Julia Stiles is the star of Blue, one of the series on the new Wigs channel, a new project led by renowned directors Jon Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia, that brings scripted dramas to YouTube. Although Wigs operates on relatively small budgets and won't put actors in the running for Oscars or Emmys for their performances, the compelling characters and lack of red tape typically brought on by Hollywood studios has drawn A-list talent like Jennifer Garner, America Ferrera, and Dakota Fanning. I spoke with Stiles about her role in Blue, in which she plays a prostitute who struggles with keeping her secret from her son and co-workers at her day job.
You play a woman with a secret life as a prostitute. What drew you to the role?
I've always been really fascinated with every question surrounding the idea of people paying for sex, but in terms of how it's handled in movies and on TV, I've been reluctant or too shy to approach it.
Why were you reluctant?
When you have a main character who is paid to have sex with people, obviously you're going to have to show some sex and I'm kind of a private person.
What is most interesting to me about the way [the director Rodrigo Garcia] handled it in terms of the writing, is that you see her in every aspect of her life, not just when she's at work. You see her play many different roles. There's her working as an escort, there's her being a Mom, there's her being a daughter, there's her being a friend and a good co-worker. I do think that it's a great setup for any story, to have a main character who has a secret life and is buried in the lives she has to tell to keep it secret.
You mentioned being interested by the idea of paying for sex. How did your view of prostitution and the business of sex change from playing this role?
I'm still struggling to answer the question: what is the psychological reason that a woman would work in that way? The money obviously is tempting and good, but there is a price to pay. In one of the later episodes, my character asks one of her clients in daylight why he's paying for sex. He's a handsome man — it's not like he couldn't get a girl to sleep with him. When money is involved, the dynamic between sexual partners changes and that is very curious to me.
You've gravitated to roles playing women who are strong, independent thinkers. How have you managed to do that? Has it been a personal choice or are those the roles you're offered?
I would like to think that I have a lot of control in my career, but I don't really think that I do. The roles pick you. One thing I would say that was really interesting about choosing to play a character who was an escort in this context, is that it was completely elective. Nobody was really getting paid [actor salaries were much lower than big-budget film and television jobs], there was no reward [like an Oscar] that can really be given out for doing a good job. It was just based on my pure interest in the story and wanting to work with the directors. I joke that I got paid less than my character Blue got paid turning tricks.
Many actresses have complained about the lack of good roles for women in movies and TV. Do you agree that there are a limited number of interesting female roles out there?
I don't feel that way in terms of quantity — I think there are interesting roles for women in movies and television, but they tend to just play one thing. So they're the mother or the daughter or the girlfriend or the wife, and the difference for me in this role was that you see the character in all aspects of her life. You see her in many different roles — as the mom, the daughter, the friend, the co-worker, the escort.