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May 2006
The Omen: An Interview with Julia Stiles

The Omen: An Interview with Julia Stiles
By Kara Warner
June 04, 2006

For many, Julia Stiles is best known for her performances in teenage genre films 10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance. The last few years, however, Stiles has been adding some maturity to her repertoire. She's tackled Shakespeare, Broadway and even the realm of action films with her role in The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy. Whatever her method, she has set herself apart from the tabloid queens and party girls and has carved quite a career for herself.
Her latest film is The Omen, in which she plays the mother of the Devil himself. Stiles sat down to talk to us about the role, playing a young mother and working with acting legends Mia Farrow and Liev Schreiber.

So what attracted you to this genre and role in particular?

Stiles: I really enjoy watching horror films, but I never thought I really wanted to be in one because usually actors are just reacting a lot, they’re not getting to do much. But I think the most powerful films, horror films are really psychologically driven. It’s not so much the violence, and I think the Omen is a good example of that, like there really is a story you can sink your teeth in to beyond the violence and the gore. And also, even if you don’t believe in the religious aspect of it the story still works on its own.

Well, to me, even though this is a horror film, this is a role where you are playing like a mother, a mother having a lot of conflicted emotions with the behavior of a child. So it seems to me like a more adult role then we’ve seen in a lot of these films that you’ve done recently. Was that a conscious decision for you to do a genre film, but say “You know what, let me play a mother, and play somebody a little bit older for the audiences”?

Stiles: Yeah, I think it’s a natural progression. I’m 25, so it doesn’t really make sense for me to play somebody in high school any more, somebody in college for that matter. But I thought there was a lot of rich material there that I wanted to explore. It was easy for me to see the struggle that this woman goes through. Because I think one of the hardest things for a mother to admit, or even come to terms with is having at all mixed feelings about her own son. And it’s not so much that she fears him and maybe hates him eventually, but what does it take to get her there, and I think, those kinds of emotions are really interesting to me. Like, she is so full of self doubt at first, she really blames herself and thinks that she is a bad mother. And then because she suppresses all of those suspicions or fears it makes her go that much more crazy or become that much more hateful. So it’s sort of the power of suppressing your instincts is really interesting to me.

Had you seen the original movie before getting this role, and also, if not or if so, will you go back and watch it again, or will you try to avoid it?

Stiles: No, I saw it when I was younger on VHS, but then I watched it again, I read the original script and I met with John Moore, and I was thinking about doing it, and I watched the original just to sort of refresh my memory. And it totally captured my attention, the scene where the first nanny hangs herself, it was jarring to me. I think I had gotten up to answer the phone or something and I saw that and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. And also I’ve never seen the scene where Lee Remmick says to Gregory Peck “You need to see a psychiatrist”, and it was so harrowing and chilling because almost nothing is said with dialog but so much is said, and you could feel that she is just tormented, and I thought that’s really intriguing I want to explore that more, so that was what was really the turning point for me.

Did you have any input on how your character died and the death?

Stiles: I will say, well we wanted to keep the falling scene, the sort of precursor to her death similar because it is such a famous image from the original, and there are little twists on it. But I think John has a very vivid, active imagination, so I credit him with coming up with my death scene. And I think that he did something that was much more harrowing psychologically or played with that fundamental fear that we all have if you are at all claustrophobic or you hate being trapped which I think that most people do. And again, it’s much more psychologically driven than just through violence.

In Hollywood there’s a lot of re-makes, some people are either for it or against it. If you say “we’re redoing the Omen and we’re treading on hallowed ground here”. What was it about it that really filled you, I mean because Mia was saying that working with you again was something that she really looked forward to. Was it the casting, was it the story itself?

Stiles: It was a lot of things. It was certainly casting, I wanted to work with Liev and Mia, and I like John’s work a lot. But definitely the story, I felt like now more than ever it was right for being retold. This story, it’s a testament to the original that it’s an enduring story for 30 years, but I think that it is even more relevant to modern audiences because we are living in chaotic times, and there’s a lot of tragedy going on all around us. I think in times like that people look for answers. Towards various different faiths or science, or whatever it is, they look for something to explain forces out there that they can’t control. And so, the film deals with that, but in a very personalized, individual story. So, I think without being exploitive, it asks the question what is evil, how can you identify evil, can you predict the future, can you control what negative things are going to go on in your life.

