Earnest: Why We Still Owe Anne Hathaway An Apology
Anne Hathaway is one of the many big-name stars in the much-awaited Ocean’s 8. While Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and company are in the roles of the effortlessly cool criminals planning the heist of the year, Hathaway is the target of the operation. As Daphne Kluger, she plays the highly visible and somewhat flaky actress around whose neck the $150m necklace of Ocean’s dreams rests. Early word has been mixed via Twitter on the film but the buzz around Hathaway remains strong, with many noting how much the role of Daphne feels like a deliberate wink and nod to her own public persona: She’s beautiful, glamorous, and just a bit too much.
It’s been over five years since Hathaway won her much-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Les Miserables. That awards campaign has been dissected repeatedly, and its aftermath examined from all angles. Everyone had an opinion on Hathaway for those few months where she made it very clear that she wanted to win an Oscar and would do everything in her power to be victorious. Her earnestness was maligned, her eagerness dismissed as highly uncool, and every move she made was contrasted with the Best Actress winner of her year, the woman of the moment, Jennifer Lawrence. It was the battle between the nice girl and the cool girl; The people pleaser and the charisma bomb; the one who cared too much and the other who seemed determined to show how over the whole process she was. Neither narrative was particularly favourable, and both relied on deep seated misogyny, but it was clear who bore the brunt of the criticism.
Half a decade on and it seems like Hathaway still feels the need to explain herself. In fairness, it’s not helped by various media outlets still dragging out the incident and asking her to discuss what it’s like to be lambasted for something as simple as being Nice. Having to detail your emotional response to seeing an article titled, ‘Why Does Everybody Hate Anne Hathaway’ seems unnecessarily cruel. It’s suspect what sort of responses people actually want from Hathaway when they ask those kinds of leading questions. To her credit, as she has always been, Hathaway has handled it with grace. What’s different now is the added element of her ‘not caring’. You encounter this a lot in recent interviews.
In a recent cover story for Glamour is titled ‘Anne Hathaway Isn’t Angry Anymore’, which is curious because I’m not sure she has ever been characterized as such. The so-called #HathaHate is the backbone of the piece, as is Hathaway coming to the realization that ‘it doesn’t matter whether people like her, because she really likes herself.’ Glamour paints an image of a new Anne: The content wife and mother who’s already accomplished her great career height so has no reason to be concerned with the rest of the world. It’s a great story, and very Oprah-esque in its journey. The thing is that I’m not sure it’s true. Don’t get me wrong, I am wholeheartedly Team Anne and am glad she doesn’t feel the need to pander to the people who couldn’t get over themselves. But she’s never stopped being the same person she was during that Oscar campaign. It’s just that now it’s in a more palatable packaging. She isn’t trying to win anything. She isn’t going out of her way to get people to like her, but she still has the warm charm and people pleasing skills in that Glamour piece, and they’re working in trademark overdrive mode. Moments where she talks about trying not to geek out when meeting co-star Rihanna are pure Hathaway and it’s joyous to read.
Our society has a real problem with ambitious women. This is made especially insidious during the high-low stakes world of awards season in Hollywood. Campaigning for an Oscars is a moment of contradictions: You have to show you really want it, but you can’t simply come out and say you want it. It’s too gauche for you to confess your drive, but at the same time you shouldn’t talk about how little you care for the process because that makes you rude and ungrateful. Being a woman in this particular circus is an even more impossible high-wire act. The Academy loves a rumpled character actor who’s put in decades of work and views the Oscar as the climax of a long career. For its actresses, it prefers the ingenue. This may be in part because the industry wants a way to rewards these female talents before they turn 35 and are put out to pasture for grandmother roles. The image of the twenty-something beauty in a million-dollar dress (always part of an exclusive fashion contract) getting the full A Star Is Born treatment is something the industry revels in.
Anne Hathaway was neither an old pro nor the bright new star of the moment. She’d been working for many years and had established herself both as a comedic and dramatic actress in films as varied as The Princess Diaries, Brokeback Mountain and Get Smart. By that point, she’d already received her first nomination for the astounding Rachel Getting Married, and she’d even hosted the Oscars. Her moment as co-host of the show alongside James Franco was lambasted by the press, but Hathaway got the glimmers of good reviews from the spectacle. At least she tried, everyone said. Sure, she was highly eager, but if your partner for the night was James fucking Franco, wouldn’t you be too?
