Friday 18 August 2017

Hathaway's talent shines as she lays herself bare

The actress's ability is more revealing than her onscreen nudity in her latest outing, writes Evan Fanning

ROYAL TURN: From Disney princess to portraying Kate Middleton in a comedy, Anne Hathaway is the new queen of Hollywood. Photo: Reuters
ROYAL TURN: From Disney princess to portraying Kate Middleton in a comedy, Anne Hathaway is the new queen of Hollywood. Photo: Reuters

Evan Fanning

'When you are making a film, you're not thinking about the final product," Anne Hathaway says in her very assured, breathless way. "It's very distracting if you do that."

Given that in many of Hathaway's scenes in her latest film she is wearing only her birthday suit, the 28-year-old's ability to block out the fact that these images will one day be on show to millions of people throughout the world may be one reason why she is such a good actress -- something recognised by her nomination last week as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy in the Golden Globes.

With her long, shampoo-ad hair and perfect, pale skin, she is almost more striking in real life than she is on camera. She talks at an almost furious pace, although today she seems a little weary of discussing how much time she spends in her new movie in various states of undress while getting down and dirty with her co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, with whom she also appeared in Brokeback Mountain.

In Love and Other Drugs, Hathaway and Gyllenhaal go at it on the floor, on the table and in the bedroom, which made for, in Hathaway's words, "an intense shoot", but today she seems keener to stress that the scenes "served the script" and that it was all part of the artistic process.

"I didn't think about [the nude scenes] too much," she explains. "It made sense to their story. We worked very intensively with Ed [Zwick, the director] to make sure that it was never just a shot of nudity, that each time the story was advancing and something new about the character was being revealed and that the audience had no reason to become dis-engaged or distracted."

While Love and Other Drugs could safely be described as Hathaway's most revealing role to date, at least in a literal sense, Rachel Getting Married, for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 2009, probably disclosed the most about her immense acting abilities than any other film she had appeared in to that point.

She played Kym, a recovering addict who leaves rehab to return to her family home for his sister's wedding. At the time, Hathaway publicly revelled in the acclaim that came her way and the evidence it provided that she was a serious actress.

While critics lavished praise on Hathaway, laying bare your soul doesn't necessarily tend to make as many headlines as taking off your clothes again and again and again, and Love and Other Drugs has been gaining almost relentless coverage as it prepares to open, with most of it centred on Hathaway and Gyllenhaal's comfort, or otherwise, in shedding their clothes on camera.

The film loosely falls into the rom-com category, though it's significantly deeper. It's certainly more Jerry Maguire than 27 Dresses, but Hathaway and Gyllenhaal both seem to prickle at the very mention of the phrase rom-com.

"We wanted to tell a romantic story and when you tell a romantic story, you're bound to stumble over some cliches," Hathaway says. "We were all really motivated to address them in a new way, that's more inventive than has been told as of late. And I think we did manage to tell a love story that's a bit edgy."

And Love and Other Drugs certainly has some edge. Hathaway plays Maggie, an artist who suffers from early-onset Parkinson's, a condition she initially hides from Jamie (Gyllenhaal), a pharmaceuticals salesman, as they begin their passionate affair. Her illness then becomes a barrier between the two as she refuses to let their relationship develop, replacing intimacy with physicality.

For Hathaway, the role was one that allowed her to get to know various Parkinson's sufferers, including some who appear in one of the film's emotionally charged scenes.

"I spoke with a few different people with early-onset Parkinson's disease, and not just about their physical symptoms and the side-effects of the medication, but also about the anxiety of being sick, and what it was like to have stage one, which is very much about good days and bad days.

"Michael J Fox very eloquently and gracefully describes his relationship with Parkinson's and how it has evolved to a place where he thinks of it a gift, but it was quite a journey to get there, and one of the things that drew me to my character was the articulation of that journey."

Hathaway's own journey as an actress was certainly advanced by the role, which she admits was one of the toughest tasks she has had in her career, although the nudity had nothing to do with it.

She says, "I'm still learning a lot about how to do my job on-camera and off. This job confused me in a lot of ways. I didn't know how not to take her home. Because she's such a different character to me, I was afraid to let her go at the end of the day because I thought, 'What if she's not there in the morning?'

"I was afraid of a lot, which normally I can talk through, but I was also playing a character who was trying to avoid feeling fear ... so it created some very confused, tearful nights. Oddly enough, I would have these little panics before we would shoot the close-ups and I'd become terrified that I wasn't being truthful enough. Ed really had to sit there with me, and hold my hand, be very patient with me and talk me through it. I hate being that kind of needy actress."

Raised in New Jersey by her lawyer father and stage actress mother, Hathaway is the only girl in the middle of two brothers, one of whom, Michael, works with her as her assistant. At 18, she made her film debut in Disney's The Princess Diaries, which became a box-office hit and spawned a sequel, in which she also starred.

Critical recognition came her way with roles in Brokeback Mountain and The Devil Wears Prada, and while there has been the occasional flop -- Bride Wars springs to mind -- she has laid the foundation for a career away from the kind of vacuous, glossy movies that befall so many. She is the Disney princess turned serious thespian -- "the new Meryl Streep" is a title often levelled at her.

Recent comedic turns on Saturday Night Live (including one as Kate Middleton announcing her engagement to Prince William) have revealed another side of her, and she will soon go under the microscope even further when she co-hosts the 2011 Oscars with James Franco.

Gyllenhaal is effusive in his praise of Hathaway. "Annie is shy, but she's an incredibly sexy person," he says. "The roles she has played in the past, she has not always been portrayed that way. I think somewhere underneath she's thought, 'Wait a minute. I'm more of something than you think I am.' When I saw it, I thought she's sexy, she's a woman, she's beautiful. She's all those things at once."

Then there is Hathaway the celebrity, whose relationship and subsequent split from property developer and convicted fraudster Raffaello Follieri projected her into an area of life her current work would rarely bring her.

Follieri is serving a four-and-a-half year sentence for falsely claiming connections with the Vatican to lure investors into cut-price deals on church property, and this scandal -- and the connection with Hathaway meant for a time she was an almost permanent fixture on the covers of America's celebrity magazines.

Hathaway and Follieri were a couple for four years, and she repeatedly spoke about her partner in interviews and they were photographed regularly together. It was a public relationship and a public split.

She is now seeing actor Adam Shulman, although she maintains much more of a private persona these days. She doesn't feel, however, that she was ever given too much of a hard time by the media.

"I've been the recipient of a lot of positive attention," she says. "In terms of my love life, people have always been very respectful. Since day one, I've always maintained a respect for privacy and everyone has always been as respectful of that as they could be, while also trying to do their job, so it's a give and a take.

"I felt taken advantage of sometimes, and I felt taken out of context, and there have been a few times when people have flat out spread misinformation. But by and large, I would say I've gotten away scot-free."

The media intrigue may not be going away any time soon, but it's clear that Anne Hathaway is now in a position where she is happiest to let her work do the talking for her.

'Love and Other Drugs' is in cinemas from December 29

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