When Riviera begins its Mediterranean-set tale of luxury, lies and secret lives, art curator Georgina Marjorie Clios (Julia Stiles) is sleeping. Upon opening her eyes, she finds her philanthropist husband, Constantine (Anthony LaPaglia), watching her slumber. It’s a brief but important scene — steeped in intimacy, it’s a simple yet effective way to step inside the couple’s marriage. For fans of Stiles, it’s also a reminder of the actress’s entrancing presence.
Since her breakout role in 10 Things I Hate About You, it has been easy to understand why Stiles’s characters tend to enthral everyone around her. The glimmer in her eyes, the disarming smile, the smart spark evident in every word she utters... even when she’s meant to blend in, she always stands out. From her first appearance on television in 1994 to her current part in Riveria, Stiles has proved to be an inimitable onscreen figure, including in these 10 highlights from her already lengthy career.
Stiles’s first acting credit stems from the show every '90s kid watched — and wished their childhood would ape. In four episodes during Ghostwriter’s second season, she played middle school newspaper editor Erica Dansby, who the mystery-solving gang and their otherworldly pal suspected of being a hacker. Even in 1994, the line “can you jam the console cowboys in cyberspace?” didn’t sound cool, but a 12-year-old Stiles sells it.
10 Things I Hate About You
If there’s a flaw in what might be the ultimate '90s teen movie — and one of the best Shakespeare modernisations — it’s the idea that Julia Stiles’s feisty Kat Stratford could ever be ignored and overlooked by everyone around her. Like a real-life Daria, the older sibling to high school queen bee Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) oozes disdain for her peers but refuses to slink into the shadows, even when she’s being wooed by rebel classmate Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), who's being paid to help new student Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) date her sister.
In her second brush with the updated Bard, Stiles took on the role of Ophelia in 2000’s Hamlet. With Ethan Hawke in the titular role, Kyle MacLachlan as the scheming Claudius and the drama revolving around the takeover of a corporation, it’s a thoroughly contemporary reimagining of the role, but with the original dialogue. And while its execution doesn’t always match its ambition, Stiles’s casting remains one of its best aspects.
Save the Last Dance
After being publicly serenaded by Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, Stiles played the performer in Save the Last Dance, finding herself ensconced in another popular teen-centric love story in the process. Audiences familiar with opposites-attract dance films had seen the story before, but Stiles and co-star Sean Patrick Thomas still made their other-side-of-the-tracks romance and typical dance movie narrative arc work.
In her third teen Shakespeare adaptation in as many years, Stiles helps Othello follow in The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet’s footsteps. This time, she’s making the role of Desdemona — or Desi — her own in an effort that recasts its eponymous figure, O (Mekhi Phifer), as a high school basketball star fending off a malicious plan by his jealous supposed pal, Hugo (Josh Hartnett).
The Bourne films
Featuring in the four Matt Damon-starring entries in the franchise, the Bourne films saw Stiles jump firmly into a different genre and a different type of character. In 2002’s The Bourne Identity, 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy, 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum and 2016’s Jason Bourne, her Nicolette "Nicky" Parsons starts out as a logistic technician with the outfit behind Jason Bourne’s plight and ends up one of his most-trusted contacts. Their Alexanderplatz altercation in the second film remains one of the series’s highlights.
In the fifth season of Dexter, everyone’s favourite blood splatter technician by day, serial killer by night (Michael C Hall) gets a protégé. Stiles’s Lumen Pierce is initially saved by Dexter, but after witnessing him kill one of her attackers, she asks for his help in punishing her other abusers. It proved an intriguing dynamic, and while high-profile guest stars rarely stayed for more than a season of the show, Lumen was sorely missed when her character’s run came to an end.
Silver Linings Playbook
She might play the sister, rather than the star, in Silver Linings Playbook, but Stiles’s first film role in three years remains a memorable and welcome addition to her resume. And while the Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as the film’s depressed young widow, it’s not difficult to imagine a different world in which Stiles played the main part — and earned as much acclaim.
There’s no shortage of films about dinners, friendly gatherings and reunions gone wrong, but what Between Us lacks in an original premise, it boasts in great performances. Stiles is both commanding and surprising as Grace, one half of a seemingly happy couple with Taye Diggs’s Carlo. Over two evenings with pals Joel (David Harbour) and Sharyl (Melissa George), they’re forced to confront their marital issues in a talk-heavy effort based on the play of the same name.
The Mindy Project
In The Mindy Project’s third season, Stiles features in three episodes as Dr Jessica Lieberstein, a new love interest for nurse Morgan Tookers (Ike Barinholtz). She’s also a hoarder, which seems an apt match for the bumbling, multiple dog-owning Morgan. While it’s far from surprising their romance didn’t work out, Stiles fit in seamlessly in the Mindy Kaling-starring rom-com sitcom.
Watch Riviera every Wednesday at 9:30pm on SBS. Catch the debut streaming now at SBS On Demand: