Lewis loosens up

Actress Juliette Lewis departs from her dark movie roles to play a sunny character in television legal drama The Firm.

AMERICAN actress Juliette Lewis has always been known for being quirky and offbeat. Perhaps it has to do with her carefree, hippie lifestyle: she has gone travelling for years at a time with her rock band, and has a history of showing up at glitzy Hollywood events in a wacky outfit or a silly hairdo.

Or maybe it is because of the unconventional, darker roles that she has come to be associated with. Her most memorable performances include Cape Fear (1991), in which she played a disturbed teenager, and Natural Born Killers (1994) in which she was a violent psychopathic murderer. Whatever the reason, the always-unpredictable Lewis is not known to follow norms.

So, when she decided to join a big network television show as a cast regular recently, you cannot help but wonder if she is, well, turning a little bland. Lewis is a supporting actress in the TV drama series The Firm, which airs on AXN (Astro Ch701) every Sunday night. She plays Tammy, a fun-loving and feisty gum-chewing receptionist at a legal firm.

Pillar of support: Juliette Lewis’ character Tammy is feisty and fun-loving and a devoted other half toRay (Keith Callum Rennie).

When asked about playing the sunny role during a recent international press event at the Langham Huntington in Pasadena, Los Angeles, the 38-year-old pauses, then gives a surprisingly sensible and pragmatic response.

She says:”I see what you are saying, that the fact that I’m doing mainstream television is totally radical, like it’s wild. Because no, I would never want to be conventional.

“But I do like the idea that being on this show can remind people on a weekly basis, and remind other professionals that I’m here. If that helps them in thinking about hiring me more in the future, I think that’s quite an exciting possibility.”

After her acclaimed performances in Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers, she has not achieved the same measure of success or recognition. Other than an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the 2002 TV movie Hysterical Blindness, she has, for the most part, remained under the radar.

Looking elegant and pretty in a short-sleeved, dark blue glittery dress, she exudes none of that outlandish kookiness so played up in other media reports. Still, there is something dreamy and whimsical about her – from the way she tilts her head to the side when she speaks, to the way she twirls her red curls with her fingers.

As much as joining a mainstream TV show seems like she is playing it safe, Lewis is nonetheless careful to pick unique acting roles, she says.

“In anything I do, since I was young, I’m always looking to play something I’ve never played before.

“I like that Tammy is visually different from anything I’ve done. She’s the type of girl who wears high heels when she steps out the door. She does her hair. She’s into fashion. And then at the heart of who she is, she is also very warm and street smart.”

The Firm acts as a sequel to the best-selling 1993 novel of the same name by John Grisham which was also made into a movie starring Tom Cruise.

It picks up 10 years on from the end of the book, after lead character lawyer Mitch McDeere exposes a major law firm to be a front for a mob ring.

Apart from being a receptionist to Mitch, Lewis’ character occasionally goes undercover to help her boss with his legal cases.

Lewis is the latest in a slew of movie actors making their way into TV in recent times. Other examples include Josh Lucas, who co-stars with her as Mitch on The Firm, Dustin Hoffman in horse-racing drama Luck, Christina Ricci in retro airline drama Pan Am, and Ashley Judd in thriller drama Missing. Though Lewis has been offered “a couple of things” in TV in the past, she says that she finally took on The Firm because it is now “the golden age of television”.

“Right now, there are a lot of people on TV who are telling exciting stories, new risk-taking stories and things that really have strange characters. There is comedy and drama and everything in between, and so I thought I should consider it.”

She actually got her start in television in the late 1980s, and has been in such shows as I Married Dora (1987) and A Family For Joe (1990). However, she became better known as a movie actress after having starred in major films such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and Woody Allen’s Husbands And Wives (1992). She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Cape Fear. The Firm marks her return to major TV as a regular in over 20 years.

According to reports, the actress is currently single. She famously dated actor Brad Pitt for two years from 1991 to 1993, and was once married to professional skateboarder Steve Berra. They divorced in 2003 and have no children.

Apart from acting, Lewis has led a modestly successful rock band called Juliette And The Licks since 2003, of which she is the vocalist. The five-member group have released three albums so far, and toured much of the United States, Europe and Australia.

Some of their singles include Inside The Cage, which is featured in the hit video game Grand Theft Auto IV, and You’re Speaking My Language, which peaked at No.35 on the UK Singles Chart.

She says she became a musician because she wanted to travel and have a closer form of interaction with her fans. Looking dreamily into the distance, she says: “I came into music knowing that I’d get to socially network to find my audience. So for me, my interest is the live show, first and foremost. I also get to play all around the world and that excites me.” – The Straits Times Singapore/Asia News Network

> The Firm airs on AXN (Astro Ch701) every Sunday at 9.50pm. Also catch Lewis on What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, showing this Sunday at 11pm on Ntv7.