Interview with Julia Stiles
It's Dusk at LeMonde, a French bistro on upper Broadway, and Julia Stiles, twenty-one, the lanky, born-and-bread Manhattanite, the brainy Columbia University English major about to enter her junior year, and, oh yes, the Very Big Deal Movie Star, has just come from class, plopped herself down, ordered a cappuccino, and is now girding for a grilling. As smart and well spoken as her persona in films from 2001's breakthrough hit Save the Last Dance to the new screwball comedy with Jason Lee, A Guy Thing, she's equally adept at discussing art ("The fact that we have Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein at our fingertips here in New York is incredible") as she is at less, er, heady matters such as Blankey, her childhood blanket ("I still like to sleep with it," but if a guy spends the night, "it goes in the closet"). Juggling a "frat boy, but that's ok" boyfriend with preparations for her latest "dream role" Viola in this summer's New York Shakespeare Festival Central Park production of Twelfth Night, the feisty star begins today's talk with a revelation sure to scuffle feathers of hairdressers across the land.
So you've cut off your trademark tresses, Miss Stiles.
Right -- Israel and Palestine are fighting, but Julia Stiles has cut her hair! [Laughs] And I cut it myself. How do you like that?
I'm speechless. How'd it feel?
Liberating and wonderful. But my mom was, like "Are you rebelling against me? Or are you asserting control because you feel like [film studios] are trying to dictate the way you look?" Actually, I just wanted to have a cute haircut.
Mothers. Yours is a ceramist in SoHo, right?
Yeah, and growing up I saw her kinda killing herself taking care of me, then working all night in her studio. It was though; but the key is that she had my dad helping her. They were liberal, progressive types, and they completely split both roles -- running their pottery business from our apartment and taking care of the kids [Stiles and her younger brother and sister] -- and my dad never took it as, like, an affront to his manhood. Which needs to happen more.
I think we're to the feminist discussion now...
[laughs] I am a feminist, but people have so many stigmas they attach to the word -- even girls. Personally, I define it my goals. Like, we have semi-equal opportunity in the workplace now, but the dilemma is how to reconcile our two roles: to be a career woman and also a mother; to be a feminist, but still an attractive female, et cetera. [Some say] you can't have both, but I'm not satisfied with that. [Laughs] Hey, I'm waxing so political here, I hate it. Can we talk about boys?
First I want to here hot this movie-star-at-college thing works. You just made a reported $3 to $5 million for A Guy Thing, so it can't be for "something to fall back on," right?
Having gone for two years now, I realize the reason I'm staying is 'cause it makes my happy -- I love being in an environment where, for the most part, all that matters is my ideas. But the reason I went in the first place was because I don't want to be forty years old, surrounded by studio executives who went to good colleges, and fell like I'm at a disadvantage. And, more importantly, I don't want to get stucked into the whole Hollywood thing to the point where I can't exist in a world that doesn't revolve around me.
Though you did start your own ascent to stardom at the wee age of eleven by writing a letter to Manhattan's Ridge Theater Company and volunteering yourself as an actress. The legend goes you had an epiphany after seeing an avant-garde opera about Charles Manson, yes?
It was more like " I really want to be an actress, and I don't know how to start, but why not give this a shot?" I was a preadolescent, so I didn't feel there was anything to stop me, you know? The Ridge Theater people were, like [rubs hands conspiratorially], "Oooo, we can have a child! [Laughs] So we had a nice symbolic relationship.
And within seven years -- after putting in some TV time [Before women had wings; The 60s] -- your American sweetheart status was sealed with 10 Things I Hate About You.
Well, maybe its just paranoia, but I always think, instead of being perceived as the girl next door, I'm more perceived as, like, the feminazi, man hating lesbian. I mean, [guys] say, "You were such a bitch in 10 Things I Hate About You -- I thought I was just a strong, opinionated girl. [Laughs] Or I'll meet guys and they're, like, "Your favorite musician is Ani DiFranco? You're such a dyke!" She is so influential in my life on a female and political level, but I'm very staunch in my heterosexuality -- not to quote Seinfeld, that there's anything wrong with that.
Hmmm. Perhaps you could femme the image up with some cinematic sex.
[laughs] Well, I'm kind of modest, but it depends on how comfortable my colleagues are. [Suddenly aghast] Colleagues?! God, I can't believe I had my head so far up my ass I actually said "colleagues"!
But, you know, since you're the "Columbia chick who specializes in Shakespeare roles" we don't much think of you as Fun Central.
The biggest misconception of me is that I don't have any idiot time. Of course I do, I'm friggin' in college! So I go out and -- I can say this now that I'm 21 -- if I get couple of glasses of wine in me, I certainly get diarrhea of the mouth and am just an idiot.
Okay, re: the "idiot" topic. What's your most horrible Hollywood trait?
Hmmmm... Well, I love massages and facials, although, weirdly, I never get them when I'm not working. That's probably because I'm really cheap and like the studios to pay for them. [Laughs] And it's pointless, because dorm rooms are so dirty, you're gonna have blackheads anyway.
Lovely. Listen, as a 21 year old, full-blown celluloid queen, are you amazed at where you are?
No. [laughs] Not to pat myself on the back -- and please print that, because I don't want people to think, She's so conceited -- but I've definitely worked hard, and, well [grins], I'm just a damn lucky girl.
Originally published in the August 2002 issue of Elle Magazine