Asked who was the best kisser, "I said Heath Ledger," recalls loose-lipped Julia Stiles, who stars with Stockard Channing (left) in The Business of Strangers. "I just sort of pulled that out of my a..."
Oops, Hollywood teen-movie queen Julia Stiles -- who admits she's caused herself grief with off-the-cuff jokes -- has done it again. "I'm on a failing-your-classes break from college," said the Columbia University sophomore, who's one of Tinseltown's hottest young actresses, when asked about her academic progress. She was in a hotel suite on Central Park West to promote her superb new film, The Business of Strangers, before flying back to Vancouver to finish the comedy A Guy Thing with Jason Lee. "I was supposed to shoot the movie during my Christmas break, but then the schedule changed," said the 20-year-old English and Latin American studies major, who's bobbed her hair and made it even blonder for the new role. "Tomorrow I'm going to meet with the dean to figure out what I'm going to do about school." Certainly, both her campus and professional lives have been transformed since her low-budget sleeper Save the Last Dance grossed $91 million earlier this year. She was most recently seen in O, an adaptation of Othello and the latest of her "Shakespeare Trilogy."
"I remember when I had to go to the MTV Video Music Awards and they sent this huge white stretch limo outside my dorm. I'm like, "Oh my God," and these sorority girls came home and made fun of me. It was totally embarrassing." It got worse when she recently turned up on the cover of Cosmopolitan in a bustier, heading the magazine's list of "The Hottest Chicks in Hollywood." "My literature professor actually called me and said, 'Now that you're on the cover of fashion magazines, you think you don't need to come to class?' "
Stiles, who grew up in SoHo as the oldest of three siblings (her parents have ceramics business), is still trying to live down telling a Rolling Stone reporter that she was into Latin guys. "That is one of those quotes that has just totally spiraled out of control," she sighed. "That was totally a joke."
Stiles is trying to stamp out reports that she has been dating a young actor named Ben Foster. "That's so not true. I've never even met Ben Foster, though he seems like a fine person. I have no idea where that comes from." So is she seeing anyone? "These things are so hard," she said after a pause. "I'm dating somebody now who's not an actor or somebody famous." Is he a fellow Columbia student, as some have reported? "Do we have to talk about this? It's so weird to have your boyfriend read about talking about him in the paper."
Stiles is more comfortable talking about the Business of Strangers, a dark drama in which she plays an assistant who indulges in an evening of alcohol-fueled control games with a brittle CEO played by Stockard Channing. "It was such an intense movie," the young actress said. "It was filmed at a bunch of hotels in New Jersey, and when we had breaks during the day, we had nothing to do but watch MTV. I kind of went through a whole educational process with her, teaching her about Eminem and Britney Spears."
The low-budget film, which opens Friday after garnering acclaim at this year's Sundance and Toronto film festivals, has been variously described as anti-man, anti-woman and even lesbian -- with much talk about a scene in which Stiles' character tries to force the older woman to kiss her. "When Cosmopolitan asked me who was the best kisser, I said Heath Ledger. I just sort of pulled that out of my a..., but maybe I should have said Stockard Channing. But then Stockard would be mad at me," she said with an impish laugh. "What I'm going to do is never, ever make a joke in an interview."
Article by Lou Lumenick
Originally published in the December 2001 issue of the New York Post