Jewel portrays June Carter Cash for Lifetime
This publicity image released by A&E Television Networks shows Matt Ross as Johnny Cash, left, and Jewel as June Carter Cash in a scene from the Lifetime Original Movie, "Ring of Fire," premiering Monday, May 27 at 9pm ET/PT on Lifetime. (AP Photo/A&E Television Networks, Annette Brown)
NEW YORK (AP) — It helps to have a singer portray a singer, of course. The onstage scenes came naturally to Jewel when she played the role of June Carter Cash in the new Lifetime movie, "Ring of Fire."
Jewel's experience came in handy in an unexpected way during a key scene in the film, which premieres Monday (9 p.m. EDT). Her character is shown writing the movie's title song, which became a signature hit for future husband Johnny Cash. She writes about falling in love with someone not her spouse, figuring she was going to hell — the "ring of fire" — for it.
"It would have been very difficult to do if I hadn't written songs and known what my process was," Jewel said. "I had no idea what it was like for her to write. So I just had to write like I did."
The movie is based on the book about June's life, "Anchored in Love," written by her son John Carter Cash. While the 2005 theatrical film "Walk the Line" depicted June and Johnny's love story mostly from his perspective, "Ring of Fire" is a portrait of June before she met Johnny, during their courtship and through their long marriage.
The movie's executive producer, Jonathan Koch, said he'd had dinner once with Jewel and husband Ty Murray and came away impressed, particularly by her sense of humor. He called to ask her to portray June Carter Cash when he agreed to make the movie.
"The first thing she said to me was, 'You know, I'm not an actress,'" Koch recalled.
That's not completely true; she made "Ride With the Devil" with director Ang Lee. But the 39-year-old Jewel, who has lately concentrated on making music for the country and children's markets while raising her son, had decided not to pursue the field. There are only so many hours in a day, days in a week.
"I sort of made a personal decision," she said. "Do I need to be rich and famous or do I need to have a more balanced life? So I let acting go."
Koch constructed a relatively compact schedule that enabled her to say yes.
Jewel did her research, impressed with a musical career that began with country music's legendary Carter family (actress Frances Conroy plays Cash's mother, Maybelle, and musician John Doe plays her uncle, A.P. Carter). She had met June and Johnny in London when she was the opening act for one of their concerts, calling them "lovely people."
As a divorced, single woman working to support two children in an era where that was unusual, Cash was "a modern woman before they really existed," she said.
"She was a really, really charismatic, bright woman who was formerly known as Johnny Cash's wife and I'm glad Lifetime decided to tell her story, because she had an amazing career before she even met Johnny," she said.
Jewel also enjoyed bringing out the wit that flowed naturally from Cash as a young solo musician and later as her husband's foil.
"Jewel's hilarious," Koch said. "She's really funny. She really took to this part. If you ask her, I think one of the things that drew her to this opportunity was that she had a chance to be funny."
Cash's sense of humor had its limits, though, best illustrated in a scene where June rejects some corny, demeaning lines written for her as she was about to sing on Johnny's television variety show. Johnny backs her up.