans but Liv bent down to pull out a drawer and sorted through her collection. Some t-shirts were historic items: souvenirs of Aerosmith tours from her dad, one scrawled with something in Italian from the time she made "Stealing Beauty," a more recent one especially made for her after she appeared in "Onegin." "Great movie," the t-shirt read on the front, "pity nobody went to see it." "Or could pronounce the title," read the words on the back. That was the one she fetched out, pulling it carefully over her succulent raven hair, negotiating her arms through the sleeves, easing it slowly over her newly ample breasts, edging it down over as much of her stomach as there was material to cover. She could hardly breathe.
They looked together in the mirror. The signs of struggle were everywhere, in the way the material puckered and rode up Liv's chest, leaving her belly-button and its wonders wide open to the world; in the way her plump upper arms roared out of the short sleeves like storm water gushing from a drainpipe.
Mia playfully cleared her throat. "Liv, was this a medium size?"
"A-ha. I've really put on the pounds, haven't I? Thank God 'The Lord of the Rings' is finished."
"If you suck in your gut can you zip up those jeans?"
"Mia, you don't realise, I am sucking in my gut." She started prodding her stomach. "God," she said with wonder and delight, "this fat never ends!"
It was then that the telephone rang. Liv suddenly felt vulnerable, embarrassed, intruded upon. She looked uncertain. "I won't answer it."
"It's not a picture phone, Liv. No-one can see you."
"I guess not. Besides, it might be Royston, calling from - where was the tour going next? Budapest? Birmingham? Some place with a B."
She picked up the receiver. "Hello?" she said, confidence creeping back.
"Liv? It's Peter. Having a great rest, I hope?" Confidence wavered. Why was Peter Jackson calling? Shouldn't he be busy with the digital effects and the other business of post-production? She listened nervously. "You're going to kill me for this," he said, "but there's been a complete balls-up with one of your scenes, and we need to re-shoot it. Here in Wellington. New lines, new everything. Maybe a week's work. Isn't it a bitch?"
Confidence disappeared completely. She froze in panic as she caught her reflection in the bedroom mirror, and saw her tummy looming out of her jeans. "But I thought you'd stopped shooting. It was a wrap, you said."
"It was a wrap. Definitely. But then I had to unwrap it. You remember the scene when you robbed the bank?"
Liv blinked hard. "I robbed a bank? In 'The Lord of the Rings'?"
"Yes. In the first one. You remember the scene with Gene Hackman when you both waved oxy-acetylene torches around?"
She looked at Mia, hoping a familiar face might help. "I did a scene with Gene Hackman?" Mia shrugged. "I was so famished I must have been out of it."
"I must have been out of it too," said Peter, "writing a scene like that. I don't know what I was thinking. Kind of post-modern fun, maybe. Anyway, it doesn't work. I've stitched the film together, and it just doesn't work. I gotta replace it."
Liv gathered a few wits about her. "Peter, there are no banks, there's no banking system, there's no oxy-acetylene things in those novels. Everything happens zillions of years ago."
"Don't rub it in, will you? Just tell me, please, that you can come and film, just for a few days. I've got a few of the other elves together. You'll ride a horse. It'll be nice. A nice new scene." Silence from Liv. "You haven't frizzed your hair, cut it really short, or done anything silly, have you? Costumes and everything have got to match."
By now all colour had drained from her face. "No, no. I'm just the same."
"Weight's the same?"
She gulped. What was that sound she heard - was it the sky falling on her head? She took a deep breath. "More or less," she said.
"That's great. Look, Sandy has got all the details you need for this. But I thought I'd better phone personally. It's a bitch isn't it? Just when we thought it was all sewn up."
"Aha." Proper words couldn't come.
"Thanks, Liv, you're a trouper. I can see Oscars!"
And then he was gone. The receiver was dead. She stood in front of the mirror, mouth gaping, fingering the stomach hanging over her jeans, eyeing the wide hips, the breasts, the t-shirt bursting at the seams.
"Shit," she said. "Shit, shit, shit."
Then Liv's face eased. The crisis was over. Resolve gripped her, and she patted her flesh with a smile. "Oh, I've had it. They can all go to hell. No more diets! Liv Tyler is going to be fat. Permanently."
She took Mia by the hand. "Come on, sister," she said, beaming, "let's make another cheesecake."
Copyright, Swordfish, 2002
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