Sun Newspapers - January 11, 2001

 We haven't seen "Last" of Julia Stiles 

Los Angeles -- Friday will be a big day for Julia Stiles. Not only does her romantic drama, Save the Last Dance, open nationally, but State and Main, the ensemble comedy from writer/director David Mamet, goes into wide release, too.

Obviously, it looks like the start of something big for a 19-year-old actress whose classmates at New York's Columbia University include Oscar winner Anna Paquin and Joseph Gordon Levitt of TV's 3rd Rock from the Sun.

"I'm done with the semester and I love it," Stiles says. "I feel like I am in the center of a lot of stimulus, but I'm really engrossed in my classes and it's a lot less pressure on me, which is the complete opposite of my fellow students."

Of course, while those fellow students will be worrying about jobs in the real world when they graduate in a few years, Stiles will have a slew of films on her ever-growing resume, including the Shakespeare-based trio of 10 Things I Hate About You, the modern-day New York adaptation of Hamlet and the upcoming O, as in Othello.

"I know you're thinking that all the students I'm surrounded by know they have to get a degree for their careers and that it almost seems not productive for me to be in college," the ultra-perceptive Stiles says. "However, I think that in an indirect way -- because the more well-rounded I am, the more I pursue learning, the more I study things I'm interested in, and the more aspects of my life I pay attention to -- the more interesting I am to watch on screen."

In Save the Last Dance, Stiles plays a ballet student from the suburbs suddenly forced by circumstances out of her control to enroll in a predominantly black, urban high school. It's there that she meets and falls for a fellow student (Sean Patrick Thomas), who guides her in the culture of hip-hop. Naturally, dance leads to inter-racial romance.

"One of the things I wanted to focus on with the character was that she's not afraid to defend herself," Stiles explains. "With me, it's like, when I was on the set making the movie, it was mostly a black cast and crew, and I felt that I wasn't going to be the timid white girl who was afraid to talk about things or ask questions about, you know, different experiences that everyone's had about race or prejudices that they have. I think that my character is the same way."

Actually, the experience brought back memories for Stiles, who attended a magnet high school in New York City.

"They took kids from different backgrounds and put them into a school together. I was really one of the only white girls there and I was desperate to be a homegirl kind of thing," she says, giggling. "I tried to fit in by wearing door-knocker earrings and pretended to have this Puerto Rican accent.

"I also remember when older kids would ask, 'What do you listen to?' I would be like, 'Queen Latifah,' and you know, I had no idea what I was talking about, but that's what was cool. It definitely exposed me to a lot more than my character in this movie, but when you're forced to be around people from different backgrounds, it just makes you more comfortable with it."

Article by John Urbancich
Originally published at - Posted on January 11, 2001