When actor Julia Stiles comes across her old movies, she cringes.
10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance may be the jobs that launched her Hollywood career two decades ago, but she looks at them the way most of us look upon an old photograph — with nostalgia and a whack of embarrassment about the person staring back.
Embarrassment? To the rest of the world, the huge success of those movies signalled that she'd made it.
The New York-born woman was one of the most popular young actors on film, pegged by critics and her co-stars as someone set to enjoy a decades-long career in a notoriously fickle industry.
"Her intelligence and commitment and pure talent are going to allow her to have a beautiful career, with profound respect and longevity," her Save The Last Dance co-star Kerry Washington (now of Scandal fame) told Rolling Stone in 2001. "I look forward to working with her when we’re both in our sixties."
Washington was right. Just not in the way most people expected.
"I had to learn to stick up for myself": Why Julia Stiles ditched rom-coms.
While Stiles' peers, like Hilary Duff, dove headlong into their fame, Julia Stiles ran from it. At least for a while.
Her refuge was Columbia University where she studied English Literature.
"I wanted to be in the insular bubble of college," she told Independent. "It was totally unconscious, but I wanted to be able to do all the trial-and-error mistakes that you make as you’re growing up and finding your voice in a more insular environment than just out in the public eye."
But there was a dual purpose to her studies. She wanted to continue acting (and did, starring alongside Matt Damon in Bourne Identity during her first year), and saw university as a long-term play at establishing credibility.