Jewel's Shy but Polished
Bruce Kirkland
Toronto Sun

TORONTO -- Her voice hushed, her smile a little tentative and her pale cheeks aglow with girlish blush, Jewel charmed Toronto yesterday as she took a Ride With The Devil.

The Ang Lee movie, which just played as a gala in the Toronto film festival, marks the singer-poet's film debut. Her remarkable performance opposite male leads Skeet Ulrich, Tobey Maguire and Jeffrey Wright is being touted as at least a revelation, probably a shock.

Jewel had never acted in anything before, if you don't count one night playing Dorothy in a charity performance of The Wizard Of Oz in New York in 1995. Otherwise, she is seen on stages to deliver music and poetry, not dialogue.

"It's a little different," Jewel told a Ride With The Devil press conference yesterday about performing a character, not a song. "It's a real different medium."

She admitted she was terrified of being stripped of the confidence she exudes as a singer. Asked how she overcame that fear, she glanced at director Lee and whispered: "Ang!"

Lee told reporters that Jewel was suggested for the major role by the movie's casting director.

"I met with her and she was exactly right for the part. Then we spent a few months working together and, by the time I had to make the decision, I felt she was the best choice I had.

"And it was a pleasure to work with her."

Jewel is known for her optimistic songs on two multimillion-selling albums, her debut Pieces Of You and the follow-up Spirit. Her third release, all holiday songs, is scheduled for November.

'Something different'

This film attracted her because of the evocative writing in James Schamus' script. "The role was something different from the southern belle," Jewel said.

The tough-minded farm girl she plays must have seemed familiar, too. Raised on a farm in Alaska, Jewel knows that world. But repeatedly yesterday, she seemed reluctant to elaborate, choosing her words carefully, speaking so quietly that even a microphone had difficulty picking her up.

She shrugged off suggestions that she brings a powerful female presence to an otherwise male-dominated war movie. Ride With The Devil is a U.S. Civil War saga in which Jewel plays a Missouri woman caught up in the lives of a group of pro-Confederate guerrilla fighters played by her co-stars.

Schamus told the press conference that Jewel had one talent -- horseback riding -- that she did not get to use, which he found amusing. Especially considering that some of her co-stars, such as Maguire, kept falling off his steeds.

"The real irony is that the best rider in the film is probably Jewel and we had to put her on a mule," Schamus said. Jewel laughed and confided: "I can't show my face to my father."

'Hands full'

Jewel is also absent from the lush period music on the soundtrack. "I didn't have anything to do with the music," she said. "I had my hands full as an actor."

Lee took Jewel through her panic period. "Obviously, I had never worked with a director before. I was horrified," she admitted about showing up on set the first day. "I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know where to focus, where to look, what to do. I didn't know anything about it."

But help was steps away on set: "Ang was my life preserver which I clung to desperately. My job was to please Ang."