Exclusive Q&A: Juliette Lewis, Still a 'Natural'

[caption id="attachment_12030" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Getty Images"]Juliette Lewis[/caption]

Juliette Lewis has never been afraid to eschew glamour in favor of naturalism. While best known as the female half of serial killer couple Mickey and Mallory in Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers," the 37-year-old actress has been steady working since she was 14, often playing the fractured, slightly unhinged character on the fringes of society.

She may only be in two scenes in "Conviction," the true story of Betty Anne Walters (Hilary Swank), who puts herself through law school and eventually gets her brother (Sam Rockwell), wrongly convicted of murder, exonerated after 18 years, but as Roseanna Perry, Lewis stands as one of the most memorable characters in the film -- a hard-drinking, self-serving recluse who helped put him away.

So is this the day of nonstop interviews?

Yeah, but we're all hungrily wanting to tell people about it and fighting the good fight with this movie because it's such a relevant story. So it's been a joy doing all these interviews and Q&As after the screenings. I think people under 23 should not do interviews because you change so much [laughs].

You need the maturity so you don't give answers that will get you in trouble.

That's what I'm saying. I had no tact when I was a bit younger. I never put people down, but I didn't know how to articulate my process. I was just a young, inarticulate person. But you'll still have to edit lots of my words [laughs].

[caption id="attachment_13767" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Fox Searchlight"]Juliette Lewis in Conviction[/caption]

Director Tony Goldwyn says in the production notes that you "obsessed on every detail and nuance" of Roseanna. What specifically did you do?

My thing with any role is I'm looking for the super, super reality. Something really honest and visceral. Particularly with this person, it was exciting for me to play the type of person we try to avoid on the street; the type of person that you intuitively know their energy is off. No matter what mask they're wearing pretending to be one of us, there's something unpredictable and unsettling. It's a real energy-based part. It was so uncomfortable to play because she's so erratic, but it was a thrill for me to play this other type of people I see in everyday life that are real.

If you just took two elements of this woman -- the fact that she's never left her trailer and that she's been drinking wine for the last 18 years -- and had a conversation with just those ingredients, that would be incredibly complex. But then, to put on top of that, the scene involves the person she did the most wrong to [Betty Anne Waters], and all her created stories of fiction, and you mix that up, it was just this incredible, exciting combination. I knew I had a lot to work with, so it was a matter of how to fuse it to make it an organic creation.

Roseanna can be self-serving, but you also play her sympathetically.

Yes! But that's one's own bulls**t. It's so much a part of life and everyone feels justified in their destructive actions. At some point, we all use justifiers and it's sort of getting into how much do we fool ourselves. She does feel bad, but she also doesn’t want to admit her own wrongdoing so she can protect her own freedom.

[caption id="attachment_12059" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Fox Searchlight"][/caption]

The real Kenny Waters died six months after being released from prison, yet that's not mentioned in the film. What are your thoughts on that omission?

It's not what the movie's about. It's about shining a light on this journey and this love that Betty Anne has for her brother and her relentless nature; her fight against all odds. Betty Anne will tell you this herself, but Kenny had the best six months of his life [after being released]. He died free and he died with his family and he died happy. That's the focus of what we can't control – the moon and the stars and accidents, all those things – and if you focus on that, it's like, what's the point and maybe she shouldn't have fought the fight. It invalidates the journey and the story because once you meet Betty Anne, you see she's so fun and amazing and has become this crusader. That's what real.

You've mentioned always using music to prepare for roles. Were you listening to anyone in particular to prepare for this one?

I didn't because the details in my environment were so strong. I had the accent and makeup and once I put on the sweatpants, I just started feeling decrepit. I use music for different things. I did a Sam Shepard play [2006's "Fool for Love"] and I had to open the play where she's crying and full of rage. I had to start the play on 10, so I listened to everything from Pink Floyd to Chet Baker to Tindersticks. But with "Natural Born Killers," I listened to Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" and every bend of his guitar to me was an emotional core to the torment of the character I was playing.

We'd be remiss not to talk about your other career in music. What did you learn from forming and dissolving The Licks that you wanted to bring to New Romantiques?

So much. First of all, I flirted with the name New Romantiques for a minute, but it's not called that anymore. It's just my name but I'll probably do another record with a band name. I wrote half the record on piano and we formed a band after the fact. With The Licks, I was always making records with a band. And this is the first time it's an actual solo record and I put a band together after that. And [Mars Volta's] Omar Rodriguez-Lopez produced and wrote with us.

I had one main collaborator in The Licks for five years and he went back to his other band and I couldn’t resuscitate the spirit we once had. I was also changing my musical direction to not be just simple, straight up and down guitar rock, but I wanted something more textured and complex. The band dissolved organically. I know in the press, it's "Juliette gets rid of that band and now has a new band." It didn't happen like that at all. I wanted to write deeper songs and wanted my voice to be a more pronounced instrument on the new record ["Terra Incognita"]. I was ready to be vulnerable and it wasn't just bombast.

You're reuniting with Robert Downey Jr. in the upcoming "Due Date." Was it a joyful reunion?

Yes! It's the same with Woody [Harrelson]. You both go through something together. We made a movie in the desert and we were like the traveling circus and we'll always have that experience together. Robert's story is just incredible and I'm just blown away by how well he's doing. He was always really good at showing up and delivering. It was just a pleasure. I want to work with him more. With "Due Date," this role was fun for me because [director] Todd [Phillips] just offered it out of the blue. I'm kind of his go-to girl as this is my third movie [with him]. And Zach [Galifianakis] is probably my favorite comedian. I almost lost it just looking at his close-ups. I almost ruined the scenes.

It's been 16 years since "Killers" was released. What do you think Mickey and Mallory would be doing now?

[Laughs] I don't know, I think of that more like a metaphor. I know people got into the characters, but I really think that movie has so many layers and it's funny being older and looking at it and seeing how ahead of its time it was. But what are those two doing? I think they're a figment of our imagination.