It is nearly nine o'clock on a Friday night, and Juliette Lewis is dashing to her second movie theatre of the evening, preparing for another Q&A about Conviction, which stars Hilary Swank but is garnering Lewis a considerable amount of acclaim.
Due to a timing mix-up, some theatregoers already have started to leave when she arrives, and by the time Lewis starts to take questions about her brief but gripping role as a woman who wrongly sends a man to prison, the theatre is about half-full. Yet Lewis takes question after question and talks with fans who come to her afterwards to get a closer look at the star, who is dressed casually in a black jacket and jeans.
Surely, there are more exciting things to do on a Friday night in New York City. But Lewis does not mind. After a break of nearly five years from appearing in films, the 37-year-old actress is savouring every moment in the spotlight, especially with very early Oscar buzz for Conviction.
"With this movie, I'm kind of having the time of my life in that I never expected the reception I've been getting for my role. Never," says Lewis, while riding in the back of a Cadillac Escalade that is ferrying her around the city. "Everything about it has been a joy."
She has had a similar kind of joy about her re-emergence in Hollywood after abandoning films to concentrate on a rock career that is now respected and thriving. Lewis, whose celebrated acting career includes an Oscar nomination for 1991's Cape Fear when she was just a teen and seminal roles in movies like Natural Born Killers, decided in 2003 that she wanted to do more than just dabble in music.
Unlike most actors who moonlight as musicians but do not give up their day jobs, Lewis did just that, dropping out of acting to tour with her band, Juliette and the Licks, with their thrashing, aggressive brand of rock.
"It's sort of when I decide to do something, I'm gonna do it all the way," says Lewis, adding later: "In my head, in my creative heart, I wouldn't have been able to do both."
Life of a musician
While her decision was greeted with derision in some circles, she proved her mettle by immersing herself in the life of a musician, not only playing overseas and at rock festivals like Lollapalooza, but also in small clubs and hipster venues.
"In the beginning, they're just curious," she says, laughing. "So the expectations are really low. So that was great for me. But then after that you get the people who are really digging what you're doing and your music."
She released two albums, wrote songs and collaborated with rockers like Dave Grohl. She earned respect from fellow musicians and fans alike.
Ironically, just when she was getting more established in the music world, she underwent another transition, disbanding her initial band and forming another while putting out a solo record. Then, as she was working on her last record, Terra Incognita, released in 2009, acting began to pull at her when Drew Barrymore offered her a starring role in Whip It.
Feeling confident of her footing in the music arena, Lewis felt comfortable in stepping away for a return to movies.
"I'm in my 30s. I'm not done. I don't want my best work to be behind me in my 20s. I feel like this is a new chapter," says Lewis with her always-intense gaze. "I have more life experience, I have more confidence in what I'm doing, so I feel like I have more to offer creatively in the world of cinema. But I have to work my way into making myself known again in some circles."
In the past year, she has been in a variety of films, from her supporting role in the Jennifer Aniston comedy The Switch to the emotional Mark Ruffalo film Sympathy for Delicious to her recent small part in Due Date, where she plays a pot dealer. "I just love doing things completely different," she says.
It is her role as Roseanna Perry in Conviction that is generating the very earliest of Oscar talk for Lewis.
Her role is only two scenes, but it is pivotal to the movie. Lewis masters a Boston accent and wears prosthetic rotten teeth as she embodies a damaged, embittered character who is a villain yet sympathetic at the same time.
Tony Goldwyn, the director of Conviction, knew early on that he wanted Lewis for the role, but worried the part was too small. "She just completely immersed herself as if she was going to be shooting for six months, and I thought, ‘Wow, that's a world-class actress'," he says. "When we were in that trailer, shooting that [pivotal] scene, all of our jaws were on the floor."
Though Lewis has been celebrated for other roles and heard her name mentioned in award talk, it is particularly special this time.
"[It's] really scary in a tickling sweet sense," she says wistfully. "I'm honestly beyond flattered and overjoyed that it's being received in that way."
It is a genuine feeling that is clear to her Hollywood peers.
"It was wonderful to see somebody with that kind of renewed excitement about it," Goldwyn said.