Julia O’Hara Stiles was born March 28, 1981. in Palisades, New York. Born to John O’Hara, an Irish American teacher and businessman, and Judith Stiles, a potter of English and Italian ancestry. She has two younger siblings, Jane and Johnny. Stiles was raised in SoHo by liberal, lapsed Catholic parents. She started acting at age 11, performing with New York’s La MaMa Theatre Company and securing work by submitting photographs of herself in costume to the company and asking that she be kept in mind for juvenile roles.
Stiles began her acting career in television roles. After two appearances as the computer punk “Erica Dansby” on the PBS series Ghostwriter in 1993 and 1994, she appeared as a guest star on the medical drama Chicago Hope. She has been seen in two made-for-TV movies: in Before Women Had Wings (1997) on CBS, she played opposite Ellen Burstyn and Oprah Winfrey in an adaptation of the novel by Connie May Fowler; and she played a teenage girl who finds herself pregnant and runs away from her unforgiving father (Bill Smitrovich) in NBC’s miniseries The ’60’s (1999), a film Caryn James of The New York Times dismissed as “conspicuously idiotic.” Stiles was the public face of the film, with NBC using her face, painted with a peace sign and the American flag, both in its advertising and on the cover of the soundtrack album.
Although Julia’s first lead role was in Wicked (1998), Julia’s first film was a non-speaking part in I Love You, I Love You Not(1996), with Claire Danes and Jude Law. She also had small roles as Harrison Ford’s daughter in Alan J. Pakula’s The Devil’s Own(1997) and in M. Night Shyamalan’s Wide Awake (1998). Her first lead was in Wicked (1998), playing a teenage girl who murders her mother so she can have her father all to herself. Critic Joe Balthai wrote she was “the darling of the 1998 Sundance Film Festival” and Internet movie writer Harry Knowles said she was the “discovery of the fest,” but the film was not commercially released in the U.S. and went direct-to-video in 2001, after Stiles had become better known.
The role that gained Stiles renown was Kat Stratford, opposite Heath Ledger, in Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew set in a Seattle high school. She won an MTV Movie Award for “Breakthrough Female Performance” for the role, and the Chicago Film Critics voted her the most promising new actress of the year. Foreign critics applauded her work as well, including Adina Hoffman, who praised her as “a young, serious looking Diane Lane” and Martin Hoyle, who commented that Stiles played Kat “with bloody-minded independent charm from the beginning with hints of wistfulness beneath the determination.”
Her next starring role was in Down to You (2000), which was heavily panned by critics, but earned Stiles and her co-star Freddie Prinze, Jr. a Teen Choice Award nomination for their on-screen chemistry. She subsequently appeared in two more Shakespearean adaptations. The first was as the Ophelia in Michael Almerayda’s Hamlet (2000), with Ethan Hawke in the lead. The second was in the Desdemona role, opposite Mekhi Phifer in Tim Blake Nelson’s O (2001), a version of Othello set in a private boarding school. Neither film was a great success; O had been subjected to many delays and a change of distributors and Hamlet was an art house film shot on a minimal budget.
Stiles’ next commercial success was in Save the Last Dance (2001), as an aspiring ballerina forced to leave her small town in downstate Illinois to live with her struggling musician father in Chicago, after her mother is killed. At her new, nearly all-black school, she falls in love with the character played by Sean Patrick Thomas, who teaches her hip-hop dance steps that get her into The Juilliard School. The role won her two more MTV awards for “Best Kiss” and “Best Female Performance”, and a Teen Choice Award for best fight scene, for her battle with Bianca Lawson. Rolling Stone pronounced her “the coolest co-ed”, putting her on the cover of its April 12, 2001 issue. She told Rolling Stone that she performed all her own dancing in the film, though the way the film was shot and edited might have made it appear otherwise.
In David Mamet’s State and Main (2000), about a film shooting on location in a small town in Vermont, she played a teenage girl who seduces a film actor (Alec Baldwin) with a weakness for young girls. Stiles also played opposite Stockard Channing in the dark art house film The Business of Strangers (2001) as a conniving, amoral secretary who exacts revenge on her cold boss. Channing was impressed by her co-star: “In addition to her talent, she has a quality that is almost feral, something that can make people uneasy. She has an effect on people.” Stiles also had small roles as a CIA operative in The Bourne Identity (2002) and its two sequels The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Producer Lynda Obst was quoted as saying that Stiles was “turning into the next Meryl Streep”.
Her next film role was in Mona Lisa Smile (2003) as Joan, a student at Wellesley College in 1953, whose art professor (Julia Roberts) encourages her to pursue a career in law rather than becoming a wife and mother. Critic Stephen Holden referred to her as one of cinema’s “brightest young stars,” but the film met with generally unfavorable reviews.
Stiles played a Wisconsin college student who is swept off her feet by a Danish prince in The Prince and Me (2004), directed by Martha Coolidge. Stiles told an interview that she was very similar to the character, Paige Morgan, but critic Scott Foundas said while she was, as always, “irrepressibly engaging” the film was a “strange career choice for Stiles”. This echoed criticism in reviews of A Guy Thing (2003), a romantic comedy with Jason Lee and Selma Blair; critic Dennis Harvey wrote that Stiles was “wasted,” and Stephen Holden called her “a serious actress from whom comedy does not seem to flow naturally”.
