The Complete Evolution Of Juliette Lewis

Back in the '90s, Juliette Lewis was the ultimate alternative it-girl. Today, she is just as iconic as ever. After starring in films like Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear," the Brad Pitt thriller "Kalifornia," the tragic "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," and "Natural Born Killers," Lewis skyrocketed to fame as a teen — but her career took a turn in her 20s as she turned away from acting and focused instead on music. Now, she's back on the scene with her role as the troubled Natalie in the smash hit "Yellowjackets." 


Although Lewis was once known for her 'bad girl' persona, these days, she seems to lead a far more mellow existence. "I don't ever want to lose it, lose a certain kind of fire... but no, I'm not a maniac," she told CBS News in 2023, adding, "If we weren't doing this [interview], I would just be at home. I would just look at the mountains and listen to the birds, and throw a ball with my dogs."

From child star to rock icon to effortlessly cool and surprisingly laid-back actor in middle age, here's the complete evolution of Juliette Lewis.

Juliette Lewis had an unusual LA upbringing

Juliette Lewis didn't have what most of us would consider to be an "ordinary" childhood. She grew up in Los Angeles with parents Geoffrey (an actor) and Glenis (a graphic designer) along with seven siblings and half-siblings. Her parents practiced Scientology, but Lewis has since left the religion behind.


Lewis often describes her parents as true freethinkers — and this seems to have rubbed off on her. "I have really interesting, artistic, quasi-bohemian parents who never validated me in the way of beauty," she said once to Slant. "It was never like, 'Make sure you look pretty!' I had parents that always promoted nurturing your voice, or your ability, or what you want to do." Another time, to Interview Magazine, she commented, "I had an upbringing in which I was allowed to be free and use my mind. My parents only helped me to be myself." In yet another interview with The New York Times, she said, "My parents cultivated this rebel, meaning they cultivated the individual spirit."

Considering her upbringing, it's hardly surprising that Lewis went on to become almost synonymous with free-spirited and free-thinking youth as her career began.


Juliette Lewis found fame as a teenager

Juliette Lewis got her first role when she was just 14 in the mini-series "Home Fires." Soon, she landed a recurring role in the series "I Married Dora," along with roles in movies like "My Stepmother Is an Alien," "Meet the Hollowheads," "The Runnin' Kind," and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." 


Even as a young actor, Lewis didn't always love being on set — especially before she landed roles that felt like a good fit. "At 16, I was ready to quit," she confessed to The Guardian, explaining, "I was doing a really bad sitcom and they hired an acting teacher for me to get me to conform to that broad sitcom-style acting."

Then, everything changed when she landed a role in Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear."  "On the sitcom, they were trying to make me into this machine, this robot," she went on. "When you have a Scorsese validating your naturalistic instincts, you think: 'Maybe I'm doing something right after all...'" She definitely was doing something right — the role even earned her an Oscar nomination.


Juliette Lewis became known for playing unusual young female characters

After "Cape Fear," Juliette Lewis' career quickly took off. She played Rain in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives," Sheryl in "That Night," Adele in "Kalifornia," Becky in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," and Mallory in "Natural Born Killers." Each of these roles added to Lewis' growing reputation as an indie darling. Lewis had finally found her niche — which was not playing any particular type. "If you had brown hair, you're a moody, sarcastic teen. If you have blonde hair, you're an airhead, pretty girl," Lewis said to The New York Times, describing the two teen types available at the time.


When she broke away from stereotypes, Lewis finally discovered that she enjoyed acting. "I wanted to play people who weren't myself — complicated people I wasn't used to seeing on screen," she told Slant, adding, "I was sort of giving a voice to the misfit, the disenfranchised, the alternative girl, the one you don't see often. But they're also fully realized, most of them."

In another interview with TNT, she noted that these raw roles that allowed her to be a little more real felt like a natural fit, even if they were very different from her. "I guess you could say I relish the complex primal energy of humanity. It's something I tap into well," she said. "I don't know, it sure beats playing the girlfriend and worrying about looking pretty and if your hair is correctly quaffed. That's never been my thing. There's a million actresses who do that."


