Anne Hathaway is clearly one of Hollywood’s brightest and most sought after stars. Next summer her star will certainly rise as Agent 99 in Get Smart, but meanwhile, US audiences can see her immerse herself in a British accent playing the young Jane Austen in Becoming Jane. Hathaway talked to Paul Fischer in New York.
Question: What was irresistible about playing Jane Austen and how terrifying was it?
Hathaway: The terror was incalculable. The pressure was intense throughout all of filming, but I really held fast to what had drawn me into the project in the first place which was what an amazing chance to take this woman who has only been seen as an icon and try to make her real. Give her, make sure she’s seen as flesh and blood. And that greatly appealed to me as an artist trying to cesse out what her artistic influences may have been.
Question: What did you discover in all your research about her?
Hathaway: Jane Austen was a lot more fun, a lot more mischievous then people ever give her credit for. We think of her as a very proper spinster. A lot more happened than her standard biography, which was she lived in Hampshire, never married, but wrote five books. That’s her standard biography and well there has to be more than that. And when I read the script, it occurred to me that I’d never really wondered about Jane Austen’s life. Compared to other authors, we want to know more about them, Jane Austen, I felt like I did know her because of her novels. I thought it was a great chance to learn a lot more about someone who mean t a lot to my life and whose work had meant a lot to my life.
Question: Any problems with the accent? Especially after being surrounded by mostly British actors?
Hathaway: Like an imposter most of the time. I worked very hard on the accent. I moved to England for a month before we started filming to really immerse myself and give myself a better shot at pulling it off. Everyone was so lovely and supportive to me when I would do it. I remember the first time I opened my mouth to talk to Julie Walters which was very intimidating – would have been in my own accent anyway. And here I am doing this British accent in front fo this goddess. And the first thing she said was, ‘Oh, you’ve already gotten it.’ And we still had a week and a half to go. Knowing I had the blessing of these wonderful British thespians definietely made a difference.
Question: Ever since ‘Devil Wears Prada’ costuming has been so important in your roles. What about the costumes in something like this?
Hathaway: It certainly does with all films — Costumes are very important. It’s fun to be able to use the costumes to give clues about your character, to try and take the external portrait and try to see how it corresponds to what’s going on internally .
Question: What has surprised you about your career so far? You’ve come a considerable way since ‘Princess Diaries.’ Is it a surprise to you?
Hathaway: Oh, yeah. I am genuinely surprised that I keep getting asked back.
Hathaway: Well, because I’m an actor, I’m horrifically insecure. (Laughs). All of this has been a surprise. I’m operating in a world when I was 14-years-old and dreaming of being an actress in New Jersey I didn’t know this was how it was done. I didn’t know this was possible. My idea of being an actor was understudying the lead in a Broadway show, having student loans, living with five other dancers and kind of waitressing on the side – that was my understanding of what an actress was. And for a lot of people that is what being an actress is. And for a lot of people that is what a successful actress is, so right now, from my understanding of it, I’m existing in a stratosphere that I find very surprising.
Question: You mentioned reading some of Jane Austen’s books. Can you talk about that? Were you a fan of hers? And what other books do you like to read?
Hathaway: I first read Jan Austen when I was 14-years-old. We had to pick an author who had written more than one book, and compare them, I don’t remember the exact parameters of the assignment, all I remember is that my brother was looking at colleges and we took a road trip from New Jersey to Vermont and I had a lot of time to read. And in a road trip from New Jersey to Vermont, it’s nice to feel transported and that’s exactly what Jane Austen did. And she became my friend, her books became my friends, and when I was in college, I revisited her. She seemed to come up in every single English class. She’s a wonderful author. Like I said, her work does transport, It’s fantastic entertainment, but there is so much going on, there is so many layers that you can’t help but analyzing the characters and you can’t help but try to understand it intellectually as opposed to only for it’s entertainment value. So, it’s wonderful. And then with this project, I really had to be analytical when I was studying it and ‘Persuasion’ became my favorite book which I’d never read before. And my other favorite? My favorite book in the world is ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ann Rynd.
Question: I think I read that when I was 15 or so.
Hathaway: Oh, you’re so much smarter. That’s why you’re a writer. I read it when I was 23.
Question: As an artist can you identify with the Jane Austen identified in this movie?
Hathaway: I find it very difficult to compare myself as an artist to her. I am just establishing myself and we know her work in it’s completed form. And she is a genius. I suspect I am not. (Laughs).
Question: What about her evolution?
