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Julia O'Hara Stiles (born March 28, 1981) is an American stage and screen actress.
After beginning her theatre 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). Stiles also actively supports a variety of progressive causes.
Stiles began her acting career in television roles. After two appearances as the computer punk "Erica Dansby" on the PBS series Ghostwriter in 1993 and 1994, she appeared as a guest star on the medical drama Chicago Hope. She has been seen in two made-for-TV movies: in Before Women Had Wings (1997) on CBS, she played opposite Ellen Burstyn and Oprah Winfrey in an adaptation of the novel by Connie May Fowler; and she played a teenage girl who finds herself pregnant and runs away from her unforgiving father (Bill Smitrovich) in NBC's miniseries The '60's (1999), a film Caryn James of The New York Times dismissed as "conspicuously idiotic." Stiles was the public face of the film, with NBC using her face, painted with a peace sign and the American flag, both in its advertising and on the cover of the soundtrack album.
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 murders her mother so she can 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 near Seattle. 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 heavily 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 Almerayda'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' 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 is killed. 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 cold 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 small, but crucial roles as Treadstone operative Nicolette Parsons in The Bourne Identity (2002) and its sequel The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and a much larger role inThe Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Producer Lynda Obst was quoted as saying that Stiles was "turning into the next Meryl Streep".
Her next film role was 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 becoming 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 interview that she was very similar to the character, Paige Morgan, but 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.
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