Interview with Julia Stiles from A Guy Thing
What inspired Julia Stiles to trade her nearly waist-length tresses for shorter wavy layers in her latest film, A Guy Thing?
Why did you want to make A Guy Thing?
I got the script and was so busy I only had time to read about 20 pages but I was doubled over laughing reading it and couldn't put it down. With most comedies, it's not so much about what's written but the person playing it. When Jim Carrey or Mike Myers comes in and improvises, they make it funny. The fact that this was funny on the page was really impressive to me. I think everyone can relate to getting really deep into a lie, to the point of absurdity.
So does your character Becky get up to no good?
Well, Paul (Jason Lee) and I don't really commit any crime except breaking and entering. Of course he does end up in bed with me, the hula dancer from his bachelor party. He thought we slept together and he maybe had the intention but was too drunk. It's left kind of vague.
Are you like your character?
I think so. She's a real free spirit and has this kooky energy. I have a lot of that in me but I tend to cover it up. At first it was really challenging, having to open up and show that side of me. It's fun though to try and hone that quality in myself. She's just carefree, living life and not worrying about things like getting married. I can be goofy and make funny faces and I don't have to take everything so seriously.
What about Selma Blair?
She's my cousin in the film so that's how I find out Jason is her fiancé.
Did you know Selma beforehand?
I'd worked with her years ago on a film called Down To You. So I knew her from that. In fact, I recommended her for this job because she's a got a really good comedic sense and really good timing. We've become good friends. I'd met Jason before but I didn't really know him. I was surprised he was so friendly, and I've seen him playing these goofy kooky characters in films but he's like that in person too.
This film is trying to be smarter and more grown-up than the teen films out there. Are you avoiding those now?
I wouldn't avoid a movie just because I'd have to play a teenager although I am 21 now so that doesn't really make sense. It's more about the quality and there's a formula for teen movies that's becoming very repetitive. We tried to make this a smart comedy so we'll see if we've been successful. For me, it's more about making a good movie than one which makes lots of money.
What was your last film before this?
A drama called Carolina. It's not as comedic as this, every moment in this is meant to be funny. Carolina had its funny moments but nothing like this. I've never had more fun making a movie than I have on A Guy Thing. Every day we laugh and joke around. This film has been more challenging for me right now. There's definitely a right and wrong to comedy -- you can be funny or not. So I'm just trying to figure it all out.
Do you always get on with your costars?
I think I've always been lucky in that I've had a good relationship with the other actors. That definitely helps on a film, but most actors can fake it on screen if they don't get on.
Were you surprised by the huge success of Last Dance?
Definitely. You can never predict what audiences are going to pay and see. Some movies certainly look like they'll be more successful than others but you can never tell. I really did feel the pressure of that needing to do well. I was sort of in denial about it and didn't want to predict how much money it was going to make and all that stuff. So yes, I was very pleasantly surprised. I just liken it to films I used to watch over and over when I was younger, like Girls Just Want To Have Fun and Dirty Dancing. They always stuck with me so I hope it will be like that for people.
That film also made you a bona fide star in Hollywood. Is that a different kind of pressure?
I feel more people paying attention to the choices I make. And I've worked with really good actors, like Stockard Channing, who have treated me with such respect. It's not that I'm not always respected but there's kind of a pecking order on a set and when you're just the ingénue you're way down the list.
Which of your films do you like best?
I thought O was a really good movie. It did well financially but so much happened around the film [which was delayed because of the Columbine school shootings] that it didn't really get the release it deserved
You filmed A Guy Thing in Vancouver. Had you been there before?
