In the late ’90s, Julia Stiles catapulted into stardom after charming millions as Kat Stratford in the hit teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You.
She quickly became one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood – her face was to be found on virtually every tabloid in the early 00s.
But how often do you hear her name today?
A lot of people believed that the young, gorgeous actress would have a bright and prosperous future in the entertainment industry. Then, suddenly, she left the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to do something entirely different.
So, whatever happened to Julia Stiles? Well, quite a lot, actually…
Julia Stiles’ break-out role came with Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You, but she was already quite the experienced actress by then.
As early as age 11, she had started performing with New York’s La MaMa Theater Company. She got hooked on theatre after her parents took her to off-Broadway plays in her younger years.
Julia, born in 1981 in New York City, grew up in an academic and creative family. The born-and-bred New Yorker was raised in converted loft spaces in Soho when the area began transforming from an industrial wasteland to an artist enclave.
Back in the early 80s, New York City was a rough, drug-infested city. Growing up along the East River, with the neighboring soccer fields for a playground, one had to tread carefully.
“We’d pick up dime bags and needles—well, you wouldn’t pick up the needles. You’d point to it and say, ‘There’s a needle,’ and a teacher would come over,” Julia explained in 2007.
But on the whole, her upbringing was a happy one. Her mother, Judith Newcomb Stiles, was a Greenwich Village artist, while Julia’s father, John O’Hara, worked as an elementary school teacher. Julia also grew up with two siblings, John Junior and Jane, the latter of whom also became an actress.
As a 15-year-old aspiring actress, Julia landed her first movie role when she featured alongside Claire Danes and Jude Law in the romantic drama I Love You, I Love You Not.
After that, a few minor roles followed.
Then, in 1999, Julia finally got her breakthrough with 10 Things I Hate About You. Julia portrayed the rebellious Kat Stratford, appearing opposite one of Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs, Heath Ledger.
The teen comedy, translating Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew into a story about the heartaches of American high school pupils, was an enormous success. In the late ’90s, many young, promising actresses in Hollywood starred in teen rom-coms, a trendy genre at the time.
Julia had competition from dignitaries such as Kate Hudson, Katie Holmes, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Kirsten Dunst. But she was determined to land the role in 10 Things I Hate About You.
“The reason that I wanted that part so badly was because I thought it was so refreshing, seeing a teenage girl be feisty and opinionated and be a fish out of water, but proudly [so],” she told InStyle in 2009.
For any and all who have watched the movie, it’s obvious that there was strong on-screen chemistry between Julia and her love interest, Heath Ledger. Apparently, though, it wasn’t a sure deal that Australian-born Ledger would even get the role. Many candidates auditioned for the part, and there were concerns about Ledger’s Australian accent.
“We screen-tested Josh Hartnett, Eliza Dushku, Heath and Julia. But Julia and Heath just had the best chemistry together,” the casting director, Marcia Ross, told The New York Times in 2019.
No sets were used in the movie; the whole film, which grossed $60 million, was shot on real locations. Julia won the MTV Movie Award for Breakthrough Female Performance, and was also voted the most promising new actress of the year.
It’s safe to say that there was a lot of pressure on Julia’s shoulders after her newly-found stardom. Hollywood and the public had high expectations, and many moviemakers wanted the lovely, slim-eyed blonde for their next film.
For several different reasons, Julia ended up appearing in two more Shakespearean adaptations.