Looking over Julia Stiles’ IMDB page is a reminder she’s more than just the woman we know and love from “10 Things I Hate About You.” Yeah, that movie was my everything during high school and college. But she’s had a looooong career doing different movies and TV. Whether you fell for her in “Dexter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” or “Save The Last Dance,” you have to agree Julia is a solid actress.
In her latest dark comedy, “It’s A Disaster,” Julia stars as Tracy, a woman who goes on her third date with Glen (played by David Cross) to brunch with all her coupled friends. More specifically, friends who are couples who are fighting. If that’s not an awkward enough premise for newcomer Glen, very quickly into the film there comes news that a national disaster is afoot. The phone lines go out, the windowframes all get taped up, and it’s time to start heavily drinking and/or air old grievances. It is a disaster in more ways than one … but it’s very funny.
I talked with Julia about the end of the world and the hazards of brunch and along the way learned she has a secret love of Spanish language television, including the Spanish version of “Judge Judy.” Who knew?!
Our Q&A, after the jump!
The Frisky: So what drew you to “It’s A Disaster”?
Julia Stiles: I knew the guys involved, Todd Berger, the director. And the rest of the guys in the movie had this comedy group together called The Vacationeers and I knew their comedy work in L.A. I was doing a play there and I met them through friends who were hanging out and we ended up making a bunch of shorts together. So he sent me the script and I thought the script was hilarious and I just liked his sensibility, and thought it was really cool. I really like how they’re very driven and are good at getting shit done. A lot of times you can attach yourself to a movie and it never goes anywhere. Pretty quickly, America Ferrera signed on for a core part and then we got David Cross involved and we were ready to go.
It feels like there have been a lot of movies recently that have dealt the end of the world as a theme. Do you think that has to do with all this stuff about the Mayan Calendar or more coincidental?
Well, no. I mean I can think of examples of “end of the world movies” that were like giant blockbuster movies, you know or like action movies, where there are lots of explosions. This is just sort of — even though it is largely about the end of the world, it’s not about those circumstances. It’s about these people within a house and their reaction or non-reaction to it. It’s more about their relationships than it is some big concept of the world ending.
So the premise of the film is that your character brought her date, who is played by David Cross, to brunch with all her friends as their third date.
I know, bad idea! I wouldn’t have done that.
So what do you and your friends do for brunch?
I kind of hate brunch, honestly.
Yes. I don’t mean to be, like, Debby Downer or a stick in the mud. But, yeah, I’m not a huge fan of brunch.
It just never … I don’t know … I’m a much bigger fan of a nice dinner. Sunday morning I usually like to be out doing something. Also … no! This is why I hate brunch. You always have to wait in line. Always! And it’s always hectic and they always try to rush you out of there.
But you’re a celebrity. Don’t they give you special treatment?
Nope, certainly not in New York for Sunday brunch. To me it’s like Friday and Saturday nights in the East Village are amateur hour. And brunch in the East Village or Brooklyn? I’d rather put a gun to my head.
So you’ve been able to successfully transition from a teen actress to an adult actress. How do you think you were able to do that?
Oh! Uh, thank you. Persistence for one thing. I also think … I wish I had an answer. A lot of times I’d like to think I have more control over my life than I probably actually do. I think, I mean there have definitely been periods of time where time will go by and I think I’ll never work again. It’s funny because right around “It’s A Disaster” I realized I had cultivated relationships with friends of mine or stayed friends with people I had worked with, where I started to feel a sense of community where I can work with people repeatedly, instead of bouncing around from one audition to the next saying, “Please hire me!” And part of it is just time. I just figured enough time would go by and I wouldn’t play a teenager anymore and find something else to do. I wish I had a better answer. I guess it was a combination of persistence and luck.
Well, I guess my question was more, like, you became famous as a teen star for “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Save The Last Dance” and a lot of teen actresses don’t necessarily transition into working as actresses in adult female roles. I’m wondering how you did that.
I’m not alone in this. I think it’s about creating your own work and not just waiting for someone to hire you. Working on “It’s A Disaster,” I didn’t create it but I created that relationship or work experience with Todd Berger. And, like, I went out and directed a short film, or I would be writing a lot. I am not the only person to do this. There’s certainly been like a surge in that like late 20s, late 30s, female-driven story. “Girls” is an example. Rashida Jones directed her own movie. You kind of have to create your own opportunities. Or create your own projects if you have time and drive. But it’s also not something I think about strategically to advance my career. It’s more about it’s just in me. I have to be creative. So for whatever reason, I have a slow couple months, then I have to to be making something.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I don’t really know what that word means anymore. Umm, because it’s very loaded. So tell me what you think?
I define feminism as the general belief that men and women deserve equal opportunities and that one’s gender or sexuality shouldn’t dictate what you’re able to do.
I do think that men and women should have equal opportunities for sure. And opportunity is the key word there. How old are you?
I just turned 29.
Oh, 29. We’re close in age, though. I feel like we grew up in a generation where our mothers and the women before us beat down so many doors for us that, you know, it’s easy for us to forget how lucky we are as women to have as many opportunities as we have. And yet there’s so much more to be done. But then there are fundamental differences between women that you can never change.
I just ask because I always ask any actress that I’m interviewing if she considers herself a feminist. It’s interesting to me.