Do you remember working with Shamus, he obviously is a first time actor. You kind of have to be his mother at one point and have to turn on him, was he able to understand that, this being his first acting, how was it working with him?

Stiles: I know, it was tricky. He’s a very sophisticated little guy, but I think you have to….Obviously his parents were reminding him that it’s a work of fiction. But I had to kind of, we all had to kind of get him into whatever mood was appropriate for the scene, or whatever relationship was appropriate for the scene. So he and Liev would be horsing around all the time and playing games so that they could bond, but I, because my character is supposed to be very distant from him, and he’s supposed to be uncomfortable around me, I had to kind of refrain from participating, so I would, so that if I had to pick him up in a scene he would get stiff, or whatever it was. Then after the scene was done I would reassure him that I actually am a nice person and that I actually wasn’t angry at him or whatever.

How old was he?

Stiles: He’s just 7.

Can you talk at all about the Bourne Ultimatum?

Stiles: Yeah, the Bourne Ultimatum, I’m going to be in it. And Paul Greengrass is going to direct it. Matt Damon and Joan Allen are going to be back too. And it’s going through so many incarnations of scripts that I…

I love that character, you kind of come out a little bit more.

Stiles: I hope so, yeah, I think I was lucky to not die in the last one, so yeah, I think you will, I just don’t know if I’m going to be good or bad.

A question about the religion in the film, which I find very interesting because we live in a time where religion is in the forefront whether it is Christian Fundamentalism or Radical Islamics or so on and so forth and people out there that really do believe that there is an Anti-Christ whether there is right or wrong, where are your views on that, do you see it as fiction, or is there a possibility that there could be a devil incarnate as a person someday?

Stiles: See I think giving somebody the term “devil incarnate” or labeling somebody as evil is sort of a cop out. It’s a way for people to not take responsibility for their actions and I’m not into demonizing other groups of people, except for their actions not necessarily for their…I don’t know. But I think the film touches on that. What’s funny to me about the Omen is that Damian actually doesn’t do anything it’s all the people around him, it’s everything around him that’s going wrong. Yet everybody identifies him as the Anti-Christ because of this prophecy. I think that definitely applies to…I mean I think that’s an interesting concept, also the idea that evil could take on such a seemingly innocent form.

So do you think that metaphorically, that it’s a self fulfilling type prophecy, that these people are just kind of doing all these evil things, and that maybe the child itself is not evil, but that’s what they want him to be so he will be that. Do you believe that in a sense?

Stiles: I don’t know if I believe that, but I think it’s interesting to explore that people would need to point fingers and that in this film they end up identifying the source of evil as this little boy. One of my favorite lines in the film is where David Thewlis' character says, as the priest is trying to tell him how he is going to kill Damian in order to save the world, he says, running through the streets of Jerusalem saying, he says “You’re just like every religious fundamentalist who uses scripture to justify killing”. I don’t know why that line resonated, I mean it’s very applicable to today, but it was so poignant to me because here Liev’s character is stuck, he’s starting to believe that his own son is evil incarnate, that’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around. Yet you believe in it in the film because so much is going wrong.

Obviously, you’re one of the younger people in the cast that was cast. But as far as, I think there’s a lot of movies being re-made from the seventies, it seems almost like there’s a lot of things happening like in the seventies were, the Vietnam war now we’ve got the Iraq War as well. Do you see the history repeat itself? I don’t know how old were you in the 70’s, you were probably very young, but do you see a lot of the things you might have heard about from the 70’s come back besides movies and…

Stiles: Well, I think there’s a reason this movie was made in the 70’s, and that we’re making it now, in terms of it’s correlation, or it’s relationship to sort of temperament of audiences these days. So that in the 1970’s there was a lot of anxiety about the world, and it was unclear where we were going to go as a nation and as a world, and I think that that is even more exaggerated today. I think it’s great that horror movies do have a depth to them and do have a psychological through line that audiences can go and sort of vent their anxieties, or at least play out their anxieties about the climate and the world.

