In concept, sure, Julia Stiles would have performed a stripper in Hustlers, had she been requested. She has been on report—to the press, to writer-director Lorene Scafaria, to Jennifer Lopez—that she would have cleaned the set or inventory meals at craft companies if it meant she bought to be part of the movie, though she admits that she doesn’t assume “anybody can compete with what [Lopez] does on this film.”
Stiles, who has spent twenty years as a serious Hollywood presence, since her breakout flip in 1999’s 10 Issues I Hate About You, can’t bear in mind the final time she sought out and actively pursued a challenge, like she did with this.
She had learn the New York journal article by Jessica Pressler, “The Hustlers at Scores,” that the movie is predicated on, and began following Pressler’s work. “I used to be obsessive about that Anna Delvey story she wrote,” she says, referring to the now-iconic function on a pretend heiress who scammed her means via New York’s haut monde. Our dialog is almost derailed gushing over Pressler’s latest yarn a couple of class riot among the many 1 p.c when Brooklyn’s oldest nursery faculty tried to modernize.
When she heard a challenge based mostly on the hustlers article was within the works, she requested her brokers to get her the script. “They had been like, you may actually like this however the half’s not that flashy since you’re not enjoying a dancer,” she says. However she was immediately struck by Scafaria’s tackle the story and requested to satisfy with the director, whose earlier movie, The Meddler, had a well-received launch in 2015. “I spoke to her and I used to be like, I don’t care if I’ve to brush the flooring. I’ll do something to be a part of this film.”
We’re having a late lunch on a scorching day in early August earlier than she needs to be residence to alleviate her babysitter. The household is preparing for a mini-vacation to go to her mother and father earlier than their now-annual relocation to Europe, the place she shoots the noir thriller collection Riviera, which airs on Sky Atlantic within the U.Ok. and on Ovation stateside. The brand new season provides Italy and Argentina to the titular capturing location.
Stopping herself from detailing the hectic nature of the journey plans, a giddy smile broadens throughout her face. “I at all times really feel like a jerk when folks ask the place I’m working,” she laughs. “Like, no large deal: the South of France.”
She had simply snuck into an early Hustlers press screening just a few days earlier than, after waffling over whether or not or not it’s bizarre for her to indicate up. It might nonetheless be a month till the movie’s premiere final weekend on the Toronto Movie Pageant—it formally hits theaters Sept. 13—however she is so glad she went: “I can’t bear in mind being in a film that I saved serious about this a lot afterwards.”
It seems that Stiles didn’t have to brush flooring. She performs the position based mostly on Pressler herself: Elizabeth, the journalist who sits down with former strippers Future (Constance Wu), Ramona (Lopez), and the detectives who investigated their crimes to be able to piece collectively what precisely these girls had completed and, extra importantly, why.
After the Wall Road crash in 2008, dancers at a New York Metropolis strip membership noticed their purchasers evacuate the Champagne Room en masse, in order that they devised a plan. The group would go “fishing” collectively at bars for executives who seem to be they nonetheless have excessive limits on their bank cards. They’d drug the lads with a mixture of MDMA and ketamine—to maintain them pleased, however handed out—take them again to the membership, run up fees on their playing cards, and take a reduce of the income.
At first, Elizabeth is judgmental. However the extra she talks to the ladies, the extra compassion she has for them.
“They may have made 5 completely different variations of this story,” Stiles says. “It may have been Striptease. It may have been Showgirls. It may’ve been a real crime story demonizing these girls, specializing in the aftermath of what occurred to the lads they drugged. However Lorene focuses on the sisterhood and the partnership between these girls, making an attempt to get us to know why these girls did what they did.”
The reviews for the film have been ecstatic, with many critics championing it as a stealth Oscar contender—stealth only because of a double standard that would historically see a film about strippers dismissed, even though everything from its themes and tone to its structure is something that would be celebrated if, say, it was a Martin Scorsese movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
We talk a lot about that double standard over lunch. It’s a conversation that’s been high on Stiles’ mind for practically her entire career. She’s aware of how difficult it was to get Hustlers made for that reason. She’s engaged in conversations about it on the set of Riviera. She had to give up the rights to a long-gestating adaptation of The Bell Jar—which is still wallowing seven years later—because of it, too.
