Julia Stiles

Julia wears Gucci wool coat, grey ribbed long sleeve top by Goldie. Umbra skirt in graphite from Maryam Nasir Zadeh. Tights stylist’s own, necklace stylist’s own. Shoes James Veloria.

Julia Stiles, 90s icon, doesn’t go for the flashy roles

Stiles plays a journalist in the all-female crime comedy Hustlers, taking stock of how a group of sex workers scammed a succession of rich men.

It may be the time delay on our phone line, but more like­ly it’s that Julia Stiles is so poised that she takes a good two or three sec­onds before answer­ing ques­tions. When her voice even­tu­al­ly comes, after mad­den­ing moments where you think the con­nec­tion has failed, it’s that famil­iar, reas­sur­ing­ly deep and thought­ful tone that you know so well from 10 Things I Hate About You, or the Bourne films. Stiles, 38, is ground­ed; there’s some­thing appeal­ing­ly sen­si­ble about her. 

We’re talk­ing to pro­mote her appear­ance in the new film Hus­tlers by direc­tor Lorene Sca­faria, which tells the true sto­ry of a group of strip­pers who conned rich clients out of mon­ey. The episode was the sub­ject of a viral sto­ry in New York Mag­a­zine by the jour­nal­ist Jes­si­ca Pressler. Stiles plays Eliz­a­beth in the movie, a char­ac­ter based on Pressler, and seen inter­view­ing the movie’s mot­ley crew of fraudsters. 

It’s not the flashiest part,” she admits. It’s not one of the dancers. But upon read­ing the script I was like, I don’t care if I have to sweep the floor, or make sand­wich­es for every­body, I’ll do any­thing to be in this movie.’ I just thought Lorene’s take on it was so inter­est­ing, and I actu­al­ly did find that there was a lot to the role of the journalist.”

Stiles’s gen­uine enthu­si­asm for the project shines through. She’s tak­ing ques­tions about the movie dur­ing a small vaca­tion she has set for her­self before resum­ing film­ing on the third sea­son of her Sky Atlantic series, Riv­iera, in Europe. And she talks with real enthu­si­asm and knowl­edge of her appre­ci­a­tion for Sca­faria, mak­ing the point that she had begun to make a name for her­self well before female direc­tors start­ed to be giv­en more chances. What impress­es me a lot about her is that she estab­lished her­self as a direc­tor before there was a mar­ket for female direc­tors, or an inter­est in hir­ing more female direc­tors.”

You get the sense that Stiles finds things are chang­ing, slow­ly but sure­ly, in a pos­i­tive way for women. I ask her if she thinks the movie hap­pened because peo­ple are start­ing to be more inter­est­ed in female sto­ries. I think so, yeah. That’s also the rea­son that stu­dios had passed on it for so long: they saw the female expe­ri­ence as a hin­drance – but now it’s become some­thing pos­i­tive and lucra­tive.” She sees the film’s themes of empow­er­ment – these women are final­ly tak­ing con­trol” even though they com­mit crimes – as a pos­i­tive. Stiles is sim­i­lar­ly upbeat when I ques­tion her about how she expe­ri­ences moth­er­hood on set (Riv­iera have adapt­ed well to her needs as a par­ent of a young child. They do what they can to help me,” she says, shout­ing out her nan­ny) and what the future holds for her as an actor.

I was prob­a­bly naive, think­ing that the issue of inter­ra­cial romance wasn’t an issue still […] but I didn’t have any hes­i­ta­tion about telling those stories.”

Julia Stiles

As a for­mer child star (she played Har­ri­son Ford’s daugh­ter in The Devil’s Own), and some­one who made a tran­si­tion to young adult roles as a star of smart teenage movies, Stiles has had an inter­est­ing and uncon­ven­tion­al career. I ask her about some­thing that has always intrigued me: in the ear­ly 2000s, when her fame was at its height, Stiles chose to play in not one but two movies (Save The Last Dance and O) where her char­ac­ter was in a bira­cial cou­ple. This was not com­mon prac­tice at the time, and it’s still incred­i­bly rare even now to see mixed race cou­ples onscreen. Did she have a sense that it was con­sid­ered risky, or that there was any push­back? She pauses. 

I was prob­a­bly naive, think­ing that the issue of inter­ra­cial romance wasn’t an issue still. I naive­ly thought we were over that prej­u­dice. Look­ing back on it, we obvi­ous­ly aren’t, and it’s prob­a­bly got­ten worse. But I didn’t have any hes­i­ta­tion about telling those sto­ries. I think one thing that sur­prised me in the mak­ing of those films was that there was resis­tance from the African-Amer­i­can side, par­tic­u­lar­ly women.” And then she lets slip, almost casu­al­ly, that she received hate mail for these per­for­mances. Yeah – to my col­lege,” she says. To the point where the school was alert­ing my par­ents and won­der­ing if they should get secu­ri­ty involved.” She tells me she’s nev­er spo­ken about this in an inter­view before.

Stiles is at her best when view­ing the indus­try as a whole. She has an obvi­ous appre­ci­a­tion for good writ­ing, and a great capac­i­ty to step back and look at her career, and to see the eco­nom­ics and work­ings of the film world. This comes out when I ask her about her long-held pas­sion project to film Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. For a long time she held the rights to the book but could nev­er get the movie financed. Part of me accepts it and part of me regrets it. I think my big mis­take was talk­ing about it in inter­views. We spent many, many years try­ing to get some­body to finance it and nobody would touch it. They said it was too dark. I think there wasn’t an appetite for female-dri­ven sto­ries at that point, and it was an uphill bat­tle that I end­ed up let­ting go.”

This fem­i­nist vein comes up in her con­ver­sa­tion over and over, such as when Stiles is talk­ing about her love for the work of Glen­gar­ry Glen Ross direc­tor David Mamet; she notes that she appre­ci­ates his musi­cal­i­ty’ but is care­ful to address crit­i­cisms of his work for being sex­ist. And when I ask her how she feels when look­ing for­ward to the rest of her career, she says, I feel opti­mistic! I feel there’s been a shift in the indus­try, where ten or 15 years ago I would have been wor­ried about being at this point in my life career, but now I think oppor­tu­ni­ties are get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter for me and my peers.” She means women by this, of course, but is too sub­tle to state it so bluntly. 

We wrap things up, chat­ting about being par­ents, and I find there’s some­thing so ami­able and relaxed about Stiles, who apol­o­gis­es twice for keep­ing me wait­ing for our inter­view. It’s not a prob­lem, I chirp – and with a deep, OK. Bye!” she is gone.

Hus­tlers is out in cin­e­mas on Sep­tem­ber 13th. Pho­tog­ra­phy assis­tant: Tim O’Connell. Pro­duc­tion assis­tant: Vla­da Dyeche­va. Styling assis­tants: Arnold Kratch, Natal­ie Mat­su­da. Make­up: Lisa Aharon. Hair: Nathan Rosenkranz for KMS Hair­Care at Hon­ey Artists. Spe­cial thanks to Starr Street Studios.

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