For most people, Juliette Lewis will be forever known as the 17-year-old actress who earned an Oscar nomination for sucking Robert De Niro's thumb (in the 1991 Martin Scorsese remake of Cape Fear). But after a decade's worth of similar controversy—Natural Born Killers, drug rehab, dating Brad Pitt, etc.—Lewis has chosen to decorate her home with another defining moment: her one and only mug shot. She'll even happily explain the photo's origin to a visitor.
The framed mug shot hangs on a wall of Lewis's new ranch house in the hills behind Burbank. "I was 15," she says in a drawl that's one part Macon County waitress and two parts Valley Girl shopaholic. "I went to a club, and the cops raided it. They said, 'Anyone under 18, raise your hand and we'll let you go.' Instead, they handcuffed us together in an alley. Then they took us to the station." At the time, Lewis had just been legally emancipated by her parents, an arrangement they'd consented to in the interest of advancing her fledgling acting career. "When we got to the station, I asked if I could get a copy of the mug shot. I knew it would make a great piece of art."
Lewis, 28, considers this souvenir from her past and appraises it with the dry-eyed sobriety of a confirmed ironist: "I look totally retarded, like a Manson girl," she says. Indeed, despite the form-fitting, baby-blue Juicy-brand tracksuit (her legs are still coltish, like they're about to run away) and her long, unwashed Southern California–blonde hair, Lewis's current domestic bliss—she lives with her husband, professional skateboarder Steve Berra—seems like the quintessence of the suburban dream she parodied in Natural Born Killers. Or, as she describes her new life:"It's so uncool it's cool, right?"
For instance, just a few days ago Lewis made her third visit to the surgeon who's removing her eight-year-old Hello Kitty tattoo. "I nearly passed out," she says. "It's in an area of the hand that has no meat on it." The skin art, she explains, had to go. "I didn't have any philosophical reason for getting it," she says. "It was just to kill the monotony."
After a dangerously long Hollywood hiatus, Lewis is no longer troubled by monotony. She's co-starring in three new films: HBO's Hysterical Blindness, in which she plays a "Jersey girl who's into Bon Jovi and Springsteen" opposite Uma Thurman; director Michael Apted's Enough, with Jennifer Lopez; and Old School, a mostly male ensemble piece featuring Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson. None of these movies will involve thumbs. Unless, of course, the erect digit belongs to Roger Ebert.
"I'm glad I'm finally getting the lighthearted roles," Lewis says, thrilled that the studios have finally forgiven her rough-around-the-edges phase. Now if only the press would forget. According to Lewis, she's still being depicted as a caricature.