Interview Magazine (Justin Hollar Photos)
When Julia Stiles first signed on to play CIA employee Nicky Parsons in The Bourne Identity (2002), she was a college student at Columbia University. A native New Yorker, Stiles had been acting professionally since she was 11. Thanks to roles in teen movies like the pithy comedy 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and emotional drama Save the Last Dance (2001), she was something of a thinking-teen’s idol at the time.
For a rising star like Stiles, Nicky was not a particularly large part—she was supposed to die at the end of the film and it wasn’t until filming finished that director Doug Liman recut her final scene—but Stiles was intrigued by star Matt Damon. “He wasn’t the obvious choice at the time,” she recalls over the phone. “I remember pausing for a second wondering if I was going to miss too much school, but I quickly ignored that and decided that it would be more fun to go to Prague and Paris.”
Fourteen years later, Stiles is the only actor except for Damon himself to appear in all four Jason Bourne films. In Jason Bourne, the franchise’s latest installment, out today, Nicky is something of a new woman: determined and mature, she’s no longer just a government pencil pusher. “She’s become quite ideologically driven,” says Stiles. “She launches the whole movie…it was nice to see her not be obedient anymore.”
Later this summer, Stiles will move to Nice, France to begin working on a new Neil Jordan miniseries called Riviera. “Neil’s idea was that behind every great fortune is a great crime, and I play an American married to this billionaire,” she explains. “It’s a very glamorous setting, but underneath there’s a lot of corruption and dirty deeds. In the first episode, [my character’s] husband is murdered,” she continues. “In inheriting his estate, she’s discovering the ways that he lied to her and the things he was covering up.”
EMMA BROWN: Nicky has more to do in this film.
STILES: Yeah, this time was a turn for Nicky. She was in hiding when we left her in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and in the eight years that have passed since then she’s been running for her life. She’s become more defiant and she’s turned into quite a dissident. She’s been disillusioned by the agency she’s devoted her life to and wants to do something about it. In order to put a stop to it, she’s decided she’s going to leak information she has about the operations that they’re running.
BROWN: Did they tell you that she was going to have a different role in this film before they sent you the script or was it a nice surprise?
STILES: I found out they were doing another one and I was waiting for the script. When Paul [Greengrass] was writing, he’d send me story ideas that he had. He was particularly interested in social movements and revolutions that had been happening all over the world, and how computers and the internet had helped those movements. He encouraged me to read a book about Anonymous, the hacker group called “white hat” hackers, meaning they’re driven by ideology and social disruption as opposed to just greed. Then I was happy when I read the script—the first version they sent me—to see that before, there’s some humanity too. She tracks Jason Bourne down because she really cares about him and wants to share personal information that she thinks might help him. It was nice that there was a reference to the relationship they have and the fact that they’re allies in a world where they don’t have any other allies. It’s very subtle—it’s actually without dialogue. It’s up to each viewer to interpret for themselves, but there’s a moment of recognition between the two of them. I do think it’s powerful even without words.
BROWN: Did it feel like you were getting back into a character or, because of the things she’s gone through in the last eight years, did she feel like a new character?
STILES: It felt like revisiting a style in terms of delivery and how these people speak and the world that they live in. It did feel new to me because I wasn’t taking orders anymore. She’s a lot less reactive. She’s a lot more proactive. Also, she has nothing to lose; she’s in hiding and she’s willing to risk her life. She’s a lot tougher and more fearless than she’s been in previous movies.
BROWN: Are you someone who likes to do more takes if possible?
STILES: Yes, but the thing with the Bourne movies is that they’re so big in scope and the production value is so high and it takes so much organization. In the opening sequence, for instance, the safe meeting place Nicky chooses is in the middle of a riot in Athens, Greece. The idea is that in the middle of that chaos and violence, they have a safe cover. The amount of work that goes into organizing something like that makes it so that you don’t want to be the one person to mess it up. They shoot quite quickly, these films. I do think that the more takes you have the more opportunity to experiment [but] at a certain point, there are diminishing returns. There’s only so much variety you offer.
BROWN: I actually saw you onstage in London a long time ago in Oleanna with Aaron Eckhart. I didn’t realize you had did the play again a few years later in New York.
