After being scrutinized, critiqued, even hated, Anne Hathaway put up a few walls to protect herself. Now the Ocean’s 8 star is ready to tear them down
There aren’t many spots like Cafe Luxembourg in New York City. It’s the kind of place where well-worn barstools and hang-your-own coat racks add to its sophistication. The kind of place where you can tell the host you are meeting Anne Hathaway and she’ll shrug and say, “Oh, she’s been here a million times.” The whole vibe is high-end casual, Left Bank meets Upper West Side. And indeed, when Hathaway walks in, there is no noticeable change in the room. No one cranes their neck or pulls out an iPhone. Maybe the other patrons have seen the Oscar winner here a million times. Or maybe everyone is French.
In the five years since #HathaHate – the 2013 media storm that erupted after Hathaway won the best supporting actress Oscar for her turn as Fantine in Les Misérables and was deemed too earnest, too jazz-hands, too something – the 35-year-old has emerged with a simple realization: It doesn’t matter whether people like her, because she really likes herself. “I’m interested in living a very honest life. I don’t know if that makes me a boring person. I don’t really care if it does,” she says. “It would be easier if I was better at being misleading or sneaky. I know how all that stuff works. I’m not a naive idiot. I know if I was a little bit mean to everybody, people would be like, ‘Oh, she’s fun. I like her.’ And I’m just like, ‘Can we try to tear each other apart?’”
Anne – or Annie, as she tells me to call her – was born in Brooklyn. When she was six, her parents, Gerald, a labor attorney, and Kate, a former actor, moved the family to Millburn, New Jersey. She has two brothers. Owning your truth became something of a family motto. “When I was a teenager and life was starting to happen, my dad said to me: ‘Three promises. Don’t get a tattoo until you’re 23. Don’t get onto motorcycles’ – we have a family history of motorcycle accidents – ‘and don’t lie,’” she says. “I took that in really, really deep.” (She did get a tattoo, a small cursive M on the inside of her left wrist, when she was 28.)
After high school, Hathaway went to Vassar College for a bit and then New York University’s prestigious Gallatin School of Individualized Study but never graduated. She got famous instead; after the short-lived Fox series Get Real, she landed The Princess Diaries. She made the A-list via the critically loved Brokeback Mountain and the commercial hit The Devil Wears Prada.
She also got burned. In addition to the post-Oscar backlash, there was the ex who stole more than US$6 million from investors during their four-and-a-half-year relationship. She rebounded and married jewelry designer and producer Adam Shulman in 2012. Four years later they had a son, Jonathan. Motherhood, she says, was a healing experience. “How Johnny is going to feel about himself will have so much to do with how I feel about myself in front of him,” she says. “If I’m feeling insecure, I am very careful that I don’t show that. But I also work really hard to acknowledge that place, give room for that place, and then release myself from that place. I’m more loving now, and that includes toward myself.”
Through it all she kept working; Hathaway has appeared in more than 35 films. “I was very deliberately, in my twenties, trying to do as many different types of roles as I could with different directors, just to become a better actor,” she says. “If there was a goal, it was always to just play parts until people were like, ‘Oh, she can pull that off.’” Things didn’t always work out perfectly – and she’s witnessed the abuse of power firsthand. “I’ve had a 20-year career and I’ve had some really, really bad experiences,” she says, “but I’ve had a lot of great ones too – with members of both genders.” I can tell she’s hesitant to go there on the bad times. “While they do not begin to approach the atrocious, galling stories others have shared in recent months, I have had negative on-set experiences, some of a sexual nature,” she tells me later. “Some are from the beginning of my career, some are more recent – all are unacceptable.”
Hathaway is happier talking about the positive experiences, and what we can learn from them. “There have been many; Serenity with director Steven Knight was one. He distinguishes himself by always, in every scenario, behaving as though we were two human beings trying to tell the same story. I never felt there was a power dynamic at play; rather, it was a respectful, artistic collaboration. The same for Matthew McConaughey, Jason Clarke, and the crew.” She’s using those experiences – and the conversations they beget – to inform her work with Time’s Up. Personally knowing that a film set could be either harmful or harmonious was one reason she got involved, she says, “But it’s not just being an actor. Being a 35-year-old woman who has experienced the everyday, abusive imbalance of the world also made me want to be a part of a movement for change… I know the world can be far worse for others than it has been to me, but I suppose, like most everyone who has been hurt, I want to protect others from going through the worst of what I experienced. I want to help make what I consider the best of my experiences to be the norm, as it always should have been.” She’s thought a lot about how the abuse could run so deep within the industry. “I think that there’s got to be some guys who get high off the power. But in a lot of cases, it’s an echo chamber. Most guys have never seen anything different.”