But that’s why she’s so unabashedly gleeful about Hustlers, and this moment in her career.
“If you had talked to me two or three years ago, I might have been more nervous or more frustrated, but I’m really, really happy where I am now,” she says.
Before Riviera came along, she had shot a string of independent films that nobody saw. “I felt like I was sort of jumping from job to job that I wasn’t really connected to, and worried about where my career was going.”
“I think a few years ago my frustration was feeling like nobody knew what to do with me. You know, I had had some success in my twenties and now I’m in a different place in my life and I didn’t really fit anywhere.”
“I think a few years ago my frustration was feeling like nobody knew what to do with me,” she says. “You know, I had had some success in my twenties and now I’m in a different place in my life and I didn’t really fit anywhere.”
That afforded her the opportunity to direct and do more theater, but she felt lost in her own industry. “But a movie like Hustlers to me is such an affirmation that like I have a place in the film industry and stories that I’m interested in are being told.”
You could say that Julia Stiles is having a moment.
She’s had them before. But what’s rare about this one is that, thanks to the recent blitz of press timed to the 20th anniversary of 10 Things I Hate About You and the (much deserved) fawning over her performance as Kat, the “moment” is simultaneously rooted in nostalgia for her big break and a celebration of her current work.
For Stiles, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how she’s grown, the ways she did and didn’t succeed in weathering the industry and fame as an It Girl ingénue, and how she’s seen the business evolve in ways that are more amenable to her interests, taste, and values.
A loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew set in a Seattle high school at the turn of the millennium, 10 Things I Hate About You was a cinematic incubator for future stars, from Gabrielle Union and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Heath Ledger. But it’s Stiles whose career instantly exploded.
Her Kat was a teenage feminist, a strong-willed and strong-minded heroine whose intelligence and unapologetic opinions never obscured the fact that she was still a high-school girl with big feelings and big emotions. Stiles beat out Kate Hudson and Katie Holmes for the part, owing to her intense chemistry with Ledger and the endearing vulnerability that shone through her buttoned-up strength.
During the scene near the end when her character reads the titular poem to Ledger’s character, Stiles started crying, even though it wasn’t scripted. As far as movies chronicling teen angst go, it’s the perfect performance in the perfect scene. It’s no wonder that Stiles would soon be cast in a string of similar roles in films like Save the Last Dance, Hamlet, O, and Mona Lisa Smile.
“I don’t take it for granted that people are talking about the movie 20 years later,” Stiles says. “It’s an affirmation that even back then the things, the stories, and the roles that I was drawn to, other people were interested in as well. That was the first time I really read a female character, especially as a teenager, who was feisty and opinionated and unapologetic.”
Stiles soon earned the moniker “the thinking teenager’s movie goddess,” a reputation that got cemented when, at the height of her Hollywood rise, she enrolled in Columbia University, graduating with an English literature degree in 2005.
It’s hard for Stiles to reconcile how all that played into her career: where she was being steered as a hot commodity in the industry, what she wanted from her career, and her own ambitions for education on top of it all.
“It happened to me before I could really understand what was going on,” she says. Going to college helped her keep her head on straight. “Academic professionals don’t really give a shit about me being in a movie or having to go the MTV Movie Awards. But then also people in the entertainment industry don’t really care about university. That helped me a lot.”
What fame meant, what it meant to have things you say written in print or scrutinized, is something she learned through trial and error. “I’m still figuring it out, but I feel a little less anxious about it than I did in my twenties.” She laughs. “Therapy helped.”
I ask her if she thinks she was ever being pulled in opposing directions, the way it appears if you look at her list of IMDb credits at the time. There’s the romantic dramas and comedies that seem to have been meant to capitalize on her 10 Things I Hate About You popularity—A Guy Thing or The Prince and Me among them—and then the string of Shakespearean films that seemed to more squarely line up with her “thinking teenager” reputation.
“I think there was the commercial viability of romantic comedies and that’s how people saw me,” she says. “And then there was what I was interested in, and I was trying to balance both. But I was also so young and had to learn how to stick up for myself and assert what I wanted.”
