Anne Hathaway on “Colossal”
Of Monsters and Men
Apr 06, 2017
It’s funny the difference a few months make. Back in the heady days of September, when the American political axis still seemed to be spinning the way it had for decades, a relaxed Anne Hathaway told a collected group of (mostly male—a relevant point later in the conversation) journalists “we’re holding ourselves to greater accountability with language in respect to the power of words.”
We were discussing political correctness: a tangent arrived at via a discussion over the villainous nature of the antagonist in her new film Colossal, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. She took issue with a reference to the character, played by Jason Sudeikis, as a bad guy, rejecting the need to throw around such terms. “We have to find a way to reach into people and not label them good or bad, to say hey are you hurting and how can we help you heal?”
Of course the prism of Trump tends to infect everything now. Back then the specter of President Trump still didn’t seem real; at least not real enough to large parts of the country unhappy with the outcome only two months later. Although change was under discussion in a non-descript building in downtown Toronto, the focus lay more on the personal for Hathaway, returning to work after having her first child.
Despite the relative anonymity of the building—small entrance, no visible reception, and large empty rooms—a number of people stood outside lining up for autographs. When you’re Anne Hathaway it’s impossible not to attract attention. Having been in the public eye for close to two decades she must be used to it by now. It didn’t seem to faze her anyway. Looking relaxed, she seemed happy to chat about her career and the recent changes in her life while occasionally touching on broader issues.
Most of all she was here to talk Colossal, a strange choice of project in many ways. It’s a willfully odd film, the brainchild of Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo. It’s sort of science fiction and sort of comedy, shot through with a bleak streak. Imagine The Hangover mixed with Leaving Las Vegas and Godzilla and you won’t have anything remotely like Colossal, but you might get a sense for how out there it is.
Hathaway plays Gloria, washed up and drinking too much after her attempt to make it as a journalist in New York flounders. Kicked out by her boyfriend, she ends up back in her small hometown hanging out with an old friend (Sudeikis) who now runs a bar. More drinking ensues, and then a monster starts destroying Seoul in South Korea. If it sounds leftfield, that’s because it really is. It’s also where her personal tastes lie. “I like my feelings served with a twist,” she tells us. There’s no deeper strategic thinking. This isn’t some master plan to bolster credibility or expand her appeal. “I just respond to what I respond to and this stuff makes me laugh.”
Without a name like hers attached, it’s highly likely Colossal could never have come about. She tells us she gained an executive producer credit in recognition of this. “I’m so proud of whatever limited cachet I have for however limited a time I have it, and that I used it for a project like this.” The idea of leveraging producing to help guide her career isn’t a driving force though. “I always see it more as trying to see the movie I want to see as a filmgoer get made.”
This confidence and ease with her career hasn’t always been there. The high and lowpoint for Hathaway, at least professionally, came when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Les Misérables in February 2013. “I felt very uncomfortable with that time. I had to stand up in front of people and feel something I don’t feel, which is uncomplicated happiness. I felt weird that I was standing there in a gown that cost more than some people are going to make in their lifetime. I don’t blame the Oscars or the dress. It was me and my own shortcomings and my own limited thinking.” Hathaway contrasts the way she handled the situation with Lupita Nyong’o who won the same award a year later. “Lupita said the fact so much of her personal joy came from other people’s suffering is unfathomable. There you go, that’s grace right there.”
Hathaway pauses for thought after telling us this, seemingly caught between reflection and a desire to talk about the way her life has now changed. And improved, as well. In March 2016 she gave birth to her first child. Unsurprisingly it’s altered her professional life. “I don’t like moving slowly anymore. You want things to move quickly so you can get home. You want to be able to go there and do your job, but your job can’t be everything.”
What threw her was the impact pregnancy had on set while filming Colossal. “I wasn’t expecting how chill I became because I’ve always been a fairly tightly-wound person, and the second I got pregnant I took a deep breath and stayed there.”
If her experiences of late have been positive, not everything in the movie industry is quite so trouble-free. As a high-profile figure moving from a successful child career to a position straddling independent movies and blockbusters, Hathaway has avoided the secondary love interest status faced by many actresses. Given the growing awareness of the prevailing gender bias in Hollywood, it’s no surprise to find she’s pondered the issue through her choice of roles. “I think a lot about it and try to offer up alternatives. What you want to do is create examples people can cite as to why the old model of thinking is old.” She’s quick to point out the buck doesn’t stop in some producers office, either. “It can’t just be the filmmakers; the media needs to help out.”
At this point it’s also noticeable the group of journalists gathered around, myself included, are nearly all male. Hathaway addresses this while looking for positives. “Being able to talk about it and sit around a table of men and women, but predominantly men, and see understanding in your eyes for these things I’m saying is really cool. That’s a big change. I don’t think we’d have been having this conversation five or ten or fifteen years ago.” There’s in-built caution too. “I think everybody’s primed for change. We just have to be kind right now because change isn’t perfect and there’s going to be disappointment.”
A couple of months later and the change sweeping America might not have been quite what Hathaway, a Clinton supporter, envisioned. Trump’s highly questionable views towards women are all part of a wider battle for equality far from won. Hathaway is clear this idea of toxic masculinity, the kind that has women in her industry attacked for wading into areas of perceived male dominion (the Ghostbusters remake is a prime example), is harmful for everyone. “Male energy is beautiful, male energy is welcome, male energy is half the reason we’re here. That said, there’s been a perversion of the beauty of male energy into the macho ideal that I don’t think serves anybody. I don’t think it serves the man, I don’t think it serves the woman.”
Ultimately though, Hathaway is here to talk about her new movie, and as open as she is on pretty much any topic coming her way, it’s on Colossal she is most eager to go into detail. Her role, with Gloria’s very obvious alcohol problem, fits a pattern of playing addicts of some kind. It’s a deliberate choice. “I have a lot of addicts in my life I feel tender affection for.” Given this feeling, the chance to bring often maligned people to screen is a big motivation. “I love when movies present the opportunity to take groups that have been stigmatized, groups that have been looked at with very hard hearts, and I love going inside them to show the human side.” For Hathaway it’s always relatable. “I look and say that’s me in there on some level, and now maybe it’s my son, and I want everyone to be treated with love.”
This attitude, with a pinch of caution because it’s never wise to insult people you might one day work with, seeps into her views on the blockbuster section of the movie industry that can lock out quirky films like Colossal. Does the endless production line of bland big budget films bother her? Hathaway won’t be drawn into insulting critically unpopular fare. “No one sets out to make a bad movie. I don’t take it personally when bad movies get made. It takes so much work to make anything.” As for Colossal, “I don’t know if this movie’s going to have an impact. I’d like to think it might empower people to take the risks that are worth taking, but I don’t think we need to diminish one in order to celebrate the other. I think there’s room at the table for everyone.”
As our time runs out, she returns to this theme when the discussion heads to her role in the Christopher Nolan Batman series, and the general derision with which Batman V Superman was met. She’s careful to point out she hasn’t seen Ben Affleck’s turn as the caped crusader, before reminding us again “you just need to remember no one sets out to make a bad movie, and when they do they’re aware of it.”
It’s a fitting note to end on from someone who is careful to remain polite and friendly while grappling with a number of potentially fraught topics. With that she’s up from the table, off to pose for a few photographs in the room before running the gauntlet outside. It’s something she’s used to by now, and something she’ll probably handle with the grace she tells us she did not have only a handful of years ago.
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