Anne Hathaway seemed immensely proud of herself but also reluctant, initially, to make too big a deal of her experience filming the family dramedy "Rachel Getting Married." The loosely staged movie -- which follows a New England family over the course of an emotionally wrought weekend of nuptial revelry -- came out last month and has been generating the earliest of early Oscar buzz for Hathaway ever since.
Seated in the garden patio of a Beverly Hills hotel, the former 'tween icon spoke self-deprecatingly of her "great, spooky, unspoken" connection with "Rachel" director Jonathan Demme. She also detailed how staying in character for the duration of the shoot was "liberating" because it enabled her to concentrate on nothing other than being in the moment. And at one point, Hathaway chided herself for "sounding a little crazy" to take it all so seriously.
But once she got started discussing what she had learned about herself while inhabiting the role -- a recovering addict-alcoholic named Kym who checks out of rehab to attend her sister's wedding, arriving with no small amount of psychological baggage -- the 25-year-old actress (whose early image as a wholesome ingenue was cemented with two "Princess Diaries" films) could barely curb her enthusiasm.
"I've done films where I hung my head in shame about my work," Hathaway said. "But this was an entirely satisfying experience. The experience I imagined as a child when I wanted to get into acting: total immersion in character, laser focus on it, going off with a tribe of artists to tell a story. It was a dream every step of the way."
She recalled the film's documentary-like shoot -- specifically, the esprit de corps of its ensemble cast, a crazy quilt of rock stars and documentarians, slam poets and hip-hop pioneers. Hathaway looked casual in a pair of jeans, her hair pulled back in a ponytail and wearing no makeup. Relating how she was never sure when the camera was on or off of her, Hathaway began making her points with vivid physical pantomime.
At one juncture in the conversation, she waved her index finger and pinkie around -- heavy metal-style -- shouting "Professional anarchy in film!" (the idea being that her willingness to play an "unlikable" character was akin to "punk rock"). And at another point, Hathaway mimicked an out-of-breath distance runner stooped by fatigue (this to illustrate Kym's weary wherewithal to carry on in the face of a family tragedy that her loved ones hold Kym explicitly responsible for, the literal bane of her existence). Then Hathaway grew teary. But more on that later.
To hear the actress tell it, "Rachel Getting Married" helped her grow up. "It was such a breakthrough for me in terms of my character, a breakthrough in terms of my acting," Hathaway exclaimed. "And then it became a breakthrough in terms of my life. It was a big thing!"
Viewed another way, Hathaway learned to stop worrying and love the character's flaws and frailties en route to accepting her own.
"This is the movie that made me stop moralizing about my characters," she said. "I used to do that a lot. It limited me. You unconsciously try to pull out the likable traits and bury the unlikable ones. That's just so . . . boring! Give people a person and let them decide what they like and don't like about that person. Don't be so controlling."
Suddenly deciding to put her exuberance in check, she added: "I don't want to deconstruct it too much. It's just growing up. As a woman, a person, as an artist. I feel like I'm looser now when it comes to acting."
But at a moment when the actress' critical notices have never been better -- at a time when she has never been taken more seriously in the industry or had her pick of most of the best young female roles circulating in Hollywood -- there is also a competing notion of Anne Hathaway: as a woman taken advantage of, hoodwinked by the dashing rogue who stole her heart but also tried to make off with ill-gotten millions. Of course, as any celeb watcher knows, this is no movie.
In early spring, the actress ended her four-year relationship with Italian businessman Raffaello Follieri, a playboy roue whose avocation was living large; yacht travel and five-star hotels were the norm. But when things began to go sour for Follieri, Hathaway reportedly paid his rent to the tune of $37,000 a month. Just two weeks after the couple's breakup, he was arrested for posing as a representative for the Vatican convincing investors the Catholic Church would sell them property at a discount.
Rumors percolated through the celebrity media about Hathaway's possible complicity in the sting; was she involved? did she help set it up? And as the actress made her rounds to promote "Rachel Getting Married" on morning chat programs and late-night talk shows, she cringed and grimaced her way through the interviews as she was repeatedly grilled about the ordeal. (Late last month, Follieri was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.)
"I don't wish to talk about my personal life," she said. "But I talked about it before there was anything newsworthy to talk about. I set the precedent. And now, out of respect for the machine, I have to honor it."
She framed the surge of interest in her personal life around what her character experiences in "Rachel Getting Married." "The one thing I will say that is interesting to my specific situation is, I'm playing a character who's coming home and everybody knows her 'bidness.' And here I am promoting this movie and everyone knows my business. It's one of those moments where art imitates life."
Hathaway brushes off any serious discussion of her Oscar-worthiness by pointing out the competition. "Whenever Meryl Streep has a movie like 'Doubt,' she is the sole front-runner. I haven't even seen it and I know I'm not going to beat that," she said. "I know I'm just the first of about 15 women in great roles this year. It doesn't diminish my work. I'm just the first one out here."
"It's delightful and flattering," Hathaway said. "And then I think, 'My little brother just left for Oxford. Does he have a comforter?' He left two days ago and I'm freaking out. I'm really struggling with it. I'm always the one that leaves and it's not OK that my brother is . . . I'm going to cry, I'm so proud of him."
She paused, her eyes welling with tears. She seemed caught off guard by the emotion.
"I don't expect all this to last -- the good, the bad, the scrutiny. It's just a moment. I'm not going to hold on too tight in any respect."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
At 25, Anne Hathaway hasn't been making movies long. But in the few years she's been at it, she's managed to tap into all the career-making genres -- family film, comedy, period piece and now a buzz-generating Jonathan Demme film. Here are the highlights:
"Bride Wars," 2009: A wedding comedy with Kate Hudson coming Jan. 9.
"Rachel Getting Married," 2008: This year's performance buzz maker.
"Get Smart," 2008: Fun and frolicking with Steve Carell.
"Becoming Jane," 2007: Channeling Jane Austen's early years.
"The Devil Wears Prada," 2006: Holding her own against a steely Meryl Streep.
"Brokeback Mountain," 2005: The rodeo queen who married the wrong man.
"The Princess Diaries," 2001: The Disney movie that launched a career.