Julia Stiles - The Prince and Me
This is a big week for Stiles. On Sunday she celebrated her 23rd birthday, and on Friday she -- and not a few movie execs -- will be keeping a close eye on her new film, The Prince & Me. A romantic comedy that the actress is expected to carry by herself -- her co-star Luke Mably is an unknown from Great Britain -- the movie is a sort of proving ground for Stiles' stardom.
An old-fashioned story about a college student who is swept off her feet, at least temporarily, by a member of the Danish royal family, the film could easily have been corny and overly conventional, Stiles admits.
"I felt like it was a movie that could swing either way," Stiles says, picking politely at a salad. "It could be really predictable or it could be elevated and made more sophisticated."
Stiles appears to have a nose for a good script. Still very young -- she is still enrolled as a student at Columbia University -- the lifelong New Yorker has managed to avoid junk like the Scream series and American Pie, opting instead for a series of serious roles. She was Harrison Ford's daughter in 1997's The Devil's Own, Ophelia in a 2000 screen version of Hamlet, a dancer involved in an interracial romance in 2001's Save the Last Dance, and a Wellesley student in last year's Mona Lisa Smile.
She has been acting for about half of her life. "I was 12 and I wrote a letter to a (New York City) theater company," she says. "I was sort of silly and precocious, but then I found an agent and I started auditioning more."
Stiles is interesting because she seems quite different from the one-dimensional, success-at-any-cost starlet who is forever making the scene. Taking a break from her studies to finish the sequel to The Bourne Identity and promote The Prince & Me, Stiles says she has developed a reading list of books she's been meaning to get to.
"The idea of being able to read whatever I want to read is so thrilling to me," she says, noting that she had recently finished Richard Wright's Native Son and Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Novels, and was working on Philip Roth's American Pastoral.
Stiles is also savvy and relatively fearless when talking about the movie industry.
"I saw The Passion of the Christ last night," Stiles volunteers. "I'll be really interested to see what that does to the marketplace or what kinds of movies get made. Considering how much money that made, it doesn't matter what people were saying about it before -- now that it made a ton of money, things will change, and that's a little bit scary.
"When did movies become something that you have to endure for two hours? So somebody with a lot of money can say, 'This is what I want to tell America' and then they make you sit there for two hours. Of course, why did I go and see it? I went to go see it because everybody else is going to see it, and I want to be able to talk about what everybody else is talking about. I paid $10 to close my eyes for two hours. You know what's really ridiculous, is that 'The Prince & Me had to be edited in a special way so that it could get a different rating (it's rated PG) in terms of sexuality. Certain kissing scenes had to be cut so they could get a better rating, yet the violence in (The Passion) is unbelievable."
Asked if she might take a part as a lead in an action film, she says, "I don't think the actors really have much to do in action movies. The Matrix and Charlie's Angels, all that stuff, those are good movies, but it's all about special effects -- what does the actor do?"
Also, "I love slap-stick comedy, but movies like that don't end up the way you think they're going to end up. It seems to come down to the one comedian that is the star of those movies. Like, I love Jim Carrey's movies, I love Ace Ventura. School of Rock was great, Jack Black was great, but it comes down to a vehicle for the comedian -- the girl's role is usually not that interesting."
She thinks about politics, too. Stiles says she worries who the Bush administration might select when it comes time to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, and will support Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry for president. She can also be strident: When asked why she supports the Democrats, Stiles replies, "Are you a Republican?" At the same time, she says the far left -- Michael Moore, for example -- needs to tone down the shrillness because they're "just giving Bill O'Reilly fodder for his show."
Stiles concedes that she would like her film to do well right out of the box, if only to satisfy those in the segment of the industry where box office revenue is a competitive sport.
"There's an obsession with the opening weekend, but I feel like there's a niche for movies that aren't as concerned with the opening weekend. You look at a lot movies that were nominated for Oscars: Except for The Lord of the Rings, they all had sustained popularity."
As it happened, nobody batted an eye during the hour that Stiles spent being interviewed in a crowded restaurant. No autograph hounds, no lovesick teenage boys. On this day at least, she was just another girl talking politics and movies.
Originally published in a March 2004 issue of the New York Journal