In 2005, Stiles was cast opposite Liev Schreiber in The Omen (2006) , a remake of the 1976 horror film. The film was released on June 6, 2006. She will next work on a film adaptation of The Bell Jar (2009) which coincidentally was a book her character was seen reading in her breakthrough film 10 Things I Hate About You. Stiles made her writing and directorial debut with Elle magazine’s short Raving (2007) starring Zooey Deschanel. It premiered at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. Stiles also appears in the forthcoming film Gospel Hill (2008) which will be screened at the Democratic National Convention. Rumeros are that she will act in the role of a woman who falls in love with her stalker in the upcoming thriller Cry of the Owl ( 2010).
Stiles’ first theatrical roles were in works by author/composer John Moran with the group Ridge Theater, in Manhattan’s lower East side from 1993-1998. She later performed on stage in Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, in the summer of 2002, and appeared as Viola, the lead role in Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Twelfth Night with Jimmy Smits. Reviewing the production, Ben Brantley of The New York Times saluted Stiles as “the thinking teenagers’ movie goddess” who put him in mind of a “young Jane Fonda”.
In the spring of 2004, she made her London stage debut opposite Aaron Eckhart in a revival of David Mamet’s play Oleanna at the Garrick Theatre.
Stiles attended Friends Seminary, a Quaker prep school in Manhattan, and graduated from the Professional Children’s School in New York in 1999. She then was an English major at Columbia University, though she had several times interrupted her studies to pursue her career. During her first year (2000-2001), Stiles caused a minor uproar on campus when she mocked cafeteria workers in Columbia’s dining halls while appearing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Stiles later apologized for her comments in the campus newspaper, the Columbia Daily Spectator. She graduated in May 2005, five years after entering. Stiles is a Democrat and supported John Kerry’s candidacy for President of the United States.
Stiles has also worked for Habitat for Humanity, building housing in Costa Rica, and has worked with Amnesty International to try to raise awareness of the harsh conditions of immigration detention of unaccompanied juveniles; Marie Claire magazine, in January 2004, featured Stiles’ trip to see conditions at the Berks County Youth Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania. Additionally, Stiles serves on the Board of Directors of Amend.org, a New York-based nonprofit that implements childhood injury prevention programs in Africa.
Stiles is also an ex-vegan. When interviewed by Conan O’Brien, she said the word “orgasm” came to mind when she had her first cheeseburger after giving up veganism. The actress has described herself as a feminist and wrote on the subject in The Guardian. Stiles told Gotham Magazine in 2005 that “I’d never be in Playboy or anything close to that, not that anyone would ask” and in fact hates being photographed.
Stiles has dated co-stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (in 1999) David Harbour (2011) and actor Joshua Jackson (in 2000).
Stiles is also an avid baseball fan. Her favorite team is the New York Mets. She threw the ceremonial first pitch before their May 29, 2006 game. On August 17, 2007, she joined Prince on stage at the O2 in London. Prince handed her a mic and got her to sing Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” in front of a crowd of 20,000.
In 2010 it was announced that Julia will joins the cast of Dexter for Season Five, she appeared in all ten episodes as Lumen. Julia received her first Emmy nomination for the role. Gossip followed the show after press blamed Julia for the possible breaking down of Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter’s marriage during the filming of season 5. She ultimately issued a statement to the press expressing distress in having to even make the statement but feeling the need all the same to say NO, she was not dating Mr. Hall.
Stiles was to play Jeannie in a production of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig directed by the playwright beginning in April 2011, but it has been postponed indefinitely. She said she was infact glad it fell through because she was terrified about stripping down onstage.
Stiles began filming Between Us in May 2011 with co-stars Taye Diggs, David Harbour and Melissa George. Between Us is the screen adaptation of the off-Broadway play by the same name written by playwright Joe Hortua. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, where its producers hoped to find a domestic distributor. The film has since screened at 15 film festivals, winning the grand jury prize at the 2012 Bahamas International Film Festival.
WIGS a scripted drama YouTube channel, featuring short films and documentaries, all with female leads launched in May 2012 by director-producers Jon Avnet (Black Swan), Rodrigo Garcia (Big Love) and Jake Avnet. Julia Stiles stars as Blue, a single mom who’s trying to protect her son from the consequences of her secret career as an escort. The web-series was a huge hit and 7 more 50 minute episodes were given the green light for Season 3. Blue moved from YouTube to Hulu on March 28th 2013.
In 2012, Stiles starred alongside David Cross and America Ferrera in the dark comedy It’s a Disaster. The film premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was picked up by Oscilloscope Laboratories for commercial distribution. The film was scheduled to screen in select theaters starting on April 12, 2013. Stiles had a small but pivotal role as a reporter in the 2013 British-American film Closed Circuit.
Julia took over the role of Rachel in TNT’s Guilt By Association after Neve Campbell dropped out of the drama. The film follows three women: deputy district attorney Rachel Knight (Stiles), LAPD detective Bailey Keller (Elisabeth Rohm) and prosecutor Toni LaCollette (Rose Rollins) each of whom end up embroiled in the same cases.
Also in April 2013, it was announced that Stiles will be starring in an indie supernatural thriller Out of the Dark alongside Scott Speedman and Stephen Rea. Filming began in Bogotá, Colombia. A year later, Vertical Entertainment picked up the US distribution rights and set an early 2015 release.
In 2014 Julia Stiles also filmed The Great Gilly Hopkins, an adaptation of Bridge To Terabithia author Katherine Paterson’s novel of the same name. The Book Thief‘s Sophia Nelisse plays Gilly, while Julia plays her mother Courtney Rutherford Hopkins. Release date is yet to be confirmed.
Updated October 2015