Rise of the prodigy
Julia Stiles says she knew early on that she wanted to be an actress. Now she's coming to terms with being a rising Hollywood star.
The 20-year-old New Yorker is so hot that Paramount Pictures has given her a special deal to develop her own starring projects and last summer designer Calvin Klein made the slim blond a feature of his worldwide advertising campaign.
But Stiles is not simply a pretty face who has struck it lucky. The star of the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You is quite prepared to suffer for her art.
Save The Last Dance needed a white girl who could do hip-hop for the part of Sara, a small town girl who wants to be a ballet dancer but ends up in inner city Chicago with its African-American and Latino cultures. Wanting to fit in, she gets drawn into the rap and hip-hop scene.
At school Stiles studied ballet for a couple of years but she needed a crash course in movement to look real on screen.
"When I met the director Thomas Carter I told him I'd do whatever it took to learn the dances. So I took dance classes for six hours a day for two months."
That wasn't enough to make the ballet moves look authentic so the close-up foot shots were done by a double. "But I really worked on it and all the hip-hop scenes are me.
"I worked so hard at it I had callouses on my feet and my toes bled, but I loved every minute of it," she says. "Throughout the movie I stressed the importance of me doing the dancing."
Working on the film with Sean Patrick Thomas was fun: "I love hip-hop music and we'd go out to these clubs and say we're doing research. Then we'd sort of show off because we had these choreographed moves, people would watch us."
The theme of the film is fitting in and Stiles knows what that's all about from bitter experience. "I knew exactly how this character felt. I went to junior high school in New York and I was one of the few white girls there.
"All the other kids hung out in these ethnic cliques so I pretended to be Latino. I wore these big ear-rings and put on this accent."
Trying to bridge the racial divide is an underlying theme and Stiles believes that is still a big issue for many inner-city teenagers in America.
"I like the way the movie deals with inter-racial issues in general because it's honest and not stereotypes. It's about how difficult it is to maintain an inter-racial relationship."
It was Madonna who originally kindled her interest in dance when she was a child. "My interest in it goes back to when I was really little and I'd dance around the room to Material Girl."
Stiles grew up in the SoHo area of New York. Her mother was a potter and her father a 60s radical who looked after the business side of the ceramics business until last year when he began teaching at a state school in Spanish Harlem.
The young Julia was treated like an adult from an early age by her parents - and often behaved like one. At the age of six her parents found her looking for an agent in the phone book. Two years later she began modern dance classes and began composing short routines.
At the age of nine she saw a play by an avant-garde theatre company and promptly wrote to the director asking for a part in one of their plays - which she got.
After a series of teen roles, she has managed to break away to make her mark in adult roles. In David Mamet's stylish satire of the film industry State and Main, she is a precocious teenager who seduces an actor (played by Alec Baldwin) who comes to a small town in Vermont to shoot a movie.
"Alec was a big help because he taught me to relax. I was prepared to feel intimated working for David Mamet,'' she admits.
In The Business of Strangers she plays a treacherous intern who coerces her boss (played by Stockard Channing) into taking revenge on a stranger for a rape that may or may not have taken place.
But although she seems determined to make a career in films, Stiles is more than just a film starlet as she showed last year she took time from her career to study English and Anthropology at Columbia University.
"Working with these experienced people makes you grow up and act like an adult. But I also like to take time out to be immature, impetuous and irresponsible."
Romantically the actress has been linked to 10 Things I Hate About You costar Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Third Rock From the Sun).
"I didn't really date seriously when I was young, so I appreciate having a serious relationship with someone."
Originally published at Tiscalli - Posted on December 2001