STILES: I did a different production with a different director and Bill Pullman. Oleanna—the one you saw—we were doing right after Bourne Identity or right after it came out. Years had passed, and when they were going to do a production of it in New York and asked me to read for it I thought, “Why would I want to do this play again?” It’s because I never felt like I got it right. It’s rich, but there’s a lot of room for interpretation, surprisingly. Just by virtue of having a different actor in the opposite role a lot changes. Bill Pullman is older than Aaron Eckhart—although I was older too—and the age difference changes the play. My perspective on those issues had changed a lot. Without going into nerdy details about that play, there was something that still stuck with me. I still had the same joy in that dialogue and David Mamet’s rhythm in terms of his writing. I felt like there was still something to explore.
BROWN: Have you felt that way about other plays or movies? When you finish a project, do you generally feel like, “I’ve got it; I can move on”?
STILES: I think really only with theater. With film, so much is in the director’s hands. Once something is cut together—unless you’re in the editing room—you don’t really remember what the alternatives are. The exercise in theater is night after night you are doing the same play, but you have another opportunity to explore. It changes nightly even because of the audience and your day going into the evening of the performance. With film it’s much more controlled.
BROWN: Did you go to the theater a lot when you were growing up in New York?
STILES: I did. My grandmother took me to a lot of theater. I was exposed to performance quite a bit—everything from Broadway to off-Broadway and dance and music as well. I was very lucky that way. It was a very rich childhood.
BROWN: Do you remember the first performance you saw that really resonated with you?
STILES: I remember seeing Janet McTeer in A Doll’s House. My grandmother took me and we had seats in the very back row, but her performance was so powerful—it was very accessible. I felt like I was much closer than I was.
BROWN: You started acting when you were quite young, was there ever a moment in your career where you felt like you became an adult actor, or you decided again that this is what you wanted to do as an adult?
STILES: I think it’s been in the last few years. I did a run of a play over the summer in a really tiny theater in New York and that was rejuvenating for me. I directed a short series for Hulu called Paloma and being in an editing room, I learned a lot about acting. It gave me a new bolt of energy in terms of my interest in filmmaking because it made me realize how collaborative filmmaking can be and also that you’re not just limited to one job. Actors can write and produce too. Then when I was working on Jason Bourne—having had that experience—instead of going back to my trailer and being separate from everyone else, I would sit behind the monitor and watch Paul Greengrass work and be much more included in the process. That was new for me and really enriching.
BROWN: What, ideally, do you want out of a director? Do you want someone who gives you really specific feedback?
STILES: I like a director who is very observant and is watching what I’m doing and noticing what I’m doing, but is giving me time to figure it out. They don’t jump right in and give you a note before you’ve had time to really search on your own with how to do a scene. I like a director that encourages me to be playful. I don’t really like being restricted or controlled by a director.
BROWN: Do you feel like you’re constantly getting better as an actor?
STILES: In my early career, I look at that time as a series of trial and error and learning as I go. Now I feel like I have a skill set, but every experience is different and there’s always room for improvement.
BROWN: Do you have a fear of women in their mid or late 20s, because you know they’re going to gush about 10 Things I Hate About You?
STILES: I don’t have a fear of it. I think it’s really sweet. I think it’s really special to be a part of something that people are still watching or thinking about or interested in, or remember fondly many years later. I don’t think it’s annoying at all.
Telegraph Interview with Julia Stiles
At the beginning of Jason Bourne, her fourth film in the blockbuster action franchise, Julia Stiles appears in near-total darkness. “Christian Dassault sent me,” she says in a voice so low she could be a man or a woman. That password admits her to a hackers’ headquarters in Iceland. Within minutes, she has broken into the CIA’s mainframe and stolen top secret files, unleashing the action for the rest of the film.
In the nine years since Stiles and Matt Damon last joined forces for a Bourne movie, both their characters have been living “off the grid”. The change in Nicky Parsons, who began in 2002 as the neat CIA analyst Nicolette and appears in Paul Greengrass’s new film under the hacker codename Knightrider, is dramatic. Not only has she gone rogue – smart, wild and threatening – but, under cover of a riot in Greece, she lures Bourne out from hiding, in the film’s single most impressive sequence.
“It seems a little bit exploitative for me to say this, but I get chills when I think about the scenes that I was in,” she says when we meet, early on the day of the UK premiere. “Paul Greengrass has a knack for setting an action movie in a world that is very familiar to us. He can keep the political issues and the environment very timely and relevant. He wrote it a year ago. But it feels shockingly familiar given all the protests and violence that we’ve experienced in the United States.”
Stiles first read the script of the 2002 film The Bourne Identity – or at least, the parts she was allowed to see – when she was in her dorm room at Columbia University. She was 19, and already enough of a teenage star that going to college was in itself an unusual move. “I remember thinking: Doug Liman was a really interesting director. At that time he was more of an indie darling,” she says now. “And I thought it was really intriguing that Matt was going to play this action hero, because at that time he wasn’t an obvious choice”.
