To say that Juliette Lewis and I have a past might be correct, but it wouldn’t be accurate. Sure, I’ve caught her rock act four times now, reviewed it twice, and underwent all kinds of maybes before I interviewed her by phone for two different publications. And yes, I’m a longtime fan of her film work. But for two people to have a past, both have to know about it. And until last Thursday, it’s highly unlikely that Juliette Lewis even knew I existed, let alone imagined a backstory that comprised spilled drinks, stunned silence, a stilled heart, and more superlatives per column-inch than any Thesaurus. So when I got the nod to meet with the blinding and bewildering star of stage and screen before she and her merry band of mayhem-makers opened for the Dolphins/Bears up at Sun-Life Stadium, I jumped at the chance to add to that past – and to clue her into it in the process.
Fanboy hyperbole aside, Juliette Lewis remains one of the most remarkable women on the planet – a fact I’ve spent innumerable hours telling anyone who’d listen. And I’d sooner walk a plank than miss out on a chance of meeting her. That in the end we actually got to sit down and have almost a conversation kinda leads me to believe there could be a past after all.
But first the present, or the near present anyway. As you might suspect, up close and personal, Juliette is decidedly present, and her presence is deeply felt. She considers each question, answers with candor, and endures anecdotes and asides with the grace of an angel. After we’d spoken, I left the conference room kitchen feeling as if I’d just been blessed. Of Juliette’s four South Florida appearances, it’s the last blast at Bardot that is her favorite thus far. Sadly, it was the only one that I’d missed. But she didn’t hold it against me. In fact, she was still thrilled with what went off that night.
“Miami’s a weird town for rock ‘n’ roll,” she said. “And I was so pleased that all the rock ‘n’ rollers and all the freaks in Miami came to my show. I was like “Yay!”
Considering I consider Juliette to be one of the baddest-assed performers I’ve ever seen, you’ll understand why I sat quietly and kicked myself for missing the Bardot show. But like I said, Juliette’s too cool to put a cat on the spot, not without good cause anyway. And her ease allowed me to continue without dwelling too badly on the lapse. I told Juliette that I was still a little giddy from interviewing John Waters at Miami Book Fair the night before. I mention how cool he is, and how he was everything you’d expect him to be. Juliette countered with a little fandom of her own:
“That’s how Chrissie Hynde is too. I opened for the Pretenders last year and she is everything you could ever want and imagine. She’s just totally herself – uncompromised.”
Cat Power was also on that tour, and Chan Marshall seems to have left a mark of her own.
“She was lovely, man. That particular tour was like a walk in the park; it was like a dream tour. I’d just play thirty minutes and then watch the most incredible musicians. So I was in heaven.” Speaking of legends, I add that Patti Smith was also appearing at Book Fair and asked if Juliette had met her as well.
“Yes, I got to hang out with her at her house, and she is just as uncompromising and radical as she was when she was younger.” When I tell Juliette that I’d caught the rock goddess back at the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton when I was wee lad, and how I’m still a bit struck by the sight of her having to be dragged from the stage while screaming “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger,” she seemed equally struck by the notion of punk’s first lady “making a statement.”
Juliette was also eager for me to know how excited she was to be staging later with a certain Aerosmith guitarist, who, over the years, has made a few statements himself. “I can’t believe I’m about to have Joe Perry shred while I do ‘Hard Lovin’ Woman,'” she said. And the wow was apparent in every word. Juliette’s “basically doing one-off shows, until I make a new record, which will be later in the winter.” Whether or not she again works with Mars Volta’s Omar Rodríguez-López, as she did on 2009’s Terra Incognita, is still to be determined. “I’d love to. He’s a busy man. I was lucky to get him once.”
What isn’t in question is who’ll be backing her on the next offering: “I wanna work with this band on the next record – and then name us.” Naturally, a chat with Juliette Lewis isn’t complete without speaking about movies. Figuring fans would be first to recognize her from Natural Born Killers, I ask how many times a day people yell “Hey Mallory!” Turns out I underestimated the depth of Juliette’s audience. “Never,” she said. “It’s always funny, because I’ve been around the world so many times touring, for like a week people will know me from The Other Sister. There are top five movies people recognize me from: there’s Natural Born Killers, Gilbert Grape, Cape Fear, Kalifornia, and The Other Sister. And I’m always surprised when I get a rare one like Strange Days or Romeo’s Bleeding. Then for younger people of course there’s Old School.”
Out now are Due Date (“I’ll do anything [director] Todd Phillips asks.”) and Conviction, which tells of a woman’s eighteen-year quest to free her wrongly convicted brother.
“Conviction is the most intense piece of work I’ve done in the last decade. I always look for new things, things I’ve not done before, because that’s just how I am. But I’ve never transformed so completely. It’s a very small part – two scenes. But the second scene is really long, and there are all these emotional twists and turns and contradictions. I play a real-life character, because it’s a true story. So it’s really intense. And everyone’s heart was really in it, because we all wanted to honor the real Betty Ann Waters, who lived this story.”
Juliette was adamant in mentioning the Innocence Project, and if she’s adamant, I’m adamant. Later, backstage, she was also adamant that the paparazzi step back so she could snap a shot with me, and then a few for my photographic accomplice, Jeffrey Delannoy, who is steadfast whenever I get a great get. Then she and her band roared through a drive-by set that not only knocked the proverbial socks off the sports fans, it left me standing just a little taller, smiling just a little wider, and walking away with just a little but more swagger. Why? Because my past had again caught up to me – and this time I didn’t mind one bit.
Photo: Jeffrey Delannoy