'Whip It' Star Juliette Lewis, The 'Iron Maven' Early in her career, Juliette Lewis firmly established herself as one of Hollywood's most versatile actors. In her latest role, Lewis plays Iron Maven, squad leader of one of the roller derby teams in the new movie Whip It.
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'Whip It' Star Juliette Lewis, The 'Iron Maven'

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'Whip It' Star Juliette Lewis, The 'Iron Maven'

'Whip It' Star Juliette Lewis, The 'Iron Maven'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

If you think roller derby disappeared in the 1970s, think again. Drew Barrymore's new picture "Whip It" focuses on feisty female skaters punching, shoving and bruising around a roller rink in a warehouse in Austin, Texas. They're coached by an earnest hippie played by Andrew Wilson.

(Soundbite of movie, "Whip It")

Mr. ANDREW WILSON (Actor): (as Razor) First whistle blows, and the pack takes off.

(Soundbite of whistle)

(Soundbite of roller skate wheels)

Mr. WILSON: (as Razor) Then the second whistle blows and the jammers take off.

Ms. JULIETTE LEWIS (Actor): (as Iron Maven) Some of us faster than others.

(Soundbite of roller skate wheels)

Mr. WILSON: (as Razor) Once the jammer breaks through the pack, she hauls ass around the track a second time and tries to score. For every player on the opposing team a jammer passes, she gets a point. Now line up and get you some.

CONAN: And yes, that was Oscar-nominated actress Juliette Lewis you heard in there, apparently born to play the part of Iron Maven, the baddest bad girl on the rink and the nemesis of Ellen Page's Babe Ruthless.

If you have questions for Juliette Lewis about roller derby, her movies, or her music, our phone number is 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site, that's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Juliette Lewis joins us now from the studios at NPR West in Culver City, California. Nice to have you with us on the program today.

Ms. LEWIS: Hello. Thank you. Hi.

CONAN: Hi. And it looks like you had a terrific time in that movie.

Ms. LEWIS: Oh, man. We - this is such a rare movie, particularly that it's a youth film and it's sort of this coming-of-age story that Ellen -stars Ellen Page. And she discovers the world of roller derby, and discovers her own, you know, voice and strengths. And it's just such a film with such heart. And also we don't see roller derby…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: …on the screen, I think, not since the '70s. So I'm glad to represent for these amazing, fearless women.

CONAN: How long did it take you to learn how to skate well enough to portray a roller derby queen?

Ms. LEWIS: Well, it's funny, because I first met with Drew, and she's very passionate and I was really taken with how prepared she was visually with the movie, 'cause it's her directorial debut.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LEWIS: And then, you know, and then the studio is like, well, we just want to see if you can skate. And naturally, like any good actor, I lied. I was like, oh, I skate every weekend, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: I love skating. You know, I haven't skated in like eight years or whatever. So the - I went to a track, and what's challenging of - there's many things in roller derby, but it's a banked track. So it has this incline, and you sort of - it slows your speed down, but you -but then when you go down, you pick up speed. So anyway, it's a thing to get used to. So I just worked on my form. I trained for about a month and a half. Ellen trained for three months. But I was just coming off tour, and then just went wham-bam, right into roller derby boot camp. And we all did 90 percent of our own skating, took hits, give hits. We -you learn how to fall where you don't break bones, so that's good news.

CONAN: Well, that's good. And it really got everybody into terrific shape.

Ms. LEWIS: Oh, it's true. I mean, I kind of miss it, because literally I would wake up - I've done all kinds of movies, but never when I wake up and do yoga at 8:00 a.m. and then strength training for an hour, and then skating for eight hours, you know, practicing all our stunts and stuff. So I kind of miss it when I was in - but I was in pretty good shape from touring for the last…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LEWIS: …two years, 'cause it's the live show that I do is just kind of - is very physical. But, anyway, it was a - it's really, really exciting.

CONAN: It - and I have to say, you're both great actresses, but you are twice the size of Ellen Page.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You like you can take her to pieces.

Ms. LEWIS: I know, everyone says she's such a little thing, you know? But she's amazing and such a rare talent, you know, all of 22. I think she's 22. But we got along really, really good. And that was actually one of the hardest things for me to do was be mean to her…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LEWIS: …because, first of all, I'm not a bully by nature. So I'm really playing a baddie and I want to apologize ahead of time to everyone…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: …who I scare the process.