In the first edit, her character died – “she was thrown up against a wall and her neck was snapped,” Stiles recalls – but the film was recut to make way for a possible sequel with her in it. As a result, she has lived with Bourne, as she puts it, “my entire adult life”.
By the time that script arrived, Stiles had already starred in the magnificently tart teen rendering of The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You, alongside the young Heath Ledger; she’d been Ophelia to Ethan Hawke’s modern-day Hamlet in Michael Almereyda’s urban indie film; she’d been cast in State and Main by David Mamet, whose play Oleanna she’d go on to perform on stage in New York and London; and she’d played the lead in Save the Last Dance, an inter-racial teen love story which was released to distracting levels of success while she was in her first year at Columbia.
This was not long after she’d been deemed by Neil Jordan to be “too old” for the part in Interview with the Vampire that eventually went to a squeaky Kirsten Dunst. Dunst is just one year Stiles’s junior; the truth is, though, Stiles would always have been too old for a part like that. She brings to everything she’s done a quality of seriousness that is rare in real life and even rarer in Hollywood. “I remember finding that character very refreshing,” Stiles says now of Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You, “because she was so angst-ridden. Or just brassy and more fierce than any other example of a teenage girl that I had seen”.
Wonderful though that film is, contemptuous teenagers are arguably more familiar fare than adult women with equal levels of severity. So Stiles’s exceptional nature has become more emphatic the longer she goes on, and the fewer prisoners she takes. In the Bourne films, she signals a kind of intelligence that genre films don’t usually require of their female characters. A Bond movie wouldn’t know what to do with a Stiles in its script. Alicia Vikander, the ostensible heroine of the latest Bourne incarnation, struggles to achieve CIA steeliness, but Stiles is all determination and ticking thought from the moment of her arrival.
In person, she’s equally austere. Once rumoured to have dumped a boyfriend because he didn’t like the novels of John Steinbeck, Stiles admits now that she’s often stopped in the street by men telling her to smile. When we meet, her replies to my questions are considered, friendly and even unguarded – she volunteers the information that she’s just got engaged and is looking forward to “nesting” with her fiancé, the cameraman Preston J Cook – yet her face is so still and her gaze so direct it’s disarming. You’d call her expression deadpan if she were joking, but she’s not.
I ask Stiles if she thinks people are afraid of seriousness in women, and she cites the Bechdel Test, a theory devised by the graphic novelist Alison Bechdel. “She developed this idea that there’s a litmus test for movies,” Stiles explains. “There’ve got to be two main female roles, and they have to have a conversation together, that’s not about men. I can’t think of an example of a movie that passes that test.”
Some of the more interesting roles for women, she says, can be found on television. Stiles took on the gruelling role of a mother with a secret life as a prostitute in Blue, shown on Lifetime last year, and she’s about to move to the south of France to film Neil Jordan’s Sky series Riviera, in which she plays the widow of a wealthy and corrupt art dealer. “I’m not exactly sure why,” she says, “but I feel optimistic”.
She has directed a short film, and a more recent short web series, Paloma. Being in an editing room taught her a lot about acting, she suggests, and although she’d like to direct a feature (many years ago, there was a mooted adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar), doing Bourne reminded her how much work directing involves.
Meanwhile, she’s listening to a lot of music – Nina Simone’s covers of protest songs are a current favourite – and for the past year, she’s been taking singing lessons. “Not that I’ll ever sing in front of anyone,” she adds, a note of self-consciousness creeping into her voice. She sings a lot of Patsy Cline, she says, “because I have quite a low voice – but I’ve been able to expand my range as a result of these lessons”.
Though Stiles sometimes travels with what she calls a “baby banjo”, she says there’s no chance she’ll join a band either. “If I could put a mask on, I would, maybe. I guess I’d have to get over being self-conscious.”
As for married life, there are no immediate plans for a wedding, she says. “We’re in the daydreaming phase, where we fantasise about where it would be, and the food and the music, but we don’t actually get around to concrete things.” For now, after a lot of travelling between New York and Canada (where Cook is from) or wherever either of them happened to be working, she’s just pleased that Cook is also getting to work on Riviera. “It went from me being anxious and terrified of our being separated for a while to now getting to work together in the South of France. It’s a pre-honeymoon, I guess.” She pauses for a moment. “That might make me nervous. But we’ll see.”
