Previously Known For: 10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance
|Currently Known For: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Dexter, Silver Linings Playbook and The Bell Jar|
“I think audiences, producers and directors included, develop crushes on actors, actresses in particular, and then lose interest and move on to the next one… There are a handful of actors who sustain interest because it’s exciting to watch them get better at what they do. I want to be one of those actors.” Long before she was known for projects like 10 Things I Hate About You, Save the Last Dance, the Bourne film series or Dexter, Julia O’Hara Stiles made her grand entrance into the world on March 28, 1981 in New York City where she was the eldest of three children born to an artist and an elementary school teacher. With her mother’s own interest in the arts, it wasn’t long before Stiles followed suit as her early passion for dance progressed to Shakespeare and theater, both of which led her to the La MaMa Theatre where she made her Off-Broadway stage debut at 11 years old.
Spending the next four years on the stage, Stiles was 15 when she ventured into film and made her silver screen debut as “Young Nana’s Friend” in the 1996 film, I Love You, I Love You Not starring Jude Law and Claire Danes. In 1997, she snagged a role opposite Harrison Ford in The Devil’s Own shortly before M. Night Shyamalan cast her as Neena Beal in his 1998 thriller, Wide Awake. Luckily, even bigger things were on the horizon that year for Stiles whose performance as Ellie Christianson in Wicked earned her a Best Actress Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in addition to widespread praise from audiences and critics around the world.
In 1999, Stiles was well on her way to stardom when she was cast as Kat Stratford opposite Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Giving yet another stellar performance, Stiles turned heads and took home an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance and a Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Actress with nominations for two Teen Choice Awards and a Young Star Award. “I’m so grateful to have been in the film,” Stiles said. “It was my first big break and such a fun part. I have so many good memories from filming… They’re still talking about it so many years later, that’s really lucky and I’m fortunate to be a part of it.”
Cashing in on her overnight stardom and joining a handful of young Hollywood heartthrobs, Stiles didn’t earn critical praise for her performance alongside Freddie Prinze, Jr. in Down to You, but the pair’s on-screen chemistry was enough to earn them a Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Chemistry. She then joined Ethan Hawke in Hamlet and Josh Hartnett in O before starring opposite Sean Patrick Thomas in Save the Last Dance, a film that would truly define her early career. Stiles’ performance as the aspiring ballerina earned her an MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss and two Teen Choice Awards for Choice Movie Actress and Choice Movie Fight Scene as well as an MTV Award nomination for Best Female Performance.
Even amid her growing stardom and many accolades, Stiles had other interests and shocked her fans when she stepped away from acting in the new millennium to enroll at Columbia University where she pursued her degree in English. However, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood lured her back as she accepted the part of Nicky Parsons opposite Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity. Quickly exchanging the world of academia for traveling abroad with the film, Stiles obviously made the right choice when director Doug Liman rewrote her character so that, instead of dying at the end of the first film, she became a key player in sequels like The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.
Once again at the height of her career, Stiles didn’t let her success on the silver screen monopolize her time as she starred in theatrical productions of Twelfth Night and The Vagina Monologues. In 2003, she joined some of Hollywood’s most talented leading ladies—Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst and Maggie Gyllenhaal—in Mona Lisa Smile, which earned her another Teen Choice Award nomination. Following a similar pattern of success with her performances as Paige Morgan in The Prince and Me and as Katherine Thorn in The Omen, Stiles starred in smaller projects before shocking her fans in 2010 when she accepted a recurring role as Lumen Pierce in the popular television series, Dexter.
“I loved working on that show and I really like what they wrote for me,” Stiles said of her experience. “It definitely opened my eyes to the possibility of working in television more because, before that, I was kind of afraid. That was when cable was just becoming really good, so before that, I had this fear of television.” Coincidentally, Dexter left such a lasting impression that Stiles returned to television nearly a decade later when she accepted a starring role in Riviera, but more on that in a moment!
Earning nominations at the Primetime Emmy Awards and the Golden Globes for Dexter, Stiles followed up with an award-nominated performance in Silver Linings Playbook in 2012. She also starred in projects like Girl Most Likely, The Makeover, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Jason Bourne and The Drowning but has recently turned heads for her grand return to television as Georgina Clios in Riviera. “I didn’t have all the scripts so it was a bit of a leap of faith committing to something that’s going to be a lot longer,” Stiles said of her attraction to the project. “This is different to anything I’ve seen on TV recently and I feel like the glamorous and opulent setting in the south of France contrasted with these people who are doing questionable things—it seemed like a perfect setting. The producers also made it clear to me that they wanted the character I play to start off naïve and then quickly surprise you and make you realize that you’re underestimating her. They likened her to Michael Corleone in The Godfather in that she turns and does bad things. I thought that would be really fun to play.”
Giving a stellar performance as one of the first female antiheroes on television, the 36-year-old Stiles certainly has plenty to keep her busy especially now that she’s added “mother” to her list of titles! Tying the knot with Preston J. Cook in September 2017, the couple welcomed their son, Strummer, into the world in October 2017. With Riviera renewed for a second season in November, we can’t wait to see what the future holds for Stiles as an actress, wife and mother!