Anne Hathaway: 'I'm always nervous I'm going to mess up'
Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway overcame scientific conundrums and a fraudster former beau to take up her latest role
During her 16-year career, Anne Hathaway has appeared nude on screen, jumped out of buildings, cut her hair off, played drug addicts, hosted the Oscars, and won one as well. All of these have been stressful, but director Christopher Nolan ratcheted up her anxiety factor to a new level in the space exploration adventure Interstellar.
As one of four astronauts who embark on a mission to find a habitable planet, the 31-year-old actress spent much of the time suspended on harnesses, suffering from motion sickness and, in what could have been a life-threatening situation, immersed in frigid water with a risk of catching hypothermia.
But Hathaway, despite her fragile appearance, is nothing if not a trouper; she came through the four-month shoot smiling and with plenty of stories to tell.
The €140m film, co-written by Nolan and his brother Jonah, took Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, and Nolan regular Michael Caine, from cornfields in Calgary, Alberta, to a glacier that has been strafed by a volcano in Iceland. It was there, while Hathaway was filming in freezing waters, that her space suit started leaking.
"It was a scene where my character becomes submerged in water and trapped, so I go down in the water expecting it's probably not going to be warm but I will at least be dry," she recalls.
"But after about 10 seconds the suit is totally full of water. I don't know what's happening or why, but everybody is hurting and cold so I don't say anything about it and wonder, 'How long can this last?' I became tingly and couldn't feel anything and things were starting to get a bit hazy around the edges. I thought: 'Chris is going to be way more annoyed if I die of hypothermia than he is if I speak up about it, and maybe delay filming for five minutes'.
"So I threw caution to the wind and told him and he said: 'OK, let's roll right now'. And we were done. I was just really, really, really cold - and it's not that Chris sent me off to get warmed up," she laughed. "Wimps don't last long on his set."
When the actress took off her suit, she realised a zip at the back was a tiny bit open. "And now everybody wants to talk about hypothermia with me," she says.
Hathaway, whose first screen appearance was when she was 15, is a well-grounded, friendly woman with a good sense of humour, a wide smile and an easy-going attitude. Settling into her chair in a Los Angeles hotel suite, she talks about the other problems she faced in her role of a scientist-astronaut named Brand.
Confessing a secret to her fellow space travellers that will change the course of their journey, Brand is given a pivotal soliloquy about the nature of love as an unquantifiable, higher-dimensional force.
"When I read the script and saw I had most of the scientific dialogue, I thought: 'Oh dear, oh no. How am I going to learn that?'" she says. "And also, more importantly: 'How are we going to make this entertaining for the audience?' Because if you tell people the biggest thrill ride of the year is going to be centred around astrophysics, I don't think anybody is going to believe you.
"So I knew that part of my job would be to find a way to get all the science out there in a way that people can understand it, and in a way that was enjoyable and entertaining and thrilling; and, for me, that's always emotion."
Interstellar, which is nearly three hours long and has renowned astrophysicist Kip Thorne as an executive producer, explores black holes, wormholes, quantum physics, the theory of relativity and extra-dimensional space. Even now, confesses Hathaway with un-actressy frankness, she does not totally understand its full meaning.
"I can't say that I understood everything after the first time that I read it, but it all made sense to me logically."
Hathaway has always seemed to be cool, calm and in control. But if you believe her, just the opposite is true. "I'm always nervous I'm going to mess up," she says. "One of the most important parts of my journey is that I have embarrassed myself and I have failed, and that gives you strength of character, so I feel a little bit more comfortable now."
She has the support of husband Adam Shulman, an actor and jewellery designer whom she married in September 2013 after they dated for four years. "I'm very fortunate that my husband has a job that allows him to travel and kind of make his own schedule, so he travels with me whenever possible," she says. "We have a rule that we aren't apart for more than two weeks.
"When we got married, I thought it was a great party but I honestly thought we were doing it more for tradition. I wasn't prepared for the radical shift that my heart was going to have."
Hathaway is equal parts Hollywood glamour and New York funky, having been born and brought up in Brooklyn, where she and Shulman are based. A previous romance ended when her Italian boyfriend of four years, Raffaello Follieri, was exposed as a fraudster and jailed for 54 months in 2008.
At the time, she pluckily gave interviews in which she talked about her train-wreck of a romance and endured the jibes of late-night talk-show hosts. "I got through my pain the way I always deal with unpleasant things, and that's to make a joke of it," she says.
The daughter of a lawyer and an actress, Hathaway began her career as a soprano, singing in concert at Carnegie Hall at 14. Three days later, she was offered a role in the short-lived television drama Get Real.
After leaving university, she became an overnight sensation in 2001 with her starring role in The Princess Diaries. Anne found herself a reluctant role model to teenage girls everywhere.
She took a variety of daring roles, that included going topless in Havoc and Brokeback Mountain; an Oscar-nominated performance in The Devil Wears Prada; playing an artist suffering from Parkinson's disease in Love and Other Drugs; and Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2012 for Les Misérables.
Hathaway says she has never "gone Hollywood" and has stayed close to old friends. "I just went to my 10-year college reunion and it was awesome," she enthuses. "I stayed close with my tight group of friends from college. There's about 10 of us and I still see most of them every day - I am going to see a bunch tonight, actually - and so it's not like I left college behind when I left; I took the best parts with me.
"After a certain part of the evening," she laughs, "I don't really remember much."
Since working on Interstellar, Hathaway has been giving some thought to what may lie ahead for humankind. "I appreciate that it's a time for caution and I do see a lot of people living their lives with a greater sense of awareness and a greater sense of urgency," she says, sombre for once.
"I think we all really want to have a healthy planet, although I don't know if we're supposed to be on it forever. Now, does that mean that we should be building rocket ships to shoot us into outer space? Well if we can, I think we should."
Interstellar is released on November 7