julia-stiles.com - December 1999

 Ask Julia 

As many know, you got your big break at age 11 when you got an audition for a school play based on writing a letter to a theater director. Do you believe that your success from this letter is due to the faith you had in yourself and the risk you took, or do you take the traditional approach; that you would have gained your success with or without the letter?

Actually, the way I got started working in theater in NYC was that I wrote the letter to a professional theater company in New York, I don't think the schools plays would have helped me that much (beyond the actual experience of doing the play). And yes, I was eleven. I think I might not have been as willing to take that risk if I had been older than eleven because once you get into adolescence, that self conscious voice starts to prevent you from doing things out of fear of embarrassment. So I had the guts/confidence because I was eleven and still relatively a child. I definitely think that writing that letter asking to audition for the company contributed greatly to my success because it got me started. Not to mention how much I learned from my experience with the company (Ridge Theater, in case you care, and they still perform in New York and Boston and Europe).

As it is very well known, everyone has an opinion, and the opinions of film critics, magazine writers, and newspaper writers may say some negative things about your performance in a certain film. Do you ever respond to any of these criticisms, or even care?

I've been lucky so far in terms of criticism from the press. That's easy because I am pretty much a rookie (even though I am very experienced, few of my movies have been released yet). Ani DiFranco (my favorite musician) has a line in one of her songs, "it's cool to discover someone, it's hard to support them and everyone is playing life like it is some stupid sport". I think that applies here. It's inevitable that I will get bad criticism, everyone does. It may be legitimate, constructive criticism. Or it may be just hurtful garbage. This next year I have something like four or maybe five movies coming out and I am terrified that people will want to rip into me. But I have to remember to detach myself from the person they are talking about because they don't know me. And who know what kind of agenda the journalist has. It's also possible that I could learn something from them that I can use the next time I go to work. Who knows.

What made you realize that you wanted to be an actress? Any strong influences? Do you wish to work with any of these performers in the future?

Acting has always been something that intrigued me. But what appealed to me about being an actress when I was a kid and what is great to me about it now are different. When I was a kid, I didn't really know anything about professional acting, all I knew was that it was fun to get dressed up and put on funny voices and pretend to be a different person. That is still the best part of it for me now, but I put more thought into it. I like analyzing human behavior. I like to sit on the subway and just watch people interact. I also like being a part of a story being told to the country (or world?). A film that has something to say, not in a preachy way but in a way that makes an audience member feel connected to, so that when they are watching my work they get that momentary feeling of calm because somebody else has had the same experience. In terms of influences, Audrey Meadows who played Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners had an impact on me as a child. She was the first female character on Television to talk back to her husband. And Jackie Gleason (Ralph, her husband) and Art Carney (Norton, their neighbor) were comedic geniuses. Unfortunately, the only living cast member is Art Carney. But I am sure I said this somewhere else before, a performer who has had a profound impact on my life and sanity most recently is Her Majesty, Ms. Ani DiFranco. I just can't get over how talented she is. She is such a good musician and poet. Listening to her music is therapy for me and sure I'd love to meet her. I fantasize that one day I'll make my own film and she'll do the soundtrack.

What are your thoughts on web sites dedicated to you? What is your take on the internet? What do you look for on "the net" and do you ever hang around those infamous chatrooms?

The internet is an amazing tool. I think it's great if used well, like any piece of technology. So much information! I just hope it doesn't make tangible books or museums, toy stores etc. obsolete (I don't think it will). It's flattering that someone like Jason and Ezra would make a website about me. I feel a little odd looking at it though, like that is vain or something. I don't really talk in chat rooms but I get newletters from different organizations online, email that kind of stuff.

Out of all the work you have done in film, television and stage, which experience has stood out your favorite?

I've been lucky to have a lot of great experiences. And they've all been good for different reasons. The most perfect one I'd have to say was when I did Wicked. I was fifteen, the part was to die for, the director was a genius and a wonderful man. But then again, Ten Things was great because it was a fun comedy and I made such good friends. Hamlet was so exciting and occupied every corner of my brain. State and Main was wonderful because I got to work with David Mamet (one of my favorite writers and an acting mentor) not to mention the great cast... I could go on but then you guys would stop reading.

What does it feel like to have fans from all over the world, or better yet, what does it feel like to have a fan that you don't even know?

