Anne Hathaway's first major role came in the short-lived TV series Get Real before she found widespread success at the age of 19 by winning the lead in The Princess Diaries. For the next couple of years, she was content to appear in family-friendly films such as Ella Enchanted, but of late she's opted for more dramatic roles, shedding her clothes in Havoc as a naughty teenager, trying to keep Jake Gyllenhaal straight in Brokeback Mountain and attempting to cope with Meryl Streep's boss-from-hell in The Devil Wears Prada.
Now she's playing legendary writer Jane Austen in Becoming Jane and here discusses her fear of failure and the Irish weather..
How nerve-wracking was it to play a character like Jane Austen, who you really admire?
When I first thought about becoming Jane Austen I had to forget about the fear, or at least choose something else to focus on because it was becoming paralysing. I didn't want to fail, so I was putting a lot of pressure on myself.
I actually forgot about it when we were making the film but then all of a sudden, inexplicably, about a month after we stopped filming I started having bad dreams about being chased around and being stabbed to death with my Jane Austen quill. I'd wake up in the middle of the night sweating and breathing very heavily. That stopped when people started to watch the film and they liked it so I guess I'm badly in need of other people's approval. It really would have broken my heart to have messed this one up.
Did you go about reading all of Jane Austen's books as part of your research?
Yes, there was a huge amount of work to be done, so I thought even if I mess up and be really horrible at least no one will be able to pull me up on the research. I started reading the books as soon as I was cast and I moved to England a month before I actually started filming to work on the accent and do some historical research on the period - specifically about what it would have been like to live in the countryside at that time. I also read her letters and had to learn to play the piano, sign language, calligraphy and become an all-round accomplished person. The skills portion of my résumé greatly improved after this role!
Did you have to keep the English accent going when you weren't filming?
I did for the most part. The only person I broke it for was my boyfriend because I kind of disappeared for two months into the Irish countryside. We tried for a couple of weeks but eventually he said: "Look, it's bad enough that I can't see you but I can't even hear your voice, can you at least sound like you for five minutes?" So I came out of the accent for him but everyone else just had to lump it.
I alienated myself from my friends and turned off my cell phone and really kind of stopped being myself for two months. People liked me much better, which was worrying! When I finally slipped back into me at first that felt like a character, it was a strange transition.
How was filming in the Irish weather? Certain scenes suggest that you found it quite cold!
We didn't know if it was the gods or Jane up there upset that I was playing her but every time we tried to do a close-up of me it would start to rain. The action is hard enough, but when you've been standing in a field for five hours waiting for the rain to stop and you're frozen, eventually you just say the lines.
Is it true that Ang Lee taught you how to curtsy?
I was at the Golden Globes because he was nominated [for Brokeback Mountain] and he asked me what I was up to. I told him about Becoming Jane and said I was nervous and asked him whether he thought it was a good idea. He said "absolutely" and then asked if I could curtsy. I said of course and showed him but he said I was doing it wrong.
The first note Ang ever gave me was "more subtle" and it got worse from there. I love him to death but he's very specific and succinct and shows his feelings. So, right in the middle of the Golden Globes he taught me how to properly curtsy, which was nice, because George Clooney was looking over wondering what we were up to. It was the most glamorous moment of my life, sadly and rather pathetically.
You started out on films like The Princess Diaries but have since moved on to heavier roles. Was that part of a plan to experience life first before playing it?
No, it was always my intention to be an actress and not the Princess of Genovia. Once I'd got my fill of the early roles it was time to move on. Brokeback Mountain was really the first time I played a character that was different to who I was and I really got a taste for it. Now my new rules of thumb are no tiaras and do the opposite of the last role you did. That seems to be working pretty well for me.
Becoming Jane opens in UK cinemas on Friday 9th March 2007.