Romcom queen Julia Stiles reflects on the ’90s: “I wish I’d been more careful about some of the things I said”

The 'Hustlers' actress reflects on 20 years in the spotlight

The ’90s were a hell of a time – rave culture hit its stride, Britpop made kings out of lads in bands and everyone was basically off their face the whole time. That’s what some people tell you, anyway. Julia Stiles, however, gives a different account.

For her, the decade was spent working, mostly on film sets in schools, chatting to very handsome men. The queen of ’90s teen romcoms, Stiles rocketed to stardom after appearing as Kat in the massive hit 10 Things I Hate About You. A run of similar roles followed her on-screen stint with Heath Ledger – who died of an accidental drug overdose in 2008 – before she took a break from acting and went back to college. Ever since, she’s been more selective with the work she picks up from Hollywood – taking on more challenging and artistically fulfilling roles, like 2019’s Hustlers.

Inspired by a famous magazine article, Hustlers follows a crew of savvy strippers who team up to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. We caught up with Stiles to chat J-Lo’s iconic pole dance scene, remember Heath Ledger and see if there’s anything she’d change about her early career.

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You play a journalist in Hustlers – how did it feel to be on the other side of the fence?

“It was great. I think I’m pretty inquisitive myself, so it was nice to be asking the questions instead of fielding them. I found it, actually, really challenging in terms of performance to not make the other person uncomfortable with my reactions.”

Martin Scorsese was approached to direct – did you know that?

“I didn’t until a couple of days ago when one of our producers mentioned it. I know it took a while for the movie to get green-lit and oddly I think that was a positive thing. Ultimately, this was the perfect timing for this film [to come out] but I know it was frustrating for Lorene [Scafaria] and the producers.”

Would Scorsese have been the right choice, given that women don’t often get big speaking parts in his films?

“Well, that’s probably one of the reasons he decided not to do it. It would have been a completely different movie. It probably would have been an interesting movie because it’s an interesting story at its core but it would have been totally different.”

What did you make of Jennifer Lopez’s iconic pole dance scene in Hustlers?

“It’s extraordinary – and it’s all her too. It’s not doubled and it doesn’t feel gratuitous either. The scene fits perfectly in the film. It feels like it served the purpose of introducing this character that we were all supposed to be seduced by and to see her really be the best one in the club and take ownership of the room. I think it was perfect.”

10 Things I Hate About You turned 20 last year – how do you look back on the time you spent filming it?

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“For me, it was such a special moment because it was my big break. I remember, vividly, the scene where I read the poem because it was towards the end of filming. It was such a genuine, unexpected feeling when I break down crying and that was emblematic of how I felt during the whole experience. We were all really present and it was just so uninhibited. None of the actors felt jaded or shut down [on the set]. We were all having a great time.”

Would you do a reunion sequel?

“What would a reunion sequel involve? I don’t even understand how that would work. It might be interesting to see. I would hope that Kat would be a lot happier outside of high school. I would watch it, for sure! I have no problem at all [with it being made]. My question would be ‘why?’ but I think it would be fun to see how it turns out.”

 

Heath Ledger would be 40 now – do you ever think about him?

“Yeah, I do think about him. It’s really tragic and sad that he’s not still around and I think he would be doing some amazing work right now. I mean there’s no saying what he would be stunning us with, so that’s unfortunate. My heart really goes out to Michelle Williams and his daughter.”

How did 10 Things I Hate About You affect your career?

“If there’s one consistent thing [that came from 10 Things I Hate About You], it’s that I have since generally been given roles where the character has a lot of strength. I think that started with Kat. Immediately afterward, there were a lot of romantic comedies, teen comedies. But then as I got a little bit older and that trend shifted, it all started to change for me as well.”

Julia Stiles
Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in ’10 Things I Hate About You’. Credit: Alamy

 

Is that why you went back to college, to get away from the romcoms?

“I guess I ended up taking a break just as my career was taking off. It was good to slow things down a bit in my 20s. In university, and when I finished, I wasn’t as clear about what I wanted to do. I just took roles because I thought it was interesting to have that life experience. ‘Oh, I’ll go to this part of the world or I’ll work with these people or this is kind of an interesting story’. Whereas now, I’m a little more thoughtful about what I work on in terms of my career and the bigger picture.”

Is there anything you would have done differently?

“I mean, I think I would have dressed better or not gone out of the house without makeup on! I also think nobody should be quoted in print before the age of 30. I wish I’d been more careful about some of the things I said. I just didn’t have any experience. I learned through trial and error what it means to be quoted. I wouldn’t have said things for effect and for popularity over things that I actually thought.”

Julia Stiles
Julia Stiles and Jennifer Lopez in ‘Hustlers’. Credit: STX

Like what?

“The media has changed since I was in my 20s. We were asked a lot of dumb questions and I gave dumb responses – about my diet and exercise regime or ‘who’s your favourite co-star to kiss?’ Lots of fluffy things and I would want to appeal to that. It all felt very far away from who I was. It usually ended up biting me in the ass because it would sound stupid or offensive.”

Did you ever make something up in an interview?

“Oh yeah, all the time! A silly example is, I was asked by Cosmopolitan: ‘who is your ideal man?’ or ‘what do you find most attractive?’ I just said ‘tall dark or handsome’, but when it’s put in a big pull quote it sticks out and sounds silly. Then you have to deal with every subsequent boyfriend going, ‘what do you mean – tall, dark and handsome!?’”

‘Hustlers’ is available to Download and Keep now – and out on Blu-ray and DVD on January 20

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