Juliette Lewis rocks on the edge in Tribeca doc Hard Lovin' Woman
“This one goes out to the entire world that’s right/I know you think you know me better than that.” Such are the lyrics to “You’re Speaking My Language,” a track from the sophomore release by rock band Juliette and the Licks. The song beckons listeners to engage with what was, at the time of its 2005 release, a relatively new (and unexpected) musical venture for the band’s Hollywood-vetted, Oscar-nominated frontwoman: Juliette Lewis. Now, 11 years later, Michael Rapaport’s new documentary, Hard Lovin’ Woman, mashes together Lewis’ profesional worlds in both film and music to form a fresh portrait of the 42-year-old’s multi-pronged career.
Ahead of the film’s April 15 premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, Lewis tells EW the documentary captures her spirit in a way that’s appealing to those who might not be familiar with her musical endeavors, and that she’s working on brand new music (with Isabella Summers of Florence + the Machine) that will challenge what fans have come to expect from her.
Hard Lovin’ Woman is available on Red Bull TV beginning April 23. Read Lewis’ full EW interview (plus see exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from the film) below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hard Lovin’ Woman — it’s a movie about your music. That’s a perfect melding of your worlds, right?
JULIETTE LEWIS: Yeah! I’m so proud of it and I just have to give Mike Rapaport all the credit. I trust him implicitly. We actually want to do something that’s not a documentary. I gave it up to him because I knew he’s so good at finding the truth in different elements and subjects he’s working with, and it’s not salacious or exploitive. I feel like this is a nice representation of me and where I’m at right now. He had hours of old footage, then documented my life six months, and he carved this beautiful narrative that is very much in the spirit of what I like to give to people and who I am, so I’m very proud of it.
You have a song called “Hard Lovin’ Woman” from your 2009 solo album. Why do you think the name of that song lends itself to the documentary?
It’s so wild because when I started The Licks, I was trying to do something raw and real, and it was visceral. I wanted to get it on its feet and learn who I was as a songwriter and performer by performing. There are good songs, super juvenile songs, really celebratory songs, and really angsty stuff. Throughout the years, I wanted to express a deeper honesty that wasn’t as noisy, and I got with an old friend of mine named Chris Watson, and he played this riff one day, and this was after five years of touring; I was beat up by the road and all the pressures I’d put on myself, and I just went through a breakup. That song literally wrote itself. It was such an honest portrait and declaration of who I am in claiming my hardships but also claiming my love and my power within myself, so when Mike said he wanted to use that as the title, I was like, “Well, it’s fitting, it’s who I am to this day.” You could say I’m hard loving — some people say hard living, I’ve been that too [laughs] — but hard living in anything I approach.
Is that what you hope this documentary communicates? Is it speaking to fans or people who might not be familiar with this side of you?
As a spirit on this planet and then as an artist, in anything I do now more than ever, I just want to uplift people and I want to make people feel better about themselves, about their own individuality and feel inspired, because we all have pain in greater or lesser degrees. I think the spirit of “Hard Lovin’ Woman,” when I say I talk to my father, [I meant] he always wanted to instill me with feeling proud and strong about who I am, so the whole spirit of that song is what the documentary is and how I roll.
In the film, you say you were always a musician, but you decided to do acting first. If that’s true, and music was your first passion, does an accomplishment like playing a show mean more to you than being nominated for an Oscar?
Even as a lead singer, you’re an anomaly. I do play piano, but that’s not what I do. I play in my emotions and I’m a lyricist, and I write with other people and I collaborate. I’ve spent so much time now with all different kinds of musicians. I hear music in everything. I also hear bass lines in a song in an airport that’s playing 10 stores down. My ears are always in tune with rhythms and musical things or even sounds that I find inspiring. Musical, in that sense, I’ve always been, and also as an actor I’ve always used music as a shortcut to engaging my emotions. For Natural Born Killers, I would listen to “Voodoo Child” and “Killing Floor” by Jimi Hendrix on repeat for two months, and it would literally lay the foundation for that character for me.
But, getting an Oscar nomination, I didn’t understand it at the time, because I was 19. I didn’t understand the attention I was receiving, because in my own world I was so introverted and lived in this insular little bubble, so I didn’t feel connected to show business. I would just do my work and do jobs, so the magnitude and scale of what the Oscars were was overwhelming.
Watching the scene where you make fun of the journalist on the phone scared me! I think you were mocking him for asking you about the actress/musician crossover thing. Why do you think some people are so set on drawing a line between where an actress can or can’t go with her art?
[Laughs] what you can’t show in a 30-minute doc is that was at seven in the morning. I was talking to 10 journalists. For the most part I had a great sense of humor because I was quite cocky about my live show, it’s like, whatever you think as long as you show up and we’ll have a good time. That guy didn’t do his homework, that’s all. Honestly, I didn’t expect anyone to take me seriously out of the gate, and I wasn’t looking for that acceptance in media. I couldn’t give a s—. My only concern was the songs I was writing with my band and putting on a really exciting show. But me mocking the journalist, that’s a tired J.L. early in the morning saying, “Quit f— with me” [laughs].
In terms of new music, you’re working with Isabella Summers on an EP, right?
Isabella is this radical, exciting new producer, known as the keyboardist in Florence + the Machine. Her and I just get stuff. The new sound has a big bottom end, so it’s incredible bass lines and the drums are good, but it’s fun sounding and it’s big. I feel like some of my old rock music is kind of a niche for a certain range of feelings, and this new work is more open. The first single is called “Hello Hero” and it has a really fun chorus.
Is it still rock music, though?
“Hello Hero” is kind of dancey because what people don’t know is I love disco and big hip hop drum beats, so don’t let that scare you because all in all I’m a rock and roll singer. It’s true for who I am. We have other songs… one’s kind of more menacing and dark, and that’s called “Mean Mean Machine,” it’s kind of blues-tinged.
The EP will be released in the summer, but I don’t have a date. I want to release EPs because I have another bunch of songs I wrote with Brad Shultz from Cage the Elephant. I don’t know if you know that band. We wrote a bunch of songs in Nashville, so I’ve just been waiting on how to release this music, and that’s very ’60s garage sounding, and a little bit like Cage the Elephant.
Toward the end of the film, after you hurt your knees, you say you’re contemplating why you keep pushing forward. What answer did you arrive at?
I explore these things in myself. I’m no stranger to self-destruction, so I try to be mindful of my intentions, and even in my creative spirit, and a lot of creative people have a dramatic element where you’re like, “I want to suffer, I want to give everything to be broken.” That’s not good for longevity, but there’s something beautiful to wanting to pour out one’s truth in hoping for a catharsis. I sing those songs and some of them are painful and aggressive and fun and exciting, but that’s the reason I want to give that kind of energy: I want to serve as a conduit and for everyone to release what they feel and create this epic, collective joy. I just want to live to the fullest. I have to be pretty mindful and watch myself, and I’m really into being healthy, and I’m in love. I don’t want to have busted knees and not be able to walk!