My worst moment: Julia Stiles and the grocery thief who was actually her costar

©Chicago Tribune

Julia Stiles attends CNN Heroes at the American Museum of Natural History on Dec. 8, 2019 in New York City. - Mike Coppola/Getty Images North America/TNS

For the first two seasons of the conspiracy thriller “Riviera” on the Sundance Now streaming platform

At the start of Season 3, however, Stiles’ character has extricated herself from this family and relocated to London where she teaches art history. “She’s trying to get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Stiles. “And then in walks Gabriel Hirsch, played by Rupert Graves, and he offers her a job that she can’t refuse, which promises more adventure than what she is currently doing. They go to Venice and they’re trying to track down a Picasso that had been stolen and is being sold on the black market. But she’s quickly pulled back to St. Tropez, where the grapevine is very thick and all those families all know each other. She tried to get out, but they keep pulling her back in.”

“Riviera” is the latest project in a career that spans everything from “10 Things I Hate About You” to the Chicago-set “Save the Last Dance” to the Jason Bourne movies to “Hustlers.”

When asked about a cringe-y moment in her career, she said: “This happened recently. Literally last weekend.”

My worst moment …

“I’m working on this movie, ‘Orphan: First Kill,’ which is a prequel to (the 2009 horror film) ‘Orphan.’

“Anyway, I had to isolate for a few days until my COVID test results came in, and I’m here with my son, so I ordered groceries to be delivered — this was the night before we were starting rehearsals and costume fittings. When I went downstairs to the lobby to pick up the delivery, I see this guy walking up the stairs with a bag of groceries, and he’s walking away from me.

“So I said, ‘Oh hey, excuse me’ — thinking he was taking my groceries. And he got very flustered and he said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I ordered groceries too and I didn’t realize these weren’t mine.’ And I was like, yeah, sure. It was clearly kids food — like juice boxes and mac and cheese.

“So he walked away and I get in the elevator with my son. And to try to make light of it, I just kept saying in a sing-songy kid’s voice, ‘What a jerk! What a jerk! What a jerk!’ And it became this running joke with my son.

“The next morning I have to go to work and I get in the van where they pick up all the actors. And there was the grocery thief — it was the actor playing my husband in this movie (laughs).

“He introduced himself and said, ‘You totally thought I was stealing your groceries. Why would you think that?’”

What was going through her mind when she realized it was her costar?

“He’s a well-known actor, his name is Rossif Sutherland, his father is Donald Sutherland. But the thing with COVID is that we all are wearing masks, right? So I didn’t realize it was him at the time.

“I said, ‘Why didn’t you introduce yourself? I didn’t know it was you obviously.’ And he was like, ‘Well, that would have been even more weird, so I just let it go.’ And I said, ‘Did you know it was me?’ And he said, ‘Yeah!’

This feels like something that could only happen to actors, who might not meet their costar until the first time they shoot a scene together.

“Yes, and it’s also specific to being on location, where you’re plopped into a new place, you don’t know anybody, and particularly because of COVID, it’s harder to socialize so you’re just kind of on your own.

“I recorded a voice memo of my son saying, ‘What a jerk! What a jerk!’ — because I had sent it to all my friends, saying, like, ‘Can you believe it, I’m in Winnipeg and this guy tried to steal my groceries!’ — so I played the tape for him in the car that morning and we laugh about it now.

“But I was wondering what he was thinking of me in that moment. Was he thinking that I was mean? When I saw him stealing my groceries, he had on a ski hat and a surgical mask, so to me he was just some dude. And when we got in the van, we’re still wearing masks — but then it clicked. And then we laughed about it. I made us laugh about it playing my son’s recording of ‘What a jerk! What a jerk!’

“So now his nickname is Grocery Thief and I’m the jerk.”

If he didn’t have a sense of humor about it, it might have been awkward trying to generate the bond of husband and wife on camera.

“That’s something you can’t manufacture. It’s chemistry. I know that sounds hokey. But it requires two people being respectful to each other and kind to each other and there’s a thing that happens with actors, myself included, the main thing that you have get over is this fear of being humiliated. And that can play tricks on people, right? That can manifest into people being mean or being introverted or being paranoid or insecure. So both people have to be on board to support each other.

“But that said, people are complicated so it’s always this mysterious thing of, are those two actors going to trust each other and be there for each other?

“So we got off to a good start (laughs).”

The takeaway …

“Don’t assume the worst in people.”


©2020 Chicago Tribune