Released in 1994, Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic Natural Born Killers was oozing with controversy upon its release. For actress Juliette Lewis, the film featured one of her most beloved performances. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Lewis spoke to Entertainment Weekly about working on it and the controversy it garners to this day.
Heart Of Stone
In the early ’90s, Lewis gained critical acclaim for her work in Cape Fear. As expected, many scripts were thrown her way following the film. While the script for Natural Born Killers was superb, director Oliver Stone was the deciding factor. “At that time in particular [he was making] things that make you think, and really pack a punch, and were really intelligent. So, for me, it was an incredible opportunity to show these kind of primal energies that you particularly don’t get as a female to demonstrate. I was 19, going through my nihilistic rite of passage phase [laughs], so it was really a perfect project for me,” Lewis told Entertainment Weekly.
Stone is one of the most decorated directors of all time. Before Natural Born Killers, he earned Oscars for Midnight Express, Platoon, and Born on the Fourth of July.
Going Behind Bars
Instead of using a fake prison, Stone shot the film inside Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center. For Lewis, being inside the prison was an unbelievable experience. “It was wild. It’s funny, because there’s a lot of stories from this set that are really unique. We were like an old band of gypsies, carnival folk. I mean, people use those terms in movie-making, but this was particularly true, because we were literally in caravans, going from town to town. Winslow, Arizona, to New Mexico the next week, and landing in the prison, a working prison,” Lewis told Entertainment Weekly. “And that’s all Oliver. He used actual inmates in the riot scenes. That’s Oliver. I don’t know. He comes from the war, you know. So, there’s a fearlessness in the way he wants to create electricity on a set. It was a trip.”
A select amount of actual inmates were used as extras. To be safe, Stone handed them plastic weapons for the riot scene. Unfortunately, inmates caused a real riot in the prison. Two-hundred extras were brought in to replace the inmates.
Pointing The Finger At Them
Natural Born Killers would have earned an NC-17 rating if it didn’t delete certain scenes. Despite the R rating, the film was banned in Ireland upon its release. In the U.K., the film saw a delayed release due to its controversy. The movie has been blamed for causing various copycat crimes across the country. With so much happening to the film, Lewis was stunned. “As actors, when we were selling the film, I never had experienced the level of animosity and aggression or disdain from journalists. They were so so mad at us! Like, we were at fault! And I went, Wow, this is Oliver’s ability to antagonize who he wanted to light a fire under,” Lewis told Entertainment Weekly. “I feel there are relevance in the statements of the film and it’s also ugly in that these characters are vomiting out ugly behavior and then there’s humor within it. Anyway, I feel like it has a place. But when you started getting the stories of where you blame [the film for crimes] — I don’t go to criminals to get their excuses.” Lewis’ performance in the film earned her a Pasinetti Award for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival.
While it became controversial, Natural Born Killers earned $50 million against a $34 million budget. 25 years later, the film is one of few perfectly merging violence and romance into a phenomenal delivery.
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