In 1983, Betty Anne Waters’ brother, Kenny, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. So, Betty Anne did what any sister would do, she put herself through law school, became a lawyer and, with the assistance of the Innocence Project and newly-instituted DNA testing, finally got her brother exonerated after serving 18 years. Betty Anne knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kenny was innocent and never gave up hope that he would finally be freed. And she was right, DNA testing proved that none of the blood found at the murder scene was his. Betty Anne’s remarkable story has been turned into an inspiring and profound motion picture called Conviction.
Two key sequences in the film involve Roseanna Perry as played by award winning actress Juliette Lewis. At the trial of Kenny Waters, Perry testifies that Kenny confessed to being a murderer, which helped to convict him. Years later, she was the first to admit that she was coerced into saying what she said on the stand. That second scene was one of the most powerful in the film and I relayed that to Lewis. “Thank you. Yeah, this was one of those things that I didn’t know how I was going to pull off. And those are the best things in art you could want for, is something that makes you a little bit nervous and scared. It’s the same performing on stage because it’s got twists and turns, and that’s a vivid memory for her, that really happened.”
“The majority of my dialogue, 98% of it, is taken from interviews this woman gave,” Lewis continued. “That’s the language she used and that’s the way she described things, but she was coerced by Nancy Taylor, she was given alcohol. She’s also a destructive personality, and she’s also vindictive, and self preserving, and conniving, and all those things. It was amazing to play that knot of contradiction. That’s something I’d never done before in this type of extreme fashion. I didn’t care how big or small the role was, I was happy to be involved with such a profound movie and a character that was so intense. It’s probably the most intense work I’ve done in the last 10 years. Also, ’cause 5 of those years I took off just making records and touring deliberately. So this is my re-emergence into film again.”
An accomplished actress, Juliette Lewis is also a serious musician, having released one album and several tracks to various film soundtracks. Sidetracking briefly, we got an update on her musical career. “I was writing just a few months ago while on the road. Sort of assembled what songs I want to make, starting to think about the next record. And I’ll probably do that in the winter months when I have a moment off. It’s one of the pleasures of being an independent musician, I can sort of make it up as I go. There’s no big machine behind me. I really worked diligently the last 5 years to find my audience, the people that were going to stick it out with me.”
Returning to talk about the movie, Ed asked what work went into playing Perry in two different time periods. Lewis obviously put a tremendous amount of work into portraying a woman who’s emotions and mental stability were all over the place, most especially in the later scene. “Basically I just wanted to be present,” she told us. “Without getting too esoteric, it’s an energy thing. It’s sort of like ‘What’s the energy of her at 25?’ on the witness stand, and seeing the seeds of that lying nature and sort of self-preserving woman, who’s also living on the outskirts of mainstream living. But it’s also the 80s, so you’ve got the acid wash skirt and the look and she’s young. But she’s lying there. She got coerced into believing a memory that didn’t happen.”
Getting further into how she submerged herself into the role, Lewis said, “Basically, it’s how to deaden your own joy behind your eyes, because people have different energy, or different vibes. There’s that scene when you first meet her, and you see an essence of what she could potentially become if she keeps at it. So then 18 years later, that was my favorite thing. They come into her world, they come into her trailer. If I just played an alcoholic who never left her trailer, that would be interesting, but I’m playing somebody who is faced with the person they’ve done the most wrong to. They’re disconnected from reality, but at the same time their past is coming to get them. They have to face the truth. And there are many different truths. So that’s why she sort of bounces off the walls.”
I noted that she plays Perry and sort of this rambling person, but at one point a change comes over her and the audience realizes she is now telling the truth. Lewis replied, “That was all taken directly from transcripts and actual real events. But then you make that – how does that person express all that? That’s where you get into drinking the 3 dollar wine in the afternoon, everyday, for the last decade. Also, there’s little colors in there, I don’t know if you pick up on it or not, but she doesn’t normally get guests. So there’s a little bit of ‘I’m sitting down and socializing.’ That’s, at least in my mind, the insanity of it.”
Ed suggested that it was possible that Perry was enjoying the attention she was getting, even years later, to which Lewis agreed. “I head that from Betty Anne a great deal after the fact, because she wasn’t there when I was there, that this character did like the attention. You find elements of people you’ve known in your life. There’s people who tell stories for attention, they create drama, they’re destructive people. So you take that element, and then you blow it up times 20 or 30 times or something. This is how you piece together a personality. Anyway, it’s been really amazing that people are getting it [and] they’re seeing it. You know, so often in this business you think things, and you don’t expect to be appreciated necessarily and sometimes you make movies that no one even sees. So it’s really gratifying that people are noticing the work.”
And then our time with Juliette Lewis and the Conviction press tour was finished. It was amazing talking to Betty Anne Waters, Tony Goldwyn and Juliette Lewis and to see how passionate they all were about this film. Check your local theaters for show times for Conviction as I urge you to see it as soon as possible. It tells a story you won’t soon forget.
Thank you to Ed Davidson from the MacGuffin Podcast for doing the transcribing on these interviews.