It's a rare note of introspection—and then Liam is once again distracted by a squirrel climbing a tree. "Look! It's like a cartoon," he says, spotting another scampering rodent. "You're not real!" We've played only four holes, but after blowing a few putts, Liam throws his hands up: "This is horrible. Let's go to the next hole. If something doesn't work out, just give up."
"It went really well. I shot, like, way under what you should shoot. As Liam hands the clerk his clubs, he plays fast and loose with the facts—in actuality, we've bagged golfing entirely to go in search of Cajun burgers—showcasing a skill that may serve him well in the coming months: the ability to project a good face when circumstances fall short of expectations.
Our rented clubs returned, we head to Miley's car. Liam does have his own wheels—he drives a four-door BMW—but he prefers Miley's Merc because it's faster: "This one time, we pulled up to a light. This guy started revving his engine at me. I was like, 'Is he for real?' The light went green. And vroom—I killed him." There's another reason he likes his girlfriend's car: "It's all about how you look in this town."
It's a bit of forced bravado that manifests as an unintentionally awkward sound bite coming from a guy who has coasted on his looks. That may (or may not) change. Since wrapping The Hunger Games, he's filmed AWOL, an indie that's looking for distribution, and The Expendables 2 (out this summer). The titles alone echo the disposability of the stars and the tenuousness of Liam's position should The Hunger Games and its sequels fail to deliver.
It's a high-class problem, having your face splashed on posters, billboards, and action figures before anyone can spell your name. Chris knows the feeling and thinks his brother's blissful ignorance is the best preparation for the onslaught of attention and colossal expectations. "He's at ease with it," he says. "I don't know why. He very much doesn't let things worry him too much. I think he's aware of what's real and what's not." Indeed, Liam has a guileless candor that's refreshing. He's not overcoached, and he's not wired to overthink. He doesn't drone on about his craft or how much he idolizes actors' actors like Depp or Brando. Rather, he admires Stallone, who had the guts to write Rocky and insist on starring in it—then milked the opportunity for all it was worth. When Liam tells you that he prepared for The Last Song by "learning the shit out of my lines," it's his way of saying that he may be some kid from the Australian Bush, but that doesn't mean he's going back to laying floors.
As we head down Pico Boulevard, Liam tells me about his desire to put down roots in L.A. Chris just got married, after all. "I'm sure I'll get married one day," he says. "But I'm only 22." He immediately worries that his comment might become a headline about Miley—they've all been about her. Liam was there at her 19th-birthday party, which exploded in the tabloids after she joked about her Bob Marley cake and how she "smokes way too much fucking weed" on video. For the first time, Liam is angry. "She's in a room full of her best friends," he says, almost breaking a sweat. "And you have one person who comes in there and videos it. The poor girl can't have one night where she can feel safe in her own world. It's ridiculous."
As we approach Bourbon Street Shrimp & Grill and look for parking, Liam seems concerned that the same fate could await him. As he transitions from arm candy to bankable star, the long reach of TMZ will only stretch further—into his every private moment. The shining center of the Twilight effect is the unrelenting glare of klieg lights, the scrutiny and dissection. "It is what it is," Liam says. "Whatever. If it happens, there's nothing you can do. But if—"
He cuts himself off with a bang on the steering wheel as a parking spot up ahead gets snatched by another driver. "Give me a park," he says, using the Aussie vernacular. "Give me a park." As we come to a stop at the light, he looks over at me and furrows his brow, as if to offer some revelation. "Um, what was I saying?"