Julia Stiles: Filming amid COVID-19 calls for an adjustment

"Riviera" star Julia Stiles said filming for the movie "Esther" in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is proving to be an unusual experience due to the COVID-19 safety measures on set. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI
1 of 3 | "Riviera" star Julia Stiles said filming for the movie "Esther" in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is proving to be an unusual experience due to the COVID-19 safety measures on set. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Riviera star Julia Stiles is back to work after seven months of COVID-19 lockdown, filming a prequel to 2009 horror hit Orphan -- and the experience couldn't be more different from shooting the Sundance Now drama.

Stiles, 39, who became an executive producer for Season 3 of Riviera, which premieres Thursday on streaming service Sundance Now, told UPI she finished filming for the series in March and "got on the last plane out" of Argentina before coronavirus travel restrictions took effect.


The actress spent the ensuing months sheltering in place in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband, Preston Cook, who works behind the camera on Riviera, and son Strummer, who turned 3 in October.

"It was definitely an adjustment, because I'm so used to moving around," Stiles said of transitioning from the globe-trotting filming of Riviera to life in Vancouver. "To have to be sort of static was challenging at first, but then it forced me to not run away from where I am, and it also forced me to be more still and quiet. There was a lot that was great about it."


Stiles, a native New Yorker who rose to fame in the 1990s with roles in films including 10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance, said her time in Vancouver allowed her to get to know the city. She previously spent only brief periods at the family's Canadian home.

Back to work

Stiles went back to work in late October, when production began on Esther, director William Brent Bell's prequel to horror film Orphan. The movie is filming in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"They picked this area because it had almost no COVID when they were prepping to film. There's a bit of a spike now," she said. "A lot of things have closed because of trying to control the COVID numbers."

She said the experience of filming during a pandemic is far different from anything else she encountered as an actor.

"You're really not supposed to socialize with people outside of your zone, and there's lots of protocol in place to protect everybody, which is good, but it's a different experience," she said.

"Normally, when you're on location, there is such a camaraderie, and you rely on the people you're working with to not make you feel homesick, and it's been a bit of an adjustment just kind of staying in a bubble."


Stiles said the actors are the only people on set who remove their face masks during filming, leading to some other unusual circumstances.

"When the crew is setting up the cameras and lights, the actor has to literally step away for distance, because we don't have our masks on," she said. "I'm going to have to bring crossword puzzles or something because most of that time is filled just chatting with other people, and now we're not allowed to do that."

The experience of filming in the Canadian cold during a pandemic is a far cry from shooting Season 3 of Riviera, which took the cast to exotic locations that included the titular French Riviera and Argentina.

"Looking back now, with all the travel restrictions in place, I feel so lucky to have gone to Venice, and gone to Saint-Tropez ... and then Argentina," Stiles said.

"Venice is absolutely beautiful. Because it's a water city, we would take boats to get to work every day. And we were filming largely night shoots, so we would take a boat during the sunset over the Grand Canal to get to work, and then by the time we finished our filming, it would be dawn, so going home was the sunrise."


Unraveling a conspiracy

Riviera stars Stiles as Georgina, a woman whose billionaire husband dies under mysterious circumstances at the start of the first season. The first two seasons dealt with the mystery of the apparent murder, and Season 3 sees Georgina teaming up with new ally Gabriel Hirsch (Rupert Graves) to unravel a global conspiracy that involves stolen artworks.

The third season marked Stiles' debut as an executive producer. She said the role gives her greater input on making changes to the story and the dialogue.

"I wanted to see scripts earlier so I could make suggestions that wouldn't be too late to change and implement," she said.

Her enhanced role on Riviera draws a sharp contrast with projects in which she works just as an actor.

"It's very collaborative with Riviera. [In] the movie I'm working on now, the script is the script, and I just have to execute it," she said.

Stiles said that while her role as producer gives her more input on her role as Georgina, the influence goes both ways.

"I think I discovered while making Riviera that one of the reasons I became an actress was because we get to play out on screen all of the things that we don't have the courage to play out in real life," she said.


"[Georgina] gets to be a lot more confrontational and fearless than I am in real life, so if anything, I've been more influenced in my own life by playing her."

Stiles said discussions have occurred about a possible fourth season for Riviera, but so far no concrete news has emerged.

"There's a lot of questions about it, like how would we film such an international show given the state of the world, and border restrictions, travel restrictions -- that's a big question," she said.

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