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Welcome to Julia Stiles Online, your best online resource dedicated to the talented American actress Julia Stiles! You might know Julia from her role as Kat Stratford on pop culture favorite "10 Things I Hate About You," from her role as Sara in "Save the Last Dance," or from her role as Paige Morgan of "The Prince and Me". Be sure to save our link and check back for all the latest on Julia's career!
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Julia Stiles Wanted to Be Just Like Kat Stratford, Too (NYT)

Source: The New York Times

Julia Stiles starts lunch with a disclaimer: “I’m kind of like a bundle of emotions, because I have a 5-month-old baby and I went into directing my first movie.”

Maybe you didn’t know Stiles had gotten into directing. Her feature, “Wish You Were Here,” doesn’t yet have a release date and has only been lightly covered. You definitely didn’t know about the baby, because Stiles declined to do the standard-issue celebrity-birth promotion (post an announcement on Instagram to get aggregated by People magazine). She’s been in the business for nearly three decades. It’s not that she doesn’t know the norms. But participating in the norms just because they’re the norms has never been her thing.

“I didn’t really talk about it,” she said of her latest pregnancy, though she was excited to talk about it now, about how being a parent (her older sons are 6 and 2) nourishes her work. “I think that actually being a mom is really great training for being a director,” she said. “You have to think 10 steps ahead but also be in the present moment. You have to be good at time management. You have to be sensitive to people’s needs and guide them, but also hold a boundary.”

Over a two-hour lunch at Jack’s Wife Freda in the West Village — a likely place to spot a celebrity, though unlikely for said celebrity to have gone to school just a few blocks away at P.S. 3, as Stiles did — she was exhausted but animated, especially when the conversation turned to directing. “I am running on fumes in terms of sleep,” she said. “But I feel more energized than I ever have.

On the second day of shooting, she said, her script supervisor told her to stop apologizing. “I wasn’t saying ‘sorry,’” Stiles said. “But she meant, ‘Just stop qualifying your opinions and your ideas. You don’t have to explain them. You’re the director.’ And she was totally right. I took it to heart and I put on my big girl pants and leaned into being a director as opposed to a people-pleasing actress.”

It’s strange to hear Stiles, 43, describe herself as struggling with this sort of thing — being unapologetic about her vision, holding the line against external pressures — given the role that launched her career. As the acid-tongued, defiant Kat Stratford in “10 Things I Hate About You,” Stiles provided, for a generation born just too late to be riot grrrls, a vision for how to be a cool teenage girl whose every move did not revolve around appeasing the appetites or fulfilling the fantasies of teenage boys.

Kat reads Sylvia Plath and rails against “the pathetic emptiness of meaningless, consumer-driven lives.” Popularity contests bore and disgust her; she only smiles when she feels like it. Kat is many things girls of the era (1999) were explicitly told they shouldn’t be (abrasive, outspoken) or couldn’t be (funny, intellectual) yet, in staying true to herself, she reaps the finest rewards (Sarah Lawrence, Heath Ledger).

Unlike many cultural artifacts from that turn-of-the-aughts time, “10 Things,” which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, feels fresh and vibrant. It’s a testament not just to the whip-smart script by Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith (the pair who would go on to write “Legally Blonde” and “She’s the Man,” among others) but also to the magnetism of the film’s leads — and what Stiles’s Kat came to mean for those who emulated her.

“Julia did such a magnificent job of embodying that, I think in large part just because she lived it genuinely,” said Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of her co-stars in “10 Things.” “She was not someone I would at all call a shrew” — as in the Shakespeare play “The Taming of the Shrew,” upon which “10 Things” was loosely based — “but someone I would call razor-sharp.”

Larisa Oleynik, who played Kat’s kid sister, Bianca, recalls rewatching “10 Things” recently. “The thing I love so much — and I’m going to get emotional — is, she’s so earnest,” Oleynik said. “She’s so genuine. And to me, that is the most beautiful thing about Julia’s portrayal of that character. It is coming from a deeply heartfelt, vulnerable, sensitive, insanely intelligent place,” she said, while adding: “I don’t think anyone else would have been able to be that real.”

