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Juliette Lewis Career Assessment / Agent Bedhead

Film Reviews | August 20, 2010 | Comments (43)

Subject: Juliette Lewis, 37-year old American actress & singer

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.

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One night my friend and I were eating at Earwax in Wicker Park. The Licks were doing a show down the street. Juliette walks in, goes straight to the counter and asks the counter tender if she could, and I quote, "lick the blender" for the milkshakes. He handed her a spoon. Because when Juliette Lewis says jump, you hand her a spoon.

I love her. I have a longstanding theory that she and Beck are on a secret undercover op to take down Scientology from the inside. Jason Lee, too.

Posted by: Courtney at August 20, 2010 2:46 PM

I remembered she was in Christmas Vacation. Then again, that's a Xmas Holidays staple around my house. But do you remember that she was Luke Wilson's girlfriend in Old School? The one holding the orgy?

You're right that she's never been "leading lady material". That said, of the roles I've seen her in, I can't think of any that another actress would have done better. Not Natural Born Killers. Not From Dusk Till Dawn. And the fact that she can work with so many good and great directors is a sign of not only her talents, but her willingness to just do the work right.

She'll keep on working long after we've forgotten the latest flavor of the month.

Posted by: Fredo at August 20, 2010 2:49 PM

My people! I cannot help it: I love Juliette Lewis. She doesn't get nearly the credit she deserves.

As for her appearance, I don't know - I think she's pretty and has a very cute figure and can pull off a lot of crazy shit with aplomb. Shit, Brad Pitt was with her, so she can't be that much of a wreck. I don't think she's any less pretty than some of the trumped-up leading ladies of Hollywood like Reese Witherspoon (cute, charismatic, but gorgeous?).

Posted by: samantha t at August 20, 2010 2:54 PM

I am realizing that Thora Birch looks quite a bit like Juliette Lewis.

Posted by: samantha t at August 20, 2010 2:56 PM

I love Christmas Vacation It's also a staple around here during that time.
"Hallelujah! Holy Shit! Where's the Tylenol?"

Posted by: The Other Mother at August 20, 2010 2:59 PM

I gotta be that guy...

I hate Juliette Lewis in every movie I've seen her in. I think she's just unwatchable, though that has nothing to do with looks, as I've certainly dated less attractive women.

I just can't stand her. I think she's awful in just about every regard. The phrase "trying too hard" comes to mind, buts it's beyond even that. I won't watch otherwise excellent movies just because she's in them.

Posted by: Lennon at August 20, 2010 3:12 PM

I disagree, but I understand your feelings. I avoid movies with Anne Hathaway for that reason.

Posted by: samantha t at August 20, 2010 3:33 PM

I think she was in Uncle Buck too, playing John Candy's teenage niece. I rather like her.

Posted by: Viking at August 20, 2010 3:38 PM

I think Strange Days was her finest moment, damn she rocked the hell out of that song. One constant with her is how she can hold her own in comparison to any of her "leading" co-stars. If anything she's underestimated and that's a shame, although I doubt it doesn't bother her in the least, she does her own thing.

/she also looks like she's dynamite in the sack

Posted by: BarbadoSlim at August 20, 2010 3:46 PM

How is nobody mentioning The Other Sister? How can you people forget that happened? The genius casting of her w/Giovanni Ribisi? Say what you will about the movie or its concept, but they were pitch perfect.

Posted by: valerie at August 20, 2010 3:46 PM

I certainly don't know of another actress who could have delivered the immortal line "Richie? Would you eat my pussy for me, please?" half as well.

Posted by: Mario Speedwagon at August 20, 2010 3:55 PM

She was not in Uncle Buck.
That was Jean Louisa Kelly who's done mostly TV since then. Mr. Holland's Opus is the only other movie she's been in I've heard of.

Posted by: grendel at August 20, 2010 3:55 PM

I have a friend who becomes filled with rage every time her face appears on the TV. He can't really explain why he reacts that way to her, but he also can't overcome the irrational hate.

I once saw Juliette and the Licks open for Muse here in Dallas. The Licks are actually a really good band, and I think they could really take off with a different front person. But Juliette twitched and strutted around the stage in what was clearly what she thought rock stars look like on stage. Her singing was mediocre at best, and she really detracted from the quality of the music backing her braying.

Posted by: JustBill at August 20, 2010 3:59 PM

A million times yes - the world is a far more exhilarating place with her in it. There's just some people who are true forces of nature and she's just so wildly compelling...I've loved her from the get-go. Her Adele character in Kalifornia was just fantastically tragic and in NBK she played the definitive damaged woman...but it's her quiet roles, like Becky in Gilbert Grape that really shut down the arguments from people who call her 'grating' or 'one note'.

