You might expect the star of The Devil Wears Prada to arrive with a fabulous, designer-clad flourish. But today Anne Hathaway has opted for a rather low-key ensemble. Wearing black shorts, sandals, and a cream T-shirt decorated with a sprinkling of gold flecks, it rather puts her at odds with our surroundings, the faded grandeur of Venice's Hotel Des Bains. To be specific, we're in a dingy ballroom that feels as if an interior from the Titanic has washed ashore, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the actress. "I feel like Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are about to burst through the window on a tidal wave," she grins. "So if that happens please warn me."
Given that tomorrow night she'll be sharing a room with them both, when the Golden Globe awards are presented in Los Angeles, she can do her own celeb-spotting. Hathaway will be vying with Winslet, along with her Prada co-star Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie and Kristin Scott Thomas, for the prize of Best Actress (in a drama). The first major nomination of the 27-year-old Hathaway's career, it seems unlikely it'll be the last. Ever since her latest film, Rachel Getting Married, premiered last summer, the whispers of a first Academy Award nod have been growing ever louder. Some predictions are even bolder. "She's the one to beat for the Best Actress Oscar," proclaimed the New York Post.
Playing Kym, a self-centred, recovering drug addict who arrives at her sister's wedding with all the grace of a wrecking ball, Rachel Getting Married finally puts to bed the oh-so-squeaky-clean image Hathaway has inadvertently cultivated for herself since she made her film debut in 2001's The Princess Diaries. Aided by her raccoon-like brown eyes, plump lips and skin so pale it'd make Snow White curse, her role as the San Francisco teen who discovers she's European royalty turned her into a Hollywood princess. Yet despite completing the 2004 sequel, Hathaway claims she never felt "oppressed" by the film or how it made her look. "I never said, 'I have an image to break away from'," she states.
That said, there have been attempts to get down and dirty. Her turn as a rebellious rich kid in the lamentable Havoc, and as Jake Gyllenhaal's cowgirl wife in Ang Lee's celebrated Brokeback Mountain (both 2005) saw her go topless – though she makes no apologies for sullying her regal image. "You have to understand that I don't go around introducing myself, saying, 'Hi, I'm America's sweetheart.' That is not how I think of myself," she says. "I just think of myself as a young actress who has a lot to learn and wants to tell a lot of different stories." She cites Rachel Getting Married, released here later this month: "I didn't think in terms of what this story can do for me, or my career. I just thought: Wow, how can I play this beautiful, complex character to the best of my ability?"
Directed by Jonathan Demme (best known for The Silence of the Lambs), Rachel Getting Married offers Hathaway a killer role that, whatever she says, must be seen as a turning point in her career. It's a heart-on-the-sleeve performance with the same compelling potency as that of Charlize Theron as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, or Angelina Jolie as the rebellious inmate in Girl, Interrupted. Like both of those Oscar-winning turns, Hathaway offers a maelstrom of emotions, presenting a woman fragile, angry and loaded with guilt when she arrives fresh out of rehab. It features one particularly toe-curling scene in which she takes advantage of a toast to her sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) to unload in front of all the guests at the wedding, revelations and recriminations falling like confetti.
"Kym's got more life experience packed in to her 25 years than any character I've ever encountered," says Hathaway. "She has a fucking symphony of emotional language. I mean she's smart, she's informed, she's experienced, and she's an emotional person." While the film barely touches on Kym's past problems, Hathaway did her research, reading books, going to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings and even keeping a journal in character. "One of the things I love about this movie is that everyone has a Kym in their lives. It's not something they necessarily talk about, it's a private matter, but everyone I know knows someone in recovery. It is something we all have a context for and an experience of."
While Hathaway is far too clean-cut to have ever been near rehab herself, she hints that the film was very therapeutic for her. "I'm much happier and more grounded," she says. "In America, we use the word grounded to mean the opposite of being a diva. I was never that, but now I am a lot more secure about who I am and Rachel Getting Married helped me do that. I think I was always so afraid of people disliking me or judging me negatively that I kind of ended up editorialising myself. I'd say, 'OK, here's what I know is good about me and I'm going to put that out there for you and I'm not going to let you see anything else, as I can't handle that.' But I met Jonathan and I had no desire to be guarded any more ... and that kind of is what I've been doing ever since."
