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Tom Brook Wednesday, 10 November, 1999, 09:36 GMT
Jewel rides into town
Stars Tobey Maguire, Jewel, Skeet Ulrich and Jeffrey Wright
By BBC News Online's Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Jewel, the popular American singer-songwriter, has now added screen acting to a career that already includes three record albums and a best-selling book of poems.

Pop star Jewel Kilcher
Jewel says her character is "no Southern Belle"
The 25-year-old has just made her cinema debut playing a Missouri farm girl in director Ang Lee's new American Civil War drama Ride With The Devil.

Jewel admits that the prospect of acting made her scared but decided to do it because, she says, "personally I feel if I'm not on the edge of failure, I'm not really being sufficiently challenged".

In America, since the release of her debut album Pieces of You in 1995, Jewel has been anything but a failure.

Multimedia pop phenomenon

She is a huge multimedia pop phenomenon. Her first album sold 10 million copies. A second album Spirit has also been a major success, as has Jewel's book of poetry, A Night Without Armour, which is packed with her ruminations on teenage angst.

Jewel has triumphed in the marketplace by conveying optimism and sensitivity. She has the image of being a politically correct entertainer who writes folk songs and verse that reflects a social conscience.

In her youth she spent time living on a remote Alaska farm and she says her background was a definite asset in preparing for her role as a war widow in Ang Lee's film.

She says the director cast her partly because of her upbringing on the land. "I was raised with all men, I was raised do physical labour working with animals, ploughing the earth," she says.

Down-to-earth character

Experience: Jewel was brought up in remote Alaska
Jewel's farm-bound character, Sue Lee Shelley, has relationships with two men in Ride With The Devil, but it is not romance that defines her character, it's more her inner development.

She regards Sue Lee as a down-to-earth woman trying to bring up a child while the men in her community are running around killing one another.

As a screen novice Jewel says she relied heavily on Ang Lee: "My acting experience was based on how Ang taught me, and it was invaluable."

Although Jewel routinely receives heaps of praise in the press, and from her fans - much of it commenting on her good looks - she told me she was not comfortable watching herself on film for the very first time.

"I am not one of those people who like seeing myself on camera, so for me it was really horrifying."

Jewel's book of poetry has sold well
Success: Her book of poetry has sold well
Pop stars can make fools of themselves when they try to move into cinema, but Jewel seems to have coped competently with the role.

But it's unlikely that cinema will bring Jewel anything like the success she's enjoyed as a singer.

Her appearances provide some of the brighter moments in a film that I found packed with big ideas but surprisingly dull.

Having got a taste of acting, Jewel says she definitely wants to repeat the experience: "It's a tremendous learning opportunity for me."

And she liked the shared responsibility of making a movie. "Not all the pressure is on me. It's is not my career, it is not my music, it is not my writing. It's me working on a team, and that's a great feeling, it's a wonderful feeling."

Naive charm

Jewel's first two albums sold 17m copies
Pop career: Jewel's first two albums sold 17m copies
Although Jewel's singing reveals a naive charm, she is far more confident and shrewd than might be imagined.

Her screen acting - while it won't win her an Oscar - will definitely help broaden her appeal, along with her music and poetry, as an accessible all-round entertainment star.

In America she has just released an album of sentimental Christmas songs which coincides with her film debut.

As her career develops Jewel is beginning to resemble a mainstream multimedia corporation, channelling her marketable New Age talents into as many different directions as she can.

Ride With The Devil goes on general release in the UK early next year.

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