Juliette Lewis: What Most People Don't Know About The Early '90s It Girl

Anyone who has seen Juliette Lewis perform, whether in the myriad films she has appeared in or on stage with her band, understands that she is a force of nature. There is sheer power behind her performances, an emotional rawness that seems to come from a very deep place. And she's funny too!

Lewis has been bringing her signature brand of humor and pathos to the big and small screen since the late '80s and, 30 years later, her career continues to thrive. From her early work in '90s blockbuster films "Cape Fear," "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?," and "Natural Born Killers," to her current starring roles in "Queer as Folk," "Welcome to Chippendales," and "Yellowjackets," Juliette Lewis always brings her A game.

Lewis' life and career have not been without controversy and bumps in the road, but the Oscar-nominated actor always manages to come out on top. From an unconventional upbringing to buzz-worthy performances, here are the facts about the iconic Juliette Lewis.

She was independent from a young age

Juliette Lewis started her impressive career when she was a teenager and made some big choices that would help her get a leg up in the industry. At age 14, Lewis became legally emancipated, but it had nothing to do with her relationship with her parents. She just wanted to make herself more available to work. "It was because you were more likely to get hired if you were an 'emancipated' minor versus a minor," she explained to The Guardian. "You could work without restrictions of the child labor laws. It wasn't anything to do with my parents, who were funny, very alive and very supportive. A lot of young actors in Hollywood got emancipated from their parents."

Lewis also dropped out of high school when she was just 15, but she didn't equate school with intelligence anyway. In a 1991 interview with The Los Angeles Times she said, "I even told Marty (Scorsese) ... 'Sometimes I just wish I was stupid.' It's a curse to be smart, because nobody, nobody understands it. And they can't think it's possible, that I'm so young and know what I'm saying or know what I'm doing." That is some next-level confidence right there!

Her impressive breakout role

Juliette Lewis began acting professionally in TV movies and series in the late 1980s. She appeared on episodes of "The Facts of Life," "The Wonder Years," and in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," but her big break came in 1991 with a starring role in Martin Scorsese's psychological thriller "Cape Fear." Lewis later learned there had been 500 other actors up for the part. She told Howard Stern, "Marty told me how thorough their search was, and that they almost couldn't believe I was the girl because I was the first girl they met with."

Lewis clearly had something special, because not only did she land the role playing opposite Robert De Niro, she was nominated for an Oscar for her powerful performance. She was still a teenager at the time, albeit an extremely self-assured one. In a 1991 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Lewis described working with her iconic co-star. "Usually when people go, 'Oh my God, Bob (De Niro),' they're nervous to meet him and stuff because they feel inadequate–is that the right word?–or not as good as (he is)," she said. "And I don't say I'm as good as him. I'm just confident about my own abilities. Yeah. And I am."

Her dad was a respected character actor

While no one thinks of her as a nepotism baby, Juliette Lewis' father was an actor with a prolific resume. Geoffrey Lewis was a character actor with a whopping 227 acting credits to his name, appearing in everything from sitcoms to TV movies to films such as 1978's "Any Which Way But Loose" and 2005's "The Devil's Rejects."

Juliette spoke at the Antalya Film Festival about the influence her dad had on her career aspirations. "My dad wasn't a man of a lot of advice, but he would encourage whatever his kids were interested in ... I saw the movie 'Flashdance,' or 'Fame,' and I wanted to sing and dance so he signed me up for classes," she said (via Screen Daily).

She also talked about an unconventional gift her father gave her that proved to be prescient. "What's funny is that when I was 15 my dad gave me a book of the worst female killers in history and now looking back was this a prophecy because I then went on to play in 'Natural Born Killers.' But I think he was like, if you do anything you better be the baddest and the best," she continued.

Geoffrey Lewis passed away in 2015, and Juliette expressed her love for her dad in a heartfelt Instagram post. The pic is of the pair together, both wearing bow ties and matching smiles. The captions reads, in part, "I am forever my father's daughter and he will never been gone."

