To this writer, Juliette Lewis is already a legend. A versatile talent whose career has already spanned nearly every genre of visual storytelling for over four decades now, Lewis has given us so many memorable characters over the years, with her recent role in Ma being yet another great entry on her already expansive and impressive résumé.
During the recent press day for Blumhouse’s latest film, Daily Dead had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Lewis about what initially caught her eye with Ma, and she discussed the appeal of working with Octavia Spencer and director Tate Taylor, how much she enjoyed collaborating with Diana Silvers, who plays her daughter Maggie in the film, and what her father (acclaimed actor Geoffrey Lewis, who many genre fans should know from Salem’s Lot and The Devil’s Rejects, amongst a myriad of other projects) taught her about creating compelling characters.
Look for Ma to party it up in theaters everywhere this Thursday.
Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Juliette. I would love to start at the beginning, because obviously you've been working in the industry for so long and you've done so many different projects of different genres. What was it about this project in particular that really drew you in and made you want to be a part of Ma?
Juliette Lewis: You know, it's the same thing I'm always looking for, which is grade A storytelling, really multi-faced characters, and a great director. And this had all of that. I also really relished the chance to support Octavia Spencer blowing people's minds, too, because I just love any time an artist can totally go against what people think they know of them. I know I have always tried to do that, ever since when I was younger. Like, if I played an ingénue innocent, I'll then play a killer. If I do a killer, then I want to do a comedy. I do that just for myself to keep myself developed and challenged.
And I just feel like Octavia is so incredible in this role as being this manipulative, grounded, but still funny as hell character. She's subversive and wicked. So for me, it was really nice to play a very grounded mom lioness role in this story that was very true to the friends of mine who are mothers themselves.
Speaking to that lioness role, I was somebody who was raised by a single mom, and so I appreciated the fact that this was a story about a mom and a daughter really trying to find their new place and having to start over again. It made for a really interesting dynamic.
Juliette Lewis: Yeah, that's really interesting, and I hadn’t really thought of it like that before. But the balance of this movie, that's Tate, and he did a great job with that and with the tone of the movie. There’s the theme of trauma, and then starting new, and all of that felt really real. Especially with being this newly single mom who is trying to make the best of it, since you can’t always be with your kid. I grew up with a lot of that because I grew up with my mom and my dad; they were divorced. So you're left to your own devices a lot, but you're still with a caring family. So, I really liked the honesty in that foundation, because that all felt really real to me.
In terms of that, can you talk about working with Diana, because I feel like there’s a very grounded relationship between your characters, and I have to commend you on your “Mom Voice,” because it was terrifying.
Juliette Lewis: That's the biggest compliment to me when I hear people say that, because that was Tate pushing me to be like, "Get angry! I want you to get even more mad." I was like, "Oh, okay," because I didn't want to scare people, but everyone is saying, "No, no, that's the Mom Voice when you go to that level." But Diana made my job easy. We had instant chemistry. I adore her. I'm so excited to see her have this moment with Booksmart and this movie, too. She has a great relationship to her own mom. And we just instantly connected.
She's a very funny girl, very quirky and dynamic and warm. But she goes to Doobie Brothers concerts! So we bonded over all this music that I grew up with, and I was like, "I love you!" Like, who do you know of this generation going to a Doobie Brothers concert? I just loved her for that.
And with my character, we were trying to not make her into this '50s mom, so she’s not heavy-handed or anything like that. So all of that I worked on with Tate, and I just referenced all my friends and challenges they face raising a young adult today. So I liked that Tate made these women who feel nuanced. It's kind of his forte. He knows how to create an environment and work with incredible actors to create dimension. He's just kind of a phenomenon that way.
Your career has been so interesting to me, because you've always been able to find really great characters to dig into over the years, but there has been sort of this discussion over the last five to ten years about creating great female characters. Do you feel like the tide is changing a little bit in terms of the stuff that you've seen out there and maybe are being offered as well?
Juliette Lewis: The tide is changing. It's just a little bit strange and bittersweet for me at this stage in my career, because you've never seen better stories and characters being portrayed in television, and then movies now are a bit more challenging to get made, like the type of movies that we came in with, the certain budget movies that aren't ginormous or they aren't teeny. They just call it a mid-range movie with character-driven things.
So I'm hoping that movies will have a rebirth like vinyl did, when everybody thought records are done, but now there's an entire culture for it, and it's magical. Everything that's archaic about a record is everything you love about it.
So for me, going to the theater, seeing the things on that big screen, experiencing it with the collective energy, that's all a really powerful thing to get to experience and I hope people rediscover that feeling for movies of all ranges.
And I did write something, and I'll eventually get this thing made, but until then, I'm working on a limited series with Mark Ruffalo for HBO called I Know This Much Is True, from a Wally Lamb book, and that's been a truly incredible experience for me so far.
With Ma, what has been the biggest takeaway for you, in terms of being a part of this project?
Juliette Lewis: One of the biggest things that was so wonderful about it was that it actually reminded me of the sets I had worked on coming up when I was younger, where it feels like a real collective of talent. Tate and Octavia created this environment. Tate, who owns properties in Natchez, Mississippi, which is where we shot, he put people up in his houses that he owns, so the whole thing was this really amazing collective creative experience. There was no hierarchy, we were all just in it, and that was the magic of moviemaking. Those are the movies I remember going to with my dad, where you're equal with the van driver, the lighting technician, or the director.
You mentioned your dad, and I wanted to ask before we go, he was someone who was also a brilliant character actor, much like yourself. How much of an influence were the things that he went through in his career on you? Or have you just blazed your own path for all these years?
Juliette Lewis: I think with my dad, just growing up on movie sets, I was really versed in the fact that there are different roles on movies. The makeup trailer, the grip department, the actors, that there were long hours. He did a lot of Westerns, and the sets weren't pretty. They were dusty, but they were really remarkable, and it was always just interesting people that gravitated toward that line of work, meaning they all came from all walks of life.
And I enjoyed that. But my dad also showed me that whether or not you have a big role or a small role, you just do the work all the same and really get into the experience. My dad did big movies and studio movies and TV, too, because he loved all the different experiences. So I love that I come from a dad who's a character actor, and I like to think of myself in that same light in my career.
Check HERE to catch up on our previous coverage of Ma, including Heather Wixson's review and her interviews with Tate Taylor and Diana Silvers!