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May 16, 2006

Julia Stiles: 'The Hardest Things I've Learned'

Julia Stiles speaks frankly about secret superstitions (we 'out' Blanky), being madly in love, and the liability of intelligence in Hollywood.

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Julia Stiles enters the small French café a blur of apologies. She was running late, she went to the wrong address — "I'm a jackass," she says, shaking her head sheepishly. "I'm the one who suggested this place, and I can't even show up on time!"

As she makes a little pantomime of rushing to her seat, in her gray jeans, skinny purple V-neck sweater, chunky black clogs and silver thumb ring, she looks a lot like the college student that, just a year ago, she actually was. In fact, there's hardly a trace of the red carpet to this 25-year-old, whose preternaturally clear skin, huge brown eyes and unfussy blonde hair make her look more like the girl on the Swiss Miss cocoa box than Miss Hollywood. For her part, Stiles swears she's often mistaken for a Scandinavian tourist on the streets of her native New York City, especially when she wears a particular jacket with a cheery sunburst appliqué on the back. "I feel like there has to be a reason why Scandinavian people always approach me and ask me for directions," she says.

Luckily for those wayward Scandinavians, Stiles isn't one to pull a "Don't you know who I am?" But we certainly do know: She's been a working actress since age 12 — after she famously wrote a letter, in crayon, to the director of an avant-garde theater company, looking for roles. ("I was very naive," she explains, smiling.) She made a name for herself doing Shakespeare, both mass-market adaptations (10 Things I Hate About You, in 1999) and "thinky" stage performances (Twelfth Night in NYC's Shakespeare in the Park, in 2002). She's done feel-good popcorn flicks like Save the Last Dance and Mona Lisa Smile and horror-thrillers like this month's remake of The Omen. It's a movie she says she was initially "too chicken" to do, because she's prone to superstition — and even though she says she's better now than she used to be, she knocks on wood about twice every hour. While she's still in the process of learning how to let that particular quirk go, here are 10 things she's learned for sure so far:

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