Juliette Lewis has been recognized as one of Hollywood’s most talented and versatile actors of her generation since she first stunned audiences and critics alike with her Oscar-nominated performance as ‘Danielle Bowden’ in Cape Fear. To date, she has worked with some of the most revered directors in the industry, including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Lasse Hallström, Oliver Stone, and Garry Marshall. Whether lending dramatic authenticity or a natural comedic flair to her roles, Lewis graces the screen with remarkable range and an original and captivating style.
After a six-year hiatus from film to pursue her burgeoning music career exclusively, Lewis announced her return to acting, much to the delight of film fans. Lewis can be seen in August: Osage County, based on the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-Award winning play by Tracy Letts. She plays the role of Karen, the self-deluding youngest daughter and is joined by an ensemble cast that includes Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor. She has also landed a lead role in the indie films: ‘Kelly and Cal,’ alongside “Cougar Town” star Josh Hopkins and ‘Hellion’ alongside “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul. This spring, Juliette can be seen in M. Night Shyamalan’s Fox Event Series “Wayward Pines.”
‘Kelly & Cal’ serves as one of Juleitte’s most ambitious roles to date. In the film, Lewis plays a punk-rocker turned suburban mom, Kelly, who is nostalgic for a life she can no longer have and uncertain of a future she doesn’t yet fit in. Seventeen-year-old Cal is frustrated at his lack of control over the hand he’s been dealt. When the two strike up an unlikely friendship, it’s the perfect spark needed to thrust them both back to life. Directed by Jen McGowan, ‘Kelly & Cal’ is a true indie gem. The dynamic chemistry of Juliette Lewis and Jonny Weston truly lights up with screen in ‘Kelly & Cal.’ Juliette Lewis delivers a standout performance in a film that explores overcoming the obstacles that life sends our way, the ones we create for ourselves and the art of baring our souls.
Jason Price of the mighty Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Juliette Lewis to discuss her role in the film, the challenges of bringing the character form script to screen, her evolution as an actress, her musical side and what the future hold might for hold her.
We’ve become accustomed to seeing you on the silver screen. I wanted to go back to your early years. What made you take the plunge as an actor and what kept you inspired through the years?
It’s funny. I was just thinking that a misconception of me would be that I am a rock ‘n’ roller who acts in movies sometimes! [laughs] But my dad is a character actor. I grew up knowing movie making as a line of work that is very colorful with long hours, meeting interesting people and you tell stories. I am always thankful that I had a real pragmatic and realistic view of what movie making was because I grew up on my dad’s movie sets. He did a lot of Clint Eastwood westerns, “Laverne & Shirley,” and everything under the sun that you could do as a working actor. I always knew that was the line of work if you lived in your imagination, liked to create characters and tell stories. I did that from an early age. I guess the first seed of acting was the hours where I played make believe with my sister, where you are dreaming up characters when we used to play behind my house. Those were my early years. Then I started as a teenager and movies gave me a sense of focus and actually kept me out of trouble! Ironically! [laughs] People think it is funny but it was great because it gave me a voice and somewhere to channel this energy and an intuition because, since I was little, I have had a lot of empathy of other people, particularly the underdogs. As I look back on my career, I am proud and happy that I always gravitate towards the less common characters that I have seen on scene and not the two-dimensional characters. I love contradictions. I love the people I see everyday that fill our world, so I never gravitated toward film to be cool or to be liked or accepted.
You took a little time off to pursue your musical side but returned with a bang! How did you get involved with “Kelly & Cal” and what was it that spoke to you about this film?
It was a trip! I was always going to sing and play music and I did that when I approached age 30. I just took off, wrote songs, formed a band and toured the world. I did that for a good seven years. I didn’t make movies at that time. I sold records and played shows. I will probably make a documentary about it at some point. That actually made me more patient, hungry and passionate for acting in a totally different way. As you get older, you really get into the experience of things. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. It is a cliche but it’s said for a reason! “Kelly & Cal” was a little diamond of a script. I opened the pages and it resonated with me so much as a personal turning point in adult life. I love when she says, “I am going through an existential crisis,” because I was just on the heels of one when I read this script. Even though I am not a new mother, the fork in the road, ambivalence and looking back and feeling lost and looking ahead, all of those complications, that feeling resonated strongly with me. I have been facing my parents aging, mortality and all of that stuff. Looking at your younger self doesn’t fuel this later chapter of your life. What got you by when you were younger, you will find, you need a bit more to get you by later! Anyway, I got the script and it was gorgeous! Then I met with the director, Jen McGowan, who is a passionate, physical director. I believed in her and think she is a great filmmaker. I just love taking risks and making movies now for the love of it. I was never into grooming a career. That was never my interest.
Your performance was terrific in the film and I am sure playing opposite of Jonny Weston and working alongside of director Jen McGowan, who you just mentioned. What can you tell us about working with them and what they brought to the project?
It was so important to know who would play Cal because he has to go toe-to-toe with me and also kind of dominate the energy of the scenes. It was really important. I was involved in the casting process and when we first auditioned Jonny, it was a no-brainer! I was so excited because he had that x-factor that I first saw in Leo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt because we all came up at the same time. Jonny has that indescribable something, that energy that is unpredictable. I was so excited for him to play Cal. We were so natural together. Jen, I loved her shooting style, along with Philip Lott, the director of photography. I loved how organic and natural it all was. It is a little story but it is a very unique and original story. I like that there is this sense of insomnia running through the whole thing. We worked 16 hour days and I was in every frame for four weeks in New York. It was really a labor of love and I am thrilled that it is coming out. I think it shines a light on women that you don’t often see in cinema. That is what independent film is for, I suppose, to show unique perspectives.
