Juliette Lewis stars in Conviction, the story of a single mother who puts herself through law school in an attempt to free her brother who is wrongly accused of murder.
Lewis plays an ex of the brother’s (Sam Rockwell), whose false testimony is the reason for his imprisonment. Although Lewis is only in the film for a few scenes, it’s a testament to her that she remains in my memory of the film.
She talked to Speakeasy about the film, her character and the challenge of playing a real person.
The Wall Street Journal: How did you become involved with “Conviction”?
Juliette Lewis: Tony (Goldwyn) offered me this part, which I knew was small. I was completely blown away by the cast and by Tony as a director and by the story. This is one of those dream situations, where it’s not simply entertainment but something relevant and empowering and beautiful and heartbreaking, because it’s true. In the greatest sense, this is what film can be: shining a light on injustices and making people think.
What kinds of roles do you gravitate towards?
Well, it’s funny because I don’t pick them; they pick me in a way. I’m always just looking for something that I’ve never done before, for diversity in characters. I wanna be scared and nervous. Also, as you get older, you really want to have to have a good experience with the people you work with.
Did you meet the woman you played, Roseanne Perry?
No. She did not contribute to the story
So how did you get a feel for her character?
A lot of it was perception and putting the pieces together. This gave a chance to play the kind of people we cross the street to avoid. We know there’s a disturbing energy there, something unpredictable. If you just took a woman who never left her trailer and has been drinking for the past ten years and you had a conversation with that character, it would be interesting. But introduce her to her nemesis, ask her about the one thing she’s been lying to so many people about, and give her a three-dollar wine….there’s just so much color to play. I’ve never transformed myself so thoroughly, visually or internally, for a role. It was really intimidating a exciting.
Are you aware that you provide, in a way, some comic to relief to a very serious and somber film?
No, I was not aware of that! I knew she was strange to watch. Her behavior is so insane that you can laugh at it. She’s trying to build a defense for herself, but she’s full of sh–, and that can be, I guess, amusing. My whole goal is always just to make people feel, and I wanted people to feel uncomfortable. So I hope that’s happening.
What are some of the particular challenges involved in playing real people?
When you’re playing real people, there is a responsibility. All my dialect in the film is from things [Roseanne Perry] said; they’re all from transcripts that were put together into this one scene. I worked with Liz Himelstein, the dialect coach. Betty Ann said I did a great job so I was very, very happy, because at the end of the day you don’t ever want to be a caricature. I’m always looking to be the realest of the real. Everybody involved wanted to live up to Betty Ann’s story and make her proud.