Relationships are never easy, however in the movie
Between Us, the divisions which can consume a couple are ratcheted up to a spectacular
degree. The movie is based on a Joe Hortua play about two couples who were
long-time friends. The four meet on two different nights about a year
or so apart, just as each relationship is imploding.
It's not exactly easy viewing, but it's even harder
to perform. Between Us essentially has four characters in its
world. Others pop in and out, but these two couples are the complete
focus of the film. Luckily for the filmmakers, they hooked up with
four extraordinarily talented actors to do their heavy lifting.
One couple is made up Grace and Carlo, a pairing who start the film as romantically head over
heels, only to become bitter combatants when a baby and economic
concerns boil over. Grace is played by Julia Stiles, the former
teen star who has been in as diverse roles as The Bourne
series, 10 Things I Hate About You, a season of Dexter
and last year's Oscar favorite Silver Linings Playbook. Carlo is portrayed by the extremely talented
theatrical song-and-dance man Taye
Diggs of Private Practice, Rent and Chicago.
Their college friends are Sharyl and Joel, a more
financially sound duo who snipe at each other mercilessly in their
antiseptic Connecticut McMansion only to eventually find a certain
amount of common ground through therapy. They are portrayed with
great intensity by David Harbour (The Newsroom) and Melissa
George (Bag of Bones).
The film shows people at their lowest points, being
petty and antagonistic and going out of their way to hurt the people
that they supposedly love. It's tough waters for any actor to
negotiate. However, despite the fact that this look at modern
relationships was often quite uncomfortable, Julia Stiles was all in
as soon as she read the script.
subject matter is my jam," Stiles admits. "Meaning I can't get
enough of stories that explore the nature of love, marriage,
fidelity and commitment."
The film had a very interesting structure. It kept
flipping back in time. In early scenes Grace and Carlo were
blissfully in love and happy and Joel and Sharyl were ready to kill
each other. In later scenes the second couple has reconciled and
Grace and her husband are miserable.
"One of the things I really liked about the
adaptation of the play was that it wasn't chronological," Stiles
says. "We were able to rehearse the two time periods separately. We
shot in that order too, so that made it easier."
So was it easy to pretend Stiles was coming to hate
"He's delightful," Stiles says enthusiastically. "I
felt really bad having to yell at him in the later scenes. But
that's drama, right?"
Yes, indeed it is drama. Couples – no matter how
perfect for each other – are going to hit serious rough spots.
Still, seeing two sometimes-perfect couples disintegrating on screen
makes it hard to believe that it is possible for a pair to stay
blissfully happy together.
"Anything is possible," Stiles acknowledges, "but
sometimes the difficulties in a relationship make it stronger, and
allow the love the get deeper."
One interesting thing about the movie is that it was
not even acknowledged that Grace and Carlo were an interracial
couple. It makes one wonder if the world has moved to a point that
this kind of thing can be just taken as natural.
"I bet there are subtle difficulties, but it
certainly isn't stigmatized anymore," Stiles agrees. "Then again, I
live in New York."
Still, if she and her husband character were going
through a bad stretch, that is nothing compared to the alienation
she feels from her old college friends. From the very beginning of
the film, Grace appears to have nothing but disdain for Joel and Sharyl. Perhaps there are certain people in life that just push your
"Yes, but you have to ask yourself why," Stiles
says. "Usually when someone angers you or can provoke you easily,
you have to look more deeply at why they have that power. I don't
think Grace disliked the other couple, I think she was envious."
The movie says
some very cynical things both about marriage and about
friendship. However, it only seemed natural to Stiles that this
particular story would take such an unblinking look at
"I think the film does have a harsh outlook, but a
gentler one wouldn't make for good drama."
Luckily, Stiles didn't have to draw on an actual
incident to get into the mindset of Grace. In fact, as an actress
who has been working steadily since she was a little girl, Stiles is
used to creating these situations from the script and her own ideas.
"I am more fond of using my imagination," she says,
"rather than drawing on real experience."
Stiles' imagination has been captured by film since
she was a child, so it's no surprise that she worked her way into
the world of filmmaking. When she was a little girl she was having
her eyes opened by such iconic films as Desperately Seeking
Susan. Psycho. Born on the Fourth of July. Cool Hand Luke and
her personal favorite, the comic 1986 film version of the board game
Clue, which she says can always make her smile when
she is a bad mood.
She also had an eclectic group of actors and artists
that whet the appetite to join in this business called show.
"Audrey Meadows, Madonna, Tim Curry," Stiles
recalls, "and then when I got older Paul Newman and every actor in
every Christopher Guest movie."
As Madonna being in that list suggests, movies are
not her only true love. She enjoys music just as much, and sometimes
finds it even more moving.
"Music can make me incredibly nostalgic," Stiles
says. "I cry more with songs than movies. And on airplanes, so you
could pretty much put on anything in an airplane and I'll cry."
Still, all these years later, it amazes her that she
makes a living as she does.
"I've been so lucky to make a living being creative,
traveling and playing make-believe," Stiles says.
Now having done dozens of roles since she debuted in
twenty years ago on the old PBS series Ghostwriter, it's
difficult for her to pick a role she feels best represents her work.
"It's really hard to say," Stiles admits. "I
actually want a do-over on a lot of them."
One role that would not be set for a do-over would
be her season-long arc on the popular Michael C. Hall serial killer
drama Dexter. On the show, she played a traumatized
kidnapping victim. She was saved from a hardened murderer by Dexter and then
joined him to get revenge on her captors.
"I was so spoiled working on that show because I
loved what they wrote for me," Stiles says. "It was a delight,
especially the kill room scenes."
also had a large role in last year's Oscar winner Silver Linings
Playbook with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Stiles
played Lawrence's uptight older sister and was impressed by her
"The first thing I noticed about Jennifer is her
strength," Stiles says. "She really is unlike any young actress I've
met. And she was reading Anna Karenina, which was pretty
Her character was a bit of a journey for Stiles,
though. In fact in her long career, Stiles feels that this role may
have been the one that was least like she is in real life.
"It's hard to say how much I inform a character and
how much it informs me. I'd say Veronica in Silver Linings
was a stretch."
Still, Stiles wanted the role, eventually
auditioning for director David O. Russell twice. Her faith in the
project was rewarded. The whole cast and crew was pleasantly surprised to
find the film did surprisingly well for such a small-budget movie. A
few months later, Stiles was out there rooting for her co-stars
Cooper, Lawrence and Robert De Niro on Oscar night.
"You can never predict how a movie will be received,
particularly one dealing with a difficult subject matter like mental
illness," Stiles admits. "I remember really liking the script. It
was a good affirmation to have it well received. I was so honored to
be a part of that."