Its hard to imagine a head-turning superstar like Julia Stiles blending into a crowd, but as she walks into Le Monde, a bustling bistro near New York City's Columbia University where she's a sophomore, the 20-year-old actress looks more student than starlet. With her snug tee, drawstring capris, slip-on sneakers, and I-pulled-an-all-nighter tousled hair, she could pass for an average Ivy Leaguer. But she's so much more than that. With hit movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance under her belt, she's leading the pack of Hollywood's hottest young actresses.
And it's no wonder. Guys dig the fresh-faced star, who got her start at age 15 in the 1997 flick The Devil's Own, because she has that down-to-earth sexiness going on; girls dig her because she's drop-dead gorgeous without being ditzy. But what really wows audiences is her no-sweat ability to pull off gritty roles, like Desi in last summer's Shakespeare update O and Paula, an obscenity-spewing psycho in this month's freaky flick The Business of Strangers.
Here, the actress dishes with us in true girlfriend style on everything from what it's like to be a famous college student to the reason she won't take it all off on screen to why she goes loco for Latin guys.
How do you balance school and acting?
It would he great if I could go to school all year and do movies during the summer, but it doesn't work that way, I'm not Julia Roberts, so I have to be flexible, I'm doing a movie called A Guy Thing this winter, so I'll probably have to start my second semester a little bit late. Luckily, the deans at Columbia are understanding.
Have you had any bad experiences with other students because you're famous?
After Save the Last Dance came out, some students made snide remarks in the school newspaper about stuff I said on TV. On Conan, I made a joke about the cafeteria ladies, and the students wrotte that I was elitist. And I told Craig Kilbom that college guys are "walking diseases." I meant that college guys are spreading diseases rampantly, which is quite possibly true, but I was just trying Ito be funny.
How is dating in Hollywood different from dating on campus?
I'm dating a guy at Columbia right now. Dating in college and dating in Hollywood are actually really similar in that the relationships don't last long. Other than that, a lot of people in Hollywood tend to he narcissistic, and it's hard to have a relationship with someone like that.
You've worked with some hot guys. Have you ever wanted to date any of them?
Ethan Hawke if he hadn't been married when we filmed Hamlet together. He's funny and charming. When I was filming Down to You, Freddie Prinze jr. and I were both dating other people, so we kind of agreed to keep things professional.
What do you look for in a guy?
He definitely has to he open-minded and have a sense of humor -- I want to have fun with the guy I'm with. But of course, sexual attraction is really important -- without that, you'd just be friends. I think Latin guys are really sexy. They generally fit into that whole tall, dark, and handsome thing.
Who's the best kisser in Hollywood?
Heath Ledger. It was actually my first on-screen kiss, while we were doing 10 Things.
What would you change about yourself?
Guys seem to like big boobs, so I guess I'd give myself bigger boobs.
How do you deal witn all the body-image issues that come with being an actress?
I have pessimistic moments when I think I should go on a diet because people are paying money to see movies with exceptional-looking actresses. But being in college has helped me realize that the best thing I can do is to feel good about myself and forget about other peoples standards.
How do you feel about doing nude scenes?
I've turned down a lot of roles because of modesty. I've been told so many times that I'd have to take my clothes off to do a movie. I certainly don't disrespect actresses who do nude scenes, but I don't know if I could do it. I don't think I could even deal with being nude in front of a [camera] crew.
When was your "I made it" moment?
When Save the Last Dance opened and it was a really big success. I finally felt like I fit into this world.
Article by Lesley Goober
Originally published in the December 2001 issue of Cosmopolitan