Julia O'Hara Stiles (born March 28,
1981) is an American stage and film actress.
After beginning her career in small parts in a New York City theatre
troupe, she has moved on to leading roles in plays by writers as diverse
as William Shakespeare and David Mamet. Her film career has included both
commercial and critical successes, ranging from teen romantic comedies
such as 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) to dark art house pictures such
as The Business of Strangers (2001). She is also known for playing the
supporting character Nicky Parsons in the Bourne film series and the
leading role in Save the Last Dance.
Stiles was born in New York City, the daughter of Judith Stiles, a potter,
and John O'Hara, a businessman. Her father is of Irish descent and her
mother is of half Italian and half English ancestry. She started acting at
age eleven, performing with New York's La MaMa Theatre Company.
Stiles's first film was a non-speaking part in I Love You, I Love You Not
(1996), with Claire Danes and Jude Law. She also had small roles as
Harrison Ford's daughter in Alan J. Pakula's The Devil's Own (1997) and in
M. Night Shyamalan's Wide Awake (1998). Her first lead was in Wicked
(1998), playing a teenage girl who might have murdered her mother so she
could have her father all to herself. Critic Joe Balthai wrote she was
"the darling of the 1998 Sundance Film Festival" and Internet movie writer
Harry Knowles said she was the "discovery of the fest", but the film was
not commercially released in the U.S. and went direct-to-video in 2001,
after Stiles had become better known.
The role that gained Stiles renown was Kat Stratford, opposite Heath
Ledger, in Gil Junger's 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), an adaptation
of The Taming of the Shrew set in a high school in Tacoma, Washington. She
won an MTV Movie Award for "Breakthrough Female Performance" for the role,
and the Chicago Film Critics voted her the most promising new actress of
the year. Foreign critics applauded her work as well, including Adina
Hoffman, who praised her as "a young, serious looking Diane Lane" and
Martin Hoyle, who commented that Stiles played Kat "with bloody-minded
independent charm from the beginning with hints of wistfulness beneath the
Her next starring role was in Down to You (2000), which was panned by
critics, but earned Stiles and her co-star Freddie Prinze, Jr. a Teen
Choice Award nomination for their on-screen chemistry. She subsequently
appeared in two more Shakespearean adaptations. The first was as the
Ophelia in Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000), with Ethan Hawke in the
lead. The second was in the Desdemona role, opposite Mekhi Phifer in Tim
Blake Nelson's O (2001), a version of Othello set in a private boarding
school. Neither film was a great success; O had been subjected to many
delays and a change of distributors, and Hamlet was an art house film shot
on a minimal budget.
Stiles's next commercial success was in Save the Last Dance (2001), as an
aspiring ballerina forced to leave her small town in downstate Illinois to
live with her struggling musician father in Chicago after her mother dies
in a car accident. At her new, nearly all-black school, she falls in love
with the character played by Sean Patrick Thomas, who teaches her hip-hop
dance steps that get her into The Juilliard School. The role won her two
more MTV awards for "Best Kiss" and "Best Female Performance", and a Teen
Choice Award for best fight scene for her battle with Bianca Lawson.
Rolling Stone pronounced her "the coolest co-ed," putting her on the cover
of its April 12, 2001 issue. She told Rolling Stone that she performed all
her own dancing in the film, though the way the film was shot and edited
might have made it appear otherwise.
In David Mamet's State and Main (2000), about a film shooting on location
in a small town in Vermont, she played a teenage girl who seduces a film
actor (Alec Baldwin) with a weakness for young girls. Stiles also played
opposite Stockard Channing in the dark art-house film The Business of
Strangers (2001) as a conniving, amoral secretary who exacts revenge on
her boss. Channing was impressed by her co-star: "In addition to her
talent, she has a quality that is almost feral, something that can make
people uneasy. She has an effect on people." Stiles also had a small but
crucial role as Treadstone operative Nicolette "Nicky" Parsons in The
Bourne Identity (2002), a role that was enlarged in The Bourne Supremacy
(2004), then greatly expanded in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).
