Jewel plays June Carter Cash in ‘Ring of Fire’

Ring of Fire

• 8 p.m. Monday

• Lifetime

Posted 8:48am on Monday, May. 27, 2013

Jewel, the singer-songwriter turned actress, has always adored the great June Carter Cash.

But it took years, she says, to really get to know the woman.

As a child, Jewel admired June from afar. “I was a fan — we had a lot in common,” she says. “June was the only pop-culture icon I knew of who was raised in a family with an outhouse, like I was.”

Years later, the two shared the stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Jewel was the opening act for June and Johnny Cash in April 1997. “I didn’t get to know them tremendously well,” Jewel says. “It was a very brief encounter, though a lovely one.”

But now Jewel knows June’s life backward and forward, thanks to her starring role in the new Lifetime biopic, Ring of Fire. “I never dreamed I’d play her in a movie,” she says.

The film premieres at 8 p.m. Central Monday on Lifetime. In it, Jewel delivers a performance that will make everyone wonder why she spent most of her adult life not wanting an acting career.

With the help of a brown wig, contact lenses and prosthetic teeth, Jewel transforms herself. But she does more than just look like June Carter Cash — she also captures the feisty, soulful spirit of the woman.

“The role was just offered to me out of the blue,” Jewel says. “I was so surprised. The producer called and said he thought I was right for the role. I kind of tried to tell him he was crazy, because I’ve never carried a film before and I haven’t really acted that much.

“But he was determined. And parts like this just don’t come along every day. I’ve looked at scripts over the years and the parts are usually just playing somebody’s love interest and not that interesting.

“But this was really a chance to have a transformative experience, where I get to play a woman that had real highs and real lows and whose life covered the gamut of emotion in between.

“Ultimately, I felt like I couldn’t turn it down.”

Capturing the spirit

Jewel, who lives in Stephenville with her husband, bull-riding champion Ty Murray, felt it was essential that she do more than just look like June. She had to capture her spirit as well.

“That meant doing my homework and studying,” Jewel says. “I talked to a lot of her friends in Nashville, like Jessi Colter, Waylon Jennings’ widow.

“I read everything and watched a lot of video, so I could transform the way I talked, the way I laughed, my posture, the way I sang. Everything. I had to get all the details right, because this was a real person that everybody knows.”

Jewel had the chance to launch a full-on acting career after her Pieces of You debut album was a platinum-selling hit in 1995, but she ultimately decided that juggling music and acting wasn’t for her.

“I was in a big Ang Lee film [1999’s Ride With the Devil] and I loved acting,” she says. “But I didn’t think I was going to be able to have a very happy personal life with two careers.”

Still making music

She didn’t have that hesitation about Ring of Fire because her music career is already established. Plus, as a new mom, she wanted to do work that would allow her to keep her then-9-month-old son close.

The movie isn’t the only thing on Jewel’s plate.

She’s currently on tour in support of a recently released greatest-hits album. (A new single on the CD, Two Hearts Breaking, reached No. 16 on the Adult Contemporary chart.) She also has a Christmas album and a children’s book coming out this year.

Jewel hopes the movie attracts not just fans, but also those who aren’t as familiar with the life and career of June Carter Cash, because the story has a lot to offer.

“I think June was a modern woman before there were modern women,” Jewel says. “She was a divorcee, she was a single mom supporting children, she was a professional working mom. She was learning to balance career and marriage. What are the decisions you have to make to make love work?

“I think it’s a very modern story that people can still get a lot from.”

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