CONAN: And you're a very good baddie.

Ms. LEWIS: Thank you. It's all in the eyes.

CONAN: I have to ask you: Did you come across a trainer by the name of Alex Cohen, who's a local NPR host out there?

Ms. LEWIS: Of course. Oh, my God. I didn't know this was - in her stomping grounds. How great.

CONAN: Yes, absolutely. She's well known to us all. And, well, she's pretty tough too.

Ms. LEWIS: Oh, well, can I just sing her praises for a minute? She not only is a great derby player, but she's such a good teacher, 'cause it's a whole another art to be able to teach somebody, you know, real basic stuff that she's known, you know, for years now. But she was such a good teacher and - yeah, she shaped me right up.

CONAN: I'm going to ask you one more question, then we've got some people on the line who want to talk to you. But there is a scene in the film - there's a food fight that looks - well…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: For one thing, it looks like the old, you know, saloon fights in…

Ms. LEWIS: Yeah.

CONAN: …of the old Westerns - you know, smile when you say that, partner. And nevertheless, it looks like you guys are just having a great time.

Ms. LEWIS: That was the - probably the biggest, messiest, glorious food fight since, what, "Animal House"? Didn't that have a food fight in that movie?

CONAN: I - they certainly did, yeah.

Ms. LEWIS: Drew is influenced and inspired by many different movies, and I think that was one of them. But, yes, a food fight, yeah. And here's what's hilarious: It's, you know, they had to make it extra messy, so what do they give us? Pies, milkshakes and chilidogs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: I think they could've left out the chili, you know what I mean? But, yeah, we - I rolled around on the ground and was - we were wrestling in chili and milkshakes.

CONAN: We're talking with Juliette Lewis, actress and rocker. 800-9898-255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

We'll start with Angela, Angela calling from South Bend.

ANGELA (Caller): Oh, my gosh. I'm so excited to talk to you. Juliette Lewis, I am such a fan of your movies. But it's kind of sad because I'm such a fan, I was not really aware that you also did music until maybe about a year ago. So I guess my question is: Has music always been something, like, in your life, something that you've aspired to do? Or did you just kind of fall into it after you've began acting?

Ms. LEWIS: Oh, no, no. You don't fall into it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: You don't fall into living on a bus for, you know, four years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: No, no, no. It was an aching, needing, pleading, a little lion's roar that was only growing louder and louder as I was approaching 30. And it's funny because I actually related to my character in the movie, that one scene where she's talking to Ellen about, do you know how old I am? You know, it took me till I was 30 to find something I was really good at.

Now, that's not totally the case. But, what happened is, I was always a songwriter, singer, a dramatist. As a kid, I was - there was no segregation between all these things. It was all in one. And then I got successful in film and sort of got complacent.

And I was, like, I was in the closet about my music and stuff. And I just thought I've got to express myself through this way, and not just write a few songs. For me, it's about the live show. It's about communing with the gods and connecting with people and rock and rolling, you know, for real. And so, I had to explore that. It was getting - the clock was ticking really loud about five years ago, and I put a band together.

That was my old band, The Licks. We all split up just last year. And then I made my new record, "Terra Incognita," and that was actually right - during that break, I was at this turning point and I made this - what I feel, of course, I'm biased - a really incredible, diverse, rich record. And then I also did this - a few movies. And now I'm on tour.

CONAN: I have to point out that the character in "Whip It," your character was originally named Dyna Mite.

Ms. LEWIS: Yes.

CONAN: And did you get to rename it Iron Maven?

Ms. LEWIS: No. I love Dyna Mite. That was a thing of ownership, that there was an actual roller derby girl. I don't think she wanted to give up her name…

CONAN: I see.

Ms. LEWIS: …or she don't want it in the movie. And Iron Maven, the actual Iron Maven is one of the - plays one of the Manson sisters in the movie. She's skating in the movie, and she was so generous to let us use her name, because it's a pretty killer name. It's pretty good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's a pretty good name. Angela, thanks very much for the call.

ANGELA: Thank you.