I have fans all over the world? Geez, wow. It certainly is flattering that anyone would be interested in watching me on screen or hearing anything that I have to say. And let's face it, an actor's career is incredibly dependent on its fan base. A movie has to sell tickets, right? So I am happy to have fans, especially if it enables me to keep working. And I am really grateful when people respond to my work.

My philosophy is family first, friends second and myself last. My family and friends are the most important things in the world to me and I look out for one and all. My question is, how important are your family and friends to you?

Of course my family and friends are incredibly valuable to me. They keep me sane, they teach me things and I love spending time with them. I think that ranking what you value is a sort of western and linear way of looking at things. You can find great importance in your friends and yourself, but each doesn't preclude the other. As with any relationship, treating your family and friends well can only really happen if you can treat yourself well (and vice versa). And if your family/friends treat you well, then you are given the power to respect yourself. It's a cyclical thing. God, I sound like Stuart Smalley or Oprah. Ok, I'm done.

What are your feelings on sex before marriage?

Sex before marriage... hmmm. I don't really see what the big deal about marriage these days is, considering how easy it is to get a divorce and how many people cheat anyway. I think it's impractical to wait until you get married to have sex and I don't really think that it's a bad thing anyway. As long as people don't have sex mindlessly. Sex is such an intimate thing that is really only meaningful (and better) when it is shared between two people who know each other that intimately. It's annoying how much the sexual taboos as a result of various religions have infiltrated our minds. Sex between two consenting adults is not bad and waiting until some priest/rabbi/judge reads out of the bible doesn't make it any more... anything, because what is important is the intent of the two people.

Women have taken a more active role today usually performed by men only, compared to past... Do you think it's about that time a woman takes over the Presidential seat?

I think it would be wonderful if a woman became President, and yes, it is about time. But I don't think a woman should be elected just because she is a woman, I am more interested in her politics. There are plenty of women in Congress who I think are doing a shitty job.

If you could ever act opposite someone, living or dead, who would it be?

If I could act opposite anyone it would be (how to narrow it down...) John Leguizamo. He is an amazing storyteller (if you didn't get to see Freak or any of his one man shows on broadway, RENT THEM). He is a really talented actor with so much depth and comedic ability.

I would love to hear your opinion on high school violence such as Columbine. And what do you feel America should do to prevent these tragedies?

I have a lot to say about Columbine and the unfortunately large number of other school shootings this year. I don't like talking about them however because I don't like giving Beavis and Butthead (the killers) the satisfaction. I was so horrified to learn of their smug planning, their bigotry and hatred and worse, their self absorbed thoughts of who would direct their biopic. Beavis and Butthead caused so much terror and grief, they should really rot in... Anyway, America can prevent these tragedies partially if they stop glorifying them. I do believe in gun control. I don't give a flying cow's ass about "some fool's right to his tools of rage" (once again, Ms. Ani DiFranco, Ladies and Gentlemen). To the person who said, "gun's don't kill people, people kill people", I ask how many sixteen year olds could take out an entire cafeteria full of people with their bare hands? I normally believe in protecting the rights in the Constitution like Gospel, but the second amendment calls for the right to bear arms for a "well organized militia". Unfortunately the NRA has such huge lobbying power. As for school violence, I just can't fathom how anyone could be so detached and so hostile as to watch themselves take life from another person (let alone that many people). It's tragic. I recommend to everyone the newest Ani DiFranco CD called "To The Teeth". The first song (same title) is about Columbine and gun control and it's brilliant. God I love her.

Julia, what would be your dream Vacation? As in where would you go and what would you do and with who, etc.?

I had a scrumptious vacation this summer. I travelled around the states to a bunch of concerts that rocked and then I went to Europe. But in the future, I think it would be ideal to go to a Spanish speaking country (because I love to practice speaking another language, and Spanish is the only one I can partially do) like Cuba. I saw the Buena Vista Social Club and Cuba looks magnificent. Such culture and such interesting people. I would love to hear live music there and maybe dance the Merengue, swim in the Ocean. And I would have to be there with a loved one. I think I've said 'nuff. :-) :-)

Sorry if these answers were too long, maybe I jabber. But I did want to add one thing, just a general note. I really appreciate you guys watching my movies and I just want to remind you that sometimes people will pretend to be me online and they say things that I would never say. Also, people misinterpret what I say in the press occasionally... Bottom line, don't always believe what you read. By the way I never babysat for that girl who posted something in the personal encounters. Eh, who cares, anyway.

Happy New Year everyone!
May it be a peaceful one.

Originally published at julia-stiles.com - Posted on December 1999