In 1993, Juliette Lewis and Brad Pitt were Hollywood hopefuls cast in the Dominic Sena-directed film Kalifornia. The movie revolves around two journalists and their teenage girlfriends going on a tour of famous murder sites across America, unaware that one of them holds a grisly secret. With equanimous violence at its core, it unspools with the same odd mixture of brutality and ease, like a razor blade embedded in a bar of soap, that Terrence Malick’s Badlands had achieved a few decades earlier.
While such an intensely savage reflection of the darkness in American society might not seem like an ideal place for a romatic affair to flourish, two of its young leads were enjoying the balm of puppy love. Juliette Lewis dated Brad Pitt for four years from 16 to 20. “He’s not in my universe at all now,” she told the Guardian. “It seems like a high-school relationship because now he’s a very famous person.”
Adding: “I look at this person that I shared a bit of history with. I hope he finds happiness because I genuinely loved him. He’s a very stand-up, good guy. Four years was an eternity at that time. It was my longest relationship and we both lost our anonymity together. Huge life changes all occurred, all connected to that person.”
Lewis then muses: “We’re strangers now. Isn’t that weird? I don’t know him as an adult, and he doesn’t know me. I know that he likes interesting women, always has, and I know that he’s a guy from Missouri that grew up in a very small world and it took huge courage for him to leave.” It’s a thought that singer-songwriter Emma Tricca gave voice to with the gorgeous ‘Lost in New York’ line: “So strange how people walk into someone’s life, changing the weather once and forever, then you don’t remember their face anymore.”
However, the relationship at the time was not without a touch of controversy. When Lewis was 17 and the pair had entered a full relationship Brad Pitt was turning 27. Naturally, this age gap raised a few eyebrows at the time. Despite this, Lewis has always downplayed the disparity and the fanfare behind the entire relationship itself for that matter, remarking: “It amazed me that people are still fascinated that we went out for four years. I was in my high-school years, and it was a wonderful, loving relationship with a fun, smart guy.”
However, this hasn’t stopped Lewis from continually revisiting the subject of people at different parts of their life and the impact that has on love affairs throughout her creative work. The actress started a band after attending a Blondie concert with Hole drummer Patty Schemel and in 2004 raucous grungy indie rockers Juliette and the Licks were spawned. At the time the band started, Lewis ventured to give it all of her efforts and decide to forgo romance, remarking: “You know, I get lonely – I’m not going to lie about that … I kind of signed up in my mind that I’m giving myself wholeheartedly, full-throttle to my creative life and I don’t want to be distracted.”
From this fervent creative mantle, Lewis often looked at the relationships she had set to one side in a sort of subconsciously reflective fashion. None more so than on the Juliette and the Licks track ’20 Year Old Lover’. The song traverses the pitfalls of an age gap in a relationship, a subject Lewis knows very well, with lines like: “I was wondering maybe I could pick you up, At your mother’s house, And you could gimme a little kiss before she kicks me out.”
Although ostensibly a pithy rock ditty, having been in the same shoes as the protagonist, the song is no doubt informed by her time with the aspiring star who ascended to the lofty perch of Hollywood’s leading frontman. While the old couple still remains estranged, Lewis looks back on her relationship fondly and thanks Pitt for being a stable and loving presence as they rapidly rose towards bewildering fame.