Juliette Lewis dated Brad Pitt

After starring in "Too Young to Die?" in 1990, Juliette Lewis began a relationship with her co-star — who was none other than Brad Pitt. At the time, Lewis was 17 and Pitt was 27. By the time the pair reunited for "Kalifornia" in 1993, they were, as Lewis put it to the Los Angeles Times, "in love." "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 and ... talk and collaborate," she gushed. Pitt, it seems, was feeling the same way. "You do a scene and then go over and grab the one you love," he said, adding, "You want to keep your careers your careers and your love your love, but we just wanted to do it more for a vacation."


Their whirlwind romance came to an end after four years, following co-starring in the serial killer thriller "Kalifornia." In hindsight, Lewis looks back on the relationship with fondness but doesn't over-emphasize his importance in her life. "I was in my high-school years and it was a wonderful, loving relationship with a fun, smart guy," she told the Daily Mail years later. "Then it was over and he went on to become incredibly famous." As Lewis later told The Guardian, after a few years, the pair were like "strangers."

As a teen, her explosive fame was overwhelming

As Juliette Lewis' fame grew, her life changed. And all of that change wasn't always easy. "Well, I was 22, 21. I hadn't developed a skill set to articulate myself," she said to The Times. As a teen, she didn't realize quite how difficult the pressures of fame could be — so she put up barriers to hide her sensitive side. "I give the appearance of being tough and unf***withable, but that's for survival because I was this small, petite girl with a whole lot of vulnerability and feelings," she said.


Lewis also struggled with becoming a household name. "When I was coming up, I remember getting fan mail and feeling overwhelmed," she said. "And I had to work through some things, because losing one's anonymity at 20? I can still get pissed off about it. It robs you of a lot!" Perhaps Lewis' growing discomfort with her own fame led to what happened next.

By her early 20s, Juliette Lewis was in rehab for her drug addiction

When she was 22, Juliette Lewis went to rehab. Her high-octane life of fame (and a worrying addiction to cocaine and pills) had caught up with her. "I didn't go to rehab as a place, I did rehab," Lewis said to The Guardian. Lewis spent three years getting sober at the Scientology Narconon rehab program. Even though Lewis isn't a Scientologist as her parents were, the program seemed to work. "It 1,000 percent worked," she said to The Telegraph. "I've been to one rehab and never had a drug problem ever again." As she explained, the program helped her rediscover a sense of self-worth.


In another interview with People, Lewis said, "I quit all my bulls*** at 22," adding that she wanted to move on from the focus on her stint in rehab (via HuffPost).

Juliette Lewis was briefly married to Steve Berra from 1999 to 2003

After her relationship with Brad Pitt and her time in rehab, Juliette Lewis found love once again with Steve Berra, a professional skateboarder. The pair married in 1999, in the middle of Lewis' filming schedule for "The Other Sister." "The reason I got married [during filming] was because we were actually supposed to be done with shooting by that point, but I had picked our wedding date as 9-9-99, which is very special because it only happens once, and I didn't want to change it," she told Entertainment Weekly the following year.


Unfortunately, the relationship came to an end in 2003. As Lewis later told The Guardian, the pair weren't ready for life as a married couple. "He was a workhorse. Everything was work-related and he found it difficult to be in a marriage," she said. "We got married during the illusionist period, the grand illusion." However, even though the marriage didn't work out, Lewis explained that the pair managed to remain friends.

Juliette Lewis started her own band then went solo

After spending three years in rehab, Juliette Lewis' acting career slowed down — but she didn't seem to mind. "It's true that I stopped getting offered such great roles, but then I'm hardly the first actress to complain about that, am I?" she said to The Independent at the time. "And anyway, acting was starting to leave me cold. Basically, it just doesn't fulfill all the creative juices I have."


Instead of chasing acting roles, she followed another passion — music. As Lewis explained to TNT, she had always loved music and wanted to perform. "I've been obsessed with musical sounds, bass tones, melody, drum filler — if there's a distant sound playing in an airport, I can hear the bassline," she said. "I've always used music to create an emotional life before a scene, so I've always had a relationship between music and drama and I avoided doing a band 'cos it scared the s*** out of me." 

In 2004, she finally realized that it was time to follow her dream and she started her own rock band called Juliette and the Licks. So began a huge European tour and the life of a rock star. She went on to release solo music and, in 2015, she reunited with her old band and released more music.


