Juliette Lewis Deconstructs Her 'Kelly & Cal' Quasi-Romance With Wheelchair-Bound Teen

Courtesy of IFC
"Kelly & Cal"

"Chemistry is weird — you don't know why or how it happens"

"I'm supposed to be a grown-up," a perplexed Juliette Lewis says midway through Kelly & Cal, which hits theaters Friday. The quasi-romantic drama, which grapples with how to be an 'adult' without losing one's identity, casts Lewis as an ex-riot grrrl coping with newfound motherhood, a distant husband and life in staid suburbia by forming an intimate bond with Cal, the wheelchair-bound teenage boy next door.

"Existential crisis is a more intellectual way of saying midlife crisis," she told The Hollywood Reporter at the film's premiere on Thursday night, held at New York City's Crosby Street Hotel. "My character finds herself in all the places she wanted to be — she's living in the suburbs with her high school sweetheart, she just had a baby. She should be happy, but she's disconnected, displaced, disillusioned and is reflecting a lot on who she used to be."

Lewis was immediately drawn to Amy Lowe Starbin's script, particularly because of how it presents Kelly's relationship with Weston. "He exemplifies everything that she feels she's losing, which is this rebelliousness, this anger, a zest and a fight for righteous, teenage youth," Lewis said. "She's falling in love with her past again, through him. It's a beautiful, independent story because it toes the line. It's not perfect about right or wrong — there's a touch of immorality in it, and in the choices she makes."

In director Jen McGowan's mind, Kelly always equaled Lewis. "We wrote it for her," McGowan explained. "We always said that if we could get anyone, it would be Juliette Lewis … but we're never going to get her. She's brilliant!" Producer Adi Ezroni agreed, noting that "for a certain generation" who had grown up watching the Natural Born Killers actress embodying characters defined by their youthful defiance, "watching her go through this transition onscreen is an amazing experience."

Opposite Lewis is Jonny Weston, whom the actress helped cast, said producer Mandy Tagger. "When I first met Jonny, he had this X factor," said Lewis. "He reminded me a lot of my friends from back in the day, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, in that he was so much his own thing. Chemistry is weird — you don't know why or how it happens."

For Lewis, the film's dilemma is captured in a single scene, in which she gazes out of her bedroom window at Weston on the street below. "You're looking at all you can't ever really have, but there's a beauty and a loss in it," she said. "It makes me cry every time I see it."

Orange Is the New Black's Yael Stone also attended the premiere with co-star Alysia Reiner, who plays Lewis' best friend. "[Kelly] left to go to the suburbs, and that doesn't quite live up to my rock ’n’ roll lifestyle," she told THR, but was tight-lipped about OITNB's third season. "I used to say that I'd end up in prison myself, if I told you anything, but the truth is I know nothing!"

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