Juliette Lewis on ‘The Firm’

The costar of NBC's legal drama tells us about her role and looks back at the impact of "Strange Days" and "Natural Born Killers."

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

No one says sassy like Juliette Lewis. At least that’s my idea of sassy, from Max Cady’s underage crush or the girl who brings Gilbert Grape out of his shell to Lenny Nero’s beach roller blading memory or Mallory Knox herself. She comes to television as Tammy, the receptionist on NBC’s version “The Firm,” with bright red HD hair.

Even if we only get one season of this series, we’re glad we got a few sassy minutes alone with Lewis at NBC’s party for the Television Critics Association.

 

CraveOnline: Was “sassy” part of the character description?

Juliette Lewis: [Laughs] Wait, did I say that or did they?

CraveOnline: I thought of it. Was that a word they used on the sides?

Juliette Lewis: No, but it’s what I always say.

CraveOnline: So sassy is a good word.

Juliette Lewis: I don’t know, it’s just fun. I don’t pay too much mind to adjectives. She has all these obvious traits. She’s sort of the light in the room. She’s sort of the color to such a structured, tense show so I’m always looking to unearth different dimensions. So I would never just play one thing, but yes, she’s got a lot of sass. It’s in her hair. She does her hair in the morning.

CraveOnline: Is this the longest that you’ve ever played the same character?

Juliette Lewis: I did four and a half months of a Sam Shepherd play in London. So right now it’s equal but yes, of course. Series television, this is exactly the challenge. The difference is it’s always changing. Every episode you’re doing something new. You saw the pilot, I’m barely in that. Later I go undercover, we explore Tammy and Ray’s relationship a little more, but it’s always this tense thriller vibe.

CraveOnline: Tense thrillers were a forte of yours in movies. Does it hearken back to memories of "Cape Fear" and "Natural Born Killers"?

Juliette Lewis: I know, it’s weird because when I’m playing in them, I’m walking the walk of the character. Like in "Cape Fear," everybody reacted so strongly, why is she talking to him? My character didn’t see him bite the cheek out of a girl. So half the time this quartet of characters don’t know the danger to come. I always try to play against it except for the scenes that demand that kind of tension and focus. I love high drama, I love comedy. I think more people have been seeing that of me lately because I did "Due Date" and "The Switch." I’m just into new stuff.

CraveOnline: And "Whip It."

Juliette Lewis: And "Whip It" although she was the heavy. That was hard, but no matter what I’m doing I’m trying to root it in something real.

CraveOnline: I remember you in comedy going back to "Christmas Vacation."

Juliette Lewis: Yeah, it plays every year.

CraveOnline: Do you think "Natural Born Killers" would still be controversial if it came out today? Or has it come true?

Juliette Lewis: I do, yes and yes. I think that movie, with age it’s even more relevant and I think it was ahead of its time. I didn’t even know all the many details and layers to it when I was doing it. I just know it was amazing and challenging because Oliver Stone demanded from all his actors that we create and give everything because it was kind of surrealistic.

I would write scenes and he would love it. It was really a thrill, but yes, that movie is a relevant, wild commentary on glamorizing violence, but as he was making that commentary, this is the brilliance of Oliver Stone, he was tricking you into going, “Yeah!” It was a trip.

CraveOnline: "Strange Days" didn’t come true though. We still can’t buy memory implants.

Juliette Lewis: No.

CraveOnline: I want the memory of you roller blading.

Juliette Lewis: Oh, you have it in the movie. There you go.

CraveOnline: Yes, it’s on DVD. With "The Firm," Josh Lucas actually says he wants to pay homage to Tom Cruise. Do you ever think about that with Holly Hunter’s portrayal of Tammy in the movie?

Juliette Lewis: We’re all working for the show creator and it’s his vision. So he acts as a director in film and we’re just doing a reinterpretation.