Julia Stiles filmed the first Bourne when she was still a teenager. “That franchise spans my entire adult life so far,” she tells Yahoo Style. This month, the fifth installment in the series is set to debut (the fourth in which she’ll play CIA agent Nicky Parsons).
But before the 35-year-old teams up with Matt Damon again, she’ll be the new girl in town who is terrorized by the ever-intense Ray Liotta in Blackway. To take down her tormentor, she teams up with Sir Anthony Hopkins and runs around town with a fake bloody lip and makeup bruises.
Though Stiles has seemingly gravitated toward darker roles in recent years, the actress says her life does not imitate her art. In fact, it has become increasingly challenging for her to play damaged characters because she’s happier than she’s ever been. This past December, the New York native became engaged to her camera-assistant boyfriend, Preston J. Cook. She has relocated to Vancouver, Canada, is enjoying her paparazzi-free living arrangements, and has begun planning her wedding. However, Stiles says, she’s taking her time to ensure that the nuptials remain somewhat insulated from the Hollywood circle.
Ahead of the release of multiple new projects, Stiles discusses going head to head with Liotta, that one time she got to sing a “terrible” rendition of “Play That Funky Music” with Prince, and her out-of-the-box plans for tag-teaming a female-driven comedy with Amy Schumer.
Yahoo Style: What was it like running around town with Anthony Hopkins on a mission to take down Ray Liotta?
Julia Stiles: It was great. Anthony Hopkins is one of the main reasons I wanted to do the movie. And he’s so delightful to work with. He really sets a great tone on set. He’s done so much in his life and his career, and he’s still really excited to be on a set. Every day it was like 4 in the morning in the snowy mountains, and he was like a kid in a candy store. And that has a positive effect on everybody else that he’s working with too. Ray Liotta is very intense. He was pretty intimidating at first, and then slowly, by the end of the shoot, became very paternal with me. It was definitely an adventure. I had a good time filming it.
Was it fun to sit in the makeup chair and get fake blood and bruises painted on for this film, as opposed to glamorous makeup?
Well, I definitely look terrible in the film, but on purpose. The makeup artist, Jennifer Kipper, is actually a friend of mine now after working with her. She’s so great, especially with special effects. I looked rough on purpose, as the character had been beaten down. A more glamorous look would have been totally unrealistic. It was a change of pace for me. It kind of takes the pressure off when you’re not trying to look glamorous.
There is so much talk in Hollywood about how there are only roles for beautiful young women. So it must have been refreshing to get to play a rugged badass.
Yeah, and in clothes that are quite rugged and hiding my body. It’s refreshing. I’m about to go and shoot something in France that’s all about glamorous clothing, and I’m kind of looking forward to it, just being more of a lady. It’s a nice balance I guess. I enjoyed shooting [Blackway] a lot, but it is hard for me to watch. I’m like, “Whoa. I look really rugged.” I took a picture when I have the most bloodiest face and bruised face. And I was going to send that to my mom, but I thought that was in poor taste and I didn’t.
You seem to have a tendency to take on darker roles. Even your role in 10 Things I Hate About You was a darker character. Do you intentionally seek these characters out, or do they just kind of come your way?
I think with 10 Things I Hate About You, I was an angsty teenager, and in some ways I responded to that character. That was one of my first big jobs, so I think maybe I lucked out and casting thought that I was a good match for it. Since then, as I’ve gotten older, I’m a much more happy, joyful, almost carefree person. I watch comedies most of the time. That’s what I gravitate toward. But I think the kinds of roles people see me in are sort of the opposite of that. I’m not really sure why.
Since you are so happy, is it fun for you to play that darker character?
I think it’s actually gotten more challenging. Luckily there’s less darkness in life for me to draw on, which I’m happy about.
How excited are you to return to the Bourne world?
Oh, so happy. The movie is done, but it was a delight to see Matt [Damon] and Paul Greengrass, the director, and some of the crew that had worked on previous versions. It was an interesting thing for me because my character really comes full circle. And, also, because we find her in hiding, we sort of get to see more of her true personality as opposed to the buttoned-up good soldier for the CIA.
That franchise spans my entire adult life so far. We did the first, The Bourne Identity, when I was 19, and many year later, we’re doing a [fourth] sequel. So I would definitely have nostalgic moments with Matt and Paul on set where I would go, “Wow. These installments have spanned a good chunk of time,” and a significant one too, where much more has happened. People have more children and more gray hair. And it’s taken me to some amazing parts of the world too. I’m really proud to be part of an action movie that is very intelligent and also timely. Paul Greengrass has a knack for setting an entertaining action movie in a world that is very relevant to the actual world that we live in now politically.
There’s a photo that you Instagrammed recently of you up onstage with Prince. What was that from?
That was because he came to the premiere of The Bourne Ultimatum in London. And Matt and the rest of the cast and I got to meet him. And then he got us tickets to one of his shows at the O2 arena. I would have worn a better outfit if I had known this was going to happen. It was a total surprise. He brings women up onstage to dance during a song. So I grabbed my sister, and we got up onstage and were dancing, and that would have been enough. And he kind of nudged me toward the microphone and made me sing. It was not one of his songs. It was like “Play That Funky Music,” and I didn’t know any of the lyrics. I’m sure that it was terrible, and I’m glad that was before camera phones were really popular. But it was really fun.
