Type A student
Either you have really understanding professors or you like torturing yourself. How do you make movies and go to college simultaneously? Didn't making A Guy Thing overlap with your school schedule?
Yeah, I had to come home [from the Vancouver set] because my spring semester started, and then I'd go back to shoot on the weekends. Thank God it was only two weekends, but it was rough. The last weekend, we worked all night. I didn't sleep, and then I got on a plane and came back to school. It was pretty painful. I even skipped class.
I heard that you and Jason Lee sang South Park songs to stay awake during those all-night shoots.
All he had to do was start singing "Uncle Fucka" -- pardon my French -- and I would crack up. Jason and I had all these running gags, and the best thing is, I stole all his jokes and came back to college and was the funniest girl on campus. Nobody knows that Jason Lee really originated them.
You're busy holding down two jobs, actress and student; meanwhile, your character, Becky, has no ambition whatsoever.
That's what's so refreshing about her. She's very carefree. If I didn't have the rest of the world making me feel more driven, then I'd be as free-spirited as Becky. She's the opposite of my type A personality.
Where does that pressure come from?
It's not so much that I put pressure on myself; it's that I want to work hard at something that's going to make me feel good. I was just thinking about this because I've been really happy about how I'm going to spend my summer doing Shakespeare in the Park.
What are you most excited about: the cross-dressing, the swordplay, or the iambic pentameter?
Oh, everything! I walked around Central Park yesterday and went to look at the theater. I've done a lot of stage, but it was very experimental and small. This stage is massive, and it's such a different kind of acting. I saw that when I auditioned.
You appeared in three Shakespeare movies and you had to audition?
Oh, of course! Twice. And I didn't have a problem with that at all. This is sooooo different. First of all, the language: In Hamlet I had to speak the old language, but this is a much more traditional version. And then, being a film actress, you can get into the habit of just acting with your face, and onstage you have to act with your body.
You should talk to someone at school about getting extra credit.
I know. Actually, I was thinking I might try to do that, but I sort of feel timid asking. Ironically, my Shakespeare professor said that the worst paper I wrote was on Twelfth Night.
I read about your signing on to do Shakespeare in the Park in the gossip pages, and I realized I never see any wild college escapades in there. Do you not have any fun, or do you just not get caught?
I have my fair share of fun. But one time I was really shocked because I ended up in a column for something that wasn't even true. It was like, "She was dancing on a table at a club!" and my grandmother called me and was like, "What were you doing?"
I heard that Bill Murray [who played Polonius to Stiles's Ophelia in Hamlet] gave you some advice to not take the business too seriously.
Yeah, you know those moments that you'll take with you for the rest of your life? Before Hamlet, he took me to the Hungarian Pastry Shop, which is right over there [points]. It was right when I was applying to colleges, so it made me look at Columbia more heavily. He said that the interests he had outside of work were still important to him. He lives by his own standards, and I hope to imitate that. That's why I'm going to school, and I try to do other things. As much as I love acting, if it's the only thing in your life, it'll start controlling you.
Are there people whose careers you would like to emulate?
I love Cate Blanchett. I don't recognize her in every movie. She's so different in the way she speaks, in the way she moves, in the way she looks. She makes really daring choices too. And the great thing is that you don't read that much about her personal life. I think that makes her a better actress because, when you see her onscreen, you don't have this preconceived idea of her identity.
Do you hope to keep your personal info to a minimum like that?
Yeah. Kevin Kline, another one of my favorite actors, does that, too. I've watched him very carefully, and he won't talk a lot about himself. Stories just become so exaggerated.
In your next film, Carolina, you play a small-town girl embarrassed by her family, especially an eccentric grandmother played by Shirley MacLaine. Were you intimidated working with her?
I wasn't so much intimidated as reverential, like, "I understand that I'm so much more inexperienced than you are, and I want to learn everything I can from you." And that's where I was really impressionable -- like, she would tell her reincarnation stories, and I'd be like, "Yeah! You're so right! Oh my God!" But she's incredible; she is such a presence.
Some of your recent choices, like The Business of Strangers, make me wonder if you might be looking to shake your teen audience.
Not at all. I would be stupid, first of all, because that's what's letting me work and express myself. I've been lucky to do teen movies that I still think are good -- with all due respect to other actors. I don't feel like I'm compromising anything.
A few months ago, you signed a producing deal. What types of projects are you looking to make?
I've optioned an Oscar Wilde play, but it'll be a long time coming. I'm definitely looking for material, but I don't have that much time because of school. And when I'm done reading, like, Aristotle, I don't feel like looking for a million books to produce. I don't want to just produce for the sake of producing. I want to find the right thing that will inspire me. And I'm only 21 years old; it's not like I have to do everything right now.
Originally published in the August 2002 issue of Premiere Magazine