So, when it came time for her to campaign for her Oscar, the narrative was already set. Everyone knew she was going to win. Hell, she knew as well. The stars had been in perfect alignment since her casting was announced. Many journalists feverishly reported on how much weight she’d lost for the role as well as the drastic haircut she’d received to fully embody the horror of Fantine. You would struggle to find a review of the film that didn’t emphasize the live singing, or the extended take on Hathaway completely nailing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. Some roles are made for Oscars and all the actor can do is get through the season with a dash of self-effacement.
Hathaway’s Oscar campaign was mocked for its cloying sweetness, and the faux-humility of it all. Can you blame her for wanting to play her cards right and not buy into the dream too much? Even if she knew she was going to win, everyone had to keep up the façade of a race. You had to pretend for a split second that hey, maybe Sally Field or Amy Adams could snatch up the award at the last minute. This instinctive rejection of Hathaway’s routine overlooked not only her intellect in being able to proficiently play this game but the sheer level of bullshit she had to endure in the process.
Les Miserables came out the same year as The Dark Knight Rises, where Hathaway played Selina Kyle. As if playing a legend of musical theatre wasn’t enough, she had to be the new iteration of a geek goddess too. That meant a whole host of super creepy costumes about the catsuit and the diet she needed to get into it. I remain oddly surprised by how utterly shameless some male journalists were in asking these questions, but it’s something they never seem to get over. The diet questions were sparked afresh for the Les Miz junket. Both times, Hathaway was gracious but firm in her refusal to romanticize this element of her job. Like she said, she lost the weight to look like a dying woman, which isn’t something anyone should try to replicate. During a now infamous interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today, he opened the conversation with the non-story of a paparazzi upskirt shot of the actress and the line ‘Seen a lot of you lately.’ Hathaway, like a goddamn trooper, managed to simultaneously turn the conversation back to its initial focus, take a stand against slut-shaming women, and publicly humiliate Matt Lauer with a smile. If that were a pageant question, she’d win the crown.
The next couple of years following her Oscar win seemed like a deliberate step away from the limelight. The roles were smaller, less showy and decidedly indie (voice work in Rio 2, a cameo in something called Don Peyote, a low-budget musical drama produced by her husband). From a cynical point-of-view, it’s a smart move and helps to avoid burn-out for both the actor and audiences. Still, there’s something sad about the image of a hard working and talented actress reaching an artistic zenith, one that should open endless doors, and feeling like you have to go away for a bit because the media won’t stop talking about how everyone hates you.
The time seems prime for Hathaway to get the shine she earned. She’s still the same Hathaway from that Oscar campaign. Her interviews are overwhelmingly sweet, and her Instagram is a giddy mix of self-promotion, political activism, fashion and cheerleading the people she loves, although she also uses the platform to nip in the bud any forming media narratives that will reignite the spark of hate (one video of her working out notes her gaining weight for a role and how she’s speaking out to preemptively shut down any weight shaming).
I’m sorry Hathaway went through such unnecessary nastiness during what should have been a career height. It’s not like the manufactured nemesis of Jennifer Lawrence did any better from that sexist narrative either. Look at how, only one year later, she was the gorgon of the season who was going to snatch away Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar. Whatever persona you have, be it 100% authentic or carefully presented for the masses, will eventually wear thin because people get bored and always need a new target, regardless of whether or not they deserve it. Today, people seem sheepishly ready to admit that they did Hathaway wrong. The #MeToo movement hasn’t just sparked action on the topic of sexual harassment and abuse; it’s amplified conversations on how women are consumed by a ravenous media that’s never satisfied. Hathaway isn’t the first or last victim of this, and I’m not sure she’s even the worst instance (we could be here all day talking about the past century of this stuff), but the #HathaHate hit hard and its aftermath left a bas taste we’ve yet to wash out.
Hathaway has always deserved better than what she got, at least in terms of public perception. Nowadays, audiences seem less hungry for the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude and have more warmth towards the earnest theatre kids (if they didn’t, Timothee Chalamet wouldn’t be the hot new dude with teen girls on Tumblr). Rather than stepping back from those days, I kind of wish Hathaway would lean into them even harder. There’s something to be said about someone who wholeheartedly gives a fuck.
(Header photograph courtesy of Getty Images).
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