That took some time, and some stepping back.
“I think there was the commercial viability of romantic comedies and that’s how people saw me. And then there was what I was interested in, and I was trying to balance both. But I was also so young and had to learn how to stick up for myself and assert what I wanted.”
It’s not that she wasn’t working, or that the projects weren’t seen. There was The Omen remake in 2006 and Silver Linings Playbook in 2012, with the Jason Bourne film franchise dotting her resume from 2002 until the most recent installment in 2016. She earned some of the best reviews of her career when she joined the Showtime drama Dexter for a season in 2010, earning Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her performance.
The experience was formative, not just in terms of revealing what goes into a well-written, long-running show—something she’d remember when considering joining Riviera—but also some of the frustrations that can plague actors who are years into a long TV contract. And while playing a rape survivor on a revenge-murder spree marked a definite departure from the roles she had been known for, she says she actually didn’t see a noticeable change in what she was being offered after the whole experience.
The story that actually pops into her head is from the Golden Globes, when she attended as a nominee. As usual, the names of everyone nominated in her category are read out as the camera pans to each actress. When Stiles’ name was read, however, the camera showed the wrong person—a producer from the show instead. “So that was like, you know, a great reminder to not get too confident.”
She takes great pride in the praise that her character on Riviera, Georgina, gets. An art curator whose life is upended by the mysterious death of her billionaire-husband, Georgina has been described as “a female Michael Corleone.”
As such, she says the idea of “likability” comes up often on the Riviera set. At the end of season two, for example, her character commits a violent crime. There was a version of the script where it’s committed in self-defense, but Stiles fought for it to be unequivocally deliberate.
“It was the question of, is she sympathetic, and I was like, I don’t really care,” she says. “Any mafia movie or gangster movie you watch, you can have a guy running around with a gun and it’s cool. But if you give a woman a gun in a movie or TV show, you have to jump through hoops to explain why she needs it.”
The gender double standard leads us to talk about The Bell Jar. For years, she held the rights to the Sylvia Plath novel, about a woman’s descent into mental illness, even commissioning a script.
“Nobody wanted to make it because they said it was too dark,” she says. “And it was at a time when nobody was interested in female-driven stories.” She had envisioned a “very hallucinogenic” approach, citing director Julian Schnabel’s style in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. By 2012, she had decided to give up the rights.
In 2016, it was announced that Kirsten Dunst would direct an adaptation starring Dakota Fanning, but Dunst recently said she was no longer attached. Fanning is still involved with a version in development at Showtime as a limited series, but that’s also been plagued by uncertainty: SMILF’s Frankie Shaw was at one point going to direct, before her development deal was suspended amidst misconduct allegations.
“I don’t know where things are now,” Stiles says. “But now I think there’d be much more of an audience for it.”
Before she heads out to resume baby duty—her son with husband Preston Cook turns two in November—she makes a point to pick this entertainment journalist’s brain for some TV recommendations, as she was nearly done with her current binge of Netflix’s Dead to Me.
At the mention of Fleabag, she both gets visibly excited and turns a bit red. She had the chance to meet creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the BAFTA Awards, she explains, “and totally fucking embarrassed myself.” Primed with some liquid courage, she gushed to Waller-Bridge about how much she loved her work. When the conversation had run its course, Stiles said goodbye and for some reason—she’ll never be entirely sure why—she winked at her. “Like an asshole,” she says.
“Then I was like, ‘Oh my god, why did I do that? I’m so sorry.’” She began fabricating excuses. “I was like, ‘I’m tired and have a twitch—like you know when you’re tired and your eye just starts twitching?’ I totally embarrassed myself.”
She’s still shaking her head when the waitress brings the leftover food from lunch for her to take home. She gets up to leave and it clicks why the silly story is so endearing. It’s Kat. It’s Sara in Save the Last Dance. It’s Joan in Mona Lisa Smile. It’s Elizabeth in Hustlers. It’s goofy and vulnerable, from a person you didn’t expect it from, who you now understand better because of it. It’s Julia Stiles.