You must excuse me,” says Anne Hathaway, at Cafe Luxembourg on the Upper West Side. The 26-year-old actress is explaining that she’s very, very tired, because she is playing Viola in Twelfth Night, this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park offering, and she has been rehearsing like mad. She’s trying to say the play is complicated, but deceptively so, or maybe it’s deceptively simple? “My mind is shot,” she says, dumping a bit of milk into her coffee. She doesn’t look tired: Her skin is porcelain clear, her eyes calm and bright. “I can speak only in iambic pentameter.”
Anne Hathaway is a theater geek: She enunciates her words very clearly and speaks with an actressy almost-accent, like Rosalind Russell. She has a big, toothy, Julia Roberts–esque laugh. Some words she sings out, mock-opera style: “Great minds!” she trills when we both order the same thing for lunch.
Had Hathaway been born with a less beautiful face, or with less talent, you get the feeling she would’ve stuck to the theater anyhow, as a stagehand or a grip, or a longtime counselor at Stagedoor Manor camp. “I wake up in the morning,” she says, “and the first breath I take is in the devotion of acting.” But she is beautiful—her features out-proportion the rest of her face by a mile—and, as became particularly clear in last year’s Rachel Getting Married, in which she played a recovering drug addict, she’s really very good. “I saw her in The Princess Diaries at a drive-in movie theater in Maine,” says Rachel director Jonathan Demme, “and I just thought, What a great presence. It kind of made me proud to be an American, seeing her share the screen with Julie Andrews. She’s got quote-unquote It.”
Right now, Hathaway is navigating the treacherous world of fame, with regard to both her career and her so-called private life. With work, she has to balance groovy, troubling indies with explosive, glossy paydays (Bride Wars) and somehow not become known exclusively for either.
And in spite of her efforts toward personal wholesomeness—she has described herself as a “Labrador puppy of a person”—she became tabloid candy last summer when her boyfriend of four years, Raffaello Follieri, was found to be a creepy con man who claimed to be in business with the Vatican and was promptly sentenced to prison.
“I don’t have the words to describe that yet,” she says, suddenly serious, her big eyes welling up with tears. “Hopefully at some point in my life I will have the words to describe what it was actually like, but at the moment, all I can say is that it was heavy, it was shocking, and I don’t completely understand it.”
The attention around Hathaway only grew when she got nominated for an Oscar for Rachel, and now she can’t really get a cup of coffee without the moment being recorded by someone with a long-angle lens. Some of the paparazzi, she says, have “the morality of a wild animal who eats its young.
“There are enough reality-TV stars out there who clearly want attention and fame,” she adds. “I personally don’t think they know what they’re getting into, but it’s a very human instinct. I never wanted to be famous. I just wanted to act. So it’s very odd. Here I am doing something that’s a real actor thing to do and I’m being treated like a celebrity. I was going to take this year off from being a celebrity!”
Which is not to say she dislikes the fame, the glamour, the glitz. Remembering the Academy Awards ceremony, she exclaims, “It was like, Oh my God! I’m that girl! And I’m 26! I’m that girl! I’m sure for people who’ve been nominated multiple times there are more complicated feelings about what it all means, but I was like, You know what? I’m going to focus on the fairy-tale part of it. I’m just going to live in the stardust and the sparkle.” When Natalie Portman congratulated her on the red carpet, Hathaway’s response was “Who are you, you awesome creature of wonderfulness?”
Shakespeare in the Park is a considerably less sparkly, more arduous affair, and Hathaway likes it a great deal: She likes the long rehearsals, she likes slipping off to the uptown Shake Shack with cast and crew. It’s a bit of being the actress she imagined she’d be when, as a child in New Jersey, she decided to take after her mother, who acts in regional theater and has done so forever. “I hounded [Public Theater director] Oskar Eustis for years,” she says. After Rachel, “I think it became more of a priority for him to get me onstage.” Hathaway stirs her coffee. “I do hope that doesn’t sound obnoxious.”
She’s even enjoying the cross-dressing. “I was feeling like I could do more to get into my character,” she explains. “So I decided, What if I walked around New York trying to pass for a boy? What if I had to make people look twice to figure out what I was? I kind of got dressed up, and there were six photographers outside. I was walking my dog, and they know my dog, so all of the sudden I’m in a terribly unflattering outfit, I look like I’m auditioning for West Side Story, and it’s on the Internet! And it’s just like, I’m doing this for my job!”
She’s just visited the Hetrick-Martin Institute—her older brother is gay, and she has gotten very involved in various gay-rights causes—and finds herself thinking even more about the gender-bending aspect of her role. “I’m really going to lean in to that,” she says, before sighing a big sigh-of-contentment sigh. “It’s the most delicious, exhausting challenge.”
There are a number of films set to begin once the play ends and after some time spent immersed in a “gorgeous blanket of nurturing familiarity” (translation: family vacation). She’ll be in Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day, with Julia Roberts and Shirley MacLaine (“We don’t have any scenes together, but hey, I get a poster!”). Talk of other projects swirls around her, but she’s coy about it. “I don’t mean to be, but sometimes things don’t work out in the end, and then people think it’s because you hate someone, and I don’t hate anyone!”
It has, however, been confirmed that she’ll be playing Judy Garland on Broadway, and that seems about right.
“This is so embarrassing, but one of the waitresses just walked by with a glass of white wine and I almost reached out and grabbed it. It would be lovely to have a bit of release, but no. I have to go to rehearsal. I don’t want to be the girl who shows up tipsy. But wouldn’t it be fun? Wouldn’t it be fun someday to be a grande dame who can get away with anything?”