You might be tempted to smile when you hear a bona fide 16-year-old movie star and screenwriter say, “I haven’t really had it that easy. I started in the trenches.”
But when you discover that, unlike many “child” actors, Julia Stiles had not a single friend or family member in The Industry, that her only acting training was in the form of a YMCA class, and that she got her big break at age 11 when she wrote a letter to a theater director asking if she could audition for him, you begin to appreciate what Julia means about the trenches.
“He was impressed with the letter,” Stiles says. “So he offered me a three-line part.”
It would hardly be a stretch to say that she has been impressing directors ever since. Already respected in Hollywood for her work in Devil’s Own (with Harrison Ford), Wide Awake (with Dennis Leary and Rosie O’Donnell), and I Love You Not (with Claire Danes and Jeanne Moreau), the tall, blonde Manhattan native turns in another winning performance in Michael Steinberg’s (The Waterdance, Bodies, Rest & Motion) new film, Wicked. Although Steinberg wasn’t casting in New York, the ambitious Stiles, who evidently has a way with words, again did her writing-to-the-director thing and won an audition and a role. This time the role was a pivotal one, the material more daring. She plays a troubled teenager who becomes a domineering seductress following her mother’s untimely death.
“It’s a fantastic character,” Stiles says breathlessly. “I want to do more parts like that. I constantly want to shock people. I’d much rather do a risky, groundbreaking movie than one that’s ambivalent. The key is to first shock people, then make them like it.” Did we mention that Julia Stiles is 16 years old?
Lest her story is not remarkable enough, Stiles is also a screenwriter who recently had her first screenplay, “The Anarchist’s Daughter,” developed at the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. There she discussed her work with the likes of Chris McQuarrie and got some constructive criticism. “People say you can’t have anything to write about at my age. I do have life experience. When people underestimate my experience, I get mad.” While she enjoys writing, however, she maintains, “Acting is the glory of my life.”
Stiles is the oldest of three children; she has seven and five-year-old sisters. (“I got to be an only child until I needed a decoy,” she says with a grin.) Her childhood was (is) wonderful, and her parents are extremely supportive. She watches “The Honeymooners” with them and digs their hippie music.
If Julia Stiles is any indication, Gen X stops here. MM