Jewel opens up about portraying June Carter Cash

Jewel as June Carter Cash in 2013's "Ring of Fire." Lifetime

The last time Jewel took on an acting role, she told her agent, "If I ever want to act again, just punch me in the face. Save me."

The singer-songwriter appeared in director Ang Lee's 1999 film, "Ride With the Devil," and has made a couple of TV appearances. But she said acting was so uncomfortable at the time that it made her "miserable."

That dreadful feeling disappeared when Jewel stepped into the role of June Carter Cash for the upcoming Lifetime movie, "Ring of Fire," premiering Monday at 9 p.m. ET and co-starring Matt Ross, John Doe and Frances Conroy.

"She was an extraordinary woman and deserved to have her own story told," Jewel said about Cash, the wife of country legend Johnny Cash. "I think she was often known as the woman behind the man. But she was a comedienne, a writer and a songwriter. She wrote 'The Ring of Fire.' So it's nice for her to get her own story -- and not let it be just a Johnny [Cash] and June story. And it was an honor to get to play such a difficult role for someone who really isn't an actress -- to be given the opportunity is really extraordinary."

It didn't help that Reese Witherspoon won a best actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Cash in 2005's "Walk the Line."

"It was a very difficult challenge, suddenly being the lead actress carrying the film with such dramatic highs and lows," said Jewel. "If you don't hit those marks you're not going to have a very good movie. So it was a lot of pressure. Not to mention, Reese [Witherspoon] won an Oscar for this. So I knew I had to come up to a high level for sure."

Which is why Jewel did her research. She watched footage, interviewed Cash's friends, her son, and even spoke with addiction experts. "A lot of the movie hinges on the fact that everyone in her life was an addict and she ended up having to face her own co-dependency and go into therapy when Johnny went in," Jewel, 39, said.

You might say Jewel has caught the acting bug. "I can't lie. I really did [catch the acting bug]. "It started to feel like a very creative thing that I can be in control of and have fun doing," she said.

When she's not on the small screen, Jewel is busy with her family -- her rodeo champ husband, Ty Murray, and their son, Kase, who was born in 2011.

And Jewel recently became a national ambassador for ReThink, a national public awareness campaign that's encouraging people to rethink their perceptions of families who need help putting a roof over their heads, especially the millions of residents who live in public housing.

Jewel is seen here at her ranch in Stephenville, Texas, shooting a PSA for ReThink.
ReThink

"There are stereotypes and perceptions of it and I'm somebody who has suffered from those stereotypes. While I was homeless I was so aware of what people thought of me and that people didn't think I was worth very much and people had no qualms about letting me know about it. You feel like, 'I'm a person, you know.'"And that's how it is with public housing. It's moms trying to go back to school and keep their kids in a stable environment. It's people who really need a safety net. In the States right now, a lot of families are one paycheck away from being homeless."

Jewel knows the story all too well. At 18, she found herself without a home -- and living in her car. Looking back, there was a series of circumstances that led her to that place, but one situation in particular was a catalyst. "I had a job at Computer Warehouse answering phones. My boss took me aside one day and propositioned me and wanted me sleep with him. I wouldn't, and he wouldn't give me my paycheck," she said. "I couldn't pay my rent. And I thought, 'Well, no big deal. I'll live in my car. I'll get a new job. I'll save up.' That's the thing. You don't have first and last month's rent when you're living paycheck to paycheck. Luckily I didn't have a family. So luckily it was just me who was going to live in a car. And then I kept getting sick and I couldn't hold a job because I was using too many sick days...and there you go -- you're in a situation that's very difficult to get out of."

Now Jewel, who grew up in Alaska, is asking people to rethink their perceptions. "I was 18 when I went through it. And it was difficult to know what people thought of me. Imagine little kids who live in public housing that know what people think of them -- that judge their parents."

Jewel, meanwhile, has been on the road on a tour to coincide with her 2013 "Greatest Hits" collection, which also features the new single, "Two Hearts Breaking." There may be more new music on the way, but Jewel isn't in any rush; she's focusing on her son right now.

"I have tons of songs -- I have like 500 songs waiting to be released," said Jewel, who released her debut, "Pieces of You," in 1995. "I write all the time. I will continue to make more music. I have a Christmas album coming out this year. As far as a major label release, I'm looking at how to do it. I'm not sure what kind of career I want now with my child. I know I'll always write and release records. Whether I do it on a major label or not is to be seen. I want my son to be the priority in my life and I don't know if I could do major radio tours and the 34-month press launch and all the touring with my son. I don't know...I'm just kind of sitting tight and doing what I typically do -- what everyone tells me no to do -- which is take all the time in the world to figure out what I want."


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