Curiously, Rachel Getting Married is the second Hathaway film this month that boasts a matrimonial theme. Just released is Bride Wars, a studio comedy with Kate Hudson in which the two play lifelong best friends who wind up, through an error, with their weddings scheduled for the same day. While Hathaway's Emma is the more passive of the two, she digs her heels in and refuses to move her date, and soon both are trying to sabotage the other's ceremony. "I've never been one of those girls who plans their wedding all her life, which is one reason why I wanted to make Bride Wars," says Hathaway. "I'm curious about what it would be like to be a girly-girl and that is what my character is – super-romantic, happy and girly."
If the inference is that Hathaway is anything but, she has good reason. A red-letter year it may have been in her career, but the past 12 months in her private life have been troubled, to say the least. Last June, after four years together, she finally split from the Italian-born real-estate developer Raffaello Follieri, just two weeks before he was arrested for the second time in two months. Accused of posing as the Vatican's representative in America, duping investors into believing the church would sell him property at a discount, he was subsequently jailed in October for four-and-a-half years, after pleading guilty to 14 counts of wire fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering.
During his trial, Follieri's lawyer claimed his client had become "intoxicated" by the A-list circles Hathaway moved in and the money he swindled was to maintain their extravagant lifestyle. This included a $40,000-per-month penthouse apartment in the Trump Tower and five-star dog care for the couple's Labrador, Esmeralda. By the time he was sued by both American Express, for $500,000 in unpaid credit-card bills, and a New Jersey private-jet service, for failing to pay $450,000 for nine charter flights, the cracks were beginning to show. Follieri was arrested in April for writing a dud cheque for $215,000 (when the account had just $39.98 in it), and shortly afterwards New York State's Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, began investigating his charitable foundation, the Follieri Foundation.
Hathaway, who had previously sat on the board of the organisation, even suffered the indignity of the FBI seizing her journal during a raid on the couple's 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," read one entry, with Hathaway quoting the humorist Will Rogers. Yet to her credit, Hathaway has remained largely silent on the topic ever since. As she recently told Vogue, "It wasn't a huge, dramatic break-up. We were in the process of winding it down when he was arrested. I don't talk about this, except when I'm asked. It's not a part of my life any more. It's a complicated situation that has the ability to define me in ways I am not comfortable with."
Understandably, Hathaway was keen to move on quickly. The month Follieri was jailed, she began dating 27-year-old actor Adam Shulman, who is best known for his part in the NBC drama series American Dreams. Despite also currently being attached to a film called The Fiancé, about a woman who puts her wedding on hold, she also hasn't been put off marriage. "Look, my parents have been married for 27 years so I think strong marriages are a possibility," she tells me, a flame of defiance burning in her dark eyes. "I don't romanticise them. I've seen my parents go through tough times and through easy times, so I've always liked the idea of getting married. I don't think it's for everyone, but I like the idea for me ... I've always wanted a family."
The daughter of the stage actress Kate McCauley and the attorney Gerald Hathaway, the actress has evidently benefited from being part of a tight-knit family unit. "I know – and have always known since the beginning of my life – that my parents would do anything for me," she smiles. "Though I have got to say I'm a pretty good daughter. I don't give them a lot of reasons ... I try not to stress them out too much." Still, their New Jersey home
provided the perfect sanctuary for Hathaway last summer when the Follieri fiasco was unfolding. "We just had barbecues and played Scrabble and cards and played with my dog – and we went to the beach every day and just hung out and ate cheese-steaks," she says. "It was completely normal and lovely."
he middle child of three (she has two brothers, Thomas and Michael), Hathaway was born in Brooklyn and raised in Millburn, New Jersey, where her family moved when she was six years old. A year later, her mother went on a national tour of Les Misérables – though neither she nor Hathaway's father would let her audition for the show and risk turning her into a spoilt stage brat. Rather, they urged her to take classes and develop a love for the theatre, which she fostered in various high-school plays. By the time she was 13, she was auditioning for commercials, though she didn't make her TV debut until 1999, in the family saga Get Real.
