For Anne Hathaway, surreal doesn't begin to describe the aftermath of being in the wildly anticipated superhero colossus The Dark Knight Rises.
Hathaway's career has been on the ascent since her Oscar nomination for 2008's Rachel Getting Married. But when she donned her slinky ebony suit to play master jewel thief Selina Kyle in the final installment of the Batman trilogy, her life took a turn for the at-times absurd. Now, says a good-humored Hathaway, everywhere she goes, the paparazzi follow. And that includes an outing, last week, to see the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits with her fiancé, actor Adam Shulman.
"We left the screening, went out the back door and thought we were home free to go to the after-party. And these guys came out of nowhere with the flashbulbs. They say these weird things to you. You don't want to look like you're uppity, but they're not journalists. My self-protective instinct is just not to talk to them," says Hathaway, clearly relishing the dénouement of her story. "We pass these drunk NYU students on a stoop. They're like, 'Who is that?' One of them goes, 'Girl in the black dress, are you a slut?'"
Hathaway, 29, starts laughing and strategically adjusts her cream-colored sweater. "Today, I wore white. I'm trying to change my image," she quips.
When she needs to be serious, Hathaway is all business. But otherwise, she can repartee with the best of them.
"Annie has such an irrepressible spirit and is a lot of fun to work with and to just be with," says Meryl Streep, who terrorized Hathaway in her breakthrough 2006 comedy The Devil Wears Prada. "I love her because she is so game and up for anything. She has a goofy side, but her talent is deep and serious. She has done some challenging work in the past few years, and she is simply unafraid to jump off the high dive."
Learning to fight — in heels
In Dark Knight, opening Friday, Hathaway dug deep to play Catwoman and approached the part with her signature level of focus and immersion.
She first met with the notoriously secretive director Christopher Nolan to discuss a nebulous role in one of his projects. She didn't know it was for his final Batman film. Or the character he had in mind.
"It was very vague. I was so nervous. He told me about halfway through that the part was going to be Catwoman," Hathaway says, breaking into a faux-sultry British accent. "When he told me what it was, I immediately had to shift into my slinkiest mode, ever so subtly. Chris met with a bunch of other girls. I screen-tested, and about 3½ months after the first meeting, I found out I got the part. It's still shocking. It's like winning lottery after lottery after lottery."
Nolan at first resisted the idea of a sensual, purring and possibly cartoonish Catwoman in what he calls his "grounded universe," a world in which his Caped Crusader is creaky and reclusive as opposed to grandiose. "The thing that clicked for me was trying to build a credible character from the ground up, a classic femme fatale and grifter," he says. "Anne can present a psychologically real characterization. And she can fill a room with her energy and presence. I told her that the character wears a lot of armor, in a sense, and has a strong way of dealing with the world, and that has to come from a defensive position."
Developing that position required a physicality the lithe Hathaway didn't have. So the actress completed four months of dance, martial arts and stunt training. She learned how to fight. And she did it in heels, a skill she mastered while playing a gawky, budding fashion force in Prada.
"What I was worried about was not having the consistency I wanted. I wanted to make sure she was fluid throughout. She is graceful and death-defying and a tightrope walker. If you let it drop for even a second, the whole thing gets shattered. Getting to a place where that becomes second-nature, where you feel strong enough to do it for days on end, took a fair bit of time. It was a long schedule to keep your head in the game.
"And keeping a consistent weight was hard. I worked really hard, but I wouldn't describe it as killer. I was able to shift my entire life so it became about transforming myself into the character. Everyone in my life understood, and if I went out to meals with friends they understood that I could only go to certain restaurants. It required a ton of hard work and discipline, which I never had to do before."
And it demanded wearing a suit that could generously be called body-hugging. Still, Hathaway says that thanks to Nolan and his Batman, Christian Bale, she never felt, er, like a slut. "Being a woman in what has traditionally been a highly sexualized role, in a very revealing suit, it could have been a very uncomfortable situation for me. I only ever felt like a peer. I was respected."
After altering her way of life during filming, Hathaway says she celebrated appropriately after shooting key scenes.
"After I finished the rooftop fight, I ate four slices of pizza and split a bottle of red wine with my guy. I hadn't eaten like that in months. I felt so ill. By the time the movie finished, I decided to give veganism a try. You can't go hog-wild as a vegan. You can eat a lot of pasta and have a few vegan pastries."
