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Thinking Out Loud: Juliette Lewis

The actress-turned-rocker on fame, drugs, love and the power of rock 'n' roll

Born in Los Angeles, California in 1973, Juliette Lewis is an American actress and singer.

She shot to global fame at the age of 18 in 1991, starring opposite Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear, for which the young performer was nominated for both an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

During the rest of that decade, she appeared alongside the likes of Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney and Woody Harrelson in films such as Kalifornia, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, From Dusk till Dawn and Natural Born Killers, becoming one of the most interesting and inimitable female stars in Hollywood in the process.

In 2004, at the age of 30, Lewis turned her hands to music and formed a rock ‘n’ roll band: Juliette Lewis and the Licks. The group released three albums over the next five years (…Like a Bolt of Lightning, You’re Speaking My Language and Four on the Floor) before parting ways in 2009; the same year Lewis released her debut solo album, the Omar Rodríguez-López (At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta)-produced Terra Incognita.

Last year saw Juliette Lewis and the Licks reunite for a special hometown show in Los Angeles, which evolved into a full European tour this spring and a forthcoming appearance at the Download festival. A new album is expected later this year.

With a lifetime of experience already under her belt, here are just a few of the things on Juliette Lewis’ mind…


I’ve thought long and hard about fame as I’ve journeyed through many incarnations in my creative life. Fame is a lot of attention and it will exacerbate anything that already exists in a person, so you’ll see some people become monstrous and controlling and not very nice to people as a protection. But that’s rare in my experience. I’ve worked with all these quality actors like [Robert] DeNiro and [George] Clooney, so I’ve seen people handle their attention gracefully and maintain integrity to one’s self. For me, I like to be invisible. You see me now on stage and stuff and maybe in interviews I’m able to articulate myself better, but when I was a teenager I couldn’t do that to save my life. So when I walked into a coffee shop and people started noticing me I felt like a tiny speck on the floor. That’s what fame did to me: it made me swallow myself and implode. I lost my anonymity around 19, and that was hugely problematic for me. I also didn’t feel worthy of the attention. That might sound weird because now it seems like everybody seeks attention on social media, and I’m on Instagram, but that’s because I like sharing ideas and attention for other people’s projects as well as my own. I see social media as a platform to give love and light and make people feel good. It’s like when I was in 7th grade listening to The Cure in my bedroom and there was a synergy of my emotions and that music. With Instagram you can have short clips that achieve the same thing: if I’m having a shitty day I can make a humorous little video about it and other people who are also having a frustrating day can connect with that and hopefully feel lighter or less alone. But that’s more about connectivity than fame, and there are plenty of positive qualities to connectivity that I don’t relate to fame. The sticky side to fame would be like someone following me when I’m walking my dog. That’s the ugly side of it.”

If you come from a decent family then that’s something you should hold on to and nurture because not everybody is lucky enough to have that place they call home. I really enjoy and love my family. I have eight siblings and I always joke to people that we’re a family of individuals. The reason I have so many is because both my parents have been married several times. They were always both super artistic and bohemian and they raised the rebel in me, for better or worse. Having recently lost my father, the time I spend with my family has become more and more important. They play a big role in my life, and now I’m in my mid-life I look back more and more and think, ‘Holy shit! I’m such an extension of my mother and father.’ They weren’t always there growing up, but they were always loving and supportive of whatever I wanted to do, and they always facilitated and nurtured the creative person in me. I also didn’t ever have any oppressive ideals growing up, and as a young girl I didn’t have notions of being desirable or beautiful, which a lot of young girls get crammed down their heads. I never had that. I was raised to be strong willed, self-reliant and independent, and to be a troublemaker in all the right ways. That’s all my parents: they raised that in me, 1000%. They also encouraged me to try and be fearless, which is one of the reasons why I started a rock ‘n’ roll band at the age of 30.”

Rock ‘n’ roll is a defiant, celebratory spirit that’s trouble-making in the best possible sense. It teaches us to question those things that we’re inundated with: it’s the questioning of sheep mentality. And it can be questioning not just in literal language and lyrics but also in expression. I’m really primal on stage, and to me that’s its own rebellion because in our own life we’re taught to be somewhat complacent and small. We’re constantly sold on ideas like ‘you’re not good enough’ or ‘you’re ugly’, and all these other things that advertising inundates us with. To me, rock ‘n’ roll is about breaking the shackles of all that subtle and not-so-subtle brainwashing. It’s the breaking of all those ties that bind us, without wanting to get too metaphorical about it. As for the power and the force of rock ‘n’ roll, dig this: when I prepare for roles in movies the biggest shortcut to emotion or instantaneous feeling is guitar chords. I can listen to a Neil Young solo and within ten seconds instantly have my energy and feeling transformed. I did a play here in the West End of London and I had to start the play sobbing and enraged, so before I went on I would listen to Pink Floyd and all kinds of abstract weird shit because it was a shortcut right into a visceral experience. That’s the power of rock ‘n’ roll: it’s a visceral experience. Ultimately, I want people to leave my shows feeling more of the fire, will, strength and beauty within themselves. That’s my intention.”

I used drugs when I was younger specifically to escape overwhelming feelings and problems that I didn’t know how to handle. I know there’s a generation every generation that says they’re expanding their horizons and becoming spiritual beings by taking drugs, but when I lost my father that was like a lightning rod of spiritualism for me: I’d hear him talk to me and remind me of the beauty of life and the now. I only ever used drugs specifically to escape my problems and in the long run they only served to make them bigger, so by the age of 22 I had a big problem on my hands. That was when I made the decision to quit all street drugs for good, and life from that moment on has been a real struggle: I’m 42 and every day is a struggle. Thankfully, I have different priorities and experience and wisdom guiding me now.”

For me, artistry and spiritualism are connected. How I connect and communicate with other souls is through a creative medium, but my spiritualism is that of trying to be mindful and have empathy towards other people who are sharing this planet with me. And the more understanding you gain of your own negative feelings, the more you understand it in others. I do all kinds of things to connect with my spirit life. I’m really into nature, you could even say that I’m slightly Pagan, and my way of getting out of my own ego and headspace is to walk with nature and take in the beauty that surrounds me. I love trees and I love flowers, and I really love the moon at night. I think my spiritual journey is actually getting deeper as time goes by.”

Love is that benevolent and gorgeous emotion that bonds people. There are obviously all kinds of love, but I really like the idea of a partnership and having this companion where you’re totally different from one another but you understand each other’s differences. I’m in a really nice relationship right now, but I don’t have that pie-in-the-sky illusion or delusion of love that I once had when I was a kid. Over time you learn that you can fall in love with different people and have completely different experiences depending on where you and the other person in your life is at. I also experience love during these live shows, and that’s the biggest, most powerful sense of unity and connection that you can imagine: it’s just people letting go of their hindrances and letting that love light shine. Even being in rock ‘n’ roll and being a wild woman, that’s all I want to give to people: light. And what everyone should do now is go and listen to Blinded by the Light by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band…”

Juliette and The Licks play the Zippo Encore Stage at Download on June 11.

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