By Suzanne Zuckerman
October 18, 2010 12:00 PM

Juliette Lewis is so over talking about Brad Pitt. “It’s just like talking about junior high school,” she says, wearing a silver necklace that spells out M-I-S-F-I-T as she sips coffee in the lobby of a New York hotel. Sure, they dated from 1990 to 1993. And yes, at the time she called him “my mate for life.” But even so, “It’s like, why don’t we talk about Rodney in 8th grade, who I was madly in love with?” says Lewis. “That puts it in perspective.”

Back then, it was Lewis-not yet Pitt-who was the talk of Hollywood. From her Oscar nomination at 18 for 1991’s Cape Fear to edgy movies such as 1994’s Natural Born Killers, “I got successful very young,” says the star. “I was rebellious and, to tell you the truth, quite overwhelmed by the attention.” She drew plenty of it with her wild fashion sense and anything-goes attitude-and developed a career-threatening drug addiction. Now 37, an older, wiser and drug-free Lewis is stepping back into the spotlight with supporting but pivotal roles in the legal drama Conviction, out Oct. 15, and the comedy Due Date, out Nov. 5. “It’s exciting to make this splash, no matter how small the role,” says Lewis, who has spent much of the past six years focusing on her alternate career as a rocker, lately crisscrossing the continent in a 10-passenger van. Shifting back into movies-and swapping her electric blue hair for her natural brown-is the sort of double life she’s always wanted. “For me, it was like, Oh, I’m going back to my day job,” she says. “I’m finding balance.”

Her road to peace has been a long one. Following her breakup with Pitt, the L.A. native-long a “heavy pothead”-got deeper into drugs. “Pot became dull. And then later I did harder drugs”-including, she says, painkillers and cocaine. “I was playing around in darkness, and I just didn’t know how to handle it.” Soon her movie career stalled. To get sober, she turned to Narconon, the rehab program based on the principles of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. “I haven’t done drugs since I was 22,” she says. “When I look back on that period, it’s like looking at your life before you were potty trained.” Raised a Scientologist, she’s quick to defend the sometimes-controversial religion. “It’s a simple [philosophy on] how to better your life. All this folklore and alien stories on the Internet, I just have no relationship to it. I’m a person who’s incredibly defiant and marches to the beat of their own drum,” she says. “So I find it insulting, this notion of being ‘a follower.'”

In 1999 Lewis married pro skateboarder Steve Berra and all but dropped off the radar. “I did, very deliberately, take time off,” she says. Besides, life at home was good. “Steve blew my mind. I just looked at him as Superman.” But within four years, both realized “we weren’t compatible,” says Lewis, and they divorced. “Steve would be the first to admit he was a workaholic,” she says. “You have to be ready to have a partnership. And sometimes you’re like, ‘Whoa, this is too much. I only actually have enough steam to focus on my own thing.'”

On the road with her band, the single star has dated a musician in England who “didn’t want a long-distance relationship” and a “dreamboat” Italian who inspired a song called “Romeo.” But for now, her main squeeze is her chihuahua Teddy. “It’s very appropriate that he’s my dog,” she says. “He’s a little rough around the edges.” As buzz for Conviction builds, “it’s a magical time in my life,” she says. As for her past, “it’s like, oh, how sad that I had gotten lost. But I’m no longer carrying the same load.”