ANTALYA, Turkey — When asked whether she’s had trouble along the lines of the alleged sexual assaults of Harvey Weinstein, Juliette Lewis said producers were too frightened of her, even at age 18, to try anything.
“I scared everyone,” she told fans at the Antalya Film Fest. “Even at 18, people thought I might blow their head off. It’s a good power to have.”
Speaking to an audience who had just seen “Cape Fear,” the 1991 Martin Scorsese film that launched her career, Lewis added, “In any field, it’s nice when things get revealed. It’s important for any line of work that people get found out for their crimes.”
Having received the key to the city from Antalya’s mayor at the fest’s opening gala Saturday, Lewis reflected on the many lessons she gleaned from filming with Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Robert Mitchum.
“I was 18 when I did ‘Cape Fear’ but I’m playing 14 and so many people thought that Scorsese had just found me and I really was that girl, but I wasn’t.”
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Lewis, whose father was an actor, lived a fairly conventional life as a teen in Los Angeles, she confesses. “I auditioned for the movie and that character is based on a young girl I had met at a park who was holding a kitten because when I play a character, I like to get inspiration from my environment.”
Something caught her attention about the strange girl with bangs, Lewis added, because she “always looked like she had a secret.”
Scorsese auditioned hundreds of girls before entrusting the starring role of a teen stalked by De Niro’s psychopath, she said, and she read for the part four times.
“My instinct was to be as natural as possible and not act. For me, it’s a very physical transformation when I’m acting. I want to make it seem like breathing.”
De Niro was an inspiration for her, Lewis said, especially during the long scene in which he toys with her, partly in an act of revenge against her father, played by Nolte.
“It was like a tango dance of emotion and so I got spoiled on this film, having that kind of creative experience. I must say, I learned from the best starting with this film because to walk on set with De Niro as Max Cady – he was so present as that character that he made me even better and more present as well. It was an electric experience.”
She didn’t feel fear, Lewis recalled, which surprised many. “My character didn’t know that he was a murderer. Me as Juliette – I had useful bravado. I was just excited.”
Starting a career in the company of Hollywood legends such as producer Kathleen Kennedy and Gregory Peck “was really incredible for me,” Lewis said.
“I was just thrilled by this opportunity to be in this world-class cinema making experience. It was really powerful. I have an affection for character actors.”
Lewis’ father gave her useful insight, she said, when he “always let me know that this is a line of work for when you live in your imagination. It made it a possible field to work in that was I excited by.”
Acting filled a deep calling she felt as a child, Lewis said.
“I always had a sensitivity towards other people. I was deeply curious about other people’s experience and pain. I wanted to be other people or reflect humanity.”
But it wasn’t just dramatic roles that appealed to her, Lewis said.
“I just like variety. I like the absurd. I love comedy – ‘Natural Born Killers’ to me is very camp. It’s very broad, comedic. I also love the really dark stuff of human emotion and experience.”
The 1994 Oliver Stone film, in which Lewis plays half of a couple going on a road trip-murder spree is more relevant now than ever, she said.
“It was ahead of its time and what it was commenting on…the media and the making of super stardom criminals. It was a bit of a wild, visual film.”
Stone was demanding she said, but the experience was enthralling.
“There was a lot of creative freedom. I improvised a lot of scenes. It was so strange that film.”
Harvey Weinstein has denied any non-consensual sexual relations.