Stylish Julia Stiles
Actress continues waltz with stardom in Save The Last Dance.
For the past two years, Julia Stiles' dance card has been full.
Her back-to-back performances in the TV miniseries The 60s and the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You earned the 20-year-old actress the MTV Movie Award for breakthrough female performance of 1999.
In quick succession, Stiles played Ophelia opposite Ethan Hawke in his contemporary Hamlet, and then starred as a modern-day Desdemona in an updated version of Shakespeare's Othello.
David Mamet chose her to play the devious nymphet in his comedy State And Main, and on Friday she stars opposite Sean Patrick Thomas in the hip-hop romance Save The Last Dance.
"I didn't audition for Save The Last Dance. (Director) Thomas Carter had learned about my passion for dance," says Stiles, who has been dancing since she was a child.
"At our first meeting, I told Thomas that I didn't care if my feet bled, I'd learn the dances. That's basically what happened. I took dance classes for six hours a day for almost 100 days.
"My toes bled and I had callouses on my feet but I loved every minute of it."
In Save The Last Dance, Stiles plays Sara, a small-town high school student who wants to be a ballet dancer. A family tragedy sends her to live in one of Chicago's ethnic inner-city communities.
Through the friends she makes at school, Sara is drawn into the hip-hop club scene.
The film is being hyped as Dirty Dancing in the 'hood.
"I only studied ballet for two years so I was doubled for the close-up foot movements in the ballet sequences, but I do all the hip-hop scenes," Stiles says.
Stiles, who was raised in Manhattan, has wanted to be an actress since she was 11.
"My parents took me to an off-Broadway opera about the Manson 'family.' I was so excited, I went home and wrote a letter to the theatre company (Ridge Theatre) telling them I wanted to join them. The artistic director met me and gave me a three-line part in one of their plays and then I became a member of the company.
"My uncle, Jedd Stiles, is a New York playwright, so I think acting is in my blood."
Stiles admits that working with adults at such a young age made her grow up quicker than most of her friends.
"You're forced to act like an adult, but I've always been determined to take time out to be immature, impetuous and irresponsible."
It was for this reason that Stiles enrolled at Columbia University last year to study English, anthropology and Latin American studies.
"There were people in the industry who told me it would not be productive to go to college when my career was taking off.
"I have no regrets at all because I feel college is making me a more rounded person."
Stiles' classmates at Columbia include Anna Paquin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the star of TV's Third Rock From The Sun.
Stiles and Gordon-Levitt met on the set of 10 Things I Hate About You and dated for more than a year. They travelled together across America and Europe sightseeing and attending concerts.
"I didn't really date seriously when I was young. I always went out in groups. I appreciate that I had a serious relationship with someone."
Stiles made her film debut in the direct-to-video teen drama I Love You, I Love You Not, which also starred James Van Der Beek, Claire Danes and Jude Law.
"I'd love to work with Jude again. He's so sexy."
In 10 Things I Hate About You, Stiles' love interest was Aussie hunk Heath Ledger, who, she says, is "quick, funny and confident. Heath is very much his own person. What I love most about him is that he never seemed fragile.
"And he's sexy."
After 10 Things, Stiles was paired opposite Freddie Prinze Jr. in Down To You.
"Freddie is so down to earth and so into being uncool. That's what makes him charming. A lot of people can't see past his teen idol image to what a serious, skilled actor he is."
Make that three out of three because Stiles admits Prinze, too, is sexy.
In State And Main, Stiles gets to seduce Alec Baldwin.
"I play a not-so-innocent teenager. I seduce Alec to get a role in the movie he's come to shoot in our little town. Alec plays this actor who's known to have a taste for very young girls."
Stiles says Baldwin is "a really funny guy. He's always telling jokes. It helped me relax because I was prepared to feel intimidated working for David Mamet."
Stiles will next be seen starring opposite Stockard Channing in The Business Of Strangers.
"I don't play a teenager this time. I play a girl who is already out of college. It's a lot more intelligent than your typical high school movie."
The Stiles file
In Save The Last Dance, Julia Stiles plays a middle-class white girl who suddenly finds herself in a predominantly ethnic school.
"I know exactly how my character feels. I went to a junior high school in New York, where I was one of the few white girls.
"All the black, Asian and Latino kids hung out in cliques. I was desperate to be a 'homey.' I pretended to be Puerto Rican. I wore these big door-knocker earrings and gave myself an accent."
Article by Louis B. Hobson
Originally published in the January 8, 2001 issue of the Calgary Sun