Never, and I love it. It's beautiful. And there's such good shopping which my bank account doesn't like much. I know they're big on outdoor stuff here but I haven't had a chance to go hiking or anything. I love to go hiking in Runyon Canyon when I'm in LA -- that place is beautiful. I was hoping to try snowboarding while I was there but I didn't which was probably a good thing. I'd have fallen on my ass all the time. I went skiing with a friend once. We were really competitive sort of friends and I said, "Oh yeah, I've been skiing a lot, sure". So she took me on a black diamond run my first time and I almost killed myself. All I could do as I was sliding down the mountain was think "I have to do this all weekend". Actually, one of our crew broke her wrist snowboarding. Also, I didn't stay in Vancouver the whole time. I went back and forth between here and New York because I had some time off so I went to see my boyfriend and go back to university. Oh no, I've just opened the boyfriend door and I'm going to close it right now. But I will tell you he's not an actor. He really doesn't need to be talked about! The second you start talking about stuff like this, stories come out and take on a life of their own. When I was on a TV talk show I was saying I had to meet with the Dean about being able to take my final exams later, and suddenly that became "Julia Stiles is flunking out". The press lies a lot, that's the trouble.
You're studying English at Columbia University in New York. How are you juggling acting and university?
I did Carolina over the summer and was pretty much done with my semester except for taking my final exams. I have to take those soon -- I have 300 pages of Thomas Hobbs to read this weekend so it can be kind of hard juggling the two. But it's okay. I figure it out somehow. I think in the future I'm going to try and be at college for a while, then work. And not try to do both at the same time.
Why are you studying English?
Well, I was thinking about political science and then I took a class and looked at the 5 billion pages of reading I'd have to do so decided against that. I took a philosophy class. But I just love literature and stories and I was missing that. I love 20th century American literature and especially John Steinbeck, although I love Jane Austen too. And I love this guy David Sedaris. I read all his books. Someone gave me Me Talk Pretty One Day for Christmas and then I read all his books in about two weeks. I was cracking up.
Are you good at keeping your college work and film work separate?
It's weird because college is really my private life aside from working. I can't bring my text books to the set and try and read on set because it's too draining. But I can do it at the weekends. It's really nice to go back and forth. I really have a lot of fun working on a film and then when I'm back at college I have things I don't have to worry about like getting enough sleep or looking pretty.
Why is it so important to stay in college?
Just because I'm so determined to graduate so I can prove to myself I can do it. But also I think if you're working constantly as an actress, especially on just movies, your world can become really small. You end up being around people who will get you anything you want at any time you want so you can become really self-centred and not at all self-sufficient. I'm learning a ton from working as an actress but I can learn other things at college. It's really important to me to have a normal life where people treat me differently than they would when you're at the top of a totem pole on a film set.
How did you get started in acting?
I started working in a theatre company when I was 11 but it was such a weird, avant-garde experimental company. I didn't start working in films until I was 17.
You seem very down-to-earth.
Well, I grew up with parents who don't put Hollywood up on a pedestal which helps I think. And I love being round my friends from college who don't want to talk about films all the time but want to talk about the last book they read -- or drinking. Just kidding!
Was it difficult to make friends at college because everyone must have known who you were?
It was deceptive. It seemed really easy to make friends at first but then I realised that it's easy to make acquaintances. What's hard is making true good friends I can be really close to.
Do you have any career strategy?
I don't want to get stereotyped as any one kind of character, that's all. If it's a character I've already played, then that's not going to challenge me for three months on a set.
What are your favourite romantic comedies?
Say Anything. Any romantic comedy with John Cusack really. He's a real person and he's got this quirky smart sense of humour. I just saw Bullets Over Broadway on TV that he was in. I was really impressed with his timing.
Just his timing?
Well okay, I used to have a really big crush on John Cusack.
Do you get recognised a lot?
I know this will sound like I'm lying but I really don't notice people looking at me, unless they say something. It just really doesn't occur to me.
Do you like the whole glamour side of being a Hollywood actress?
Well I certainly don't pay much attention to clothes and stuff in my normal life. I don't mean that I walk around naked all the time but when I'm in college, I'm not worrying about that stuff. But I do like getting free clothes and having my make-up done, stuff like that. I certainly didn't wake up looking like this so I like the fact that there are people who take two hours every morning to get me looking like this.
Are you a no make-up girl in your student life?
Definitely. It's my only opportunity not to have to worry about stuff like that. Except then of course you have people saying 'Wow, you look much better on camera'. No, just kidding.
Originally published at FutureMovie.co.uk - Posted on January 2003