Ms. LEWIS: Yo, Angela. I got to tell you, come to the live show. We're on tour right now. I forget that we're live. Check out the dates.

ANGELA: Awesome. I completely will, seriously. I'm so excited. I can't wait.

Ms. LEWIS: Yeah, go on Twitter or Facebook, all that jazz, and get those tour dates. See you there.

ANGELA: All right.

CONAN: Bye-bye, Angela. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Patrick, Patrick in Fort Collins, Colorado.

PATRICK (Caller): Hey, how is it going, Juliette? I just thought The Licks were…

Ms. LEWIS: Hi, Patrick.

PATRICK: Oh, buddy, buddy. The Licks are just amazing. You really - you give me nightmares after I go through this (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I'll take it that's a compliment, yeah.

PATRICK: Oh, it's just power, just pure power. Anyone who hasn't seen Juliette, go. You are sadly mistaken if you don't.

Ms. LEWIS: Okay.

PATRICK: But I wanted to ask you something. I know this is, you know, about roles, you know, from about just, sort of, 20 years ago. But how was it that you were able to play such naive, innocent characters amongst just pure, unadulterated madness in films like "Cape Fear" and "Kalifornia"? And I've always wondered how it is that you were just able to put this - I don't know. It was like you were just this strange angel amongst devils with such…

Ms. LEWIS: Wow.

PATRICK: …I just want to know.

Ms. LEWIS: Can I - if you see that as a lyric later, are you going to sue me? A strange angel amongst devils. I love that. I like your question. This is the duality that's sort of driven me insane in my young life. No, I don't…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: My point is, I don't know, but I sort of, as of late, and especially on this new record "Terra Incognita," I embrace that duality, but that I'm as vulnerable as I am cynical and roaring. Or I'm as, you know, disillusioned as I am hopeful. And it's sort of these juxtaposition of emotions, I think, that we all feel, and I'm just able to tap into the very - I'm really - I don't know. I can touch on extremes. I don't know why, but this has sort of been my nature as a kid. Just - I deal with primal energies and that's, you know, I don't tend to go middle of the road with emotion or - and stuff. So - but I've been fortunate to work on really interesting movies that were high-stakes dramas and very rich with emotions. So I don't know. But thank you for your question.

CONAN: And, Patrick, thank you for your phone call.

PATRICK: Oh, any time. And your vocal chops on "Strange Days" were just as excellent. And, yeah, I'll be - I would be a groupie, but unfortunately, I'm a musician myself so I got to have standards, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: Hey, man. You can be an appreciator. Hey, come to the show. We're playing Boulder, Colorado actually, I think, in like, five days. I don't know if that's far from you in Colorado.

PATRICK: Oh, no, no, no. That's totally not far from me at all. And I'm already there, baby. Thank you.

Ms. LEWIS: Excellent.

CONAN: All right, Patrick. Thanks for the call.

PATRICK: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with actress Juliette Lewis, one of the stars of Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, "Whip It," which opens this weekend.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And you and your director share more than a few traits. You both acted a lot as kids.

Ms. LEWIS: Yeah. Yeah. You're so wonderful and diplomatic. No, I thought you we're going to say, and you both had a wild, you know, past and stuff like that.

CONAN: Well…

Ms. LEWIS: No. But, yeah, we did. And what was funny is we never really knew each other early on, so I never really met Drew until this movie, you know, and I met her in her office. And she's just a renegade. I'm really knocked out by her and the path that she's forged, you know? Before this movie, she's produced, like, eight films…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LEWIS: …and really has great taste in cinema. So it was neat to meet with her and be directed by her.

CONAN: Let's go next to Malory(ph), Malory with us from Wichita.

MALORY (Caller): Hi.

Ms. LEWIS: Hi.

MALORY: I have been skating with the ICT Rollers Girls in Wichita for the last - about four years now.

Ms. LEWIS: Wow.

MALORY: And I just wanted to say that I was impressed with how "Whip It" highlighted the diverse range of women involved in the sport and kind of the sisterhood that goes along with that.

Ms. LEWIS: Oh, good.

CONAN: Have you seen the film?

MALORY: Yes. We actually got to see a sneak peek of it last weekend.