Like you aptly said, Ms. Bedhead, she has both nuance and power, and that beyond the scope of most working actresses.

(I'm loving these columns, and that you are often talking about some of the people that clearly deserve more recognition.)

Posted by: replica at August 20, 2010 4:01 PM

I'm not waiting outside her tour bus with flowers or anything, but she's well better than "average looking." Half of the women you see in a week are not better looking than her.

Posted by: Clambone at August 20, 2010 4:41 PM

I think she's beautiful and awesome and will see movies just because she's in them.

Posted by: Harry Coverts at August 20, 2010 4:52 PM

I love her in Gilbert Grape but I don't think I've seen her in anything else. Also, she looks kind of like Tom Hanks.

Posted by: Steph at August 20, 2010 4:59 PM

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh! All this time I thought she was Juliet Stevenson from "Truly Madly Deeply" (with Alan Rickman).

Posted by: BWeaves at August 20, 2010 5:01 PM

I am also one that just doesn't like her, I don't know why, she just bugs me.

Posted by: Alli at August 20, 2010 5:04 PM

i love her and i think she gets better with age. Whip It was a crap movie but her scenes made me want to keep watching, we should base a roller derby movie with her as the star.

Posted by: roodle at August 20, 2010 5:45 PM

or someone should

Posted by: roodle at August 20, 2010 5:47 PM

I was at Warped Tour a couple years back and didn't know her band was on the bill (I knew she had one just didnt know the name). I was walking by one of the stages and saw a female lead singer whose back was faced to me. I looked at my friend and said "holy shit...they girl has a very nice body" and after I said that the singer turned around and I realized it was Julliette Lewis. Girl has got a banging body! And her band is pretty kick ass too, no joke.

Posted by: The Minn at August 20, 2010 6:00 PM

Juliette Lewis, or as I like to think of her, Anna Paquin's "before" shot.

Don't get me wrong, I thought she was sort of interesting pretty. That sort of accessible strangeness that you think surely nobody else can appreciate. But then I found out about her Scientology dumb-fuckery and just not caring about how many people are abused and fucked over by her cult and now...

She just looks to me like someone made a Sookie Stackhouse blow-up doll, coated it in a thin layer of axle grease and it sprang a leak. And she looks like she'd have a McConaugheyesque, yeasty funk cloud around her talking crotch area. But she's not the worst loss...

What I'm really cut up about is Jenna "have you raped a baby" Elfman. I really liked her.

And Donna on That '70s Show... That one hurt. A lot!

Posted by: RockYerBodyThetans at August 20, 2010 6:39 PM

I admit it. I loves me some Ms. Lewis.

She was utterly mesmerizing in Cape Fear and I'm convinced that no other actress her age, at that time, could have pulled it off as she did. In the original Cape Fear, a masterpiece of intensity in its own right, the daughter was a completely sweet, innocent young girl, incapable of having an impure thought. Lewis' naive and rebellious flirtation with the devil raised the tension and raised the bar for all of the other characters in the movie.

Frankly, I might be hard-pressed to name any movie that, despite the movie itself, I did not enjoy her part in it. Remember The Other Sister? Remember Catch and Release?

As appearances go, no, she isn't conventionally pretty. But, pretty and sexy don't always go hand-in-hand.

I remember when I was a young girl and overheard my mother talking with my grandmother. My mother said something about how sexy Cloris Leachman was. My grandmother just couldn't believe it. Cloris Leachman?! No! No! No!... Then she started naming beautiful actresses: Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Tyler Moore, etc... all lovely but, really, sexy? Juliette Lewis may not be Scarjo, but she's a hell of a lot sexier, and a damned site better actress to boot.

I'm happy to see her get her just deserts in the Pajiba forum.

Posted by: jmflynny at August 20, 2010 8:07 PM

And don't forget her hilarious turn as Luke Wilson's "fiance" in Old School!

Posted by: Juice in LA at August 20, 2010 8:22 PM

Anyone remember the Melissa Etheridge video she made? I can't remember the song but it was about going crazy and she was totally convincing.

Posted by: jack at August 20, 2010 9:35 PM

I love Juliette Lewis and I recently had the chance to go see her in concert.
She is no longer of Juliette Lewis and The Licks but she still rocks.
I also got to meet her (briefly) after the show. And despite the fact that she had been mobbed by fans for the last 3 hours she was still polite and funny.
She's good shit.

Posted by: Allie at August 20, 2010 9:43 PM

Love her, she's cute and funny and quirky and adorable. Cape Fear and NBK made me a lifelong fan.

And The Other Sister made me cry. ALOT.

Posted by: Lisa at August 20, 2010 11:03 PM

This is the first I heard she was a Scientologist. All I can say is that makes one known Scientologist who doesn't make every interview and project about Scientology. Good for her.

