Julia Stiles talks role in Off-Broadway play ‘Phoenix’

Julia Stiles has a fondness for the unexpected. Or so it would seem glancing at her wide-ranging resume, which includes teen romance films (“Save the Last Dance”), blockbusters (Matt Damon’s “Bourne” franchise), plus stints onstage (Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” David Mamet’s “Oleanna”), on the small screen (she played a serial killer on “Dexter,” earning Golden Globe and Emmy nominations) and the computer screen (starring in the popular WIGS Web series “Blue” and writing and directing “Paloma”).

This summer, Stiles stars Off-Broadway with up-and-comer James Wirt in “Phoenix,” a two-person dark romantic comedy by Scott Organ now in previews at the Cherry Lane Theatre (it opens Thursday and runs through Aug. 23).

The play explores the ups and downs — and the tempting yet terrifying more-than-one-nightness potential — of a one-night stand. Stiles, 33, who lives in Manhattan, recently sat down with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio before a rehearsal.

I gather “Phoenix” all began with a phone call.

I knew the director — she called and said, “I had a dream we should do a play together.” Coincidentally, I was itching to get back onstage.

Why?

To get back to all the reasons why I wanted to be an actress in the first place. Compared to film or television, theater is more interactive, collaborative. And I loved the script. I actually have a very short attention span when it comes to reading. But I wasn’t fidgeting with this. It’s not cynical. It has a sense of humor — which is nice for summer. I’d read other plays about incest and … dark, dark things, and I thought, I don’t want to do that every day.

The slogan for this play is something like “Don’t think a one-night stand only lasts one night.” Which seems optimistic … or a nightmare.

I know. The play’s about our fight or flight instinct with relationships. My character’s nomadic and avoids intimacy. The guy’s thinking, “Maybe there’s potential here,” but she just runs away from it. James is funny. He’s obviously very attractive, a handsome guy, but he’s really goofy and you wouldn’t expect that. Or at least I didn’t.

You, your co-star and director are all working on a film together, too — about silent-screen star Mary Pickford.

It’s called “The First,” and deals with the way actors became celebrities back in the golden age of cinema. Lily Rabe plays Mary Pickford, I play a screenwriter, Frances Marion, and James is Charlie Chaplin.

You’re a writer yourself. You wrote and directed a short film and the Web series “Paloma.”

I really, really love getting behind a camera. Eventually I’d like to tackle a feature. I’ve been looking at screenplays others have written, and I’ve been trying to write one with a friend. At my heart, I’m a performer but the two pursuits complement each other.

Must be nice working in your hometown for the summer. You grew up in New York, didn’t you?

In SoHo.

Before it turned into a big Galleria mall.

Totally. It was industrial. Artists had taken over loft spaces. It was a new frontier.

My favorite street in New York was always Greene Street.

I grew up on Greene Street. Between Grand and Canal.

You’re kidding! I love the cobblestones, and it used to have a cool assortment of funky, eclectic shops.

I remember as a preteen, they dug up the asphalt to reveal the original cobblestones, and they replaced the ugly aluminum lampposts with ones that seem more old-fashioned.

So you’re a New Yorker. And a Mets fan.

I love baseball. As a teenager, I was a contrarian, and picked the underdog instead of just rooting for the Yankees. It’s a hard team to root for, but there’s something that always keeps me hopeful. I actually love listening to baseball. I really get into the announcers. It’s almost like Valium. It totally relaxes me. I like listening to the radio more than going to the games, although I love the old stadiums, like Fenway and Wrigley Field. They’re beautiful and simple — they sell hot dogs, pretzels, beer — that’s it.

I was reading your Twitter feed, and one of your posts begins, “People!”

[She immediately starts laughing, knowing the tweet in question.]

“The spitting in New York has got to stop!” I thought, this must come from the heart.

It really did. I was reluctant to join Twitter. My biggest concern was, I don’t want these thoughts that pop into my brain to be immediately broadcast. There’s a danger in that. And also — who cares? But that tweet was a moment when I was kind of laughing at the absurdity of New York and how crowded it is. And I think somebody had just spit right in front of me. I thought, “Aaaah, I’ll tweet about it.”

CUE & A with Julia Stiles

Film star Julia Stiles, who returns to the New York stage July 28 in Scott Organ’s Phoenix at the Cherry Lane Theatre, fills out Playbill.com’s questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.

