- December 2003

 Sassy, busy and lucky: that's Julia Stiles... 

In Mona Lisa Smile, you play kind of a sassy -- sassy in her own way -- character.

When I first read the script, it's such an ensemble piece that I was looking at all the characters, but I really liked Joan because she's really obedient and you don't really know what her choice is until -- I was surprised at her choice. I like that she's really focused and really in love and she's not going to concede to the pressures around her. She's not going to say she wants to go to law school just because her professor tells her it's the noble thing to do, and similarly, she's not just going to just decide to raise a family because her friends and the world around her tell her that's what she should do.

How did you prepare for the role, exactly?

It was so great. It was everything I love about acting. It was such a luxury. We had a lot of rehearsals, etiquette training, dance lessons, dialect coaching. These girls went to finishing school and had elocution lessons and it's in everything from the way that they carry themselves to the way they speak. How they view themselves in relation to the rest of the world is totally different from girls nowadays.

What do you think about girls 18, 19 getting married?

Actually, a lot of women had to get married right after college because that was the only way they could get money. And birth control was a big thing then. The invention of the Pill gave a women a lot more choices than sort of being forced into certain situations.

You go to Columbia University and the movie took place there?

It actually took place at Wellesley College, but a lot of the scenes that we shot, because we were in New York, were actually at Columbia lecture halls.

Was that weird or good? It was like you were almost at home.

I wasn't taking classes. I actually took a semester off from school, but I still was looking around. It was called Havemeyer Hall, and I remember having freshman orientation there, so that was kind of a trip. I called my friends who were taking classes and said like, "Hey, come over to the set. We're making a movie."

How do you balance both work and school? Are you going to school now?

Yeah. I took a final exam and got on a plane to come here and do this interview, and then I go back and I have two 10-page papers to hand in. I try to just stay focused on what I'm doing at the moment, so if I'm in school, I'm just thinking about school. And If I'm on set, I'm just thinking about the work I have to do as an actress, which is hard and doesn't always work out that way. I have the luxury of doing school on the side. It's kind of like being part of this big book club. I don't have to worry about what career I'm going to have after school or getting into graduate school. I can kind of just savor while I'm in school and put it off if there are movies I want to do.

That's cool.

I'm lucky.

Interview by Febe Dobson
Originally published at - Posted on December 2003