Juliette Lewis steps out of her Escalade on St. Marks Place, BlackBerry in hand. She lives in Los Angeles these days, which is also where she grew up, but for a time in the nineties when she was a wild-girl actress she lived in New York, and she’s in the mood to reminisce. “I was 21, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna live like a 21-year-old and have a social life,’ because it’s very weird when you make movies in your teens,” she says. She went out “nonstop” for a few months to Club USA and Tunnel and Save the Robots. “I’d get in a cab with these girls named Leslie and Regla. I was just losing my anonymity, and all these incredible drag queens would be like, ‘What’s your name? I know I know you.’ And I’d be like, ‘My name’s Sylvia Demure.’ ” She sighs. “There was this one boy-girl. I think she wanted to get the operation. I don’t know what happened to her.”
We started toward the Patricia Field store, because she used to shop there. As we walk, it becomes clear she doesn’t really seem to know where she is. “My Aunt Nancy has a loft on, um, Walker? I stayed there when I was 13. That’s the East Village,” she says, grasping to orient herself in her memory. But then her desire for an organic coconut milk—“since I’m a health freak, it’s my crack”—detours us into the Healthfully Organic Market on East Fourth. Over a smoothie with extra coconut and hemp protein, she continues her story. She had much of her big success in the nineties—Cape Fear, Natural Born Killers, Kalifornia, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. She plays in a band and puts her badass affect to good use in her new film, Conviction, in which she plays a white-trash Massachusetts girl who lands a man in jail.
Back in L.A., Lewis, 37, lives in a little cabin up a winding road that she rents from a friend. She was raised by Scientologists—an actor dad and a graphic-designer mom—and she still practices. “What does that mean to you?” she asks me. “It means I believe in aliens. Is that what it means?” I tell her I don’t know enough about it. “It’s a common-sense guide to living in this world,” she says. “I know that sounds like a sales pitch, but that’s what people don’t know. Really useful bits of information to help navigate through this life, bettering your relationships, communication, confronting your fears. The aliens—I don’t have that relationship to it. I don’t know what that’s about.”
Changing the subject, I mention a little antique key around her neck. “I bought it for the last person I fell in love with and was gonna give it to him,” she explains. “You know the symbolism, key to my heart, whatever.” She pauses. “He did not deserve the key. I will wear it until someone should have it.” Meaning that if we see her without it, she’s found the guy? “Or I just left the necklace at home.”