Julia Stiles Is the Bourne Movies' Boldest, Coolest Star

In which a forever-cool teen idol, and star of the latest "Bourne" film, turns out to be a pretty low-key badass adult, too.

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Walking down Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn's most aggressively hip thoroughfare, you'd be hard-pressed to find a girl who hasn't, to some degree, been influenced by Julia Stiles. I can say this confidently, as a longtime resident of the neighborhood who, at 13 years old, cribbed my first set of ideas about How to Be Awesome from Stiles's portrayal of Kat Stratford, the too-punk-for-prom high-school senior whose steely heart is eventually infiltrated by the hunky loner Patrick (Heath Ledger) in 10 Things I Hate About You.

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The rest is teen movie history: an unforgettable marching-band rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and an equally unforgettable moment of so-bad-it's-good teenage poetry. If, growing up in the early 2000s, life felt painfully suburban to you, Kat Stratford was your girl. And then maybe, years later, if those Kat-like feelings never left, you moved to Brooklyn or someplace like it.

Despite the success of 10 Things I Hate About You, paintball dates remain highly underrated. Photograph courtesy of AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo

This is also maybe why it isn't incredibly easy to spot Stiles in the strip's token indie bookstore, Spoonbill & Sugartown. She doesn't immediately stand out as one of those Hollywood types who glows, impossibly, in a room full of normals. Quite the opposite: sifting through books on a table in the back of the shop, Stiles, who is dressed casually post-yoga and naturally pretty while wearing no perceptible makeup, looks right at home.

Matt Damon and Stiles in The Bourne Supremacy (2004). Photograph courtesy of Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo
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This quiet presence is incongruous with the fact that she is actually the female lead of one of the summer's most hotly anticipated Hollywood blockbusters—Jason Bourne, the fifth installment of the $1.2-billion grossing series which she has been a part of since the first film, The Bourne Identity, was released 14 years ago. But, as I learn during an hour-long walk around the neighborhood, during which we pop into (and quickly escape) a Mexican restaurant blasting thumping house music, buy drinks at a specialty food market, and hang out on a bench in a nearby park, Julia Stiles's version of the "Hollywood lifestyle" is one she's created herself, completely on her own terms.

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Waiting for a table at a sceney Mexican restaurant...

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So you have a huge movie coming out and have been a part of beloved movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance, but along the way you've always taken on these interesting smaller projects, like acting in music videos for indie bands or performing with the avant-garde performance group Citizens Band. How do you know when a creative project is right for you?

With the music videos, usually it's because I know someone who's in the band or we have a mutual friend with a good idea for the video. I love music, and because I'm not a musician myself, [acting in a video] is the closest I can get to it. I guess I'm kind of a groupie, I don't know [laughs]. With the Citizens Band, [member] Rain Phoenix is a musician and actress who I worked with a thousand years ago; we've stayed friendly and she told me about the opportunity. I really enjoyed it—they got me to sing! But yeah, I feel like a lot of [the projects] come through people I know in New York.

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You split your time between Vancouver and New York and wherever you're shooting. L.A. is conspicuously missing from the equation. Do you ever go?

Oh… no. I was there last month. There are things that I like about L.A., but I don't care to live there. There was one time a few years ago when New York was kind of wearing on me. It was probably February, and the weather was really cold, and I thought I wanted to move to L.A. because a lot of my friends were moving out of New York. But I never did. And when I was starting out in my career, it was kind of special to be in New York.

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And you're here now shooting a movie upstate?

It's called Trouble. Theresa Rebeck [creator of the TV show Smash] wrote it and is directing it. It's a really simple story, very funny, about a brother and a sister who are fighting over property rights. But in an extreme way. Like, Anjelica Huston wakes up, and her brother [Bill Pullman] is bulldozing her backyard.

The wait, and the vibes, at the Mexican restaurant are too much. We bail and head to a food market for fresh juice, where a bag of apple cider doughnuts catches Stiles's eye.

I have a scene next week where I'm supposed to be eating a doughnut, and that's the thing that I love about this script: there is this weird, quirky, slice-of-life stuff, that you don't really understand why it's important or interesting, but it is. I feel like I want to bring these doughnuts in for the scene. I'm really excited for the excuse to do that.

"[Joining the "Bourne" series] was kind of a leap of faith, but at the same time, now it sort of seems obvious, right?"

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So what's the main difference between working on smaller projects like that one and something as massive as Bourne? Whether it's the experience of shooting or the legacy of the film.

It's really special that something like 10 Things I Hate About You has had a life as long as it's had. People will say to me on the street that they still enjoy it and it resonates with them. That's rare and I'm happy about that. Bourne is amazing to me because, first of all, I just feel really lucky to be a part of that franchise, because I think it's really cool, but it kind of blows my mind that it's been the span of my adult life. Like, we started the first one when I was 19. I had no idea when we first did The Bourne Identity that there were going to be sequels, and I certainly didn't know that I was going to be in them. In an early version of the first one, my character died. Then they re-shot it, so she survived.

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Whoa, that's amazing. When you first got the script for it, was it an easy "yes" or did you have doubts about it?

