Lifetime Movies can be seriously awesome. The network's "Ring of Fire" showcases Jewel's talent — in dentures, no less.
"I always liked the song 'Ring of Fire,' but I was never that into it," she told us before the premiere at the Grammy Museum of her Lifetime movie debut, the June Carter Cash biopic "Ring of Fire." "But there's a scene in the movie where June writes 'Ring of Fire,' and you realize she wrote it about falling in love with Johnny (Cash) while she was still married; and she was very religious, very strict, so she really feared the fires of hell. It lent such drama to that song that it made me connect with it."
She went on to say that she's felt a connection to the Carter family for most of her life: "They were raised in the mountains with an out house and that's how I was raised. I was taught to be professional at a young age. I was helping the family earn income at a young age. We toured, I ate squirrel stew. So, we had a lot in common."
Does squirrel take just like chicken?
"No," she said, "it's awful. Maybe we didn't cook it right. But it's not good."
Jewel should get an Emmy nod, and not just because she had to sing and act in dentures, a wig, and contacts. Although the makeover is impressive. We asked if the men in her life — her husband, Ty Murray, and her little boy, Kase — were on set to see her in Carter form.
"[Ty] did, and my son did too," she said. "He was 9 or 10 months old, and he kept trying to look behind me, like I was wearing a mask or something. It was really sweet. My husband thought the teeth were really wild, really transformative. You'd never think fixing a tooth would be that powerful, but it really was."
Jewel talks about transforming her signature smile for the role of June Carter Cash:
And what's it like to be transformed into a 72-year-old? "It was a kind of cool sneak peak," she said. "It was an interesting process. I didn't mind."
Before starting "Fire," Jewel had hesitations beyond the aesthetic realm. "Reese (Witherspoon) won an Oscar for portraying her, so I knew I would be compared," she said. "The level was set very high, and I knew I had to hit it going in."
We asked Jewel if there was anyone else she wanted to portray, now that she's used to dentures and makeup. "Elton John," she said. "But that's never gonna happen. They could never give me that button nose." The natural follow-up question is who should play her in 40 years. "Nobody has bad enough teeth in Hollywood," she laughed. "They'd have to wear prosthetic dentures."
And here's something to chew on — Jewel's take on the '90s: "Half of it I didn't really relate to because there was so much angst, so much laissez-faire. And to me it seemed like spoiled people that could afford to be angsty. It was kind of a spoiled attitude."
While a lot of actors talk about keeping it real, the 39-year-old star literally walks the walk on her 2,400 acre ranch in Stephenville, Texas. She recently talked to In Touch Weekly about caring for 250 cows, 15 horses, four chickens, and two dogs. "It's branding season, so we've been castrating and earmarking our cattle," she told the magazine. "City people are squeamish about that stuff, but I grew up on a farm, so I rope, brand — all of that!"
Jewel assured In Touch that she's fine living so far away from civilization — 20 miles from Walmart! — and gets help from neighbors: "I even have a neighbor that gives us [goat] milk. I was raised in rural Alaska, so that's what I enjoy — open space and fresh air."
This isn't a good Lifetime movie. This is a good movie. Period.
Lets just lay it out there. Lifetime movies are often the butt of jokes. They're not thought of as real movies. We went to the Grammy Museum for a screening of "Ring of Fire," which stars Jewel as June Carter Cash. We didn't know what to expect. After all, doesn't everyone (especially critics) judge Lifetime movies because they're ... Lifetime movies?
"The truth of it is, yeah, I think they do, and I think it's ridiculous," says Robert Sharenow, Lifetime's executive vice president of programming. "I think this movie would hold up against any movie you would see on television and in theaters. I think we've got feature-film performances out of everyone and a feature film director (Allison Anders). So yeah. Part of my mission is to overcome that strange expectation of what a Lifetime movie should be."
And if you think Mr. Lifetime is a frumpy guy in a lime-green cardigan with a box of Kleenex, think again. Sharenow is very punk rock. He once stood in line at a record store in Cambridge to get an autograph from John Doe's punk band X. Doe is in "Ring of Fire." See, guys, Lifetime can be cool.
And Sharenow's mission is accomplished. "Ring of Fire" is beautifully and meticulously designed, lit, shot, and directed, and it's seamlessly sewn together. Jewel's performance is fascinating; she mastered the June Carter laugh. Matt Ross ("Big Love") and Frances Conroy ("Six Feet Under") give nuanced performances as Johnny Cash and Maybelle Carter.
The movie strikes sad and funny notes, but the very best one-liner came after the screening during the Q&A. A balding dude in the audience asked Jewel if this was her first time acting. Ouch. Ever heard of "Ride With the Devil," by Ang Lee? A super-awkward hush came over the room.
"I did a movie about 15 years ago," she sassed. "But you're much too young to remember."
Now that's a plucky Lifetime-style comeback if we ever heard one.
"Ring of Fire" premieres Monday, 5/27 at 9 PM on Lifetime.