Stiles has appeared onstage in Oleanna (Broadway), Twelfth Night (Shakespeare in the Park) and The Vagina Monologues.

Her extensive screen credits include “Ten Things I Hate About You,” “Mona Lisa Smile,” “Dexter,” “State and Main,” “Save the Last Dance,” “O,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Business of Strangers” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”

The Cherry Lane Theatre is located at 38 Commerce Street. Visit phoenixtheplay.com for more information.

Full given name: Julia O’Hara Stiles
Where you were born/where you were raised: New York
Zodiac Sign: Aries, Cancer rising
What your parents did/do for a living: They own a ceramics business. My mom makes the work, my dad sells it.
Siblings: Two, a younger brother and sister
Do you have any early mentors or people who inspired you to pursue the performing arts? My grandmother
Special skills: I’m pretty good at “name that tune”
Something you’re REALLY bad at: Going to bed early
First Broadway show you ever saw: A Doll’s House with Janet McTeer, woah!
If you could go back in time and catch any show, what would it be? Measure for Measure in the park with Meryl Streep
Current or recent show other than your own you have been recommending to friends: Cavewoman with Michael Cavadias (you have to search it, cuz it’s not on Broadway and it’s always a surprise)
Favorite musicals: All things Fosse, Guys and Dolls, Hair, Cabaret, Threepenny Opera, Rocky Horror
Some favorite modern plays: Laughing Wild (Christopher Durang) and Hysteria (Terry Johnson)
Some favorite modern playwrights: Scott Organ! Christopher Durang, Mamet, LaBute, Tracy Letts
Broadway or screen stars of the past you would have most loved to perform with: Philip Seymour Hoffman. We worked together on a movie, but live performance would have been special.
The one performance – attended – that you will never forget: Fiona Shaw in Medea
Music that makes you cry, any genre: Anything with passion. A strong drum beat makes me ecstatic, a thoughtful singer makes me cry.
Your personal acting idols: Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Tim Curry, Natalie Wood (“Splendor in the Grass!”), Catherine O’Hara, Diane Weist, Amy Adams
MAC or PC? PC, What? PC, Who?
Most played song on your iPod: “I Follow Rivers” by Lykki Li
Most-visited websites: Free Will Astrology, NPR music, Literary Jukebox, Chances with Wolves
Last book you read: “All That Is” by James Salter
Must-see TV show(s): “Veep”!
Last good movie you saw: “Obvious Child”
Some films you consider classics: “Cool Hand Luke,” “Clue,” “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Three Caballeros,” “Vacation,” “Splendor in The Grass”
Performer you would drop everything to go see: Andrew Bird
Pop culture guilty pleasure: “Dancing With The Stars”
Three favorite cities: (aside from New York)- London, Prague, Berlin
First CD/Tape/LP you owned: “She’s So Unusual” by Cyndi Lauper
First stage/screen kiss: “10 Things I Hate About You,” with Heath Ledger
Some favorite or most memorable roles as a child or teen: “Clue,” “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Adventures in Babysitting”
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living: As soon as I was old enough to know I had to earn a living.
Favorite pre-/post- show meal: Two Bridges or Joe Allen’s in London.
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups: Standing in the back row of the house, breathing and stretching on the stage. I like to sing, too, it calms me down.
Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap: Only in my nightmares
Worst costume ever: A wool army uniform for Twelfth Night. Only because it was summer in the park and about a thousand degrees.
Worst job you ever had: Babysitting, but because I had some weird allergic reaction to something in the house and when the parents came home my eyes were almost swollen shut.
Craziest audition story: Are they ever not crazy? It’s the most bizarre situation every time!
Some favorite screen or commercial roles: So many! I really marvel at the ability to make a living at playing dress up and perform. So many performers I know do something else to pay the bills. That said, I don’t really take time to look back and pat myself on the back. Should probably work on that. Or not.
What drew you to this project? The idea of two people in their thirties able to connect on deeply intellectual and primal levels, but with some carry-on baggage. The question of whether their Fight-or-Flight instincts will triumph. It’s not cynical, and yet not saccharine either.
What has been the biggest challenge so far? At this stage, just infusing the one-word sentences with meaning. I know it’s there, I know Scott Organ chose each word deliberately, but remembering why my character says “Yeah” versus “Okay” versus “Right” is a welcome challenge.
What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect of this show/character? Playing!!! Meaning, this is the first time in my career I feel like I am exploring and experimenting without feeling I have to get something right.
Most challenging role you have played onstage: Carol in Oleanna
Any upcoming or side projects you can talk about? Ask my agents.
Leading lady role you’ve been dying to play: Lady M
Leading man role you’ve been dying to play: I’ve joked with Jimmy that we should switch roles in Phoenix each night, but I don’t think the gender-bending works, generally. Men are men, ladies are ladies. That said, there are lots of fun roles for dudes. Most of the Mamet guys. And the Sam Shepard guys too.
Something about you that surprises people: I’m funny. But like funny ha ha, AND funny strange.
Career you would want if not a performer: Do teachers count as performers?
Three things you can’t live without: Music, Exercise, Water
“I’ll never understand why…” … God (or the Universe, evolution, whatever) made child birth painful. Population control?
Words of advice for aspiring performers: Focus on the story you want to tell, not the applause.

