Julia Stiles Looks Back at ‘Wicked’ and Ahead to ‘Riviera’

Julia Stiles
Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

In the early 2000s, Julia Stiles was a teen movie superstar with lead roles in such sleeper hits as “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Save the Last Dance.” But her first mention in Variety came with the edgy indie drama “Wicked” (then titled “The Second Wife”), in which she played a teenager out to seduce her widowed father. Twenty years later a very grown-up Stiles is headlining the glitzy thriller “Riviera” from Sky Vision and creator Neil Jordan that world premieres at Mip.

What are your memories of working on “Wicked”?
I think I was 16 when we made it. It was my first lead role, it was pretty exciting. It was the first time I got to go to California. Michael Steinberg, the director, was really lovely and we’ve stayed friends since then. It was my first foray into being a working actress, but it was a weird moment in time. I didn’t really start working regularly until a few years later, so it was like this fun project I got to work on, and then I went back to high school and life was pretty much the same.

Did you have acting ambitions at an early age?
As a teenager I don’t think I thought beyond college, I don’t think I understood what the idea of a career was. I had a small part in “The Devil’s Own” (with Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt), which was exciting. I had worked in a theater company in New York City, so I knew I enjoyed performing. Film was new for me. I knew I wanted to pursue it, but I wasn’t totally strategic about what that would mean years down the road.

If you could give yourself advice at that time, what would it be?
I would say enjoy it and play because what we do as actors is play. The amazing places in the world you get to go to, the people you meet — it’s a fantastic job.

How did “Riviera” come to you?
I had just finished working on “Jason Bourne.” I was in an airport lounge waiting for my flight. My agent called and said, “You have to read this, it shoots in the South of France and Neil Jordan created it.” I responded on a visceral level to the script. It was very sophisticated and poetic. And shooting in the South of France — not only was it a place I wanted to go, but a really interesting setting for a show.

What was it like to shoot there?
Utterly amazing. It’s such a beautiful place to live, and such an interesting experience to be there from the peak summer tourist season through the fall and in the winter. I didn’t speak French before I got there. I was able to pick some up so I could get by so that was really satisfying.

Does it feel different working on a European show?
There’s the element of the French crew and the international feeling and setting of the show. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a British show or because it’s Sky, but I felt really respected by the producers in terms of my input. I felt like it’s a really nice collaboration, and I don’t know that that always happens with actors. Not only was there a level of sophistication with the writing, but the studio’s mantra was to be bold. One of the main goals was to be surprising and unexpected in what these characters do and the choices they make. I felt like I had a say in making some of those changes and story developments.

You’ll be back in France for the premiere. What are you looking forward to?
The food, the sunshine, and hearing people speaking French.