CBS News - January 16, 2001

 Julia Stiles: Cool, Calm & Can Dance 

This past weekend a small film called Save The Last Dance surprised a lot of observers by dethroning Cast Away to become the number one film in America. Nineteen-year-old Julia Stiles, the breakout young star of Last Dance, talked with CBS News Entertainment Correspondent Mark McEwen about making the little teeny, tiny movie that knocked out the top.

In Save The Last Dance Stiles plays Sara Johnson, a suburban girl forced to start a new life in Chicago as the only white girl in an all-black school. She discovers that dance is a universal language that transcends racial lines.

"Her mother dies at the beginning of the movie -- and she has to move to the inner city of Chicago," said Stiles. "But she learns a lot about hip hop culture. And she falls in love. And she's the only white girl at her school really. But, she's got a strong backbone. And she figures out how to fend for herself. And the guy she falls in love with, basically instills her with the confidence to pursue her dream as a ballet dancer."

Her boyfriend in the movie, played by Sean Patrick Thomas, is black.

"I'm really proud of how the movie deals with that because really the fact that they're from different races doesn't matter to them. But to everyone else around them, it matters. The movie doesn't try to preach about race relations. It just sort of presents everyone's opinion or different perspective on that issue," said Stiles.

She does a lot of dancing in the movie, and she was under pressure to dance well.

"I did like a month and a half of training for the movie, mostly for the ballet because I gave that up when I was little. But, it's completely different. It's so hard to go back and forth from, like, speaking in a scene and then dancing also. It's like using two different sides of your brain. And then, when we did the first audition scene, I was shaking," recalled Stiles. "I couldn't control myself physically, so imagine trying to dance on top of that."

Luckily for Stiles, Thomas Carter, the director of Save The Last Dance had seen her dance in 10 Things I Hate About You.

"There's a scene in that where I dance on a table. And it's just one quick little scene. But he saw it. And he said, 'I see you got rhythm.' So he, I guess, decided to hire me because of that."

Save The Last Dance is in a long line of films with fancy footwork. Many of them are now available on video. Stiles loves the film Dirty Dancing.

"When I started working on Save The Last Dance, I thought if any of the scenes in the club can be as hot as those in Dirty Dancing, I'll be really happy. I had the time of my life."

She also likes Tap starring Gregory Hines.

"He's incredible. When you see someone that talented onscreen, I think you just get fixated on watching them."

Stiles admits that there are a lot of similarities between ave The Last Dance and Flashdance.

She's in another new film, State And Main, playing a girl who has an affair with a big movie star (Alec Baldwin).

"David Mamet wrote and directed it. And it makes fun of Hollywood and almost every character in the movie is despicable, a la Seinfeld, I think. But it was so much fun to work on that," said Stiles.

Stiles, who grew up in New York City, got herself into showbiz when she was 11 by writing a letter to the La Mama and Kitchen Theater, asking them to let her know if a children's role came up. The theater's director created a part for her.

She attended the Professional Children's School and now attends Columbia University.

In 1997 Stiles had a small part as an abused child in Oprah Winfrey's television movie, Before Women Had Wings. That same year Stiles played Harrison Ford's daughter in The Devil's Own.

Her career really took off in 1999 when she played the lead in Ten Things I Hate About You, a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew.

Stiles also co-wrote a screenplay which was included in Sundance Institute's Writer's Lab.

Article by Mark McEwen
Originally published at CBS - Posted on January 16, 2001