I start to wax political and I hate that.
No, it’s interesting! I’d rather talk about this than, like, lip gloss.
You asked me about feminism, and the reason I’m wary of that word is not because I’m not proud to be a woman, or don’t believe that I think women should have equal opportunities. It’s because, and I will quote “Ferris Buller’s Day Off,” “—isms in my opinion are a bad thing.” “Isms” sound so militaristic to me. Or “-ists” I just don’t like. Because sometimes the implication is — sometimes people have this idea that feminists for whatever reason want to put men down. I don’t. I love men.
Yeah, that’s fair enough. I understand what you mean. So, of all the roles that you’ve played, which one is your favorite?
I want a do-over on so many of things that I’ve done.
Really? Like what?
Like “Hamlet,” for instance. I love that movie [a 2000 modern-day adaption set in New York City] and I am so proud that I was a part of it, but you never get Ophelia right. Like I want to do that over again. Honestly, I don’t know. I never think backwards. I’m always like, what could I do better next time? … I don’t know. I’m really self critical.
I hope you don’t feel this way about “10 Things I Hate About You.”
Well, “10 Things” was special because that was before any of us got self-conscious or self-aware, you know? It was very free-spirited and uninhibited.
Did you feel like at the time people associated you with your “10 Things” character, Kat, who’s really opinionated and abrasive?
Oh yeah. But I mean, that’s natural. Because I kind of was like that … I wasn’t as uptight sexually, I think. I mean, I didn’t have as much of a chip on my shoulder as think Kat does, but there was certainly a reason I gravitated towards that part.
I’m embarrassed to ask this, but my co-workers wanted me to ask this question: Who was the best onscreen kiss? [Hey! Way to throw us under the bus! -- Amelia]
There have been a lot of good ones. I mean, I would say any of the co-stars before a certain year, because after a certain amount of kissing people on screen you start to feel like this isn’t really real.
What would be the year?
Maybe up until three years ago it was all romantic and lovely and a few years ago, all of a sudden I was like, “Oh this is very much a pretend game.” You both know what you’re there to do, [rather] than getting wrapped up in it, I guess. I mean, there have been a lot of good ones. I can’t complain. I’ll say Heath Ledger, how about that?
Not Mekhi Phifer?! Was he the one in “O”! Oh, he’s so hot!
I’ve gotten to kiss a lot of very attractive men in front of a large group of people.
Oh, it’s insanely awkward! It’s insanely awkward, that’s why you were sort of embarrassed to ask that questions. It’s so different —kissing scene, sex scene, whatever — in front of a camera crew. There’s no way for it to be not awkward.
Do you watch “Girls”? How do you feel about what Lena Dunham has been doing with all the nudity on “Girls”?
There’s a lot of it. I say go ahead, girl! I read somewhere that she wrote that episode with Patrick Wilson just because she wanted to make out with Patrick Wilson. I’m like, good for you! I watched “Tiny Furniture” recently and that scene in the pipe, the sex scene in the pipe was so disturbingly honest. I like it the way Lena Dunham does it when it feels like it serves a purpose and is authentic and not like when the network just wants to have more people naked. It’s well-crafted.
And she doesn’t do it to be sexy, she does it to expand what sexy is.
And also it’s part of telling some story, what ever story is being told in that episode…
Other than “Girls,” what other shows do you watch?
You know, I just got cable again. I had canceled my cable for a while, because I was traveling a lot. But also I was determined to [not watch TV]: I’ll go home and read a book, or I’ll go home and do something different with my time. And obviously, I regretted that. Um, I don’t have a show that I’m super hooked on. I watch DVDs. But I like “Girls.” I like “Enlightened.” I like some really stupid shows. Like, I watch Spanish soap operas sometimes, like novellas.
Si, habla espanol. I watch “Casa Cerrado,” which is like Spanish “Judge Judy.” I’m also just too restless. I honestly can’t sit still to watch TV long enough.
What happens on Spanish “Judge Judy”?
Oh she’s amazing. Doctora Anamaria Polo. It’s like “People’s Court” almost. Couples come with with grievances. She’ll go over their case and then they’ll have to plead their case super emotionally to her. But she’s like very even-keeled and she’ll shut them up. She always gives like some words of wisdom and life advice at the end of it. At the end of every segment she bangs her gavel and says, “I’ve said it. Case closed!” It’s so final. It’s lovely.
Do you speak fluent Spanish or do you put on captions?
I do speak Spanish. And when I can’t practice, I make excuses like watching the Spanish channel as practice. I learned it in school, and then I thought it was just such a beautiful language. And I love traveling to to Latin America. And that sort of kept up the practices. I’m about to go to Colombia to shoot a movie, which means I really get to keep up my practice.
When you’re out of town what do you like to bring with you to remind you of home?
I really like to travel light. I’m determined to keep like one suitcase if I can. I have a necklace that I like to wear that is very special to me — very grounding. And I have a blankie. I still sleep with a security blanket that I bring with me. If I’m in a hotel I put it in the drawer so it doesn’t accidentally go away with the laundry. It’s in tatters. It’s amazing that it’s survived.
“It’s A Disaster” is airing on Video On Demand and at the following theaters nationwide.