“I always liken myself to the bearded lady,” says Juliette Lewis. “Because I’m an actress turned musician, a woman doing male-dominated rock & roll. … I’m the oddity at the freak show, you know?”
Lewis is speaking with Rolling Stone from New York City where, in a few hours, she’ll be attending the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of a new documentary on her musical life, Hard Lovin’ Woman. The Michael Rapaport-directed short, which will be available on Red Bull TV beginning April 23rd, chronicles Lewis’ mid-2000s turn away from a successful acting career (launched in earnest with her Oscar-nominated role, at 18, opposite Robert De Niro in Cape Fear) in favor of throwing her sweaty, shaking body across stages and into crowds as the frontwoman of her own high-energy rock band, Juliette and the Licks. Of her singing and performing, Lewis says, “That’s me trying to get everything out, in a very physical sense. It’s personal catharsis through the drum kit and the guitars and the bass. I feel like the music passes through me.”
In the years since, the Licks have broken up and reunited, and Lewis, now 42, has become more immersed in TV and film work again. But music is still a primal and primary force in her life. She recently cut “some really, really wild songs” with Florence and the Machine’s Isabella Summers, and will be heading to Europe in a few weeks for her first tour in more than a half decade. And later on the night of our conversation with Lewis, she and her reconstituted band will take the stage at an afterparty following the Tribeca screening of Hard Lovin’ Woman.
“So I’m fucking riddled with nerves right now!” she exclaims. “But, you know, thank God for nervousness. I would be nervous if I didn’t feel nervous. Because that nervousness is excitement. It’s anticipation. It’s energy. And at the end of the day, when I’m out, there I just want to be able to surrender to the moment. It’s what I try to do in acting, too. I’m just striving for truth.”
The always-animated Lewis spoke to Rolling Stone from her hotel room about Hard Lovin’ Woman, dealing with the stigma of being an actor who rocks and some of the artists she’s worked with in her music career, including Dave Grohl, who appears at length in the documentary. She also expounded on whether or not, perhaps as a result of the idiosyncratic characters she has played in movies like Cape Fear, Natural Born Killers and Kalifornia, people think she’s crazy in real life.
Then she got ready to go for a run. “It’s good for my sanity,” she explained.