The actress reflects on the film that made her famous, almost two decades after its release.
It has now been almost 20 years since the cinematic release of 10 Things I Hate About You. And in the crowded category of late Nineties/early Noughties high school movies, Gil Junger’s rom-com stands out for being smarter, spikier and just plain cooler than most. Based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, it features a killer soundtrack, two genuinely sweet love stories, and – in the form of Kat Stratford – one of the best rom-com heroines the world has ever seen.
Kat, played with scowling aplomb by Julia Stiles, could easily be a surface-level feminist cliché. Troubled, clever, solitary and rude, she eschews parties, dresses and boyfriends, preferring to play guitar and read Sylvia Plath. But thanks to Stiles’ performance and screenwriters Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith, she becomes something much more complex and convincing: a vulnerable teenage girl who is nonetheless perfectly able to take down anyone who crosses her.
Now, Julia Stiles has spoken about the role that catapulted her to international fame. The actress was just 17 when she filmed 10 Things I Hate About You, her first leading film role. And in an interview with EW, she says she knew from the start that 10 Things was something special.
“I was an auditioning actor and mostly I would go out for commercials and they would tell me that I wasn’t bubbly enough,” she says.
“They always thought I was angry so to read a part like Kat I was like, ‘Ah, this is perfect for me!’”
From the moment she read the script, Stiles was “desperate for the part” of Kat.
“It was so refreshing to see a teenage girl who was so feisty,” she explains. “I thought that the writers had a healthy dose of cynicism with their humour that you don’t always find with teen romantic comedies.”
Stiles has appeared in many genres of film over the years, but says that romantic comedies will always have a place in her heart. But when making a rom-com, she adds, a few ingredients are essential.
“For starters, the key to a good romantic comedy is that the people making it know that they’re making a romantic comedy,” she says.
“The makers of it have to have a sense of humour and not take themselves too seriously but also not be dumb about it and not pander to the audience.”
That pretty much sums up why we love 10 Things I Hate About You – that and the Heath Ledger marching band scene, of course.
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