Hathaway: Did I understand it? Well, yes. It was wonderful to be playing an artist discovering her own artistic process. Because I am very much at an age when I am discovering mine. It was wonderful to play a character that found inspiration in the world around her. I felt enormously inspired when I was making this movie and wrote my own poetry which should be burned. Burned. (Laughs.) So, it was great fun. I don’t, I would love to assume ownership – I would love to compare myself as an artist to an artist, but it’s just not something I’m comfortable doing. I’m sure you can all imagine.
Question: How fragmented is our knowledge of the whole business with Tom Lefroy?
Hathaway: Extremely. It is extremely, but we came up with a plausible argument based on limited fact. Jane Austen, I just read this in the press kit, we have 160 letters that Jane Austen has written. There is evidence to show she wrote more than 4,000. All evidence of different parts of her life. Her reactions to the world around her. Explanation of events, all of it is lost and as a result she is going to be an enigma for as long as people are interested in her. We did the best we could. We told a story we thought not only showed how love may have influenced her, but how the world in which she lived, actually did. I mean it’s not – yes, it’s a wonderful love story, but it’s also a portrait of an artist.
Question: Did you visit her house in Hampshire?
Hathaway: I was all set to go, had loaded up the car when I was in London and came up with a violent flu and I didn’t have a chance to go. I mean, I had every good intention and every plan in place, but I didn’t get to go.
Question: What was your reaction like with the Hardcore Jane Austen fans?
Hathaway: Oh, no, I got love letters from all the fans. (Laughs.) No, from what I understand there was resistance to my being cast based on the work that was available that they could judge me on. Who would have thought the girl from ‘The Princess Diaries’ would be able to play Jane Austen? It’s a fair question. That being said, I think I have done work since then that established me as a more credible actress. And hopefully this movie will continue to do so, we’ll see. And I’ve realized this so far now, between this film, ‘Get Smart,’ and other movies that I’ve done –you’re never going to be able to make everyone happy. Particularly when people have a deeply rooted love of the subject matter. So, you want to be respectful of everyone, but at the end you want to make a great movie and do your job well. So, it was kind of a hybrid of trying to make them happy, trying to make myself happy and trying to make the picture as good as it could be. I have been really, really pleased with the reaction of the Jane Austen fans. A lot of them appreciate what we did. A lot of them do like the film. Some don’t, but like I said, we knew that going in.
Question: Saw the trailer for ‘Get Smart.’ Looks very funny. How much fun is it to do that movie? And as Jane Austen remains a more ethereal character, Barbra Feldon remains much more tangeable. Were those shoes very hard to fill?
Hathaway: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Barbara Feldon is sublime. On par as we as close to we can get with a goddess on the planet. I’ve read some of her books, she’s so smart and charming and elegant and it really meant a lot to me when I found out that I had gotten Mel Brooks sign of approval, Leonard Cohen’s sign of approval and then Barbara Feldon’s. She was really happy with my casting and at the end of the day that really meant more to me than anything else.
Question: Did you meet her?
Hathaway: I haven’t. She was going to come up to the set, but something came up last minute. I think a project came up that she had to do, but no I haven’t met her, but in a way I’m happy it didn’t happen on set. I hope to meet her in private. I have loads of questions for her.
Question: How was shooting in Montreal? When were you there?
Hathaway: Recently, I was there for basically the month of June. It was wonderful, I didn’t get to see enough because I was injured on the set
Question: Was that old Montreal?
Hathaway: Both! Both. Yes we pretended to blow up a building in Montreal, but I got injured on the set and couldn’t walk for about a week. So, it was a stunt that went wrong. There was a pipe that I had to kick around and should have been covered, but wasn’t covered. And my shin smacked it and 15 stitches later. I spent a lot of time watching ‘The Office’ and not seeing Montreal.
Question: Carrel must have loved that.
Hathaway: Somedays I would come in having seen–I mean, I was a fan of his before, but I really hadn’t gotten into the office. And I would come in and I would just stare at him and he would just be like, ‘O.K., you’re creeping me out.’ And I would just be like — do you remember the Chris Farely Show? ‘Do you remember when you said that joke about the crabs and the lobster? Was that funny for you?” That’s the way I felt.
Question: Has it been hard to develop the physical comedy you used in ‘Get Smart’?
Hathaway: A lot of my other roles have had physical comedy this one was much more about the repor with Steve. It was a very physical role, but in terms of physical comedy that was more his job. I had to look like a credible spy, we’ll see.
Question: Country dancing can be difficult. How hard was the dancing for this?
