Natural born rocker
Juliette Lewis brings her passion for punk to Tel Aviv.
When Juliette Lewis takes the stage in Tel Aviv Wednesday night, she'll probably be wearing something on the stranger side of odd. The 1992 Oscar nominee has favored feathered headbands and full body spandex suits of late, but fans shouldn't be surprised if the performer - best known for roles in Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers - shows up wearing a cowboy costume or kimono.
Lewis, in other words, knows how to dress like a rock star, which is how the Golden Globe and Emmy nominee has reinvented herself since forming her own band in 2003. "I sing," the actress told late night talk show host Craig Kilborn that same year. "I'm one of these actors that's got a band, except my band's incredible."
She's been out to prove it for most of the past year, subjecting herself to a relentless touring schedule with her punk rock group, Juliette Lewis and the Licks. Following shows at Lollapalooza and across most of Europe, the performer proclaims herself ready for Tel Aviv, where she'll make her Israeli debut at the Zappa Club on Wednesday.
If her primary ambition had been to sell millions of records, Lewis would have chosen a different sound, something closer to the pop/hip-hop mix favored by Jennifer Lopez, the actress' co-star in 2002 thriller Enough. But such a move would have been even less credible than Lopez's performance in Gigli - and isn't, in any case, the type of thing Lewis is after.
Glamor and money, if they'd been her priority, probably would have started pouring in a decade ago, following performances in headline-grabbing efforts with Johnny Depp and Oliver Stone. But speaking by phone before a show last week in England, Lewis suggests what her resumÃ© already gives away: when it comes to art, she does exactly what she wants.
It would be a gutsy move, for others at least, to take a sabbatical from Hollywood, especially for someone at Lewis's current stage of the life cycle. The ability to work regularly is more than most actresses can manage even in the best of times, and by movie standards in particular, the 34-year-old Lewis isn't getting any younger.
But in contrast to other risk-averse actresses of her generation, Lewis had managed to put together one of the most eclectic CVs in Hollywood before deciding, around the time she hit 30, to focus more heavily on music.
"I think of my creative voice as having several elements - music, drama, performance art," Lewis says. "I got successful doing one of those elements, and I didn't know how I would go about doing music."
"I was kind of slacking off by not starting earlier," she says, "but ever since I was little I was going to do music ... I've had this relationship very deeply for my whole life."
Such claims usually ring false when coming from other Hollywood performers, whose musical crossovers typically smack more of financial opportunism than any real interest in music. Lewis, however, is literally on record going far back into her career, contributing to the soundtracks of movies including Natural Born Killers, Strange Days and The Other Sister.
Nevertheless, she's aware that many fans' interest in her music stems in large part, at least initially, from her better known screen work. It doesn't bother her.
"I wasn't going to be like 'Oh, don't mention my previous career,'" Lewis says. "I'm really proud of my films."
"I don't know what brought people in the door," she goes on, referring candidly to her early concerts with the Licks. "[Maybe] they thought it was going to be a joke, or that I was going to be juggling plates. You have to deliver as a band, and I think people say after they see us, 'That's a kick-ass rock band.'"
LINGERING SUSPICIONS that the group is a vanity project have been mostly dispelled by the the Licks' growing ability to sell tickets, as well as by collaborations with well-known artists like Dave Grohl, the Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters front man whose own rock star credibility could only take a hit from involvement on a bad celebrity music album. (He helped with Four on the Floor, the group's current record, which features lyrics by Lewis and music she co-wrote.)
Where other performers might have used their celebrity to skip immediately to large clubs and arenas, Lewis and the Licks played their first shows before audiences of 100, earning the right to perform for the larger crowds of up to 2,000 they'll see on the band's American tour this fall.
Lewis has no film projects lined up at the moment, but she says she'd be happy to shoot a movie after her US tour comes to an end. She doesn't have the perkiness of Reese Witherspoon or the sexual magnetism of Angelina Jolie, but the qualities that have kept her off the A-list so far have also allowed her to stay far away from typecasting, and may ultimately add to her longevity as both a musician and an actress.
It's not especially strange, as a result, to see Lewis strutting around in pink leggings and that feathered headband for the video to "Hot Kiss," just as it didn't seem strange to see her playing a small, decidedly loopy role in the 2003 comedy blockbuster Old School - or to see her dancing with robots in an unexpectedly charming TV commercial she did for the Gap earlier this decade. Lewis, for the time being, wants people to listen to her music, and clearly isn't concerned with the quirky form of celebrity she's gained in Hollywood.
Informed that some readers may still be curious about how things went with her one-time live-in love and date to the 1992 Oscars - an up and coming actor named Brad Pitt - Lewis stays friendly but shows a pointed lack of interest. "Give me a break!" the performer says. "It's so weird when people ask those questions."