Campus Circle - January 2003

 The "girl next door" shows her goofy side in A Guy Thing 

Ever since this statuesque, blond-tressed toughie's "breakout" role as Heath Ledger's hard-to-melt ice queen in 10 Things I Hate About You, it has truly been a guy thing to dig Julia Stiles.

Much like those Nordic princesses who had both a silky beauty and a stern disposition, Stiles has had some difficulty dispelling her image as a no-nonsense type of woman. Even in the upcoming The prince and the freshman, Stiles is negotiating to play yet another feisty über-woman. Under the direction of the queen of smart gal movies, Martha Coolidge, she will be wooed by yet another pedantic romantic (this time a British prince), who will somehow whisk her grounded, motorcycle-driving collegiate self off her feet.

Once again, a guy will try to prove that there is a heart underneath all of that hardened on screen exterior. But Stiles has admitted in many interviews she's actually a fun-loving person, and not quite as astute as her roles portray her to be.

"I'm a lot goofier than it would seem on screen. I look at the world so much more humorously. I blow snot rockets and I'm just not that serious," she said while filming State and Main for director David Mamet.

Her latest release, A Guy Thing, has her playing the other type of role she has embraced, the inappropriate partner. In the screwball comedy, Stiles is Jason Lee's unexpected love interest, but in the eyes of his parents and his friends, she's not the right type of girl for him. This sort of social class clash has proven to be a fertile comic mine before in films as diverse as My Man Godfrey (1936) and Maid in Manhattan (2002), and with smart performers like Stiles, Lee and Selma Blair working the script, there's no reason why lightning shouldn't strike again.

"In rehearsals, every time I would say a line I would be listening to hear if people would laugh," she told Entertainment Weekly about her early days on the set. "But the audience is the camera crew, and they're tired and they've been working for twelve hours, and they've heard all the jokes before."

Director Chris Koch (Snow Day) told EW was "a cross between Meet the Parents and Say Anything." With Stiles in the Ione Skye role to Lee's John Cusack, it harks back to her most profitable release, 2001's Save the Last Dance. In that film, she played an inner city gal who has an unexpected romance with Sean Patrick Thomas, an African-American dancer who tries to mix his hip-hop ways with her ballet slipping style. The chemistry between the couple heated up the meager $13 million film to a box office tally of over $90 million, and earned them both the coveted title of best kiss at MTV's 2001 Movie Awards.

A Guy Thing seems like an appropriate step for Stiles at this point in her career, after trying an action film with Matt Damon's The Bourne Identity. She needs to keep reminding her core audience that she loves to make them laugh as well as feel romance from her roles. Even in such career missteps as the hideous Down to You, in which she had the unfortunate experience of playing opposite a ceaselessly smirking Freddie Prinze, Jr., she managed to come out looking great.

Raised in New York City, Stiles says her theatrical tendencies were in full bloom from a very early age. "I think I probably was very loud and annoyed a lot of people," she said in a People interview.

When she was 11, Stiles wrote to a local theater company and asked to be cast in one of their productions. She scored an audition and soon began appearing in off-off-Broadway shows, then signed with an agent. Her breakthrough film role was playing Harrison Ford's daughter in 1997's The Devil's Own.

"My best friend was dying because I was working with Harrison Ford -- we were obsessed with Star Wars," she recalls. She then got notices for roles that followed in Oprah Winfrey's 1997 TV-movie Before Women Had Wings and in the 1999 NBC mini-series The '60s.

Stiles will continue to impress her friends wit her next scheduled movie, as she graduates from carrying the quirky comedies and edgy romance roles to what Hollywood is called the mega cast ensemble movie.

She will be acting aside the $20 million woman herself, Julia Roberts, as well as another Oscar-winning dame, Marcia Gay Harden, in Mona Lisa Smile, currently filming in New York City and the New England area. Rounding out the can't-lose cast is Spider-Man's Kirsten Dunst, Secretary's Maggie Gyllenhaal and That '70s Show's Topher Grace.

Despite her hectic schedule, Stiles still is pursuing her studies around her film roles because "it makes me happy -- I love being in an environment where, for the most part, all that matters is my ideas." She's attended Columbia University (alongside X-Men 2's Anna Paquin) since August 2000, where she's majoring in English. "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 feel like I'm at a disadvantage. And more importantly, I don't want to get sucked into the whole Hollywood thing to the point where I can't exist in a world that doesn't revolve around me," she recently told Elle magazine.

Stiles is already smart enough to make sure she is earning above the Hollywood norm, which has women pulling down markedly lower salaries than their male counterparts. For A Guy Thing, she reportedly earned $3 to $5 million, though not quite in Reese Witherspoon's $12 million range for Legally Blonde 2, she is clearly holding her own.

Stiles will probably take longer to get to Witherspoon's status, since her roles to date generally haven't allowed her to display many more shades that the steely girl next door. However, that misnomer is only what people perceive. Deep down inside, Stiles has a full spectrum of range that only now is she getting the opportunity to reveal.

"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," she said.

I don't know about you guys, but screen persona or not, it would be a guy thing to have a glass of wine with Ms. Stiles anytime.

Article by Greg Reifsteck
Originally published at Campus Circle - Posted on January 2003