What was it like being in his presence?
He’s a legend. He had such a commanding personality, although he was very soft-spoken. He has a gravitas. There’s a reason why he’s such a legend. And also I just love his music, as a lot of people do. So I was just in awe. I’m really lucky that we got to see him.
Congrats on your recent engagement? Are you totally in the trenches of wedding planning?
Thank you. I’m so happy. We’re just sort of in a blissed-out state of daydreaming about where and when we’ll get married — and what the ceremony would be like and who would be there. But the practical stuff, we haven’t gotten to because that’s not as much fun. I want it to be meaningful, and I want it to be with people we love. Probably outside, but other than that, I don’t know. People say, “Oh, have you picked a dress yet?” The other thing is as an actress, you have a lot of events and movie premieres. You have a lot of time spent getting your hair and makeup done and putting on fancy clothes and all this attention focused on you. So I want to find a way to make the wedding comfortable. I want to find a way to make the wedding not really about that and more about the love that we share and the people that are going to be there.
Being in the public eye, it’s like “Oh, she got married!,” and that’s the headline, and then everyone wants to see the dress. Does that put a lot more pressure on it?
I think there’s a way to keep it personal. I would like that because I think it should really be about our loved ones and our commitment to each other. And keeping it insulated is something that I would like. And it is funny. I Instagrammed the photo of my engagement ring just because I was so excited. It didn’t occur to me that then it would be a press story. It wasn’t really my intention. But it’s all right. It’s all joyous. So it’s fine.
You recently guest-starred on a segment of Inside Amy Schumer with Amber Rose and Amber Tamblyn in which your small talk is all about sex during pottery painting class. How did that come about?
Amber [Tamblyn] and I have been friends because I worked with her husband [David Cross] a while ago and also just through mutual friends. And she introduced me to Amy. We all went to go see Magic Mike XXL at the Magic Johnson Theater in New York, and it was so much fun. And I had been a fan of Amy’s work before that. And through Amber, they asked me if I wanted to be in the sketch, and I was like, “Sure.” I jumped at the chance. It’s fun to be invited to the cool kids table. I think she’s really great and was happy to be involved in any way. When I first heard about the sketch, I was like, “Are you kidding me?” But when we got there, I thought it was hilarious. She got me to step out of my comfort zone. That’s for sure!
How do you film something with that subject matter and not just pass out on the table laughing?
Oh, especially because she’s so good at improv and she would throw out one-liners. Her mind works so quickly. It was a challenge. There’s a trick. If you look down, that’s the way to stop yourself from laughing. But [if you’re laughing], you can cut and go again.
So, there’s an epic blooper reel of outtakes from that somewhere?
That probably would be banned in many countries!
You did a lot of fun rom-coms in your early career. Will we see you in anything like that ever again?
I love comedies. I’ve had a couple of experiences working on comedies — doing that sketch for Amy, [and] I did an indie comedy recently that probably will come out next year. That is so fun for me, and I would like to. I’m not so sure about romantic comedies. But there is a certain type of humor that I respond to, and I would love to do more of that. Romantic comedies, when they are great, they are great. And when they fall short, they fall short. A really honest romantic comedy, I’m definitely into.
We are all really sick of hearing how the male comedies in Hollywood do so well and the female ones aren’t that funny. You need to team up with Amy Schumer and make a good female comedy.
Yeah, that would be great. Judd Apatow did a really great job with Bridesmaids. Trainwreck I thought was hilarious and also very touching. And she is an authentic comedian. I’d do a romantic comedy with her — maybe a lesbian romantic comedy? Thinking! I’m just brainstorming.
You can parlay right off of that skit that you guys just did.
You recently moved to Vancouver. Do you miss living in New York?
My fiancé is Canadian. I’ve been living in Vancouver since we got engaged. It had been long-distance before that. I love New York when I can go back and visit it. Living there day to day can be really stressful, but it’s obviously a fantastic city. And I think when you can step away and come back to it, it’s even better. But I do love the diversity. There are people working in all kinds of different fields, and artists, and weirdos. You can walk down the street and you will always be surprised. That’s something that I think I took for granted having grown up there. I realized the diversity is really special, and everyone is living side by side instead of really segregated. You’re confronted by people in a positive way from all different backgrounds. And that’s rare from most cities. Vancouver is quieter for me. Beautiful. And people are really, generally, I find really respectful and nice. It’s my little inner sanctum.
Do you ever look back at your red carpet or paparazzi photos and think, “Oh gosh. What was I wearing that day?”
Oh, please. They always get me looking horrible. And then days when I’m feeling great and looking good and wearing something cool, I can’t get arrested. I don’t pay attention anymore because it would drive me crazy. I mean I pay attention to how I present myself, but I don’t pay attention to what photos are out there.
I’d be tempted to have a Pretty Woman moment where you show up the next day all glamorous with your hair done and say, “Look at me now!”
Yeah, but that doesn’t get them hits. That doesn’t get them stories. It’s all snarky, and so I avoid it. Ignorance is bliss. I’m not going to walk around that self-conscious because I don’t want to live my life that way. But there are neighborhoods in New York where that is sort of a thing and you just avoid them. And sometimes that means moving to Canada!