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‘Attitude’ is a loaded concept. Often, it is sold as something young people need, but older people abhor it. Juliette Lewis is among the few who have been able to use this attitude (a rebellious one here) to advantage. She has garnered much critical acclaim as an actress, and has developed a successful career as a singer in a rock band. After a number of years touring, she is back to acting, this year starring in two films: ‘Foreverland’ and ‘Hick.’
‘Precocious’ is another term that fits Ms. Lewis. At fourteen, she became an emancipated minor, and began acting in television. She appeared in the Dan Akroyd/Kim Basinger comedy, ‘My Stepmother is an Alien’ (1988), and continued gaining respect in film. It was in ‘Cape Fear’ (1991) that received wider and higher recognition: she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Many of her roles have been sympathetic characters, such as that of a vulnerable woman with mental disability in ‘The Other Sister’ (1999). Other roles are more antipathetic. Ms. Lewis has played a few intimidating or ‘hard-edged’ characters in such films as ‘Kalifornia’ (1993), ‘Natural Born Killers’ (1994), and a rocker (singing two PJ Harvey songs) in ‘Strange Days’ (1995). She is not a physically-imposing woman, but she carries such presence that her characters can seduce and scare with a subtle switch.
Her stage presence as a singer is also captivating. There is no timidity, and there is no doubt she is comfortable before a live audience. Her music is strong and energetic; her voice is expressive and can hush with a whisper or belt out the howls. She writes music of wild abandon and rebellion.
Ms. Lewis sang with her band, Juliette and the Licks, between 2004 and 2009; she has since gone solo, with a different backing band. Her latest album, ‘Terra Incognita,’ was released 2009. She has sung songs for other bands, such as The Prodigy, and has had her singing featured in films.
Last year, she appeared in four films and on a television show. Next year, there will be two more films, and she will star in the TV series, ‘The Firm,’ written by John Grisham. She has an impressive list of directors as well: Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow and Quentin Tarantino represent some of the many different directions of her films.
She is funny, frightening, controlled and crazy; she is always compelling. Juliette Lewis dominates acting, and she owns the music-stage, but she leaves the impression that she has always been herself. It is an intriguing blend of attitude, accomplishment and artistry many envy. And there is plenty more to come.