In 2014, Juliette Lewis's career changed with August: Osage County

Although the heyday of Juliette Lewis' seemed to have come to an end in her 20s, she landed another huge role in 2014 in her early 40s — Karen in the tragicomedy "August: Osage County." As Lewis explained to Red, the role turned out to be life-changing.


The role came at a pivotal moment in her life. She had just turned 40 and her father had had a health scare — she and her sisters had come together just like the sisters in the film. "I could not believe the dynamic, that there were three sisters in a time of crisis," she said to Elle. The film also made her reconsider her long-held belief that she was done with acting. "The script made me re-examine what I wanted to do," she said. "I felt it was special, ground-breaking." After the film came out, Lewis once again found herself at the center of one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year.'

Juliette Lewis left LA and moved to the country

After being born and raised in Los Angeles and living there for most of her life, Juliette Lewis eventually decided she needed a change. As she whimsically told The Times in 2023, "I moved to the mountains. I've not lived in LA for years." 


And the change of pace seems to suit her. For one thing, it gives her a much-needed sense of anonymity that she hasn't had since she was young. "I would say, yes, I'm at ease in my own skin [here]," she said. "I'm not striving to hit this or that or get bigger. But I don't know. It's an odd thing you're saying because satisfaction is a navigation — to not think of what could have been."

Since moving out of the city, Lewis has become calmer, too. As a teenager, she explained, she was a little more highly strung. "The elements! When we finish [the interview] I'm going to get as much sun as I can," she said. Clearly, this wholesome existence is agreeing with her.

Juliette Lewis has been working on her work-life balance

There are other ways that Juliette Lewis has slowed down, too. Up in the mountains, she's learned that throwing herself into her work actually isn't all that healthy.  "Only recently, I was like, life-work balance? That's an amazing concept," she confessed to The New York Times. "I didn't even know there was a name for it." In the past, Lewis explained, she had overworked herself until she couldn't keep going. "I thought it was just like, work your ass off until you crash and burn, and then take some time off to heal your body and mind."


These days, she's taking a different approach that's all about moderation. During a conversation in Interview Magazine with Sophie Thatcher, who plays her younger self in "Yellowjackets," Lewis explained that her fundamental understanding of how art can be made has changed. "I wanted to go as deep as I could in every artistic pursuit," she said. "I still like that, but I also want to come back to a home."

Juliette Lewis landed a life-changing role in Yellowjackets

In 2022, Juliette Lewis took on what has become one of her most iconic roles yet. As the adult Natalie in Showtime's hit "Yellowjackets," Lewis plays a woman dealing with addiction and a traumatic past. The show flits between the '90s, where a younger version of her character is trapped in the wilderness after a plane crash. The show has become a sort of beacon of '90s nostalgia — in fact, Lewis is only one of the iconic '90s stars who appear. The show also features Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, and Elijah Wood.


When filming was finished, Lewis immediately missed it. "I missed [the other women in the cast] right away," she told Harper's Bazaar. "I've never worked with this many girls together. None of us has. It's really rich, and we all work very similarly—no nonsense. None of us is pretentious. We all have a lethal sense of humor. Really dry."

When the show ended up being a surprise hit, Lewis was happy to see that she could let go of any fears about typecasting. "One of the most valuable lessons that I learned after the success of 'Yellowjackets' was that I was so in fear of being typecast that I worried people wouldn't know what goes into a character like this," she said. "Natalie is nothing like myself."


Juliette Lewis approached 50 with mixed feelings

In 2023, around the time of the release of season two of "Yellowjackets," Juliette Lewis found herself approaching 50. The big birthday led to a new reflectiveness about age and time passing — but she wasn't too melancholy about it. 


"The five-oh!" she said to The Times. "I have vanity like everybody else. You see your face changing. When my face is set it looks like I'm frowning, which is quite sad because I'm not." Lewis added that, despite the vanity that comes with age, she is also trying to practice gratefulness. "I've lost friends in the past five years and that puts your journey into perspective," she said. "It's different than the hustle of ambition that we have in our twenties."

Plus, Lewis is now what many of us would call an "icon." "Who, me?" she joked, adding, "It's nice! I was being appreciated differently." Lewis may not see herself as an icon, but we certainly do.