Great actress, great performer, ok singer. I'm a fan.

Posted by: Robert at August 20, 2010 11:51 PM

I can't believe she's staring in a Jennifer Aniston comedy. She's much better than that. I still like hre and I hope she gets better roles than playing second fiddle to the vanilla envelope that is Aniston.

Posted by: CX at August 21, 2010 12:18 AM

jack, the video you're thinking of is "Come to my window."

Posted by: minorblue at August 21, 2010 1:34 AM

"Juliette Lewis may not be Scarjo, but she's a hell of a lot sexier,"

Hold the mutha-effing phone! I loves me some Juliette Lewis, and for all the same reasons that have all been stated here. But this I cannot stand for. I will certainly grant Miss Lewis is a better actress, but sexier she's not!

Ok, now that we've cleared that up, I can piggyback on all the Juliette love. Unique just doesn't cut it does it? She always brings it, whether she's the traumatized teen Mallory in NBK or Gilbert's love interest.

Lastly, Agent Bedhead, did you really write this? "Juliette is capable of delivering not only capable..."

Posted by: EJ at August 21, 2010 2:36 AM

Okay, EJ, I see I've offended your delicate sensibilities.

Just kidding.

Ms. Johannsen definitely has her moments but, often, it seems contrived for the cameras. As in, how sexy or interesting would she be if you had to spend several days alone with her and could do nothing but talk.... Sure, all the fawning and drooling would occupy a portion of that time, but eventually you would want to have a conversation.

After two days on a desert island you'd be screaming at her to get off her precious ass and help locate some food and water. Ms. Lewis, on the other hand, would have already served up sushi for two and presented you with a raft she had crafted from trees she felled with her own bare hands while you were off dreaming of how you wish she looked like Scarjo.

Or, you know, she would have summoned that alien fella to magically wisk you from her presence.

Posted by: jmflynny at August 21, 2010 11:56 AM

I loved her in Old School! She doesn't get a ton of screen time in some of her recent supporting roles but at least I know any scene with her in it will be watchable.

Posted by: Lola at August 21, 2010 12:18 PM

She is the best, no question. Excellent article, intelligent and well written.

Posted by: Hunchback Geek at August 21, 2010 1:19 PM

Juliette Lewis is an amazing actress. I think she is sexy as hell, and not just because she has hairy armpits.

Posted by: The Mutt at August 21, 2010 2:46 PM

"Negative Buzzwords: Batshit crazy, nontraditional, weirdo"

I believe you will find these are all Positive Buzzwords.

Posted by: Flea at August 21, 2010 5:25 PM

Actually, I think she's perfectly ok with not being a leading lady. I think she likes the body of work she's done.

I caught an interview of hers just recently with Scot Ferguson, I think and she was charming and down-to-earth and seemed totally normal.

In that sense, it was weird.

I've always liked her, though this is the first time I knew she was a Scientologist. Boo.

Did you know her dad was the weird graveyard caretaker guy in Salem's Lot?

Posted by: Snuggiepants at August 22, 2010 1:01 AM

Did you know her dad was the weird graveyard caretaker guy in Salem's Lot?

Didn't realize it until I last saw Salem's Lot a couple of months ago, when I looked up the actor's name (Geoffry Lewis).
He's had a pretty prolific, successful career as a supporting actor, himself, and you can totally see the resemblance once you know they are related.

Posted by: Rykker at August 22, 2010 3:38 AM

jmflynny, if you were trapped on a desert island with Juliette Lewis, you'd be in a prime position to hear about the wonders of Scientology. She might not bring it up all the time, but she's one of the few who isn't afraid to talk about it when she's prompted. Or at least she never used to be. Their handlers tell them to dial it down when they've been getting bad publicity. Though I guarantee that if you spend any time with her up close and personal, she will attempt to convert you. Once they've reached a certain level, it's their duty. Just don't mention Xenu.

I agree that Strange Days was one of her finest moments. I'm not a fan of the Licks or the Romantiques, but her cover of that PJ Harvey song was pretty damn good.

Posted by: Uda at August 22, 2010 6:01 AM

Juliette Lewis is weird and gross. I'll take me some Scarjo over her any day.

Posted by: ben at August 22, 2010 7:37 AM

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Posted by: madison at August 22, 2010 9:35 AM

i say shame on Agent Bedhead for this weak career assessment.
This is certainly a rundown of Lewis' resume, but there's hardly any examination of her ability.
i myself find Juliette Lewis irritating and her voice grating. Long is the list of great films i love in spite of her, certainly not because of her.
i was admittedly curious to see viewpoints from the opposition.

Instead we get "Mostly, I dig Juliette Lewis."
Congrats Bedhead. You just wasted our fucking time.

Posted by: Scott at August 27, 2010 2:59 AM

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