The series was cancelled after just one season, but it barely mattered; within months Hathaway was cast in The Princess Diaries. Though following it with the Cinderella-themed Ella Enchanted was hardly imaginative, Hathaway has never been afraid of a challenge. Think of her rapping in Havoc, playing an action heroine in last year's spy-comedy Get Smart, or going head to head with Streep in her biggest smash to date, The Devil Wears Prada. She even took on the title role in the literary biopic Becoming Jane, risking the wrath of Austen fanatics. "That is a difficult film for me to talk about because I feel I just didn't nail it," she admits. "There is something else I could have done with the character that would have been better, but anyway... " Like what, I ask, as she tails off. "I just felt there were a couple of scenes where I was acting too much."
Indeed, there are times when Hathaway can come across this way in real life, too – particularly when she's telling you how ordinary she is. "I can blend in very easily," she claims. "I have never been the kind of person who attracts attention and I'm still not – I'm by nature a wallflower, someone who hangs back and observes. It takes people a while to notice me." It's the second time I've heard this speech; the last time she trotted it out, she was wearing gold high-heels and a micro-skirt that would turn heads on any street. Now she compares herself to her Bride Wars co-star and friend. "You can't not look at Kate Hudson. She has no control over that and consequently people are looking at her all the time, but I can sort of sneak out and lead a much more publicly unexamined life. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Far less ditzy than Hudson, Hathaway is nevertheless prone to contradictory statements. One minute she'll tell you designer labels are "not the be-all of life". The next, she'll admit, "I'm irrational when it comes to Chanel." While she can be glimpsed in Valentino: The Last Emperor, a forthcoming documentary about the legendary designer, she also tries to distance herself from the world of haute couture. "I don't want to sound conceited, but I get invited to fashion shows and I don't always go, because once you say you'll go you're kind of complicit. Even if I did go, and I was just going to see the clothes because I'm curious, there is going to be attention paid to me and it seems a little bit self-promoting and I don't like that."
As a statement, given that she's the face for the cosmetics giant Lancôme, it feels as hollow as the answer she gives when I ask if she ever worried that people would be watching her every sartorial choice after making The Devil Wears Prada. "Oh, I let my stylist worry about that, which must be the most fabulous thing I've ever said!" she gushes. "Please when you write it say I waved my hand or tossed my head or did something like that!" This all runs counter to an earlier anecdote she gives about her time on Rachel Getting Married. "Halfway through filming, Jonathan turned to me and said, 'Annie, you're a freak, aren't you?' and I said, 'Yeah, Jonathan, I am a freak.' And he said, 'You wave that 'freak-flag' proud, baby, you wave it proud!' "
The trouble is this "freak" sounds like just another calculated persona she's conjured up for herself, like the image of Hollywood royalty which she clings to. Further perpetuating this, she recently played the White Queen for Tim Burton in his forthcoming Alice in Wonderland, alongside Johnny Depp (as the Mad Hatter). Still, far more telling will be PoliWood, a documentary by Barry Levinson on the 2008 Democratic and Republican conventions, which features a host of Hollywood activists including Hathaway. It'll come as no surprise to learn that she supported President-in-waiting Barack Obama, though she won't say why. "I do talk about politics but not when I'm promoting a movie," she sniffs. "And I don't promote movies when I'm talking about politics."
There's something of the politician about Hathaway in the way she micro-manages her image. Demme calls her "keenly intelligent" and he's not wrong. She seems forever just one step ahead. Certainly after splitting with Follieri in the midst of his troubles – an act that led the billionaire Donald Trump, on the US TV show Access Hollywood, to state, "she hasn't remained very loyal to him, has she?" – her reputation remains intact. As for her career, she knows she's got some credit in the bank. "That's the greatest thing about finding success ... I'm at a point that it's not just hanging on a single film. You've always got a bit of leeway – like I'm probably three failures away from slipping backwards!" This may be true – but there's no way Hathaway's going to let this life go now she has a taste for it.
'Bride Wars' is out now; 'Rachel Getting Married' opens on 23 January; the Golden Globes are tomorrow