Actor-singer Juliette Lewis makes big impression in small role
BY GENE TRIPLETT
Juliette Lewis has come by her Hollywood rock ‘n’ roll wild child image honestly, picking film roles and playing music that are dangerous and different.
Since stunning movie audiences when she was barely 18 as Danielle Bowden in Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake of “Cape Fear” (earning a supporting Oscar nomination), the Los Angeles native has tackled some of the edgiest characters out there, including a serial slayer in Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” a psycho-killer’s girlfriend in Dominic Sena’s “Kalifornia,” a corrupt cop’s mistress in Peter Medak’s cult favorite “Romeo is Bleeding,” a worldly-wise young drifter in Lasse Hallstrom’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” a mentally challenged woman in Garry Marshall’s “The Other Sister,” and a nine-months-pregnant kidnap victim in Christopher McQuarrie’s “The Way of the Gun.”
In 2003, Lewis took a break from acting to satisfy her musical urges, which were just as exotic as her dramatic appetites, forming a band called Juliette and the Licks, shaking up a punk-pop concoction that was equal parts Iggy Pop, P.J. Harvey and ’90s alt-rock, and filling two full-length albums with it (“You’re Speaking My Language,” “Four On the Floor”) in 2005-06.
In 2009, she went solo, expanding the colors of her musical palette — with a touch here and there of the blues — on “Terra Incognita,” before turning back to acting in earnest.
And earnest she is in Tony Goldwyn’s “Conviction,” the true story of working-class Massachusetts woman Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) who put herself through law school and spent 18 years proving her imprisoned brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) innocent of murder.
Lewis is already drawing critical raves for her brief but indelible performance as an unprincipled, low-living woman whose testimony puts Kenny in jail.
She kicked off our recent phone interview by complimenting my “nice accent,” of all things, making me self-conscious about my Okie drawl. So, I asked about our mutual Oklahoma City acquaintance, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips.
A: Well, you know, I met him a couple of times at his shows so I don’t know him past that, other than I’m a big fan of his, and he seems like a real good guy.
Q: The reason I asked is because you actually appear in the Flaming Lips documentary “The Fearless Freaks.”
A: I know, I remember that show. Me and my sister went there, and we had our own animal suits that we rented. We didn’t know that they gave you suits, so we came with our own. And I got to be an animal onstage.
Q: What kind of animal were you?
A: I think I was a mouse.
Q: When was that?
A: Oh, that was like six years ago. It was before I was touring with my own band.
Q: Bet that was fun. Well, let’s talk about “Conviction.” You were fantastic in this film. With the little time that you were in it, you made more of an impression on me than anyone else in the cast.
A: Oh wow, I appreciate that. Yeah it’s been really wild because I didn’t make movies for about five years because I was just making records and touring, and that became my main bread and butter. So I turned stuff down because I just wanted to give everything to my music. So it was only last year I started doing films again. So it’s been really exciting for me to just play all kinds of different roles.
No matter how big or small the part is … this is a perfect movie that gave me the opportunity to do something I’d never done in film before, which was to completely transform. I didn’t want you to see me anywhere, any of my mannerisms. And also I never played a part where in one scene I had to go through so many transitions or emotions, you know, like between feeling guilty and grief-stricken to vengeful and then being totally disconnected. And then at the end being manipulative.
So yeah, it was a really wild thing to be a part of.
Q: Did you pursue this role, or did they come to you with it?
A: Oh no, Tony (Goldwyn) just offered it to me, Tony the director. And I just make a decision based on “does this give me something new to do in film?” And I felt it did, but I’m also slowly finding my way back into movies again, and I feel like this is a new chapter in my career, or it’s the beginning of one, you know, in my 30s now. This is the most dramatic thing I’ve done in the last 10 years. I was out on “The Switch” earlier this year, which is a comedy, and I’ll be in “Due Date” which is another comedy in November.
Q: What kind of preparation or research process did you go through for this role in “Conviction”?
A: This movie was really interesting because there was a world of research. Because it’s a true story and this person is a real person. I never met her, but I had all the ingredients there, that she lied and she kept lying, and I knew she was an alcoholic. I studied with a dialect coach, a woman named Liz Himelstein, to get her accent together.
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