Though she's been acting since age 16, Liv Tyler doesn't love the limelight.

The star of films such as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Incredible Hulk," "Jersey Girl" and "That Thing You Do" says, "I never wanted to be ... the superstar, to be the center of attention.

"I always wanted to be working with groups of people that would teach me and elevate me and inspire me, so I always sort of thrive in the company of other people," she says, during an interview in the living room at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont.

She has found just those kinds of people with her latest project, HBO's spooky new series "The Leftovers," which premiered June 29, a mysterious tale about the unexplained disappearance of 2 percent of the population and a cultish group that tries to gain control.

Tyler plays one of the "leftovers" who's being cultivated by the cult. But just before the script arrived, she was considering quitting.

"I started praying to the universe: 'Tell me now, am I meant to keep going, keep focusing on being an actress, or am I meant to pursue my other passions and dreams?' I think being second generation to the entertainment industry and being bitten by the bug -- that happens when you're a performer in some kind of way," says Tyler, between sips of Earl Grey tea.

"It's made me a little bit head-shy about the whole experience of fame and attention. I'm kind of shy in a lot of ways, and don't like a lot of attention, which is strange. Whenever I get a lot of attention, I get a little bit like, 'OK, thanks, thanks, thanks.' It kind of goes in one ear and out the other, and I just want to take my high heels off and crawl back to my room."

But Tyler has never been able to do that. Born to model/singer Bebe Buell, she is the biological daughter of Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame, though her mother lived with musician Todd Rundgren at the time of her birth. She thought Rundgren was her father until she was 8.

"I think I've always wanted to have some kind of a normal life, just growing up in the household of entertainers and seeing that experience, because it's very extreme," she says. "There's big emotions and big feelings, and one minute you're being home and you're totally normal and everything's in order, and the next thing everything's chaotic and crazy and nuts and full of mystery and new people -- and it's sort of back and forth. So I've tried very hard in my life to keep something sacred for myself and sort of private."

She aims to keep that balance for her 9-year-old son, Milo. "I actually just bought a country house; I found a place that I felt good about, so that's our next adventure -- to sort of incorporate that into our life. ... I'm always dreaming of moving to the country on a farm with Milo, where he can be totally free, and I can be totally dedicated to being his mom. That's my secret fantasy."

Tyler, 36, is divorced from British musician Royston Langdon. "When Roy and I got divorced ... I really had to retreat for a couple of years to sort of heal that and make sure that I was OK and that he was OK and Milo was OK," she says.

"I think it's easy to sort of sublimate all those feelings and just go to work and try to avoid those feelings. ... (But) when things come up for me, I have to go toward them, instead of away from them. My dad always said when I was a little girl ..., 'There's no way out but through.' And I always think about that when things come up. Be brave and deal with this now. And go fight the beast, and slay the dragon."

"The Leftovers" is Tyler's first television project, which required an adjustment from the pace of film work. "I'm used to seeing a whole script and knowing the whole schedule," she says. "With this, we get the script five days before an episode ....

"At first that was tricky for me being comfortable with being uncomfortable, she says. "But now I love it, because it's an incredible challenge, and I don't have that much time to think about it. The truth is that's how we are as people: We don't really know what's going to happen tomorrow or next week."

Those who see Tyler's gentle demeanor often overlook her resilient core. "People think I'm timid," she says. "I've never thought of myself as timid, but ... people think I'm quite soft-spoken, and I come across as being that way."

Not so, she insists. "I remember those little moments when something sort of snaps inside of you, and you're aware of standing up for yourself and for what you believe in. I remember feeling that at such a young age. ... Having this job at such a young age, you have to be very, very strong in order to be around all these different kinds of people and in those situations.

"It's not for the timid at all," she adds laughing, "or you can't survive it."