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Julia Stiles talks role in Off-Broadway play 'Phoenix'

Actress Julia Stiles stars in the one-act dark

Actress Julia Stiles stars in the one-act dark romantic comedy "Phoenix" by Scott Organ at the intimate Cherry Lane Theatre, which the actress calls "really charming and really romantic." Credit: AP / Andy Kropa

Julia Stiles has a fondness for the unexpected. Or so it would seem glancing at her wide-ranging resume, which includes teen romance films ("Save the Last Dance"), blockbusters (Matt Damon's "Bourne" franchise), plus stints onstage (Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," David Mamet's "Oleanna"), on the small screen (she played a serial killer on "Dexter," earning Golden Globe and Emmy nominations) and the computer screen (starring in the popular WIGS Web series "Blue" and writing and directing "Paloma").

This summer, Stiles stars Off-Broadway with up-and-comer James Wirt in "Phoenix," a two-person dark romantic comedy by Scott Organ now in previews at the Cherry Lane Theatre (it opens Thursday and runs through Aug. 23).

The play explores the ups and downs -- and the tempting yet terrifying more-than-one-nightness potential -- of a one-night stand. Stiles, 33, who lives in Manhattan, recently sat down with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio before a rehearsal.

I gather "Phoenix" all began with a phone call.

I knew the director -- she called and said, "I had a dream we should do a play together." Coincidentally, I was itching to get back onstage.


To get back to all the reasons why I wanted to be an actress in the first place. Compared to film or television, theater is more interactive, collaborative. And I loved the script. I actually have a very short attention span when it comes to reading. But I wasn't fidgeting with this. It's not cynical. It has a sense of humor -- which is nice for summer. I'd read other plays about incest and ... dark, dark things, and I thought, I don't want to do that every day.

The slogan for this play is something like "Don't think a one-night stand only lasts one night." Which seems optimistic ... or a nightmare.

I know. The play's about our fight or flight instinct with relationships. My character's nomadic and avoids intimacy. The guy's thinking, "Maybe there's potential here," but she just runs away from it. James is funny. He's obviously very attractive, a handsome guy, but he's really goofy and you wouldn't expect that. Or at least I didn't.

You, your co-star and director are all working on a film together, too -- about silent-screen star Mary Pickford.

It's called "The First," and deals with the way actors became celebrities back in the golden age of cinema. Lily Rabe plays Mary Pickford, I play a screenwriter, Frances Marion, and James is Charlie Chaplin.

You're a writer yourself. You wrote and directed a short film and the Web series "Paloma."

I really, really love getting behind a camera. Eventually I'd like to tackle a feature. I've been looking at screenplays others have written, and I've been trying to write one with a friend. At my heart, I'm a performer but the two pursuits complement each other.

Must be nice working in your hometown for the summer. You grew up in New York, didn't you?

In SoHo.

Before it turned into a big Galleria mall.

Totally. It was industrial. Artists had taken over loft spaces. It was a new frontier.

My favorite street in New York was always Greene Street.

I grew up on Greene Street. Between Grand and Canal.

You're kidding! I love the cobblestones, and it used to have a cool assortment of funky, eclectic shops.

I remember as a preteen, they dug up the asphalt to reveal the original cobblestones, and they replaced the ugly aluminum lampposts with ones that seem more old-fashioned.

So you're a New Yorker. And a Mets fan.

I love baseball. As a teenager, I was a contrarian, and picked the underdog instead of just rooting for the Yankees. It's a hard team to root for, but there's something that always keeps me hopeful. I actually love listening to baseball. I really get into the announcers. It's almost like Valium. It totally relaxes me. I like listening to the radio more than going to the games, although I love the old stadiums, like Fenway and Wrigley Field. They're beautiful and simple -- they sell hot dogs, pretzels, beer -- that's it.

I was reading your Twitter feed, and one of your posts begins, "People!"

[She immediately starts laughing, knowing the tweet in question.]

"The spitting in New York has got to stop!" I thought, this must come from the heart.

It really did. I was reluctant to join Twitter. My biggest concern was, I don't want these thoughts that pop into my brain to be immediately broadcast. There's a danger in that. And also -- who cares? But that tweet was a moment when I was kind of laughing at the absurdity of New York and how crowded it is. And I think somebody had just spit right in front of me. I thought, "Aaaah, I'll tweet about it."

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