Spotlight By: Andrea Tuccillo
In her new film, Becoming Jane, Anne Hathaway transformed herself from East coast native into the perfect English lady. Hathaway, who grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey, gracefully took on the role of acclaimed author Jane Austen in the first film to document the Pride and Prejudice writer’s life. Playing the part required learning the proper way to curtsy, dancing elegantly at a ball, and getting into the mind-frame of an era where marrying for love was not commonly an option. A fan of Austen’s novels from a young age, Hathaway was ready and willing to accept the challenge.
“I moved to England, London specifically, a month before we started filming to just really study the accent and focus on everything that needed to be done for the character,” she says. “I guess one could describe it as an 18th century boot camp. But let’s point out that boot camp included letter writing and piano lessons.”
Manners and politeness were highly regarded during the time period in which the movie is set, so all cast members had to brush up on some old-fashioned customs. “We actually had an etiquette coach on the film who was lovely and who I had worked with before on a musical,” Hathaway says. “It was a huge part of the film because this was a story about respecting propriety and do you challenge arbitrary rules because you see a way in which the rule could be different or better. So it became very important because it was good to have something to rail against.”
That conflict of the conventions of the time versus a person’s desire to break free is a common theme in all of Austen’s books, and was also a prevalent force in Austen’s real life. Hathaway believes there is a balance to be found between the way women and men interacted back then and the way they do now.
Hathaway has been happily dating real estate developer Raffaello Follieri since 2004, but she still values a person’s independence regardless of whether they’re in a relationship or not. She’s forthcoming about what she believes is the foundation to a healthy relationship. “I think what’s emerging now is that it’s not a bad thing if a man wants to take you out to dinner and pick up the check, but for me at least I like knowing that I can pay for the check if for some reason it came up,” she says. “I like feeling independent but also being in a relationship. Nowadays I don’t understand people who marry up without any of their own merits. I think you have to have your own life going on and then you find someone. And if that happens it doesn’t matter if they’re poor as can be or unbelievably wealthy. You have your own life and you’re not reliant upon anyone, or rather you’re reliant on them
By playing Jane Austen, Hathaway not only learned some things about love and romance, she also tapped into her inner scribe. “[I've written] short stories and poems; novels I could never,” she says. “But acting works out very well for me because I can only focus on something for about four months before getting bored. I wrote a lot during this movie–poems that should be burned–but I felt very connected to whatever part of me loves to write.”
She was also able to connect with her co-star, revered British actress Maggie Smith. “Before I knew Maggie, I figured she wouldn’t want people to just be hanging on her every word trying to force a friendship on her, so I really just tried to respect her space and her process for the first week and I don’t know if she saw that or just became comfortable but for the second week of her filming we had a wonderful time together,” she says. “We had a bunch of scenes, we started chatting more and more, she started telling me stories, and it was a really beautiful, special time. I think she liked me because I always let her say the punch-line first. Like if something funny would happen I would bite my tongue until she said something funny and then I would try to come in. What she said was always better than anything I could’ve come up with.”
Hathaway enjoyed her time on set, but was at first wary of the task at hand. She admits she felt pressure playing a character as well-known as Jane Austen. “When you’re dealing with a beloved character, a beloved book, a beloved T.V. series, a remake of a beloved film you have to accept part of the proceedings that not everyone will love what you do,” she says. “Not everyone will be happy about it and you can’t take that personally. You just need to plug in
Next up for Hathaway isâ€”surpriseâ€”a remake of a beloved T.V. series. She co-stars with Steve Carell in the big-screen version of Get Smart, due in theaters next year. As a talented young actress with a good head on her shoulders, it shouldn’t be too long before she earns the title “beloved” herself.