CONAN: Ah-ha.

Ms. LEWIS: That's a huge compliment coming from you, because I know that was definitely an objective because it's such a huge spirit in roller derbies, that camaraderie and the diversity. So I'm glad you got to see that.

CONAN: Are the locker rooms that nice, Malory?

MALORY: Oh, no. We get bathrooms, maybe a tent in the back of the rink.

(Soundbite of laughter)


CONAN: And when do you skate next, Malory?

MALORY: We actually skate on October 10th at Skate South.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you. What's the name of your team?

MALORY: The ICT Roller Girls.

CONAN: Oh, ICT Roller Girls.

Ms. LEWIS: ICT Roller Girls. Woo-hoo. That's just me clapping and cheering.

MALORY: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

Ms. LEWIS: Bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye.


CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Gary, Gary from Cincinnati.

GARY (CALLER): Hi. Hi, Juliette.

Ms. LEWIS: Hi.

GARY: It's so nice to speak with you. I've been a fan, probably since "Cape Fear."

Ms. LEWIS: That's pretty cool.

GARY: And my question - I've always also been a fan of your father's, and I think maybe picking up on what one of the previous callers said about to serve the innocence and the knowingness, I think your father has that, too. And I just wanted to know what advice he gave you about acting, what influence he's had on you as an actor. And thank you very much.

Ms. LEWIS: You know, thanks. You know what? My father's been such a huge influence on me…

CONAN: For those of us who don't know, tell us a little about your dad.

Ms. LEWIS: Oh, his name is Geoffrey Lewis, and he's a character actor.

GARY: "Devil's Rejects."

Ms. LEWIS: Say it again?

GARY: No, I just said, "Devil's Rejects." I mean, maybe - I don't know if any of the NPR listeners would know "Devil's Rejects." But I think he just does such a great job in that film.

Ms. LEWIS: Oh, yeah. But he's done, you know, he's been around for a long time.

GARY: Oh, yeah.

Ms. LEWIS: He was Clint Eastwood's sidekick in many of his films, like "Every Which Way But Loose," "Any Which Way You Can." He was in "High Plains Drifter."

But what happened growing up with, you know, being my father's daughter is - I was introduced to the world of film as a real line of work, sort of this - a noble endeavor, you know, that you never have the same experience twice. You work really long hours with really interesting people. So I always had a very practical sense of movie making, you know, not what we all read today in magazines.

And my dad is just - both of my parents. It's funny as you get older, you start realizing, oh, my gosh. I'm so much like my dad this way. I'm so much like my mom. But they're both really artistic people. And my defiant spirit is definitely from my dad, of, you know, questioning authority and sort of holding your own…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: …believing in your dreams - you know, all these things we may hear about and we take it for granted, but it's - I live more in my dreams now than when I was 20.

CONAN: Gary, thanks very much.

GARY: Could I ask one last thing?

Ms. LEWIS: Yeah.

CONAN: I'm afraid we're running out of time.

GARY: Okay. No problem. Thank you.

Ms. LEWIS: Bye.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call, and sorry about that.

GARY: Bye.

CONAN: And Juliette Lewis, thank you so much for your time today.

Ms. LEWIS: Oh, thanks for having me. Can I just say one more thing? I just want to tell everybody we're playing at the El Rey in Los Angeles, October 17th, and Chicago tomorrow.

CONAN: Well, good luck in those. "Whip It" also opens tomorrow. And you can watch Juliette Lewis skate as Iron…

Ms. LEWIS: No, it opens in one week. Thank you so much.

CONAN: …Iron Maven in a clip at our Web site, npr.org, click on talkofthenation.ironmaven. She's also on tour with her band, as she mentioned, and she joined us from NPR West in Culver City, California. That's her song, "Uh-Huh," from her album, "Terra Incognito."

Tomorrow, SCIENCE FRIDAY features a conversation with Lester Brown about his plan to save civilization from climate change, plus a new fossil find of the earliest known hominid. All tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION'S SCIENCE FRIDAY.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of song, "Uh-Huh")

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) Maybe that's why I like you. But you're so damn young. Uh-huh, ah, honey. Is she the one? Is she the one you wanna hold, hold, hold. Uh-huh.

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