PHOENIX, Starring Julia Stiles and James Wirt, Offers $20 Tickets

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater are proud to announce that a limited number of $20 tickets will be available for Scott Organ’s dark romantic comedy Phoenix at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street).

“We passionately believe live theater should be accessible to audiences of all ages and incomes,” said producer Rian Patrick Durham, “We are offering these $20 tickets to ensure that Scott Organ’s powerful, romantic and humorous play reach as many people as possible.”

Directed by Jennifer DeLia, Phoenix stars Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominee Julia Stiles and James Wirt. Phoenix begins performances on Monday, July 28 and will play a limited engagement through Saturday, August 23.

Stiles, known for 10 Things I Hate About You, the Bourne series with Matt Damon, and David Mamet’s Oleanna on Broadway, will be joined by James Wirt, who also stars in DeLia’s directorial debut feature film Billy Bates, due out in theaters in November. Stiles and Wirt will co-star with Lily Rabe, Michael Pitt, Billy Magnussen and Louisa Krause in Julie Pacino and Jennifer DeLia’s upcoming film The First. A film adaptation of Phoenix, under the direction of Amy Redford is currently development.

When Bruce (James Wirt) and Sue (Julia Stiles) meet four weeks after an uncharacteristic one-night-stand, Sue has this to say to him: one, I had a great time with you that night and two, let’s never see each other again. Thus begins a 4,000 mile journey well beyond the confines of their carefully structured worlds. Bruce is fueled by an overwhelming but undefined compulsion to join her in Phoenix. Sue is reluctantly charmed by his persistence, but steadfast in her resolve to keep him at bay. Both are forced to consider a whole new world of possibility, though not one free of difficulty and loss. Phoenix is a one-act dark romantic comedy.

PHOENIX premiered at the 34th Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville on March 5, 2010, and received its Off-Broadway premiere produced by The Barrow Group Theatre Company on April 10, 2010.

Buy Tickets

Julia Stiles Interview for PHOENIX

The new production of Scott Organ’s play PHOENIX, starring Emmy Award and Golden Globe nominee Julia Stiles and James Wirt, begins performances at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) Monday, July 28. Presented by Nicholas Jabbour, PHOENIX will play a limited engagement through Saturday, August 23, and is produced by Poverty Row Entertainment, Rian Patrick Durham and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, by special arrangement with The Cherry Lane Theatre.

The company met the press earlier today and BroadwayWorld was there for the special event. Check out photo coverage below!

When Bruce (James Wirt) and Sue (Julia Stiles) meet four weeks after an uncharacteristic one-night-stand, Sue has this to say to him: one, I had a great time with you that night and two, let’s never see each other again. Thus begins a 4,000 mile journey well beyond the confines of their carefully structured worlds. Bruce is fueled by an overwhelming but undefined compulsion to join her in Phoenix. Sue is reluctantly charmed by his persistence, but steadfast in her resolve to keep him at bay. Both are forced to consider a whole new world of possibility, though not one free of difficulty and loss. PHOENIX is a one-act dark romantic comedy.

PHOENIX premiered at the 34th Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville on March 5, 2010, and received its Off-Broadway premiere produced by The Barrow Group Theatre Company on April 10, 2010.