Julia Stiles: “I was obnoxiously precocious – pants a little too smart”

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WWhen male characters run around with a gun, it’s cool, ”says Julia Stiles. “But with women, there are all kinds of implications.”

The 39 year old man does not do a small amount of running with a gun in Riviera, the brilliant melodrama that takes place on the French Riviera, in which she has been playing since 2017. The actor, who caused a sensation as a shrill teenager 10 things I hate about you (1999), plays Georgina Clios, an art curator whose life implodes along with her billionaire husband (he exploded while making questionable transactions on a superyacht).

At first, Georgina is the moral linchpin of her in-laws, but she ends up stealing off her axle; the first season ends with murder, the second with arson. I’m only allowed to see the first two episodes of the upcoming third season, which sees Georgina revert to her maiden name and accept a job in art rendering, but it’s not long before some hits are in. drawn.

“Georgina is a reckless woman who does not run away from danger,” Stiles said, on a video call from Vancouver, where she was in quarantine with her husband, camera assistant Preston Cook, and their son Strummer, aged two-year-old (named after the late The Clash lead singer Joe Strummer).

It was Stiles’ idea that Georgina’s most violent act was premeditated “and not an act of self-defense or even just erratic rage” – she didn’t want Georgina to be the good girl. Why not? “Well, because it’s boring,” Stiles said with a shrug. “I don’t want to watch a show where people make the right decisions all the time. I became an actress because I wanted to be able to do things on screen that I neither have the courage nor the means to do in real life. And so playing a good girl is just boring. Playing someone who makes the wrong decisions is just more convincing to me.

This Riviera – a show full of ham and histrionics, sex and porn scenery – just the bright side of the ridiculous is thanks in large part to Stiles. Since the start of her career, she has had control of herself, a timeless alto voice and a knowing look that sometimes gives way to something “almost wild”, like her co-star in Foreigners Affairs (2001), Stockard Channing, once said it.

Stiles and Rupert Graves in the “Riviera” of Sky Atlantic(Sky)

Stiles is an equally powerful presence on Zoom – although she’s more nervous than I expected. Dressed in a gray t-shirt, she has a habit of gathering her wavy brown hair with both hands and letting it fall behind her back. When I ask her if she has managed to avoid pandemic anxiety, she doesn’t hesitate. ” No. It was crazy. I feel like the anxiety level is still bubbling below the surface and you are doing all you can to reduce it. It has been a huge emotional roller coaster over the past six months. That was it, finding moments of joy to bursting into tears for no reason. She’s happy to be here, however. “I’m looking forward to the interviews now,” she said, “because you can talk to someone.”

She is even happy to chat 10 things I hate about you. I wondered if she could be fed up with it. After all, she did a lot of wonderful work in the two decades since this movie – Save the last dance (2001), the films of Jason Bourne, Silver Linings Playbook (2012), Hustlers (2019) – but no character has stuck in the hearts and minds of a generation of young women like Kat Stratford. A Shakespeare heroine turned into a loner in high school in the 90s, she was brooding and virtuous, enviably oblivious to the concept of cool. “I guess in this society,” she said in English class, “being a man and a ****** makes you worthy of our time. The plot was based on The Tamed Shrew. In the end, she’s softened a bit by bad-boy transfer student Patrick, played by the late great Heath Ledger. “It’s not that he made her submit,” Stiles says now, “it’s that he made her relax and open up a little more. “

She was immediately taken away with Kat. “When I was 17 I had a lot of teenage angst and I was always told to be more bubbly or more effervescent, to lighten up and stop being so serious,” Stiles says, who grew up in a loft in New York’s Soho neighborhood. and at the age of six, he wrote a letter to the mayor of the city urging him to put in place a new system of waste disposal. “I was trying to forge an identity,” she continues. She started playing before her teenage years. “At 17, you are largely influenced by what people encourage and what they discourage. So i read 10 things I hate about you, and absolutely fell in love with this character. I thought, “Finally, a teenage girl talking to me”. It’s just a statement that it’s good to be intellectual, it’s good to be a little serious, especially at this age. There again, she adds, laughing: “I look back and I see more humor. It’s funny that Kat is so anguished, serious and confrontational. My old self is like, ‘OK, lighten up a bit,’ ironically. ”

Stiles and Heath Ledger in “10 Things I Hate About You”(Touchstone / Kobal / Shutterstock)

Two years after this film, Stiles again reached the top of the box office with Save the last dance, a teenage romance about an aspiring ballerina who moves to a predominantly black school in Chicago and falls in love with a hip-hop dancer (Sean Patrick Harris). The film was a smash hit, earning over £ 100million and opening just about any door a young movie star could hope for. Stiles went to college instead. She didn’t completely give up on Hollywood, but turned Bourne identity (2002) had to adapt to the exams, and the journalist who did Rolling stone The cover interview was to follow her around campus while she bought philosophy books.

“I was running away from fame, to be honest,” she says of that time. “I wanted to be in the island bubble of college. It was totally oblivious, but I wanted to be able to make all the trial and error mistakes you make growing up and finding your voice in a more insular environment than just in the public eye. There was another reason too. She wanted to be able to rub shoulders with the people in power. “I thought, ‘When I’m an adult, when I’m sitting with producers and studio directors, I want to be able to have that experience, just to be taken seriously.’”

It worked. Maybe too well. “I think of myself back then and I think I was probably extremely precocious, like pants a little too smart,” she says. “When people reread my old quotes, I think most of them are commendable. I like to joke that no one under the age of 27 should be quoted in the print media. The control now in terms of separating any statement is a lot more treacherous these days, so I’m glad I had to play this before the clickbait and cancel the crop and social media. “

Stiles and Aaron Eckhart in the 2005 West End production of ‘Oleanna’(Alastair Muir / REX)

While still in college, Stiles played a student on the London stage, in David Mamet’s controversial play Oleanna. She took on the role of Carol, whose teacher subtly abuses his power and privileges over her, and whom she ultimately falsely accuses of rape. A review at the time described it as an attack on “the crazy excesses of political correctness” and asserted that “it is undeniable that the balance of sympathy belongs to the professor”. Another reviewer wrote that this was confirmation of Mamet’s “misogynistic agenda”.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the piece “stuck with me,” Stiles says. “I really like David Mamet’s writing, but I never felt like I had Oleanna right. Every night, by the time you get to act three and she says, “You tried to rape me according to the law,” I braced myself for the audible reaction from the audience. You heard everything from people moaning to insults. It was scary. I would hate for anyone to leave the theater and think Carol is a representation of women in general, that women are lying or stretching the truth when they make an accusation like that.

It was an eye-opening experience. “You realize how politicized a play like this is,” Stiles says. “Men and women come in, and they’re not just looking at two individual characters on stage, they’re looking at what they think is a representation of all men and women, which is a tricky thing, and that’s in sort of a dangerous thing when you’re the actor playing that role.

She says she is “dying” to make her own version of Oleanna. “It was extremely controversial and provocative and I think it would be even more so now, but my goal would be to not let the public check it out and just dismiss this woman as evil. We should be light-hearted, because it’s a lot of “he says”, which makes the headlines. “

For now, however, she is set to shoot a movie called Esther – a prequel to the psychological horror of 2009 Orphan. “I was prepared not to work the rest of the year because I thought the pandemic was going to end our entire industry and mentally I was ready for it,” she says. “Then I got this script.”

In a way, a pandemic seems like the perfect time to shoot a horror movie. “Even for me, as an actress who’s very much in touch with her emotions,” Stiles laughs, “if they were buried in the basement, they’re now on the roof.

Riviera returns to Sky Atlantic Thursday at 9 p.m.

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