For the very first one, they didn't give me a script. They gave me pages for my scene. I really like Doug Liman's work, and he created it and directed the first one. I loved acting in it. I knew a little bit about the books going into it, so I could tell that there was potential for it to be a really interesting action movie. Then again, I was 19—I wasn't that savvy yet. So it was kind of a leap of faith, but at the same time, now it sort of seems obvious, right?

We leave the market with fresh juice, but, sadly, no doughnuts, and walk north toward McCarren Park, where we can take full advantage of the nice weather.

How has the experience of shooting the Bourne movies changed as the franchise has become more successful?

I think we've all become more accustomed to [current director] Paul Greengrass's style. He comes from a documentary film background, and he and his editor, Chris Rouse, who also co-wrote this latest version, work really closely together, so Chris will be editing while we're in production, and Paul will have a basic outline of the story, and a full script, but he is constantly rewriting.

"I got very sentimental [about shooting the new 'Bourne' movie]. It just makes you think about time and growing up and all that."

Everyone is now used to his style of shooting a scene probably three or four times. It's like rehearsing on camera or something. He's constantly tweaking it throughout production, and with a big-budget action movie, and these exotic locations, sometimes it's really hard to pull that off in terms of logistics. But now I think there's a system where that's expected, and it's easier to accomplish.

And is there a reunion type of energy like, "Yeah! We're all back together doing this thing that we know is probably going to be really good!"

There's lots of nostalgia, in a sense. I got very sentimental about shooting with Paul and Matt again. Seeing the same people eight years later, you know, between Ultimatum and now—everyone's got a few more kids, gray hairs, and it just makes you think about time and growing up and all that. Especially for me, because, again, 19 to 35—that's my whole adult life.

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I read something that you said—that you felt roles are getting more interesting as you get older, which was sort of surprising to me, in terms of what I normally hear people say about what it's like to be a woman in Hollywood. Is it that there are fewer roles, but they're more interesting?

I don't know if there are fewer roles, but I definitely think that if you've had a career [for a while], it's inevitable that you'll have busy times when you're really in demand, and then times that can be kind of slow. Maybe there are fewer roles and fewer opportunities, but I do think the ones that are there are getting more interesting.

Alicia Vikander, Matt Damon, and Stiles attend the European Premiere of Jason Bourne at Odeon Leicester Square on July 11, 2016 in London. Photograph courtesy of Fred Duval/FilmMagic

Right, rather than being young and having to play someone's beautiful love interest.

Yeah, I will say, I've seen a handful of really interesting, dynamic roles for women who are in their 20s, more than, I think, when I was in my 20s, because then the trend was comic book movies.

"I was reluctant to date an actor, but unless you're dating people online, you meet people through common interests, right?"

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Yeah, but I also can't think of an equivalent now to the stylishness and pervasiveness of films like 10 Things and Save the Last Dance.

I couldn't think of one, either, actually. My sister's in her 20s, and I feel bad for her group of friends, because on the one hand you have influences like Lena Dunham, but in terms of movies, no, there's not. I don't want to speak ill of anyone in particular, but like, the actresses in their 20s, they're mostly, like, very perfect. There are no inner things, no quirks, or things that make them unique. That's got to be hard if you're looking for somebody to look up to.

We find an empty bench facing a baseball field and take a seat.

So, your fiancé is a camera person. Did you meet at work?

We did. It was an indie movie called Blackway. It's a thriller that was shot in the mountains, about five hours north of Vancouver.

Stiles, in 1997, wearing an outfit that we totally endorse wearing right this second. Photograph courtesy of Russell Einhorn/Getty Images

Since you're not into the full-on Hollywood thing, were you initially open to dating someone in entertainment?

I was reluctant to date an actor, but unless you're dating people online, you meet people through common interests, right? So you can't really rule out people you work with. Although I guess there are people who could argue it's unprofessional. And actually, I pursued him, aggressively, because he was trying to be professional [laughs].

"Can you imagine if you had a movie, or a videotape of you, at, like, the end of high school, and a lot of people watched it?"

So is there one thing that people come up to you about the most? Either quoting a line or something, or mentioning a project?

I guess there's three. It would either be one of the Bourne movies or Save the Last Dance or Ten Things. I think the funniest thing is when somebody recognizes my face but can't quite place where they know me from. I have to kind of, like, list my credits. Or, often they'll recognize me and say that I was really good in a movie that I wasn't actually in, usually Spiderman.

They think you're Kirsten Dunst?

Yeah.

That's funny. And I imagine there's a whole new generation of people who are discovering those late '90s, early 2000s movies now, too.

Can you imagine if you had a movie, or a videotape of you, at, like, the end of high school, and a lot of people watched it? I mean, it's kind of special, because that's a special time period [in a person's life], but, yeah—I look back at it as not that great [laughs].

Photographed by Therese Öhrvall. Styled by Julian Jesus. Styling assistance by Kimberly Nguyen. Hair by John Rudiant. Makeup by Nick Barose. Shot on location at the Gramercy Park Hotel, New York City.

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