Matt Doyle Photoshoot
We have added a brand new photoshoot by Matt Doyle to the gallery…
The New Potato Interview
Actress Julia Stiles
On Mosh Pits & Why Chivalry Is The New Macho
Julia Stiles telling us chivalry is the new macho – in answer to “what is the new potato?” – seemed like a Kat a la 10 Things I Hate About You sort of answer. Stiles (like Kat) has always been ahead of her time, both badass and beautiful in a way all of us consistently aim to be. We had many girl power teen aspirations when we’d watch her in movies like Save The Last Dance and the aforementioned 10 Things I Hate About You, and have felt continuing fandom in recent years when she stole the show in projects like Dexter and the Bourne movies.
The newest Bourne movie – Jason Bourne – comes out Friday, and we couldn’t think of a better time to catch up with one of our favorite timeless actresses who happens to be its star. Stiles spoke about all things concerning the newest Bourne installment, breakfast foods and hot yoga. This is a great Monday read.
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
Fresh organic green juice in the morning, then a salad with avocado and quinoa for lunch. Dinner would be Sushi or something homemade, with a delicious glass of wine.
How do you usually start your day? What’s your go-to breakfast?
I know people say it’s the most important meal of the day, and I love breakfast foods, but later in the day. Is that weird?
How do you practice beauty from the inside out?
I swear by hot yoga. It consistently makes me feel great, mind, body and spirit. It focuses my mind, makes me feel lean, flexible and strong, I’m hooked. And if it’s too hot outside, swimming is meditative too. I really believe that food made with love and from good, simple ingredients is the way to go. I love cooking with friends, and the social experience of eating together. The more mindfully you eat, the more nourishing and satisfying it can be.
What are your morning and nightly beauty routines?
In the morning I wash my face with Jordan Samuel “Plie Cleanser” and moisturize with a day cream from Dayle Breault, then sunscreen from Weleda. And a giant glass of water with lemon.
What’s a beauty mainstay that hasn’t changed since 10 Things I Hate About You?
Giving my skin a break from makeup, exercise, water. Now I indulge in facials.
How do you prepare for your role in the Bourne movies, if at all?
There’s very little you can do to prepare because so much of it involves thinking on your feet. It’s good to be well-rested.
Were you surprised when Matt Damon decided to come back? What’s the most fun part of filming?
I was. It had been so many years of people asking me when we were going to make another; I had given up trying to guess. The most fun part is all of the travel; this series has taken me to amazing parts of the world.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? The worst?
Best: “Comparison is the thief of joy”
Worst: “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness…”
Who do you think you were in a past life? Why?
I think I was a fish. I love swimming…but I also love to eat them, so that’s weird.
You never liked X till you tried it at Y…
I never liked mosh pits until I tried it at a Titus Andronicus show.
What’s your perfect salad comprised of? Your perfect smoothie?
Salad: Endive and radicchio with avocado mushed in, olive oil and cider vinegar or lemon. Smoothie: Anything but peanut butter (put that on a sandwich please!), and no fake supplement thingies.
What are your favorite current cities for food? What restaurants do you go to in each?
NY: Colonia Verde, Angelica’s Kitchen, Mermaid Inn
Paris: L’Atelier and Dersou
London: J Sheekey and Bocca Di Lupo
Vancouver: Minami, Rodney’s Oyster Bar and Lupo
LA: Little Dom’s
In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what’s the new potato right now?
Chivalry is the new macho.
Guardian Interview + Photoshoot
Julia was also interviewed by The UK Guardian last week, you can find the Q&A here, plus a new photoshoot by Charlie Forgham Bailey, here.
When were you happiest?
This morning when I woke up. I am generally happy.
What is your greatest fear?
I am not a fan of rats or pigeons. In New York City, they have become very confident. When I was a child, you went on the subways and the rats would stay down on the tracks, but now they hang out on the platform.
What is your earliest memory?
A hurricane in New York. My mum strapped me to her back to walk home, and all the windows were taped and boarded up.
Which living person do you most admire, and why?
People I went to school with who have careers as doctors and teachers.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What would your super power be?
I’d have a remote control for time, so I could rewind, fast-forward and pause.
What makes you unhappy?
Usually other people’s unhappiness.
Mackaela Rossalto Photoshoot
We have added x06 photos of Julia from the photoshoot with Mackaela Rossalto taken last ear for More Magazine to the gallery …
Guy Aroch Photoshoot
We have added x2 beautiful images by photographer Guy Aroch shot back in 2009 for Telegraph/Stella magazine …