Hathaway: I don’t want to sound like a prig or anything or a obnoxious annoying girl, but I’m a trained dancer. It doesn’t mean that I’m Martha Graham, but I spent 13 years dancing, I pick up choreography pretty easily and I was alright. You can tell from the movie that I’m not an unbelievable dancer, but I got it very quickly, everyone else it was really fun. It was really fun, because Julie got to do the dance with us so we kept looking up to see what she was doing and she was laughing her ass off the whole time. All the boys in the British cast, well Lawrence Fox was wearing these fleece-lined convers (?) and Joe Anderson and James McAvoy were both wearing these really heavy boots. And then we have all of these trained dancers with air steps and then there is us clunky actors. The rehearsals were really funny. The first take of one of the dancers which we never really got to finish learning, it was so ridiculous.
I think it might be on the DVD, but everybody fell, everybody tripped, people just all of a sudden looked up and bashed into each other. I mean, it was a very funny but a bit embarrassing.
Question: Is the person writing in the movie as Jane you or a double?
Hathaway: I learned how to do calligraphy. It’s really difficult and I have no visual arts skills whatsoever. I have terrible handwriting, I can’t draw a straight line. I mean, really, really, appalling. So, I got the cursive good, but I didn’t think it was good enough. So at the very end I asked Julian if he wouldn’t mind shooting those inserts with a hand double. I actually thought it honored Jane more than if I tried to do it myself. I would have loved to, but I just didn’t have those skills.
Question: What are you doing now?
Hathaway: Now? I just wrapped ‘Get Smart.’ And I did a film earlier in the year called ‘Passengers’ and I’m going to work on a Jonathan Demme movie in the fall called ‘Dancing with Shiva.’
Question: Who do you play in that?
Hathaway: It’s a fun premise for a movie actually. It’s not fun, it’s a dark comedy. The story is, I play an ex-model who has been in and out of rehab for ten years. And has just come out of an eight month stay, but she’s really serious about it this time. And she arrives home on the weekend of her sister’s wedding.
Question: So you go from ‘Devil Wears Prada’ to another fashion movie…
Hathaway: No, it doesn’t deal with modeling at all, that’s just a side of my character’s backstory.
Question: Who plays your sister?
Hathaway: We don’t know yet. Jonathan hasn’t cast her, but Debra Winger plays my mother. That is very cool.
Question: And Demme would be a very interesting director to work with I’d think.
Hathaway: Oh, I love him, this has been — I have worked with some extraordinary directors — Julian included, but this has really been my year of wonderful directors. I worked with Rodrigo Garcia and then Pete Segal and now Jonathan Demme. And it’s been a wonderful year. I felt very protected by all of these men and…
Question: And Ang Lee…
Hathaway: Yeah, it’s kind of sick the people that I’ve worked with. I mean, it’s extraordinary to say that at one point these people believed in me. And some of them continue to do so and that’s just amazing.
Question: We are starting to hear from actors because of the possible strike next year that they are booking a lot of films in advance. Are you doing that yourself?
Hathaway: I’d love to be able to squeeze one more movie in if it all comes together. I’m in a really lucky position. I’m sitting on three or four movies right now and one of them is this enormous summer comedy. I don’t feel as much pressure, but I do feel more pressure to find theater for the strike time because I imagine everyone is going to be scrambling.
Question: It’s ironic, because Aaron Eckhart said the same thing yesterday.
Hathaway: Well give me a call Aaron, let’s figure something out. (Laughs.)
Question: Is there something you want to do onstage in particular?
Hathaway: Yes and let me tell you all about it. (Laughs.) Of course, there is a million things I want to do. Musicals, straight plays, tap dancing projects. I just want to do everything. We’ll see what happens.
Question: A little while ago you talked about finding your place. Can you talk about the directors you’ve worked with and what they gave you?
Hathaway: O.K. Gary Marshall was the best first director to have ever. He’s kind of like a grandfather to me now. He was just so loving and saw the very raw talent in me and edited it together so I came as a much more polished actress then I was at the time. That was one of the most fortunate things that could have happened to me. Flash forward to Ang Lee. I never really talk about this, but it was difficult for many years to think, ‘Have I peaked? Am I only going to be the girl from ‘The Princess Diaries’? I want to do so much more, but is anyone going to see me as anything else?’ And then Ang Lee said, ‘Yes, I see you as something else.’ And that was not only amazing for me to develop as an actress, to kind of get closer to truth in my performance, but just psychologically for my ego just to hear that Ang Lee thinks I’m good was remarkable. When I’m having bad days I tell myself that. Y’know, David Frankel helped me come off as a woman. Julian gave me so much freedom within this role to create for myself. Rodrigo Garcia, they all have had such a wonderful impact. Jonathan right now, as much as I love everyone, I have never trusted anyone as much as I trust Jonathan, so I’m really excited for what that’s going to yield – where I’m going to go with that one.
Question: What is ‘Passengers’?