Stiles started acting as a 12-year-old in New York’s La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, but had a hard time finding her place in film. “I was a 17-year-old girl, auditioning for romantic comedies and commercials and TV shows and always being told, ‘You’re too serious,’” she said. “You know, ‘Smile. You’re too angsty.’” That changed when she read the “10 Things” script. “It was the first time that I had read a character in a teenage romantic comedy that spoke to me,” she said.

As Oleynik remembers it, Stiles was that girl, “a cool, downtown New Yorker” who, though only a few months Oleynik’s senior, “seemed so much more mature.” Before the “10 Things” table read, Oleynik had gone to Fred Segal to buy her real-life junior prom dress, an indigo slip that wasn’t all that dissimilar to the prom dress Kat wears in the movie. “I really, really wanted her approval,” Oleynik said. “I remember thinking, if Julia approves, I can go.”

IN 2002, ACCORDING TO THE self-appointed cultural anthropologists at Newsweek magazine, there were exactly three types of teenage girls in America. You could be an Alpha: a blonde who loved cheerleading, worshiped Gwyneth and Vogue, and managed to be “both bitchy and nice.” You could be a Beta, which was basically an aspiring Alpha; Betas reportedly took diet pills as after-school snacks, spent after-prom at a motel, and were, tragically, brunette. Or you could be a part of a rising cohort of Gamma Girls: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”-watching, flare-jeans-wearing freethinkers who were “obsessed with Shakespeare,” dated the “class smartass,” and subscribed to Jane magazine. The poster child for the Gamma Girl: Julia Stiles.

Stiles had zero recollection of this (her teasing reply, via text: “please don’t make me Google myself”). When I sent her the images from the issue, she responded with barf emojis. “I do remember the media pitting us against each other, though,” she added. When she was on the cover of Rolling Stone that same year, the magazine could not praise her without denigrating her “squeaky-voiced, three-named contemporaries.”

In her late teens and into her 20s, Stiles was on the receiving end of what could feel like an overwhelming amount of attention, both from the highbrow sect — she was crowned one-to-watch by Vanity Fair, which put her on the cover of their 1999 Hollywood issue before “10 Things” was even released — and the teenage masses, winning back-to-back MTV Movie Awards, including Best Kiss in 2001 alongside her “Save the Last Dance” co-star Sean Patrick Thomas.

“How did I handle it? I sometimes imploded,” she said. “I also rebelled against it, probably, by running in the other direction a little bit.” Rather than go all-in on acting to capitalize on whatever momentum she had from “Ten Things,” Stiles attended Columbia University. “I went to college so that I could focus on other things. I would take time off from work … to not give it as much power.” She also worried that one day she would be the only one among her peers who hadn’t gone to college. “I know that I was thinking: I don’t want to be sitting around at 40 with a bunch of studio executives or other people that have had that experience and I didn’t.”

Stiles was in her dorm room freshman year when she was sent pages from “The Bourne Identity” script. All she could think was: Oh my God, I can’t do this because I’m going to miss my final exams. She took the part and lost all her credits from that semester. “But I was at least able to go and do the movie and still graduate.”

Gordon-Levitt also enrolled at Columbia that year; he and Stiles lived in the same freshman hall. “She really was very much an intellectual seeker of a person,” he said. “And going to a university like Columbia is, I think, just the allure of the world of ideas — as alluring as the world of Hollywood is, that’s not the kind of thing that ever seemed to motivate her.”

