Interview: Juliette Lewis on playing low-key and quiet in 'Kelly & Cal'
"Kelly & Cal" star Juliette Lewis talks about being drawn to unlikeable characters, how she herself is quiet and being young and working with Scorsese.
Juliette Lewis was younger than Jonny Weston, her young costar in the indie drama “Kelly & Cal,” when she started in the film business. As a teen, she appeared on “The Wonder Years,” played Audrey Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and then found herself, still not 20, working for Martin Scorsese (in “Cape Fear”) and Woody Allen (“Husbands and Wives”). “Kelly & Cal” affords her the chance to look back. In it, she plays a middle-aged new mom whose discontentment with her husband and a needy toddler drives her towards a slightly inappropriate friendship with a wheelchair bound teen (Weston).
What drew her to the role: “The first thing that spoke to me — because I’m not a mom — was the crossroads she’s at, her discontentment. She’s looking her past and the person she was and finding that her youthful energy is not going to help her at the moment. She’s going through an existential crisis — a midlife crisis, and facing mortality and the limits of time. I love that there’s no big, high stakes, no big horrible thing that occurs. It’s this quiet journey.”
Not always liking her character: “I found myself not liking her when I read the script. I was like ‘What’s your problem? Wake up!’ But I don’t do movie to play likable people. I like giving a voice to all kinds of characters and ambivalences and contradictions and what I see in all of us.”
On playing a low-key role: “As an actor you’re like, ‘Ugh, is this like watching pain dry? Am I boring people?’ There’s this low-key vibe where you’re allowed to gradually empathize with her, to just watch her. She’s in the second month of having a child and she has terrible insomnia, where you can’t sleep and everything’s a blur. I had so many friends who I bugged with questions.”
She’s quiet in real life, she swears: “Minimalistic acting is where I started. In ‘Cape Fear’ I played an introvert. I think people started associating me with ‘Natural Born Killers,’ this raw expression. But quiet and introverted is kind of who I am. I guess you can’t tell that. When I’m doing phoners I’m loud and expressive because I want to give you quotes.”
On her young costar: “I honestly didn’t know if I was going to find that level of intimacy and equality with a young actor. I was very involved in the audition process, and when Jonny came into the room it was immediate. He had this sense of youthful invincibility — didn’t we all at one point? And then had that x-factor, and a passion. He’s so committed and dedicated. He actually reminded me of Leo [DiCaprio] and Brad Pitt. We all had that same level of passion and hunger, which Jonny has. He was willing to go the distance and he wasn’t intimidated.”
On not mentoring Weston: “He’s going to find his own way. I don’t think young people ever want advice, truly. When I was young I was like, ‘I’m not going to listen to other people.’ You can’t even see past the next week. I couldn’t see to 22. I was wrapped up in heartache and first love and all that drama.”
Her first teacher: “I’m not academically trained. My first “acting classes” were with Karen Black, who we lost last year. She was like a second mother to me. She was friends with my parents. My dad [Geoffrey Lewis] is a character actor, so I went on movie sets when I was younger. I always had this realistic view of acting — that it’s never the same job twice, it’s super long hours, and lots of interesting characters gravitate towards the filmmaking business. My first acting class was playing charades when I was seven or eight at Karen Black’s house. She would give me suggestions and I would act them out. She thought I was the greatest thing in the universe. She was the first person who made me think I had this secret little gift.”
On being young and working for Scorsese and Woody Allen: “I always listened to music when I was younger. That’s what I tweaked out on. I wasn’t a cinema buff. That worked for me because I didn’t know to be completely humbled and intimidated by Scorsese and Woody Allen yet. I didn’t know how lucky I was. All I knew was I was being given a great opportunity and lots of freedom by incredible directors. I learned on the job. Scorsese was instrumental in teaching me to trust my instincts. He didn’t direct with a heavy hand. He gave me a lot of leeway and instilled in me the idea that I really knew what I was doing. But I wasn’t very verbal at the time. I couldn’t articulate my process. I was just all instincts.”
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