New York: Sometimes, Hollywood feels like high school: impenetrable cliques, appearance angst, and of course the sobering sting of rejection.
Julia Stiles, who first garnered notice in high school-set flicks, knows this all too well. "There was a chunk of time right before `10 Things I Hate About You` that I got rejected so much," she recalls, wincing a little at the memory.
"And I remember just sobbing on the floor. I was devastated. It was like one role after another where I would get really close and it`d be down to me and somebody else and I wouldn`t get the part."
Of course, she finally got the part she was supposed to get all along: as whip-smart teen Kat Stratford in "10 Things," a 1999 contemporary update of "The Taming of the Shrew."
"I look back on the movies I didn`t get, and it never would`ve made sense for me to be in them," says the 29-year-old actress. "`Hot cheerleader` probably wouldn`t have been a good fit. I was quite angsty."
Her latest gig, as a bruised soul out for revenge in Showtime`s twisty "Dexter," is quite a departure from many of the uber-confident women we`ve seen her portray before.
As Lumen, a traumatized young woman who forges an unlikely bond with our favorite serial killer (Michael C. Hall), Stiles is heartbreaking, terrifying, and utterly watchable. A fan of the show, she says she heard through the grapevine that producers were crafting a mysterious female character and asked her agents to look into it. She usually chooses parts based on the writing, but with "Dexter," she said yes even though the role hadn`t been penned yet.
"I jumped at this opportunity and they had not shown me a single word on paper," she marvels. "I just spoke to the producers about what they envisioned for the arc of the character over the whole season, and after they told me what they imagined, I was speechless. I was so amazed and eager to be part of the show."
She was offered the role without having to audition, though she`s quick to note that advocates like "Dexter" executive producer John Goldwyn, who`d previously worked with her on "Save the Last Dance," helped tilt the scales in her favor. She has been immersing herself in Lumen`s unique world ever since. The character has been through a major trauma, so Stiles has found herself doing quite a bit of work to connect to the experience.
"I`m a firm believer that you don`t have to necessarily draw on personal experience. I cultivate my imagination, almost like meditating," she explains. Lumen "has an association: If someone touches her in a certain way, she`ll flinch, and to get that physical response takes a lot of thinking that then will connect to the muscles. I think I learned this from doing stage work: After repetition, the mind connects to the body."