Either that princess training really rubbed off on Anne Hathaway, or she’s a palace natural possessing a queen’s confidence and a diplomat’s discretion.
Without a hint of vanity, the 21-year-old star of 2001’s surprise hit “The Princess Diaries” and its sequel “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” speaks assuredly of her talents and the Hollywood future she hopes to build.
Hathaway talks with candor rare among young performers prone to caution and eloquence that often eludes actors twice her age.
She is able to affectionately embrace the girl-power franchise that made her a star while judiciously distancing herself from the role of Mia, the klutzy American kid who blossoms into a regal presence after she learns she’s heir to the throne of a small European country.
“I’m mutton dressed as lamb,” Hathaway said of playing Mia again in “Princess Diaries 2.” “I’m a 21-year-old in a G-rated movie. This isn’t exactly the kind of artistic choices that I want to be making right now, but at the same time, I’m grateful to be able to make them.”
The sequel reunites her with director Garry Marshall and co-star Julie Andrews, who returns as Queen Clarisse, coaching granddaughter Mia through the trials of an arranged marriage as she prepares to inherit the crown.
Giving up the tiaraAfter two flicks as Mia and last spring’s fairy-tale romance “Ella Enchanted,” Hathaway figures her princess days are over.
“Of course, you can never say never. If I’m asked to play Queen Rania in a film, I might say yes, just because I think she’s a fascinating woman,” Hathaway said. “But I think I’ve done a lot in this genre, and I’m ready to tackle new ones.”
A trained soprano, Hathaway starred in the Broadway musical “Carnival” and now is looking for a movie musical. One of her great disappointments was that “Princess Diaries 2” prevented her from taking a role in the movie version of stage musical “The Phantom of the Opera,” due out late this year.
She is on the hunt for another stage play and is thinking of cutting an album, possibly singing jazz or alternative rock. Hathaway has done two film dramas, the missionary tale “The Other Side of Heaven” and the period saga “Nicholas Nickleby,” and has two more in the works.
Already shot is the independent film “Havoc,” the story of two young women from affluent suburban homes caught in a dark clash of cultures among Latino gangs in East Los Angeles.
She now is filming “Brokeback Mountain,” directed by Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), a story of 1960s cowboy lovers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) concealing their relationship. Hathaway plays Gyllenhaal’s embittered wife.
Stretching as an actress
With the range of roles she hopes to land, Hathaway is unconcerned about getting typecast as the wholesome princess.
“I’m not any of these characters that I play. I’m an actor, and if I can say so without sounding arrogant, I think I’m a very good actor,” Hathaway said.
“I don’t know how to say this except to say Ang Lee just hired me. I’m not saying that to be like, ha-ha, told you so. It’s kind of like, he wasn’t scared off by the princess thing. He just saw that I was an actress who could play the part, and I’m assuming there are other people out there in the world, directors that I will work with who will feel the same way.”
Raised in Millburn, N.J., Hathaway knew she wanted to act by age 7 or 8, when she traveled with her mother, who was appearing in a touring production of “Les Miserables.”
Hathaway’s parents held her back from acting professionally until she was 14, then gave their blessing. She went on auditions throughout high school, eventually landing a role on the short-lived sitcom “Get Real” in 1999.
Her acting days go back to early childhood, when she would scold friends for playing make-believe incorrectly and spin elaborate back stories for her Barbie dolls.
“I had quite a few, and they all knew each other, so it was this very kind of ‘Melrose Place’ setup. It was super-scandalous, and I was 4,” Hathaway said. “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t acting. Games involving my imagination, creating circumstances for the different people I was pretending that I was.”
Comic timingIn one regard, Hathaway did not have to pretend for the “Princess Diaries” role. She fell off her chair during her audition, and her natural clumsiness juiced up Mia’s pratfalls.
“I’m a big, fat, sloppy, messy, get-in-the-dirt, rip-your-clothes-up kind of klutz,” Hathaway said. “I knock over lamps. I have bruises in the oddest places.”
Director Marshall found that many young actresses he saw during casting could handle Mia’s comic moments. But only Hathaway also had the grace and authority for the movie’s closing speech, when Mia found the fortitude to embrace her unsought role as royalty, Marshall said.
Though inexperienced, Hathaway arrived as a ready-made performer, co-star Andrews said.
“The surprise with Annie was that she didn’t need anything from any of us,” Andrews said. “She has great instincts, good talent, she’s beautiful. She has this ability to do humor, comedy, very well. So other than actually honing her craft and learning from the doing, she has it all.”
Like Mia learning how to be a princess at Grandma Clarisse’s side, Hathaway picked up career pointers from Andrews, who advised her never to do anything that bores her and to have patience and trust that good things would come of her talent.
Hathaway’s big lesson came from simply observing her co-star.
“The thing I think is so cool about Julie is, I’m an ungrateful little actress at this stage,” Hathaway said. “So I would come in and I’d be like, ‘Grr, it’s too early. Grr, I’m working every day of this movie. Grr, my coffee’s too cold.’ And Julie would come in every day, she’d look around the set and just say, ‘Hello, everyone. Aren’t we all lucky to be here?’
“And I just went, ‘Oh, she’s right.’ So she taught me a lot about gratitude in all circumstances. Julie chooses grace over self-pity, and that’s an amazing thing to be around.”