Hathaway: ‘Passengers’ is a romantic thriller centered around — the story is about – centers around a plane crash. Five people have survived a plane crash and I am the therapist who is assigned to deal with their post-traumatic stress. And as I begin to help them they begin to remember the accident and what they remember is different than what the airline saying happened. And as they start to remember more, they start disappearing.
Question: Do you go to therapy to see what it is like?
Hathaway: Well, I have been to therapy, but no, I did meet with a therapist and spoke with her for hours and hours and hours and asked her every question under the sun. And was still asking questions as she pushed me out the door. ‘OK, I have patients now, thank you.’
Question: It’s funny, you sort of light up every time you talk about the research. Do you really enjoy that?
Hathaway: I am an absolute card carrying geek. So, yes, I love it. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the fact I didn’t finish school, but it’s wonderful discovering news things. And like most people it sets me off on a path where you can weigh your own choices, you can weigh your own experiences versus theirs and learn more about yourself. And think, ‘What would I have done if I were confronted with the same set of circumstances?’ for me, it’s a process that makes me feel very alive. I love research.
Question: Do you have any regrets not finishing school?
Hathaway: I’m 24 I don’t have time for any regrets. I have plenty of time to finish school. Of course, I definitely want to finish school, but I am very proud of what has taken me away from school at the same time. Don’t count me out on that one.
Question: What about the academic side, what about the irony in this story and all of Austen’s stories. How did you incorporate that into the story?
Hathaway: Well, by irony do you mean how we were referencing her other stories that she wound up writing stories that had happy endings while she herself [was not]? I mean I assumed she was happy in her life, I assumed she was, but she did have certain tragic things that happened to her. So, if by irony, you mean the unexpected happening, that would be it. For me, a lot of — irony invites a lot of interpretation and for me at least, makes me look to see what are the layers are in underneath it. The double, triple entendres. Jane
Austen was like quadrouple entendres. She was such a genius. We were very happy. I love that scene in the film when she discusses irony, bringing together contradictory truths and that was a fun scene to do. I’m not sure I quite got accomplished the way I wanted to play, but I think it’s close enough. So, that probably didn’t answer your question at all.
Question: How do you deal with the paparazzi?
Hathaway: Honestly life is so much bigger than papparazi attention. It comes and it goes. And when it’s big it’s sort of annoying. And when it’s not there I don’t miss it, but there is so much else going on, it’s not really worth thinking about it.
Question: So what keeps you grounded then.
Hathaway: Gravity. (Laughs.) Sorry, I have – well, first of all I’d like to think a part of it is just me not being an asshole. I mean, I hope. That’s really what I hope it is. I have to give my family credit. I come from salt of the earth people. Their lives haven’t changed since their daughter or niece or cousin is a well-known actress or has been in popular films. And they still go about their own routines. And I want to be a source of surprise for them, not a source of shame. So, that’s a big part of it. But like I said, Like I said, I’m still 24, mistakes can still come.
Question: So, when are you doing to do a musical?
Hathaway: I wish I could say I say I’ve already done ten. I wish I could say tomorrow. The fact of the matter is, we’re working on it. My whole team. I have calls out to so many people, we are all desperately trying to find something that is feasible for producers that would fit into a theater. You have no idea, I had no idea it is to get a musical together considering…
Question: Is there one musical you’d love to do in real life?
Hathaway: Well, I have always said my big dream is to do ‘My Fair Lady.’ I would absolutely adore it. I would love to play Anne in ‘A Little Night Music.’ And I’m getting a little too old for it now. Sally Bowles, that would be remarkable. I would love to play Miss Adelaide. All of them.
Question: ‘Carnival’ is the last thing you did?
Hathaway: ‘Carnival’ is the last thing I did. I sung at Steven Sondheim’s birthday celebration. Both of them. I did a few encore concerts, but no that was the last time I got on stage and did a musical. It remains my favorite job and I’ve had some great jobs.
Question: Have you seen ‘Xanadu’ yet?
Hathaway: No, I actually haven’t, the last thing I saw was ‘The Drowsey Chaperone’? Have you seen ‘Xanadu’?
Question: Yes, it’s amazing. If you love musicals you’ve got to go.
Hathaway: O.K., O.K., definitely, because I saw the movie the original. I don’t mean that the way it sounds. (Laughs.) I mean, Gene Kelly was magic in the movie..
Question: That’s it though.
Hathaway: Well, I know, but I was sick and the time and this is the best movie to watch when you are sick ever. (Laughs.) What’s the guys name? Sam Malone? No, that’s ‘Cheers.’ Sonney Malone! It’s one of the best awful movie names ever.