TODAY’S YOUNG STARS CAN SEEM preternaturally-savvy, as if they were born with an innate understanding of how to pick projects and manage their brand across multiple platforms. “I don’t know how strategic or conscious I was of, ‘This is what I’m going to do in my career,’” Stiles said. She chose roles mostly on instinct, if they seemed like they’d be fun: more modern twists on Shakespearean classics (“O,” “Hamlet”); the well-it-seemed-progressive-at-the-time teen love story, “Save the Last Dance”; the midcentury feminist-awakening drama “Mona Lisa Smile.” Her part in the “Bourne” franchise, intended as a one-off, was brought back for the three subsequent installments, and her performance in the fifth season of “Dexter,” as a vengeance-seeking rape survivor, earned her an Emmy nomination.

But in the lulls between work, especially as she left her 20s behind, she started feeling unmoored. “There’s only so much control that actors have over their own careers,” she said. She wasn’t necessarily worried that she’d never get to act anymore. “But it was like, am I going to only be given opportunities to work on things that I don’t really believe in or don’t really care about?” she wondered. “They’re not going to know what to do with me, because I’m not the ingénue anymore and I’m not the mom. So what’s in between?”

It took 2019’s “Hustlers,” the true-crime indie about strippers scamming their Wall Street regulars in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, for Stiles to feel compelled to go after a role the way she had for Kat. She was cast as the journalist, Elizabeth, whose reporting brings the women’s stories to the world. “It really wasn’t until then that I was able to try and take more control over what direction my career is going to go,” she said.

Stiles over the years, clockwise from top left: “Save the Last Dance,” “Hamlet,” “Dexter” and “Mona Lisa Smile.”Credit…Clockwise from top left: Paramount Pictures, via Alamy; Miramax; Randy Tepper/Showtime, via Everett Collection; Paramount Pictures, via Everett Collection

With “Wish You Were Here,” Stiles is fulfilling an ambition she’s had for ages. “It took a long time to find the right story to tell,” she said. The film, based on the novel by Renee Carlino, is about a woman who believes she’s been unceremoniously dumped after a passionate first date, only to reconnect with the guy who ghosted her when she learns he’s terminally ill.

Just before “Wish You Were Here” started shooting, Stiles acted in “Chosen Family,” directed by Heather Graham. Graham says she wasn’t able to get her independent film financed until Stiles signed on. “It’s hard to make movies, especially movies that are female-driven,” Graham said. “A lot of people will say that they want to support female directors and filmmaking, but she really took a chance on working with me, a newer director who’s an actress. It meant a lot.”

Graham was impressed by Stiles right away. “She has a strong presence,” Graham said. “When she comes in, you’re like: This woman could be President of the United States. You’d believe she could do it!”

The star of “Wish You Were Here,” Isabelle Fuhrman, was 2 years old when “10 Things” premiered. And yet, when she joined the cast of Stiles’s directorial debut, she said “10 Things” was the reason.

“She said that she was a teenager who was always told she was too much and too opinionated and too loud,” Stiles said. “She really loved my character, and that was very meaningful to me.”

Like Kat, Stiles’s “10 Things” castmate Oleynik went to Sarah Lawrence College. This was years after the film’s release, when it wasn’t exactly a box office smash. “I thought no one had seen it,” she said, but on campus, she found some of the film’s most devoted fans. “It’s because of Kat! It’s because that character resonated so much. Kat’s probably why I went to Sarah Lawrence.”

Stiles’s recollection is that, as a young woman and an actress, she cared more about other people’s perceptions than Kat did. The character with whom she became instantly and eternally identified was, in fact, “ a bit aspirational,” she said.

“Part of being an actor,” she said, “is you get to play out onscreen all the things that you can’t really do in real life.”

In her 20s, Stiles said, she was apprehensive of whatever fame “10 Things” had brought her. From her present vantage point, she’s appreciative and at ease with what her early work still means to other people, and grateful for it. “As a performer, to be in something that people are talking about 25 years later is very special and very meaningful.”

The experience of being known this way, for this long, isn’t one she anticipated or even prepared for.

“I feel like I’m still figuring it out, too.”

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