Spotlight By: Rocco Passafuime
At only the age of 26, actress Julia Stiles has already amassed an incredible filmography. Her roles are wide-ranging and run the gamut from films like 10 Things I Hate About You to Save The Last Dance to O to Mona Lisa Smile to The Prince And Me to The Omen.
Now, after two increasingly prominent roles as CIA handler Nicholette Parsons in the enormously successful Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy, Stiles yet again gets a chance to really show her acting chops in the newest installment The Bourne Ultimatum. When we interviewed the actress, she spoke of how incredibly surprising the franchise’s success has been and how it has enabled her to get more of an opportunity to shine.
“It was such a joy actually,” Julia enthuses, “I would never have anticipated that there were going to be three movies, when we started making the first one. And when we made the first one, I couldn’t even read a whole script because they only gave me the scenes I was in. But what’s been great about it is playing a character and having it evolve with me because we made this second one three years ago. And each time we come into rehearsals, we discuss what should happen next.”
Once director Paul Greengrass, who has also done United 93 and Bloody Sunday, took over to direct the Bourne sequels, she said this enabled her to have more opportunity to really get to flesh out her initially limited role in the first film to a now much more expanded role in the latest entry.
“When I went to make the second one, I had a conversation with Paul Greengrass about how you didn’t really know what my character was doing in the first one and we really wanted to figure out a way to exploit that or make
“And then, it was great to work with Paul again because I could take that idea even further with the third one,” she continues, “I remember telling him that I wanted to make him more active in this third one instead of being a victim of circumstance, like she was in Supremacy. We decided that it would be great if she decided that she wanted to get out of the CIA, because she went from being a believer in the first one to being more skeptical and also realizing she was more expendable and questioning these operations, so it was great to have her deal with wanting to get out.”
We found over time that Stiles felt great pleasure to work with Greengrass because she felt he did not approach a big-budget action film franchise in the traditionally more highly stylized and perfunctory direction.
“What I would take and I really like how Paul, especially in a big action movie, he goes to the real locations and he doesn’t use CGI,” she notes, “He’s very much interested in capturing what’s actually going on the set, so he wants as many real elements as possible, like in Morocco, those weren’t extras in the crowd, those were everyday people walking around the marketplace, who didn’t know that we were shooting a movie.”
Also mentioned was how different the experience was for Stiles between working with Swingers director Doug Liman on 2002′s The Bourne Identity and Paul Greengrass on the sequels.
“Unfortunately, when I made the first film, I had no idea what was going on,” she recalls, “And I think I’d like to work with Doug again in a different context because I remember,
“But I was surprised when I saw it, what it was going to look like,” Julia adds, “Then when I came back with Paul for the second and third one, I made it clear that I was going to be more vocal this time and really want to be involved in other aspects of it, not just showing up and saying my lines. It was great to collaborate with Paul, I wish I can do that with Doug in a different movie.”
In doing an action film franchise, which is a break from Julia’s usually more performance-driven films, she expresses that any film, no matter how big-budget or commercial, can prove as equally beneficial acting-wise if you have the right director.
“I think now, especially making these three Bourne films, is that how much it really all boils down to the director,” Stiles explains, “Especially somebody like Paul who has got enough authority and credibility with the studio that they give him the freedom to make the kind of films that he wants to make. So that’s the most important thing, to trust my director and that their vision is something that I want to help fulfill. You would like to think that it’s all on paper, but it rarely is and a director could make up for a lot of that.”
Stiles also notes the benefits of doing action films like the Bourne series with a director like Greengrass, rather than more stylized
“Paul doesn’t use CGI, but sometimes, he did use stunt doubles. It’s almost impossible not to,” she mentions, “I wouldn’t want to play a superhero and that’s why I like these movies because Jason Bourne isn’t a superhero. The thing that makes him special is not that he has a fancy car and special weapons, but that it’s his quickness and ability to fight with household weapons. And even if they really choreograph those fight scenes, so that when you see them, as we’re shooting, they look almost like a dance or really intricate martial arts. But when Paul breaks it down, in the way that he shoots those sequences and edits them, they look much more sloppy and realistic and natural.”
As she mentioned the fight scenes, we were also quick to ask if she did any of her own and if so, whether or not she got injured from doing any.
“That was me running around, a lot of running,” Stiles says, “And the part of the fight sequence when I jump on his back and pull at his face, the actual jump across the roof was a stunt double, because I took one look down at the alleyway that I had to jump across and I was like, ‘Oh, I’d leave that to the pros.’ I took one look down the alleyway that I had to jump across and I thought, do I really want to go to a Moroccan hospital? And I thought, no. But when I was in the fight, I was in London, so, OK, I’ll hedge my bets here.”
We wondered if as an actor, she felt more challenged doing more muted performances in films like the Bourne scenes or more demanding performance roles in smaller films like State and Main and Edmond, which she has done with playwright-turned-filmmaker David Mamet.
“I like them both,” claims Julia, “And I think it’s a good
As the Bourne movies have amassed a huge audience and they love many of the characters, we asked her whether or not her character ends up getting romantically involved with Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum.
“Well, the thing that we were dealing with was when I agreed to do this movie and I told my friends that we were going to shoot in Morocco The Bourne Ultimatum, everybody has an opinion, which is a sign that people really like these movies,” says Stiles, “But the first question on their mouth was do Jason Bourne and Nicky get together, because there always has to be a female love interest. And what I love is Paul breaks those conventions, so also Jason Bourne, the tragedy of the series is that his loved one was killed in the second one, so we really didn’t want to have him fall in love with a somebody else so quickly.
However, Julia shared with us her own thoughts on how deep is the relationship between Nicky Parsons and Jason Bourne.
“I think I like that Paul leaves a lot of questions unanswered in terms of storytelling,” she theorizes, “I think I answered it in my head which that Nicky was around before he became Jason Bourne and knows who he is, aside from all this training, and that makes her sympathize with him more
Now that she’s done all three and with talk of doing more on the way, despite the seeming finality of the story, after having asked Matt Damon, she was very to the point in response to whether or not she’d be interested in doing more Bourne movies, should she be called up for another one.
“I would do it if Matt and Paul were involved and it would be great. I just don’t know,” Stiles states, “That’s a more a question for them, they’re the men in charge.”
Her next role is a film adaptation of author Sylvia Plath’s searing novel The Bell Jar. We asked Julia some of what she feels is expected in working on such a notable book.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge, because a lot of that book is very meaningful to a lot of people and we don’t want to disappoint them,” she explains, “I don’t think that in the terms of the perception of not wanting to see an indictment of Ted Hughes again, the book is not, although it’s inspired by Sylvia Plath’s personal experience, it is not her autobiography. And it takes place in a time in her life before she met Ted Hughes. She was writing it when she was married to him, so I would really like to keep the book separate from her autobiography.”
“And what I’m trying to do is something that will pleasantly surprise fans of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, because I think her biography has overshadowed the book a lot,” Stiles adds, “And people think of her as this brooding, dark poet because of her death, but actually, the book that she wrote is incredibly vibrant and
Finally, with her visibility considerably increased as a result of the success of Bourne film series, Stiles insists that her priorities, regardless of the film, is first and foremost the potential experience from the role.
“I try not to base my decisions on that, because I felt like then automatically, you’re going into a movie that you think of as a stepping stone,” she explains, “You go into it with a different perspective. I wouldn’t want to go to work everyday and not feel especially invested in the work that I was creating. So I totally lucked out with this franchise because in terms of commercial movies that are successful and expensive, creatively, they were extremely satisfying to me. So I was really lucky and not necessarily deliberate, but lucky.”