Friday, November 18, 2011

Julia Stiles

Born in New York City, Julia Stiles had a love of theater from an early age, particularly the works of Shakespeare. After appearing in a few films, Stiles landed her big break starring opposite Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things was a hit, and became a teen classic. Stiles went on to star in Hamlet, and Save the Last Dance, and earned a reputation as a serious young actress.

Julia O'Hara Stiles was born March 28, 1981 in New York City. Her mother, Judith Stiles, was an artist who owned a ceramics shop in Greenwich Village and her father, John Stiles, was a second-grade teacher who also helped sell Judith's artwork. Julia Stiles grew up in a loft apartment in New York City's SoHo neighborhood that served as both the family home and her mother's art studio. When Stiles was growing up, SoHo was still largely an abandoned industrial wasteland. Stiles recalls sidewalks strewn with drug paraphernalia and disembodied doll limbs from a nearby toy factory. "They had broken eyeballs and missing limbs," Stiles remembers. "My mom was like, 'Don't touch them! They're dirty!'"

Stiles was an intelligent and outspoken child. She describes her parents as liberal 1960s radicals, and from almost the time she could talk she joined in their political arguments at the dinner table. She began working at her mother's ceramics shop at the age of six, working behind the register and chatting with the customers. Stiles also developed a love of theater at a very young age. Her parents frequently took her to the theater and Stiles became so infatuated with Shakespeare's plays in particular that she kept a bust of the bard in her bedroom. She took modern dance lessons and taught herself how to act by watching the TV series The Honeymooners and acting out different parts along with the show.

As a child, Stiles also loved to write, and whenever she wanted something from her parents, she stated her case in handwritten letters. At the age of 11, she wrote a letter to New York City mayor Ed Koch suggesting he place more trash bins along the streets. Another letter landed Stiles her first role in the theater. At 11, she wrote to the director of La Mama Theater, an artsy New York City stage, and within months she was acting in its avant-garde productions.

After a few years of acting exclusively in the theater, Stiles made her film debut in the 1996 movie I Love You, I Love You Not. Stiles then landed her breakthrough film role by again penning a letter, this time to director Michael Steinberg, who agreed to cast her in his 1998 dark comedy Wicked, a role that placed Stiles on the radar of casting agents and film critics. In 1999, Stiles earned a leading role opposite Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew set in a modern high school. 10 Things I Hate About You proved an enormous success, quickly becoming something of a modern teen classic and earning Stiles an MTV Movie Award and Teen Choice Award as well as a legion of adoring young fans.

The next year, Stiles starred in another modern day Shakespearean adaptation, playing Ophelia alongside Ethan Hawke in Hamlet (2000). Having established herself as the go-to actress for modern takes on Shakespeare's strong-willed female characters, Stiles was the obvious choice to play Desi, an updated Desdemona, in the 2001 film O, a modern spin on Othello. That same year, Stiles turned in her most memorable performance to date in Save the Last Dance. She played a white Midwestern girl and aspiring ballet dancer who transfers to an inner city high school and falls in love with a black student, played by Sean Patrick Thomas, who helps her train by teaching her hip-hop dance. Stiles again won both an MTV Movie Award and Teen Choice Award for her performance.

However, Stiles was not wholly satisfied by her life as an actress, and in the fall of 2000 she enrolled at Columbia University to study English literature. Stiles says that at first it was difficult to be a celebrity actress on a college campus. "In the beginning it was a little hard," she said, "because... I wasn't even really fully aware of what people were saying. But I would get people coming to my door and knocking on it in the middle of the night. But it pretty much died down." Stiles took frequent time off from school to pursue her film career. She acted opposite Matt Damon in the hugely popular trilogy of films, The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Nevertheless, she still managed to graduate from Columbia in 2005.

Julia Stiles remains unmarried and does not have any children. She has previously dated actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and artist Jonathan Cramer. Stiles is active in political and social causes; she volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and Amnesty International and has authored essays on feminism for the British newspaper The Guardian.

Since graduating from college, Stiles made a transition from the teenage flicks that marked her early career into more mature, substantive roles. She is currently starring in the Showtime drama Dexter and will next appear in Bell Jar, a film based on the novel by Sylvia Plath. However, Stiles says that she does not intend to obsess about her future but instead prefers to live in the moment while letting life take her where it many. "I think women get caught up too much in having a plan—I'm going to get married at this age; I'm going to have a kid at this age—and then they just try to find a guy who will fit into that picture," she says. "I don't want my life to be based on that. I would rather it all evolve organically."

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