Julia Stiles' career is a class in teen stardom
Julia Stiles is a straight-A high school senior who just turned 18 two weeks ago. She has a publicist. She has an agent. She co-authored a script that's in rewrites, and she has the leading role in a studio film. All of which makes her remarkably similar to the 289,000 other adolescents currently jockeying to be Hollywood's next big thing. Surely you've noticed how each weekend brings scores of cheaply made movies packed with TV kids from the WB or Fox networks (see previous review). Stiles thinks it's unfair to stereotype the genre. "Some teen movies really suck, while others are really good but get a bad rap," she says, adding that the same dictum holds for young actors. To break out of the pack takes charisma and clever marketing. Talent helps too. Since Stiles stars in Disney's new teen comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You, it might be helpful to examine 10 things this emerging actress has done to boost her career.
1. Started early:
Aside from learning the difference between net and gross points, nothing prepares an actor better than prepubescent training in the theater of the absurd. At age 11, Stiles wrote a letter to the director of New York City's artsy La Mama Theater asking to audition. Soon she was appearing in avant-garde plays and lip-synching to recorded dialogue.
2. Took "serious" TV roles:
Making an early mark in Before Women Had Wings, an Oprah-produced telefilm about child abuse, she recently appeared as the hippie flower child in NBC's highly rated mini-series The '60s.
3. Won over casting agents:
Getting auditions depends on currying favor with casting pros, who sift through thousands of head shots and videotapes. "I narrowed the field down to 20 girls, and Julia's natural, soulful quality stood out," says Francine Maisler, who cast Before Women Had Wings. Disney's casting exec Marcia Ross, who saw nearly 200 actresses for the 10 Things role, remarks, "You can see it on-screen -- she projects an intelligent depth, she's not girlish, and she'll easily grow into adult roles."
4. Hit the festival circuit:
Briefly appearing as Harrison Ford's daughter in The Devil's Own, Stiles had her first real splash as a killer Lolita in Wicked, a kinky 1998 Sundance entry. Following its midnight screening, a line of youngsters waited outside to get Stiles' autograph. "They asked her to sign posters they had torn down, and I thought, 'Whoa, that's what Sundance can do for an unknown actor,'" recalls director Michael Steinberg.
5. Attracted internet advocates:
After seeing Wicked at Sundance, Ain't It Cool movie-website geek Harry Knowles raved about Stiles' "immense amount of screen presence" and tapped her as the "discovery of the fest."
6. Shook up support team:
The new Ovitzian model of Hollywood calls for dropping your agent in exchange for a manager. Stiles did the opposite. "Having a manager is sort of superfluous and redundant," she says. "My agent and publicist are doing a fine job, and I didn't feel like paying somebody else 10% to do nothing." Stiles' former manager refused to comment, other than to say that he lined up her last three projects, including 10 Things.
7. Got in the right magazines:
Her inside pages for Harper's Bazaar, Interview and Vogue showed class, but Stiles admits that posing for the cover of Moxie Girl last year was cheesy. Swearing never to do another teenzine, she was featured on Vanity Fair's Hollywood-cover foldout between Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Polley.
8. Bonded with Madonna:
Asked to appear in a Material Girl-produced film about a young pyromaniac, Stiles took an informal meeting with her longtime feminist influence. "She's very assertive, and nobody's bossing her around," the younger actress says, mimicking Madonna's screwy new British accent. "I've always kind of tried to emulate that."
9. Embraced, like, Shakespeare:
"I lucked out in terms of timing," Stiles says, poised to appear in three youth movies borrowed from the Bard. 10 Things is basically Taming of the Shrew in high school; an updated Hamlet will star Ethan Hawke as the melancholy Dane; and O, currently filming, is a retelling of Othello set in the world of high school basketball.
10. Successfully "opened" a film:
Well, it remains to be seen if 10 Things will do as well as Stiles -- or Disney -- hopes. The studio moved the release date up, hoping to capitalize on spring break. If the movie does well, Stiles could become Hollywood's latest overnight star -- seven years after she began her acting career.
Article by Jeffrey Ressner
Originally published in the April 12, 1999 issue of Time Magazine