Hathaway is pushing herself to see differently. “One thing that I’m confronting about myself is my own bias and the fact that I aspired to be a part of this industry without having to imagine what it could look like if everybody was in it. But if change is going to happen, we have to get uncomfortable,” she says. “Somebody really brilliant once told me that prophecy is not handed down by DNA. We learn by telling each other stories.” And as she segues into producing, she hopes to become a different kind of storyteller. “I’m working on something right now, and I really hope it gets made,” she says, with more than a hint of irony creeping into her voice. “It’s about multiple versions of truth, and whether or not you can be judged on a moral level by someone who’s never imagined what it’s like to be you.”
Right now, however, she’s focused on the release of Ocean’s 8. Hathaway plays Daphne Kluger, an actor who may or may not be in on a diamond robbery with Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Rihanna at Vogue’s annual Met Ball. It’s downright satisfying to watch a group of smart women pull off the heist and not just be the arm candy. I ask whether it feels surreal to play Famous Person Attending Met Ball, an event she’s attended many times herself. “I was so excited to get invited onto the team,” she tells me. “It was a big, out-of-nowhere offer. I was just like, ‘Do not embarrass yourself in front of your heroes. Do not embarrass yourself.’” She stops talking here, as if to silence critics – including herself.
It’s the kind of purposeful self-reorienting you might expect from anyone who has been so scrutinized. I bring up the workout video she recently captioned on Instagram: “I am gaining weight for a movie role and it is going well,” which was her way of controlling the fake news cycle. “I didn’t feel like dealing with the pregnancy rumors,” she says. “I find it bizarre that there’s a storm to get ahead of, but I have a history of being shamed and humiliated, for a lot of different reasons.” Her colleagues have seen her grapple with barriers too. “Sometimes she’ll come out with a really good joke, and I’m like, ‘You should tweet that or put that on Instagram, Annie!’ And she’s like, ‘I can’t,’” says Rebel Wilson, her costar in the upcoming comedy The Hustle. “I guess a lot of people don’t know that side of her.”
In our afternoon together I see glimpses of that Anne Hathaway. She slurps a mean oyster. She gets hives on her neck when she’s nervous and is as comfortable name-checking Ryan Gosling as she is David Foster Wallace and feminist author Rebecca Solnit. She keeps a ridiculous photo on her phone of when she was “ready to go into labor” and Barbra Streisand rubbed her belly. “I don’t have strangers in my life. People don’t treat me like a stranger very often,” she says. “I’ve always been really good at diving in. And while sometimes I wish there was a little more distance, I actually really like being able to go there with people right away.”
And like all of us, sometimes she gets really annoyed. “I have a history with rage,” Hathaway says. “I used to do this thing where I was like, ‘I’m nice 29 days out of 30, and then I give myself complete permission to be mean to anyone, about anything.’ I realized that if I could actually move away from the judgment and deal with my emotions in the moment, I didn’t actually need the extra day. Rage doesn’t lead you to a place of peace. And for me the goal is not happiness. The goal is peace.”
But peace, like success, is more of a journey than a destination. “Cate Blanchett once said something like, ‘I don’t ever want to feel that I’ve arrived, because as soon as you arrive, you have to leave,’” she says. “That’s the way I’ve always felt about it. I’m not interested in getting to the top of the mountain. I hope that, at the top of the mountain, there’s just another mountain.”
In the end, all this self-analyzing has just made her better – a better mom, a better actor, a better human. “Anne is pretty darn self-aware,” says Ocean’s 8 director Gary Ross. “The thing that struck me most about working with Anne is her bravery. She commits fully to the character, with bravado and no self-protection – understanding that a great performance is never a timid performance.”
We pay the check and walk the two long blocks to the uptown apartment where she and her family live when they’re not in Los Angeles. Right before she heads back to her life full of fame and contradictions and screaming toddlers and self-criticism, we hug. It’s a wrap-you-up, close-friends kind of hug, not timid at all.
Photography: Billy Kidd
Style: Natasha Royt
Hair: Orlando Pita
Makeup: Gucci Westman at Home Agency
Nails: Casey Herman at The Wall Group
Set design: Bette Adams at MHS Artists
Production: Hudson Hill Production
Top image: Blazer, Pants, Eckhaus Latta; Hoodie, Ivy Park; scarf (worn as belt), Rockins; Earring, Ring, Kathleen Whitaker; Pearl earring, Sarah & Sebastian; Gold ring, Eye M by Ileana Makri; Bracelets (worn throughout), Hathaway’s own