Her romance with Brad Pitt

Juliette Lewis is not an actor whose personal life has ever overshadowed her career. Her love life has never been tabloid fodder, except for that time she dated Brad Pitt when she was just 17 years old. The couple met while filming the TV movie "Too Young To Die?" and began dating, despite Pitt being 10 years older than Lewis. Not much was made of the age difference at the time, and interviews instead focused on the couple's relationship.

Lewis told The Los Angeles Times in 1993, "We're like at the point in love, where we just like to see each other every single day and we don't get bored with each other, so it's really, really nice. Also we get to be around each other when we're working ..." The pair dated for three years and starred together in the 1993 film "Kalifornia."

In 1995, Pitt told Vanity Fair, "I still love the woman. There's some real genius there ... It was one of the greatest relationships I've ever been in." Of course, time marches on and we all know maybe too much about Pitt's love life at this point. In 2006, Lewis told The Guardian, "He's not in my universe at all now. It seems like a high-school relationship because now he's a very famous person ... I hope he finds happiness because I genuinely loved him. He's a very stand-up, good guy."

Fashion and music help her get into character

Juliette Lewis has a signature kind of rock n' roll chic style, and she brings her fashion sensibility to the characters she plays as well. Sometimes literally, as in wearing her own clothes during filming, as was the case playing Natalie in "Yellowjackets." "I sometimes brought in vintage or thrifted pieces I'd find on my days off, like the leopard-print dress she wears in a scene with her old sponsor to give the impression she has her life together," Lewis told Vogue. "And then when she breaks out fishnets, that's all me, that's not written."

Music also has a huge influence on Lewis when she is getting into character, to the point where she remembers specific songs she listened to in preparation for various film roles. In an interview with CBS Mornings she recalled, "When I was working in movies early on, I would always use music to get right into a scene...like 'Natural Born Killers' I was listening to Jimi Hendrix's 'Voodoo Child (Slight Return)' on repeat for a month ... 'Cape Fear' I was listening to The Shirelles, and like bubblegum love music because [the character] was a teenager ... music is a shortcut to the emotions..."

She's an actual rock star

True fans of Juliette Lewis know she is not only a supremely talented actor but a powerhouse rock star as well. After a decade plus of working as an actor, Lewis took a step back to focus on her music career and formed her band, Juliette and the Licks. "When I was 30 I realized that I didn't do the thing that lived in the heart of the little girl with her ear pressed to the radio, who dreamed about being onstage," Lewis shared with Pitchfork. "I had been locked into film and the cycle of finding success and thinking that I couldn't leave. I finally figured it out, like 'find a guitar player or a drummer, see if you can write.'"

It turns out she did, and she could, and Juliette and the Licks ended up releasing two albums, eight singles and EPs, and touring the U.S. and Europe. The distinct deep register of Lewis' speaking voice makes her a captivating vocalist, and she is a natural on stage with her frenetic energy. Lewis' foray into music was even the subject of a documentary by Michael Rapaport called "Hard Lovin' Woman." Lewis has also recorded music as a solo artist, and continues to perform between acting gigs. "...All this primal energy people respond to in me and my characters is in my music, 10 times more," Lewis told Far Out.

Her controversial role in Natural Born Killers

In 1994 Juliette Lewis starred alongside Woody Harrelson in "Natural Born Killers." The film, directed by Oliver Stone features Lewis and Harrelson as a couple who go on a violent crime spree and become pop culture icons as a result. What was meant as a commentary on the culture and media at the time became all too real when several copycat crimes were blamed on the movie's influence. "As actors, when we were selling the film, I never had experienced the level of animosity and aggression or disdain from journalists. They were so mad at us! Like, we were at fault!" Lewis told EW in an interview at the time of the film's 25th anniversary.

In order to land the role of Mallory Knox in the film, Lewis had to convince Oliver Stone she was believable as someone capable of murder. "Theoretically you could say I might've made him believe I could kill him," Lewis told Howard Stern. "...I sat across from him and I was like, 'killing someone is about finding their weak points and the element of surprise,'" she said, erupting into laughter. Clearly, she was quite convincing!

