Julia Stiles has something to brag about: She’s the only actor who’s been all of the “Bourne” movies that feature Matt Damon (other than Matt Damon himself, that is). Her character has changed a lot, too. When we met her in “The Bourne Identity,” Nicky Parson’s was a mere technician working for a shadowy part of the government. By “Ultimatum” she was on the run with Bourne. When we reunite with her in the new “Jason Bourne,” she’s essentially Edward Snowden, looking to leak files that expose a corrupt agency. The actress, 35, says the movies are no mere action films but ones that comments on what’s going on in today’s fraught world.
Over the four films she’s been in, Nicky has dramatically evolved. She’s gone from a mere agent to a radical.
She’s radicalized but she’s alone. She’s not part of a group. She’s very much isolated, except when she seeks out her only ally, Jason Bourne. What I liked about this installment is Nicky’s involvement is very different. She’s a lot more active. She’s not just taking orders or being obedient or reactive. She’s been kind of in the wings until now. I thought she had a clean slate after we had left her in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” when she was put on a bus and had to go into hiding. Rather than just running for her life, she’s trying to take control and become incredibly rebellious and dissident.
And she’s still not remotely a token love interest, which is unusual.
Absolutely. The two female characters in this film never once stop in the middle of the action to make out with the leading man. That’s very different from these types of movies.
Strong female characters who aren’t defined by their relationships with men seem to be a little more on the rise these days.
It’s hard for me to talk about that on a big scale. This movie was made up of creative forces who are really intelligent, thoughtful, well-informed, conscientious people. But I do think the climate is changing. Audiences have expressed interest in seeing other types of roles for women. But honestly I’m a little sick of people denying roles for women that are the mother or the girlfriend or the wife. Those can still be interesting.
The “Bourne” films are unusually engaged with the politics of the day. What do you think “Jason Bourne” says about 2016?
The characters are struggling with having devoted their lives to an agency and a government that we’re all questioning now. Tommy Lee Jones’ character [one of the higher-ups in the clandestine agency] is on the other side of that: He thinks the ends justify the means. When I first read the script I really liked that when Nicky meets Jason Bourne again they do it in the middle of a huge chaotic riot, in a very volatile place in the world. That’s based on real events that happened. These movies take place in a world that’s very recognizable to what’s going on now.
There have been complaints about the poster featuring Jason Bourne holding a gun. But I don’t think these films are normal action movies that simply glorify violence.
The perspective of these movies are not that guns are cool or that violence is something macho and great. It’s actually the opposite of that. The main character is struggling with his conscience. He feels the repercussions of what he’s done in the past.