CONVICTION PRESS TOUR–JULIETTE LEWIS
By Gary Murray
"I love to do the unexpected," is how Juliette Lewis described her acting philosophy but the first thing one notices about her is how simply normal the woman comes across. In a cream print dress and flowing locks she looks more like a young mother than a serious actress. Known for playing challenging and dark characters, she was in Natural Born Killers, From Dusk Til Dawn and Kalifornia. Lately she has been focusing on her music career, appearing on the Warped Tour and taking small roles here and there between gigs. Juliette Lewis was recently in town to discuss her latest role of Roseanna Perry in Conviction.
The story of Conviction is of Betty Anne Waters and her brother Kenny. He is accused and convicted of a murder, a murder that Betty Anne knows he didn't do. She goes from high school drop out to bar certified lawyer with a single goal, to prove her brother's innocence. Her journey leads to Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project, a group of lawyers who work to overturn wrongly convicted individuals.
With DNA evidence, Kenny is proven innocent but the prosecutor will not overturn the conviction because two different women testified that Kenny admitted to committing the crime. Juliette plays Roseanna Perry, one of the women. Even though she appears in only two scenes, it is a powerful award-winning turn. The two scenes take place years apart and we see the ravages of life on Roseanna Perry, with gray skin and broken teeth.
On playing a character that is so different from standard Hollywood beauty, Juliette said, "I loved it and it is sort of what I live for. I didn't start making movies to play myself. This is actually a unique role for me because I have never transformed so completely. There is absolutely nothing like me in the role." She claims that she didn't grow up with a lot of vanity and she rebels against it. "This is a real person and a real personality in our world."
To prepare for the role, Juliette worked with a dialect coach with breaking down the accent, listening to the deposition tapes that Betty Anne obtained She also relied on Director Tony Goldwyn and his 'director's eyes' to make sure she was landing in the right place.
"When doing the role, you want it to disappear," she said. "I don't want the audience to ever think about my accent or my aged skin and teeth. I want to integrate it all into this organic seamless character. And that is the challenge for me, 'Can I do it?' At the end of that big scene, you get that she is manipulative–she's conscious of her intentions–but all within it, she bounces around. You think she's a bit out to lunch but then you realize that's she not. That is what is interesting about it."
Juliette was completive on playing such a little part. "It was funny to do a role that was so small but have so much in both of those scenes. I wanted to to have such a complete presence in both places. It is an eighteen year life-span. You start with the eyes showing this damaged soul and that she's vindictive. You meet her eighteen years later and she lives in a world of her own fiction. She is faced with her own nemesis of a person who she wronged the most. I wanted you to make sure you really got a sense of her."
Since she was playing a real person, she wanted to be exact in the role. She said, "Everything I say in the movie, about 98% of the movie, is from transcripts and interviews she gave. The bad use of grammar and the bad use of phrases is all her. I got an idea of what kind of a mess the person is. Roseanna Perry and Nancy Taylor were not in the process of making the movie because they committed crimes, At the end of the day, I'm intuiting and I'm putting together all these ingredients and realizing the part."
She then added, "This is one of the most unique experiences and the reason you make movies is to shine a light on such an important subject about people being wrongly convicted. We don't often hear about this. It is also to participate in a story that has such a heart. It is a love story about family, love, faith and conviction."
Though she never met with Roseanna Perry, Lewis said, "I like seeing the person and getting a sense of that person but you want to be true to that particular film. The writer and director are taking an eighteen year saga and putting it into two hours. It is my job to explore what a damaged, destructive soul looks like and how do they behave. That has always interested me."
On being a working character actress she stated, "I was never conditioned to think 'Will they like me or not? or 'Will I be pretty? I really wanted to get into the skin of that kind of destructive personality. She's been on a really bad destructive path. I wanted to get into that energy." She summed up by saying, "I wanted to vibe the audience out." The she added on, "You can illuminate many different sides of a character in a small amount of time."
Juliette had nothing but praise for her cast. She calls Sam Rockwell as one of her favorite actors. "I was so happy" she stated, "to see him in this role." On Hillary Swank she said, "Hillary is a force of nature because she is so committed and such a live wire. She has no vanity and her priority is her family and not Hollywood."
Juliette doesn't mind being on press tour, talking to reporters about her role and the Innocence Project, the Barry Scheck group of lawyers trying to use DNA evidence to free the wrongly accused. "We are all doing our part to get this film out because we all believe in it and think it is important. I am honored to be on such a great team." She would love love to see her cast members to be acknowledged by the Academy but on her being nominated, she coyly said, "That'd be neat."
The next couple of jobs are meatier roles and she considers this a next chapter in her life after her music career. "There are a lot of incredible filmmakers I'd love to work with and new talents." Then she added, "I'm open to all things and all possibilities." She is working on her own screenplay based on her life and imaginations.
Even though she is thought of for her more dangerous roles, she has a special place in her heart for one different role. "The Other Sister goes down as one of the most remarkable love filled and challenging experiences I have ever had. I wanted to do a good job and not a cliche." She still gets responses about it to this day.