A Face Only a Captive Audience Could Love
Date of Assessment: August 20, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Ferocity, work ethic, unyielding
Negative Buzzwords: Batshit crazy, nontraditional, weirdo
The Case: The always eccentric Juliette Lewis is a very strange specimen and, in a certain light, quite comparable to actor Danny Trejo in that, with just one glance at their respective resumés, one gets an instant recognition of just how many familiar movies within which they've appeared. In fact, I'll bet that you've completely forgotten that, with Christmas Vacation, Lewis became one of the many actresses to portray Audrey Griswold. On second thought, let's forget about that one, shall we?
Of course, with as much film and television as Lewis has done, a lot of it has fallen into the proverbial ether. She's never been a leading lady in the traditional sense and, even with her bigger roles, Lewis hasn't ever received top billing, her name in lights, or any of that other stuff awarded to A-listers. At the same time, Juliette is capable of delivering not only capable but often compelling performances that are often more memorable than the film in question, although she's rarely the reason you wanted to see a movie in the first place. To illustrate, Kalifornia was billed with Brad Pitt and David Duchovny, but it was Juliette's interpretation of her nuanced character that made the story somewhat believable; likewise, Natural Born Killers was marketed to fans of Robert Downey, Jr. and Woody Harrelson, but it's difficult to imagine any other actress in the scuffed-up, sociopathic shoes of Mallory Knox. Perhaps Juliette's strength as a stand-out supporting actress is enough to downplay her lack of box-office prowess, for she's certainly never been lacking for roles or found herself shilling crap products on the QVC network.
Over the years, Juliette has appeared in many beloved films has held her own alongside Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape and again with DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries. She's has worked with some of the so-called "directorial greats." For her performance in Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear remake, Juliette was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (and as we know, nominations tend to make more sense than wins where The Academy is concerned). After the stint with Scorsese, Juliette went on to play a temptress in Husband and Wives, when appearing in a Woody Allen still sort of meant something (you know, before he did ridiculous things such as the ScarJo Trilogy of Zaftig Boobery).
It's actually quite interesting that, in an industry based almost entirely upon physical appearance and overt sex appeal, an average-looking girl like Juliette Lewis has persisted and continued to be quite employable in Hollywood. And given her reliable nature as a supporting actress, I've begun to think of her as a character actor (even though she doesn't make those lists either). But if you think about it, one expects a certain type of role -- characters that are either emotionally damaged or a bit mentally challenged with some trailer trash on the side -- from Lewis, and one generally has those expectations met. She's able to pull off the archetypal innocent young female confronted by evil (From Dusk Till Dawn and Cape Fear), and can vary the intensity needed for violent, often disturbing cult hits like Romeo Is Bleeding, Kalifornia, The Way of the Gun, and Natural Born Killers. Then, she can change things up with fluffier stuff like Hysterical Blindness before sidetracking a bit to start a death-penalty debate in television movies such as "Too Young to Die?" (As a side note, if anyone could ever explain why Lewis participated in The 4th Floor, where she kicked ass amidst styrofoam popcorn and rotting carcasses, I'd sure appreciate some enlightenment. The same applies to William Hurt.)
Mostly, I dig Juliette Lewis. Yes, she's a nutty-ass Scientologist, but I can appreciate that she and her talking crotch appear to limit their proselytizing sessions to film sets. Further, her weirdness is rather endearing in many ways, and I rather admire her energy level, which is much like that of an 8-year old in terms of inexplicable endurance. Lately, Juliette's been pulled into supporting roles by Drew Barrymore (Whip It) and Jennifer Aniston (The Switch), and -- as if that weren't enough to keep her busy -- in the face of the crumbling music industry, she's fronted a few rock bands that have never been accused of delivering less than an electrifying live performance. Methinks she'll be around for as long as she wants to be around.
Prognosis: Juliette Lewis actually doesn't belong in Hollywood in any traditional sense, yet she's carved out a respectable body of work and will never have to beg for employment. As the great Francis McDormand once stated, "character actors work until they decide not to work." Take that, botoxed leading ladies.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.