The veteran actress is owning her ambition.
The first sign that Anne Hathaway had come to steal the show at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was when she stepped out for her first official appearance in a stunning Schiaparelli two-piece metallic floral number, skin glowing, her glossy mane perfectly blown out. Next came a Gucci mod minidress, paired with cat-eye sunglasses. By the time she appeared at the premiere for the film she was there to promote, Armageddon Time, looking like an actual angel in a glittering white Armani Privé gown with a satin wrap and cascading train, topped off by a 107.15-carat sapphire necklace from Bulgari, the internet was buzzing: We were in the midst of an Anne Hathaway renaissance.
It has been nearly 10 years since the height of the Hathahaters, the critics who attacked Hathaway for…what was it, even? Being too earnest? Eager? For too transparently trying to succeed in her chosen field? Which is why, for anyone who ever tried to do everything right and was still inexplicably disliked, the adoration shown to Hathaway as she flawlessly performed her role as the belle of the ball at Cannes felt both thrilling and long overdue—the real-life equivalent of that scene in The Devil Wears Prada where she struts through the office in those thigh-high Chanel boots.
“You plant seeds in your life and then there come these moments where you harvest them—Cannes felt like a little bit of a harvest,” she tells me over breakfast on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “In the beginning of my career, I was so worried about messing up that I missed a lot of great moments because I was so stressed out. I’m at a point in my life now where I know having a first time at something remarkable like that—it’s the only time it ever happens. And being in a place where I could enjoy it felt like a really positive development.” She doesn’t talk directly about all she went through a decade ago, referring to it in conversation as “when what happened, happened,” and she is clearly in a very different and happy place now. “I have worked too hard on seeing myself with kinder eyes to give away my peace to those who haven’t found it for themselves yet,” Hathaway explains. “So I do my best to not be afraid of what others might say and just focus on enjoying my life.”
In addition to this month’s Armageddon Time, Hathaway has four feature films slated for release in 2023, including Mothers’ Instinct with her pal Jessica Chastain. She also recently gained acclaim for her performance as Rebekah Neumann in Apple TV+’s WeCrashed. “The work is so good right now, I’m just really grateful,” she says. And it’s in these moments when she feels she’s reaching new heights, like when she was standing on the red carpet at Cannes, that Hathaway says she puts an arm around her younger self and says, “‘Look what we did—you’re a part of this, too.’ I absolutely throw it back to her and say, ‘Everything is going to be all right.’”
“I did a film that never got released with a wonderful actor, Andre Braugher, and we were doing a scene together and I felt I was really doing poorly. The truth is that when I was starting out, I thought I would do better work if I was hard on myself. Andre saw that, and he was so gracious. He said, ‘You don’t need to do that. There’ll be plenty of people in the world who’ll do that to you. Don’t be one of them.’”
“The Princess Diaries, of course. But actually, the role that changed everything, above all, was Rachel Getting Married. In my life and my career. Because [director] Jonathan Demme showed me the type of person that that I wanted to be, the type of artist that I wanted to be, and the type of life that I wanted to build. I hadn’t really had clarity on that before. And that part—I’d never played a lead like that. It was my first time playing someone complicated, where I got to bring my fullest understanding of compassion to playing someone who’s really tricky. I found that’s actually my favorite type of role to play: somebody who other people have kind of given up on, and then I get to love them and show them to the world. I’d been a sweet actress. I’d been a cute actress. I’d been a fashionable actress. But suddenly, I was a real actress.”
“My first day of shooting was the day after the 2016 election. We all got our hair and makeup done in the morning and then watched Hillary’s concession speech—and then cried, and then redid our hair and makeup, and then worked a 20-hour day. Because women are really tough. I remember looking around going, Wait, why have I never been here before? Like, why has it taken this long into my career to have this many women on set? And then I remember having a distinct feeling: Oh, this is what it’s like to be a man in Hollywood. Wherever they go, they’re in a pack; there’s so much ease in this. And I just wanted more of it. I thought, I have to make this an intention in my career. To work with other women and to create opportunities for as many women to work together.”
“The last person I called when I was in my feelings was my dear buddy Jessica Chastain. We worked together on two films without ever crossing paths, and we more than made up for it in Mothers’ Instinct. Oh my God, what we do in this film. It’s about two friends in the early 1960s in the suburbs as they navigate a difficult time in their lives and how it affects their friendship. It doesn’t get much more complicated than this.”
“It was a very fast shooting schedule. Like, a film that would normally get made in 40 days, we made in 25. And I looked up at Jessica and I was like, ‘Thank God you’re here.’ Because I knew she had me as a friend, and she absolutely had me as an actress. When you’re moving fast like that, it’s great to have somebody to turn to and say, ‘Are you seeing things that are worth watching?’”
“I had to have eye surgery, and when I came out of it, one of the nurses was like, ‘Oh, look who’s right next to you.’ And it was Jane Lynch. I was hopped up on the drugs, and I was like, ‘Well hello, Jane Lynch!’ And she was so warm, and I think we were both high. It was just one of those moments—only in Hollywood do you come out of surgery and see one of the funniest women in the world next to you. It was instant love. I wanted to ask her so many questions, but I couldn’t manage any words other than hello.”
“I am ambitious, and I think that’s great. When you are not born into the life that you would like to have for yourself, you have to be ambitious. I have a very easy relationship with it. I love that I’m hardworking. I love that I know how to be professional. And I love that I have really big dreams and goals for myself.”
“Where it falls for me is that men are by and large defined by their work, their talent, and the success they create. And if a successful man is in any way less than likable, he is given greater latitude to just exist as himself. I feel like there is tremendous pressure to be likable when you are a woman, or you risk being misunderstood and mistreated. And I think women are punished more harshly for their perceived transgressions. Female ambition is more often perceived as transgressive.”
“Longevity. I’ve been an employed Hollywood actress for 23 years. And I want to be hopefully acting and doing meaningful work for as long as I can, as many decades as I can. I’m putting myself in company I don’t deserve to be in, but a career like Meryl Streep’s, Ellen Burstyn’s, Viola Davis’s. Katharine Hepburn’s not a bad goal, either. I’m sure I’ll fall short, but it’s still a goal.”
“I would like to explore what’s beyond the limits of what other people see for me. The thing that I’ve learned is the unknown can contain wonderful things, too, and if I find myself edging into fear and panic because I am a human being, I tell myself that. You don’t know, so let’s see what happens.”
“We’ve seen the beginning of the industry becoming safer. It requires constant vigilance, particularly because we are still at the beginning and because we have such a long way to go, but the removal of the worst actors was a really significant step.”
“The creation of space for women’s voices, and then the recognition that the first voices that were favored were usually white—that needed to be corrected as well.”
“I don’t think we can expect to turn the page and for all the problems to be gone. That’s just not reality. It’s not going to work like that. It’s going to be something that we have to work at every single day, every single meeting. Like at a press conference when you see male journalists speaking over female journalists, you stop and you do what you can, when you can. You try to be part of a larger trend toward safety, equality, and humanity.”
“So I have found the developments to be promising, but I also want to acknowledge that the world I came of age in was in very poor shape, and so any positive change is going to feel significant to me.”
Hair by Orlando Pita for Orlando Pita Play; Makeup by Gucci Westman for Westman Atelier; Manicure by Maria Salandra; Set design by Colin Lytton; Produced by Travis Kiewel for That One Production.
This article appears in the November 2022 issue of ELLE.
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