Julia O’Hara Stiles was born on March 28, 1981 in New York City, New York, U.S., is an American 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, and for her role in Mona Lisa Smile. She guest starred as Lumen Pierce in the fifth season of the Showtime series Dexter, a role that earned her Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations.
Stiles was the eldest of three children. Her mother, Judith Newcomb Stiles, is a potter, and her father, John O’Hara, is a businessman. Stiles has English, Irish, and Italian ancestry. She started acting at age eleven, performing with New York’s La MaMa Theatre Company.
Stiles’ 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 1999, she portrayed Kat Stratford, opposite Heath Ledger, in Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You, 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 determination.”
Her next starring role was in Down to You (2000), which was panned by critics, but earned her 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 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 was subject to many delays and a change of distributors, and Hamlet was an art house film shot on a minimal budget.
Stiles’ 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 appeared 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 reviews.
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, 2006.
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.” Stiles also appears in the 2008 film Gospel Hill. She portrayed a woman who falls in love with her stalker in the 2009 thriller The Cry of the Owl, based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith.
Julia Stiles began filming on her latest project, Between Us, in May 2011 with co-stars Taye Diggs, David Harbour and Melissa George. Between Us is the screen adaptation of the Off-Broadway play by the same name written by playwright Joe Hortua.
Stiles’ 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 October 11 opening night.
Stiles will play Jeannie in a production of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig directed by the playwright beginning in April 2011.
Stiles appeared in the video for Cyndi Lauper’s single, “Sally’s Pigeons” in 1993. 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 appearing as then-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 Festival.
In May 2010 Stiles was cast in a major role in the Showtime series Dexter and signed for 10 episodes. For this role Stiles received a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film. as well as a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.
Stiles is a graduate of Columbia University and holds a degree in English literature. She received a John Jay Award in 2010, the annual honorary award given to five alumni by the Columbia College Alumni Association for professional achievements.
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, in January 2004, featured Stiles’ trip to see conditions at the Berks County Youth Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.
She is an ex-vegan, occasionally eating red meat. She 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 supports the New York Mets. She threw the ceremonial first pitch before their May 29, 2006 game. She is also an avid soccer fan and supports the New York Red Bulls.
She’s currently in a relationship with actor David Harbour.