There are a lot of emotional scenes in this film. I am sure you tap into your own emotions to bring them to life. Is it difficult to put yourself out there, in those moments, and bare your soul to the world?
[laughs] Yeah! It is difficult in how truthful I want to go, ya know? I think as an artist, I am a masochist. The more uncomfortable it is, the more honest it is going to be, if you know what I mean. You want to get out of premeditation and live and breathe in the moment. All I ever hope is that audiences believe everything I am doing and that it looks as easy as breathing. The acting on a cellular level is tough because I think I am changing a little bit. I am just brutality within my own head! [laughs] It is pretty horrifying! There are so many ways you can play a scene. You could play a scene 50 different ways but that is what the director is for! This script was so close to my heart. I love the writing because it is unapologetic. Kelly is somewhat unlikable! When I read the script, I have to be honest, I found her somewhat irresponsible and a bit unlikable! As a mom, you are like, “How dare you be this irresponsible as a young mom!” I just wanted it to be super real. I don’t mean to say that because I know what it will look like in print. I know actors aren’t supposed to judge the characters but I could judge her and I could still play her. That is the thing, you don’t want to get lost in your ego and say, “I hope she is likable and that everyone understands her!” No! She is doing things you don’t understand the whole time! I really like that aspect of it! My favorite moment in the film, when it comes to her doing things you don’t understand, is the one with her at the window. I don’t want to say what she does but her looking at Cal through the window, she gives a piece of herself. I was like, “Why does she do that after she was trying to be responsible?” For me that is the pleasure sometimes as an actor when you just commit. You don’t always have to understand on an intellectual level all of the motivation, you just sort of dive in. I trust my director and she is the one who took me there. She explained why she does it. It was only after I saw the film I realized it is the most beautiful in all of the movies to me and I understood it completely but I didn’t understand it when I did it, if you can understand that!
I thought another great layer to the film was your musical contribution to it. Was that always in the cards and how did it come about?
This all happened so organically. I wanted to start songwriting more for films and TV, as all musicians want to do. This was so much fun! I called up my first guitar player, a guy named Clint Walsh, and it was fun to write in character. This isn’t my kind of music. This isn’t Juliette and The Licks music. This is very specific. Jen gave us references like PJ Harvey’s “To Bring You My Love” and a little Sleater Kinney. That first song called “Wet Nap,” that is most of the writer’s lyrics and then we wrote this sludgy, brooding, sexy, soft-loud, ‘90s lo-fi song. Clint and I worked on it and I submitted it to the songwriter and she loved it. Then the last song, “Change,” she didn’t even ask for. It just came out of me. Clint was playing while I was in the kitchen making tea and I said, “What is that? Keep playing it!” I wrote the song and to me it is the sentiment of what I was going through and the sentiment of the film. It is a really sweet song.
Change and personal evolution is the central theme of this project. Looking back on your career, what is your biggest evolution as an artist?
I think it is the same thing I strive for as a live performer as I do as an actor, a pure, visceral honesty, truth in every cell in my body. Acting is a bizarre line of work because it is not real, you are creating illusions. It is a dichotomy because I want it to look like it is happening for real. I love people, characters, the way people are physical and physicalizing things. To answer your question, I am always looking for something I have never played before. Right before “Kelly & Cal,” I had done “August: Osage County” with the brilliant Tracy Letts, who wrote the movie. I worked with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, so it was the role of a lifetime. I did that, then followed it up with this beautiful little indie and followed it up with this other movie with Aaron Paul, “Hellion,” and next I am doing a TV show for ABC that will be on next year, “Secrets & Lies,” where I show no emotion. If you start watching the through-lines of my career, I hope you see diversity. That is what I am into, challenging myself, being people that I don’t always understand and making you believe me! [laughs]
With all of these irons in the fire, where does that leave you in regards to your music? What is in the cards for the future?
It leaves me very melancholy and missing it like you would your favorite lover! [laughs] I wrote a record with some members of Cage The Elephant. Brad Shultz is the co-founder of that band and he produced it and I will come out with a record next year! I am looking forward to getting back on the road. It has been four years and I think about it, if not daily, weekly. I will definitely get back to it next year.
That’s great! Earlier in the interview you eluded to possibly doing a documentary on your musical side. What are your thoughts there?
Yeah, I think right now I am doing a mashup. You will see! Buy yeah, I am going to do a movie where it combines all of those things. It will be the ultimate Juliette project, if I could say my name in the third person! [laughs]
What is the best piece of advice you would pass along to people looking to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
You better love it like an addiction and be willing to work, work, work. Don’t expect anything to come to you and fall in your lap. Don’t expect anything from anyone. Do it all for the love of the art. Most importantly, create! Songs you can write in your living room, so that is easy! With movies, I think with the technology out there, there is a lot of artistic expression and independence that can occur where you don’t have to rely on big corporations.
Thank you for your time today, Juliette! We are excited to see what you have in store for us in the years to come! When it comes to your role in “Kelly & Cal,” you hit it out of the park!
Thanks so much, Jason! Talk to you again soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.