Between the Bourne films, she appeared in Mona Lisa Smile (2003) as Joan,
a student at Wellesley College in 1953, whose art professor (Julia
Roberts) encourages her to pursue a career in law rather than become a
wife and mother. Critic Stephen Holden referred to her as one of cinema's
"brightest young stars," but the film met with generally unfavorable
Stiles played a Wisconsin college student who is swept off her feet by a
Danish prince in The Prince and Me (2004), directed by Martha Coolidge.
Stiles told an interviewer that she was very similar to the character,
Paige Morgan. Critic Scott Foundas said while she was, as always,
"irrepressibly engaging," the film was a "strange career choice for
Stiles." This echoed criticism in reviews of A Guy Thing (2003), a
romantic comedy with Jason Lee and Selma Blair. Critic Dennis Harvey wrote
that Stiles was "wasted," and Stephen Holden called her "a serious actress
from whom comedy does not seem to flow naturally".
In 2005, Stiles was cast opposite her Hamlet co-star Liev Schreiber in The
Omen, a remake of the 1976 horror film. The film was released on June 6,
She returned to the Bourne series with a much larger role in The Bourne
Ultimatum in 2007, and to this day it is her highest grossing film.
Producer Lynda Obst said that Stiles was "turning into the next Meryl
Streep." She will next work on a film adaptation of The Bell Jar, which
coincidentally was a book her character was seen reading in her
breakthrough film 10 Things I Hate About You. Stiles also appears in the
forthcoming film Gospel Hill. She will act in the role of a woman who
falls in love with her stalker in the upcoming thriller Cry of the Owl,
based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith.
Stiles's first theatrical roles were in works by author/composer John
Moran with the group Ridge Theater, in Manhattan's Lower East Side from
1993-1998. She later performed on stage in Eve Ensler's The Vagina
Monologues, in the summer of 2002 and appeared as Viola, the lead role in
Shakespeare in the Park's production of Twelfth Night with Jimmy Smits.
Reviewing the production, Ben Brantley of The New York Times saluted
Stiles as "the thinking teenager's movie goddess" who put him in mind of a
"young Jane Fonda."
In the spring of 2004, she made her London stage debut opposite Aaron
Eckhart in a revival of David Mamet's play Oleanna at the Garrick Theatre.
She reprised the role of Carol in a 2009 production, directed by Doug
Hughes and co-starring Bill Pullman at the Mark Taper Forum. On June 30,
2009, it was announced that this production would be transferring to
Broadway's John Golden Theatre, with previews beginning Sept. 29 before an
Oct. 11 opening night.
On March 17, 2001, Stiles hosted Saturday Night Live and, eight days
later, she was a presenter at the 73rd Academy Awards. She returned to
Saturday Night Live on May 5 in a cameo as President George W. Bush's
daughter Jenna Bush in a skit that poked fun at the two first daughters
being arrested for underage drinking. MTV profiled her in its Diary series
in 2003, and she was Punk'd by Ashton Kutcher at a Washington DC museum in
the spring of 2004.
Stiles made her writing and directorial debut with Elle magazine's short
Raving starring Zooey Deschanel. It premiered at the 2007 Tribeca Film
She has also starred in three modern adaptations of Shakespeare's plays:
10 Things I Hate About You (based on The Taming of the Shrew), Hamlet
(based on Hamlet), and O (based on Othello).
Stiles graduated from Columbia University in 2005, with a degree in
Stiles has also worked for Habitat for Humanity, building housing in Costa
Rica, and has worked with Amnesty International to raise awareness of the
harsh conditions of immigration detention of unaccompanied juveniles;
Marie Claire magazine, in January 2004, featured Stiles's trip to see
conditions at the Berks County Youth Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.
Stiles also serves on the Board of Directors of Amend.org, a New
York-based nonprofit that implements childhood injury prevention programs
in Africa. She attended parties to promote buildings by Manhattan real
estate developer Louis Dubin.
An ex-vegan, now occasionally eating red meat, Stiles says she gave up
veganism after she developed anemia and found it difficult to get proper
nutrition while traveling. Stiles has described herself as a feminist and
wrote on the subject in The Guardian.
An avid baseball fan, she roots for the New York Mets. She threw the
ceremonial first pitch before their May 29, 2006 game.