An interview with Julia Stiles
Julia Stiles has made a name for herself in Hollywood as not only the Queen of Teens but also a scholar to boot. With more than the average Shakespeare adaptation under her belt, she'll now be seen in the controversial O, which finally gets a release after two years on the shelf following the Colombine massacre in the USA. Amazon.co.uk contributor Laura Bushelle asks Stiles about her feelings about Shakespeare, the press, A-list celebrity status and just what it's like for a 20-year-old to shoot into the limelight while still studying for her degree.
O is the third Shakespeare re-imagining you've done; do you think it's the best way to spoon-feed the classics to modern audiences?
I don't think it's pandering in any way, I think people are smart enough to get a classical version of Shakespeare. But I think what is so exciting about Shakespeare's plays is when you see how they can be translated to a modern setting or even just a different period. It makes it that much more fresh, or that much more profound, proving that he is timeless.
Do you think the situations and character motivations of Shakespeare seem a little contrived for modern audiences, or do they still hold true?
For me it still holds true or I wouldn't be doing it. I mean, I love classical versions of Shakespeare and even just reading the plays, so I hope that other people like them too. But I find that the perfect balance is -- with people who maybe find Shakespeare a little archaic -- to put it in the context of a world that they can relate to: the contemporary world. It's easier for teenagers to relate to the pressures of a competitive basketball player as opposed to a war general, which is something they've never experienced. But I think that with my character a lot of the things definitely transcend time. I mean even though we don't have courtship rituals and the rules about marriage are a lot more lenient today, I think that the idea that my character could be judged and scrutinised so heavily about whether she is virginal and pure or slutty exists today, definitely.
Do you think that Shakespeare works particularly well in a teen setting?
Yeah, and I think it almost works better in a contemporary setting than in a classical setting, or at least it'll resonate more within my age group as opposed to, say, if I read a Jane Austen novel about a woman who can't get married because she's of a lower class than her future husband. I'm like "OK, I can sympathise but I don't have to worry about that". But I do think most women have to think about how they're perceived by their loved one and the people around them.
How do your English teachers react to the films you've been in while you're studying Shakespeare at university?
Interestingly enough I've taken a lot of Shakespeare courses at Columbia, but with the same professor and luckily he's said to me that he hates going to the theatre, partly because he gets nervous for the actors on the stage forgetting their lines and partly because he finds that the really old, traditional versions of Shakespeare can become really remote and dry. He prefers reading Shakespeare. Some filmed versions of Shakespeare he's seen, and the different versions of movies I've done he didn't respond to but others he did. And he's always interested in seeing how Shakespeare can be reinterpreted, which is great. I like that a lot. But then he also throws in some comment about me being an actress as opposed to a scholar.
Were you surprised at the amount of controversy surrounding the film due to high school violence and the fact that it nearly didn't get released at all?
Yeah and no. When it was happening and they kept pushing it back I kept thinking it's a good enough movie; hopefully people will see it eventually. Now, in retrospect, it's kind of good because it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy where the distribution company was afraid of releasing it because they thought they'd be accused of exploiting current events, then because they didn't release it right away the press found out and thought they were exploiting current events! It's pointless, especially now in retrospect, because the front page news stories are different now and the story sort of exists on its own. If anything, Shakespeare said "Let's hold a mirror up to nature". So if there are kids shooting each other in high schools then we should have movies about them.
Is it hard to go back over the film seeing as your life has changed so much since then?
Yeah, but it still keeps coming back. Also, I learn a lot when I think about what I was doing two years ago. It's kind of frustrating because I did Twelfth Night on stage this summer in New York, a classical version of it, and so everything that I learned from that makes me wish that I could go back and shoot this movie over again! That's the experience I have when watching any movie I've done.
When you made this did you have any idea where your career would be now?
No, I had no idea. Actually, when I think about it, Save the Last Dance, which I made after this movie, was the movie that really changed the amount of power I have in Hollywood, so really honestly if I look back I had no clue. I had no clue that I'd go to college for two years; I got into Columbia as I was making this movie, so it's interesting to look back. But I didn't really have expectations like "OK, in a year I'm going to be doing this".
Josh Hartnett has now shot to fame on the A-list -- is that something you aspire to?
Yeah, it scares me a little bit as it's something I wouldn't have much control over. Just seeing how fame can snowball out of control scares me a little bit. But it would be ideal. The thing that is good about fame is that it enables you to do more work and more of the kind of work that you want to do, which I'm all for. Ideally, I'd have that level of fame without the walking down the street and being recognised. That'll be fine.
Originally published Amazon.co.uk - Posted on September 2, 2002