Since you're so young and don't have any kids of your own, how did you adjust for the part and learn how to play a mother?

Stiles: I actually, part of it was my imagination, like I said I could imagine what it would be like for a mother to have to come to terms with having those mixed feelings. But I think my inexperience as a mother actually helped with the role, because I think a more mature, experienced mother would not only identify what was going wrong sooner, but she would not doubt herself so much, or not question her maternal instincts right away. I think that she would be able to assert herself with her husband, or ask for help sooner.

How about talking about your role in Edmond?

Stiles: Oh yeah, Edmond is based on a David Mamet play, and Bill Macy, my scenes are with Bill Macy. But it’s about a guy who goes on this crazy journey through the depth and the seedy underbelly of New York City after his wife leaves him. And I play a waitress that he meets in a diner and he takes her home, and we chat about what we want to do in life, and he’s just been mugged so he talks about all the people in the world that he hates, and I talk about how I want to be an actress. And as he keeps saying “You’re not an actress, you’re a waitress”, I start to have an anxiety attack, and we get sort of carried away in that. But it’s a lot about, again it’s a lot about fear, and all the characters in it are really despicable, but you kind of, it kind of becomes humorous that they’re so bad.

Is it coming out this year?

Stiles: It’s coming out in, well in New York and LA it’s coming out in July, after the Omen, and then a wider release.

But being a New Yorker, was there anything, have you seen the 9/11 kind of referencing?

Stiles: I remember when I read it in the script, I was careful to question John Moore, and find out how exactly he was going to handle that. And I don’t think it’s inappropriate as a New Yorker myself it’s obviously, or anybody looking at that image it’s jarring, and it’s a very sensitive subject. But I don’t think it’s inappropriate the way it’s used because ever since those, ever since that day, religious rhetoric is used a lot in public discourse. And again, that was an intense tragedy, that has since made people, people are clinging to faith and looking for answers and explanations as to why that happened. And in this film, we sort of play out what would happen when people look to this sort of prophecy as an answer about the state of the world.

Question about whether you learned anything from the cast, you obviously had very successful film career and stage career. You’re working with Liev, who Mia calls Olivier, and you’re working with her, another famed actress. What do you take from working with them, or what do you learn, or make more interesting coming away from the Omen?

Stiles: It was such a delight to work with both of them again. I think that Liev is entirely different from Olivier in that, it’s hard to make a comparison like that, but I just think that he’s so talented. And what I learned from him most is that he makes, he puts so much preparation and thought behind everything that he does, he questions every single line that he has to say and understands it and plays around with every possible way that he could say it. Yet when he gets on a film set he is completely at ease, and it seems so, he makes it look easy. But also, he really, I feel like he makes everyone around him act better too, because he doesn’t act with a capital “A” and he can really sense when you are being false, or when you are sort of playing to the camera. So it’s a delight because you’re really interacting and things can be very spontaneous.

I want to ask you a follow up to the Bourne Ultimatum thing before. You’ve obviously been on all three movies, and smaller in the first movie, but I’ve heard, talked to a lot of people at the Scooper who basically, the first one was rather chaotic. When you did the second movie, do you feel that when Paul Greengrass took over it was more organized, is that going to carry over to the third movie?

Stiles: I think, I actually really liked that you kind of didn’t know what I was doing in the first one and then they decided, luckily for me, they decided to explore my character a little bit more and hopefully now in the third one. So that, you feel like it’s a trilogy that is complete, it’s not just one movie and then another, and then another. So that characters you didn’t pay much attention to in the first one, you realize they are much more significant as the trilogy goes on. And it’s also a work in progress to. That’s part of the reason why I can’t explain what exactly my role is going to be in this one because what’s great about Paul Greengrass is he’s really good at updating those stories so it’s not going to be anything like what the book was.

THE OMEN opens on June 6th, 2006


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