Tribute - December 2001

 A conversation with Julia Stiles 

Tribute's Bonnie Laufer talks to Julia Stiles about letting loose in The Business of Strangers.

You were unbelievable in The Business of Strangers. What was your first reaction to reading this script, because this is a Julia Stiles we have not seen on film?

Oh good, I'm glad; that's exactly why I wanted to do it. At first I was just so impressed with the script. A lot of time you read scripts that have a good idea but they aren't quite there and you think more about the whole package of who you are going to be working with and how directors can improve scripts. However, this was just all there on the page and I thought that it would be really fun too because it's almost like a play. It takes place in one night in the same location and it's really about these two characters and their relationship. I felt like that would strip away all the baggage that comes along with movie making and just lets us act. That's what I love about acting is getting in the head of a character, so that really excited me. Then when I met with Patrick (Stettner, the director), I was even more impressed at what a true filmmaker he is.

How much freedom did Patrick allow you to develop Paula, especially her look and attitude?

Her look was really important. I definitely felt because Paula is very different than me and the characters that I have played before, I wanted to look very different. And he made that clear too - that's what he wanted. We spent a long time talking about her hair and her make-up and the tattoos. It is written in the script that she has five tattoos and how she slowly shows them and every visual thing was a decision that Patrick made. It was a reveal because you don't really know anything about Paula in the beginning of the movie so he spent a lot of time working that out. Plus her wardrobe, because it's one night and she only has, like, three changes but expresses a lot about her character.

You have pretty well all of your scenes with Stockard Channing. What a great actress she is. Was it intimidating at all?

It was actually very similar to the movie. At the beginning we didn't know each other aside from me knowing her work. We developed a relationship over the course of making the movie, but we also kind of kept a bit of a distance because we wanted to maintain the mystery because Paula and Stockard's character don't really know each other all that well, and they are slowly developing a relationship, and that's kind of what happened on the movie. That said, I have a huge amount of respect for her as an actress and as a person and she is so articulate and smart and I look up to that a lot, so it was a fun experience. I learned a lot from her.

There is a pivotal scene in this film where yours and Stockard's character, without giving anything away, go ballistic over this one man that you hook up with. It really shows women power. Was it kind of cathartic to do a scene like that?

Oh yeah! It was and it was so great because Patrick let it be cathartic. He would constantly say to me 'don't be afraid, don't shy away from this. This is your moment to have it out.' And the way that he explained the scene when Nick is finally unconscious is that it is this moment, of all this baggage that women in general (or these two specific characters) have pent up, I guess frustration of being women comes out. It takes a lot to get there, but once I did it was like 'Oh yes! I can do this, I have something to draw from I can pull out.'

Aside from this acting career that you have, you have made it a priority to finish school where you study all year at NYU.

It's really important to me and I just love it. I'm learning new things every day and I couldn't imagine my life without it.

So any other film projects in the works when you have down time from school?

I just finished Carolina with Shirley Maclaine. That should be out in about a year or so.

How did you like working with her?

It was great too. She was completely different than Stockard; she is much older than Stockard, (yikes I shouldn't have said that), but it was great because she is a trip. She is a pistol and is a great actress and has everyone flying by the seat of their pants. When she walks into a room all eyes are on her and she dominates attention.

Is there still anyone that you want to work with that you haven't yet?

Oh sure, lots of people. I would love to work with the Coen brothers. Now that would be cool!

Article by Bonnie Laufer
Originally published Tribute - Posted on December 2001