"There is growth" the actor and musician tells PEOPLE. "Get out of the past"
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Juliette Lewis is at a turning point.

Admitting that most past news coverage about her was “usually about Brad Pitt or drug addiction, which hasn’t been me since I was 22,” she says, “I’m 40. I quit all my bulls— at 22. There is growth. Get out of the past.”

At present, Lewis has two films at the SXSW arts fest in Austin: Kelly & Cal, which Variety in its review called an “inspired match-up of underserved veteran Juliette Lewis and breakout newcomer Jonny Weston,” and writer-director Kat Candler’s darkly emotional Hellion, which premiered Sunday and costars Josh Wiggins as a struggling teenager and Aaron Paul as his father.

“I like doing roles that are rooted, where the character has a history and a range of emotion,” says Lewis, who, as a young actress shot to fame with roles in the critically acclaimed What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers.

Off-screen she was causing excitement, too – being chased by paparazzi during her relationships with both Pitt and Johnny Depp.

But that was then. Lewis says turning 40 is about expressing herself.

“I used to be really insular, really introverted, spoke very little words,” she says. “I couldn’t articulate myself.”

That means not only expressing herself with her screen work, but in the recording studio.

After her turns in the Oscar-nominated August: Osage County and the ABC series Secrets & Lies with Ryan Phillippe, Lewis is also preparing her new album, her fifth and her most recent since 2009’s Terra Incognita.

“I took five years off of movies, just making music and touring,” she says. “I am mid-life, and this is a new chapter for me.”