Is Juliette Lewis a Scientologist?

Plenty of A-list celebrities belong to the Church of Scientology, despite many public claims of the religion's bizarre and abusive practices. Over the years, many people, celebs included, have left the church amid these allegations. But is Juliette Lewis one of them?

Lewis was raised with the teachings of Scientology, and at age 22, checked herself into a Scientology-run clinic in order to get sober (via The Guardian). Over the years she has praised the church and has been outspoken about its tenets. "I'm a Christian! I think there's so much confusion because people don't understand a religion where you can be another religion but you can still practice Scientology. That's why it's completely progressive. It's just tools for living," she told Vanity Fair in 2010.

However, in a 2022 interview with The New York Times, Lewis claimed simply, "I'm a spiritualist." Considering how vocal she'd been in the past about being a Scientologist, this seems significant. And knowing how difficult it has been for others to leave the Church of Scientology, it would stand to reason that Lewis might not want to make more of a declaration.

She was married to a professional skateboarder

Since Juliette Lewis' love life rarely makes headlines (save for the Brad Pitt romance), many might not know she was married for several years to pro-skateboarder and occasional actor Steve Berra. The union lasted from 1999 until 2003 when the pair split. "... I had picked our wedding date as 9-9-99, which is very special because it only happens once," Lewis explained to EW.

Having been raised in a bohemian household, Lewis enjoyed the basic aspects of traditional married life. She told The Guardian in 2006, "For instance, when I was married I loved doing my husband's laundry. I liked it because I liked the tradition of it, because I grew up without it." Despite these small joys, it was ultimately not built to last.

"He was a workhorse. Everything was work-related and he found it difficult to be in a marriage," Lewis continued. "Then he was off making his first skateboarding film and I was off making a movie." Still, the couple remained close even after the marriage ended. "We're best friends now. It's like a family relationship. We always check how we are."

Her love for her Yellowjackets co-stars

Since its premiere in 2021, Showtime's "Yellowjackets" has been a runaway hit with critics and audience alike. The series, which stars Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, Melanie Lynskey, and Tawny Cypress, follows the surviving members of a plane crash that left a high school all-girls soccer team to fend for themselves in the wilderness for nearly two years. The show flashes back between 1996 and present day, with the aforementioned actors played by younger counterparts. The cast itself was enough to get Lewis on board to play troubled and impulsive survivor Natalie.

"Melanie Lynskey was involved, and then they mentioned Christina Ricci. And so that got me really excited. The brilliant, beautiful, enigmatic Tawny Cypress was not attached yet. I had just heard those names, and I was like, 'Yes, that's a good cast!' All four of us together. We just complete each other" she shared with Vogue.

She also has much praise for Sophie Thatcher who portrays high school Natalie. "I adore the actress that plays my younger self. We would hang out. She's distinctly herself, don't get me wrong, but she has a lot of elements that reminded me of me at 19. We all did our homework," Lewis told Collider.

She has been sober for decades

Achieving success in Hollywood at a young age most definitely has its pitfalls, and Juliette Lewis was not immune to the darker side of fame. "There were times when I felt I was dying. For whatever reason, I felt so conflicted about myself. I had an incredible confidence about my talent on the one hand, but on the other, I felt really insecure about who I was as a person..." She shared with The Independent.

This led to Lewis using drugs to cope. Eventually, she checked herself into a Scientology-run clinic to get sober and it worked. "I quit drugs at 22," she told People. "I traveled a lot, I dealt with my priorities. I have such a beautiful, strong family and friends and they are like everything to me."

Although the pressures of Hollywood took a bit of a toll, Lewis acknowledges that she belongs in front of an audience. "This industry has fed me. There's no other place for me, as a little imagination freak fairy," she told The New York Times. We will take this to mean that Lewis will continue to grace our screens with her inimitable talent, and us fans are so lucky to have her.