Anne Hathaway - the princess gets smart

Life's been tricky for Anne Hathaway recently, but, she tells Gill Pringle, for her new film she's put on a brave face

In her latest film role, Anne Hathaway plays an ultra-cool secret agent – playing it straight against Get Smart's daunting comedic cast, which includes Steve Carell and Alan Arkin.

In real life, too, the 25-year-old actress needed all the composure she could muster as her private life recently came tumbling around her in the midst of press duties for her latest movie. In what has perhaps proved to be Hathaway's toughest role to date, she was forced to put on a brave face while her former love was jailed while awaiting trial on charges of money-laundering and fraud. Involved for the past four years with Italian businessman Raffaello Follieri, 30, the actress was finally left with no other option than to dump him six weeks ago, in the light of overwhelming evidence against him.

Prior to that, she had enjoyed what appeared to be a fairy-tale romance, living at Follieri's Manhattan penthouse and travelling on his private jet. But the final indignity came just weeks ago, when the Princess Diaries star discovered that her own real-life journal had been seized by the FBI during a raid on the couple's former apartment.

"The worst thing that happens to you can be the best thing for you, if you don't let it get the best of you," she said, quoting the humorist Will Rogers in the aftermath of what has been a difficult few months.

If movie-set romances have become so commonplace that it's almost remarkable when two high-profile co-stars don't fall for one another, then Hathaway once prided herself on resisting the lure of her leading men. And while her own list of co-stars includes James McAvoy, Adrian Grenier, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, she'd previously delighted in telling journalists that she'd never been remotely tempted. Indeed, though she is frequently cast as a romantic lead, she confesses to dreading love scenes.

Today, she says: "I try not to date where I work. It makes life easier. Besides, the possibility has never really arisen. I don't say no to anybody, because I'd hope that people wouldn't say no to me just because I'm an actor – but they'd have to be pretty extraordinary.

"The goal is to find someone you can be yourself around, who makes you laugh, who challenges you in a good way, and where you just spark off each other. My parents have been married more than 25 years, with all the glory and all the pain you can imagine, but they've stayed together. I want a strong marriage like that. I've always wanted a family. I'm not one of those people who says, 'What's the point of marriage?'," says Hathaway, who is also an advocate for gay marriage, abandoning her youthful plans to become a nun after her older brother Michael came out.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Hathaway was named by her actress mother Kate McCauley after Shakespeare's wife; her mother hoped Anne too would have a link with drama. Hathaway certainly didn't disappoint. Making her acting debut in 1999 with the television series Get Real, two years later she got the lead role opposite Julie Andrews in Disney's The Princess Diaries. In 2004, she starred in Ella Enchanted, another Cinderella-style tale, and in real life, fell for the debonair charms of Follieri.

Subsequent roles in Brokeback Mountain and Havoc finally broke the "princess" spell, while, on the heels of The Devil Wears Prada and Get Smart, she aims to eschew typecasting further, starring as a perpetually rehabbing ex-model in the comedy Rachel Getting Married, and a therapist who counsels plane- crash survivors in the horror film Passengers, both set for release later this year.

But first she is playing the sophisticated Agent 99 opposite Carell's bumbling Maxwell Smart in the film version of the Sixties TV series. And it's not a case of art imitating life, she says: "I'm actually the world's biggest klutz," she giggles. She confesses that she was daunted at the prospect of stepping into the high-heeled shoes of Barbara Feldon, the original Agent 99: "If I had doubts about following in Barbara's footsteps, then all those fears came home to roost during the first week of shooting when I returned from the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to my shoe. That's my actual personality! So the idea of playing someone who's intimidating and completely in control of every situation, was really appealling. It's a minor miracle for me to play a total kick-ass."

While Hathaway's beauty has landed her a contract with Lancôme, she claims to suffer the same insecurities as the next woman: "Growing up, there's a lot of pressure on young girls. You just want to be cookie-cutter beautiful. And sometimes you think, 'Oh, maybe I could change something about myself to fit that mould'.

"I'm no exception. When I was growing up, I wanted a nose job, but now, my nose is what lets me change my face a lot, and I can be glamorous as Agent 99, then look rough as a drug addict for Jonathan Demme. Your face needs to have character if you're an actor, otherwise you're just a face."

As Hathaway is faced with the difficult proposition of promoting Get Smart while her private life unravels, she offers a timely reminder that she never set out to be a role model: "I'm just a person living my life," she says. "I don't take it too seriously, to be honest. It just seems silly, because if I thought about it too much all I could say is – why me?"

'Get Smart' opens on 22 August

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