Julia Stiles – Just Between Friends
by Jay S. Jacobs
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.
“That 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 Diggs?
“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 buttons.
“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.”