'Fun' but deadly serious
Professionally, Hathaway is satiated as well, even if her lean frame indicates otherwise. She recently wrapped Les Misérables, the musical directed by Tom Hooper, who helmed the Oscar-winning film The King's Speech. That's why she's sporting a pixie cut, which she got so she could play dying prostitute Fantine. The idea to shear off her long brown hair, and drop 25 pounds through a combination of food deprivation and exercise, was Hathaway's.
"She wanted to show the progression of her illness in a visceral way," Hooper says. "I would say Annie is among the best-prepared actors I've ever worked with. Six months before we even started shooting, she was working with the legendary Joan Lader, the top voice and singing coach in America, on how to produce a powerful voice while keeping her face so still. She arrived with two volumes of research she'd commissioned herself on the realities of prostitution in 19th-century France. It was staggering."
For Hathaway, the film was momentous, partly because her mother played the role of Fantine in the national production of Les Misérables when Hathaway was growing up.
"I think of Dark Knight, Les Mis and Rachel Getting Married as this trio of really special, transformative experiences. Getting to know Hugh (Jackman) better, getting to meet Russell (Crowe), who's such a great guy, getting to play this character — I'm trying to sort out how I got this lucky," she says. "I didn't realize how much I wanted to be in an epic at some point in my career, and I am now, and I think it's one of the best films I've ever seen. I can't believe I'm in it.
"My life right now is like comparing gold bars. I sound obnoxious to myself when I say that. I'm a very fortunate girl."
Hathaway, fresh from an afternoon nap amid days of non-stop press for her film, is a little bleary and wary at first. She's polite but guarded. A ginger iced tea later, she warms up, sharing recipes for kale and tomato pasta sauce and recommending an "extraordinary" Mediterranean restaurant, Superfine, that she loves. She'd wanted to meet there, she explains, but it was closed for lunch. "I have to eat there more often so I can just call and say, 'Can I use the patio?'" she says.
But wait, can't she just play the celebrity card to get her way? "I'm not about that," says Hathaway, who flies her Labrador, Esmeralda, cross-country on Pet Airways instead of borrowing a private plane.
Hooper says Hathaway is "incredibly nice. She remains nice to the core, no matter what pressure you put on her. She remains poised and just a great person to be around. On the stress of the film set you see other sides of people coming out. With her you don't scratch the surface and reveal something else. She has integrity. And she's great fun."
The wedding plan
Hathaway splits her time between her home base of New York City and Los Angeles, where she has a home. "It is inspiring to watch her with her family," says her Les Misérables co-star Jackman. "They are so close-knit and supportive of each other. As my Mum would say, 'She is a very well-brought-up girl.' "
The rest of the year, Hathaway says, will be devoted to her and Shulman. "It will be nice to live a little. It was 18 months of work focus. It will be nice to paint the walls and hang a photo or two."
She'd love to have "a bunch" of kids someday. But first, there's a wedding to plan.
"It's not going to happen this year. I was hoping it would, but when I got into Les Mis, it was really hard to connect with the excited bride while I was losing weight and dying of tuberculosis. I think if it was going to happen soon I'd have a date by now. But according to my publicist, (the tabloids reported that) it happened last weekend. I got married in Cape May last week, apparently. I grew up going to Cape May, so they fabricated a distinct possibility."
Checks and balances
As a felon with a record as thick as the Yellow Pages, Hathaway's Selina Kyle dreams of wiping the slate clean and starting over. Could Hathaway ever imagine doing the same?
"It's such a hard question to answer. What would I be giving up in the process? I can't honestly say I wish I could give it up. I wish there were limits. I wish you had a choice about whether or not to be private. That sounds a little bit like I'm having a pity party, so I hesitate to say that. I'm very grateful. I wished we lived in a world where people weren't satisfied in that way.
"I see those magazines when I get my nails done. You switch off. You go numb. It's definitely a thing to be sitting there, getting a pedicure, and you look over and someone is reading an article about an aspect of your life that you know is not true. It's weird, it's uncomfortable, but I don't see it changing anytime soon, so I should figure a way to laugh through it.
"I'm not milquetoast. I have emotions. But they're mine."