Try to imagine living in a world in which strangers regularly reminded you that a large number of people actively disliked you, and you’ll start to understand a sliver of Anne Hathaway’s life. Last week, during a press junket for her new movie Colossal, she told me that the supposed phenomenon of audiences hating her is brought up in just about every interview she sits through. It happens even now, she said, more than four years after the rash of “Everyone hates Anne Hathaway articles” were published, mostly during the 2013 awards season.
During that time, Hathaway won a Golden Globe and Oscar for her role as Fantine in Les Misérables. Hathaway herself has copped to the legitimacy of at least some of the criticism, as she reflected recently in The Guardian on her Oscar acceptance speech: “I tried to pretend that I was happy and I got called out on it, big time.”
Public disapproval, though, is slightly more relevant than usual this time around. In Colossal (a quirky indie/sci-fi film written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo), Hathaway plays Gloria, an out-of-work, alcoholic internet writer in her mid-30s who suffers a pre-midlife crisis and flees New York for her hometown. After news breaks that a giant Godzilla-like monster is wreaking havoc in Seoul, Gloria discovers the monster is actually... her avatar. Things get weirder and realer from there as an old friend she has reunited with, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), goes from helpful to self-entitled to a violent embodiment of toxic masculinity. Hathaway’s empathic and naturalistic performance keeps the movie grounded and prevents it from ever seeming too ridiculous to emotionally invest in, against one’s better judgement (Sudeikis is wonderful, as well).
That Hathaway plays an internet writer so compassionately—a character who very well could have written one of those “Why Does Everyone Hate Anne Hathaway?” pieces back in 2013—seemed a pointed statement coming from an actor who is open about how the internet has hurt her feelings. On a smaller scale, the same could be said of her willingness to sit down with Jezebel—during our interview, Hathaway said that she had to stop reading this very site for a while because unexpected headlines about herself would “catch [her] off-guard.”
I haven’t written about Hathaway at Jezebel, but I certainly did write about the apparent public disdain of her back in the day on Gawker. At the time, I thought I tried to examine the Hathaway hatred as a phenomenon, and with the caveat that, despite it all, she was still winning. Still, I was overly harsh at times, and I certainly didn’t consider Hathaway’s humanity to the extent that I should have. In fact, after we spoke, I found a post I’d published that made me rethink my entire approach to this interview.
But also, I think that all that talk about Hathaway being disliked made her into something of an underdog. And since, at least from where I sit, pop-culture underdogs are inherently endearing, the strange thing about Hathaway’s career in the last five years is that being disliked ultimately made her... likable. What a ride.
Of course, none of this would matter if she weren’t a sensational actor. That’s, at least, the primary reason why I wanted to talk to her about this film. Despite however she feels about Jezebel, Hathaway was friendly to me (to greet me, she said, “Hi, I’m Annie!” while beaming). She took my questions seriously and answered them thoughtfully, even when I got the sense that she’d prefer to talk about something else. She is careful by her own admission—as well as prone to couching some responses with caveats like, “I don’t want to say anything controversial...” and, “I might be inviting some criticism by mentioning this...”—but, from what I could detect, she is also honest. She has a good sense of civility and the good sense to show to the world her capacity for it. An edited and condensed transcript of our chat is below.
JEZEBEL: The toxic masculinity angle of this movie has been a point of discussion about it since it debuted at Toronto. Did that speak to you? Was it on your mind as something you wanted to respond to?
ANNE HATHAWAY: No. I think it’s probably pretty telling about why I was drawn to Gloria that that aspect of it snuck up on me the way it snuck up on her. I was more focused on the addiction storyline. That occupied much more of my lens. When Nacho and I started to talk about what the film was about, he was actually the one who pointed it out to me. I had initially missed it. If you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone who’s toxic—male or female—it does often go that way.
Also, Gloria is so flawed herself. In the beginning, it doesn’t seem too inappropriate that Oscar would want to save her.
And because she’s been struggling for so long, she’s used to people wanting to save her. That was one of the things that I loved about her. It sounds like such cliche at this point to be like, “Oh I loved playing someone who’s complicated, who’s a massive bundle of contradictions,” but I really loved this idea that somebody could be a good person and be self-absorbed.
One of the elements of simultaneity in this movie, which is brimming with it, is that it’s a fantasy story that you play naturalistically. Was that a conscious decision, or is that just you being you?
I just really felt very comfortable playing everything totally real. At the time, it just felt like the right thing to do. And now in the last two years, the world has become so heightened, and things have become so surreal that it feels like we were making some kind of statement. But we didn’t know any of this was going to happen.
It’s wild how relevant it’s become even since it premiered in Toronto in September. How have the ensuing months been for you? You wrote on Facebook about voting for Hillary, and last year you had a child. Has the political climate affected you?
It’s made me become very careful about when I want to use my voice and what I want to use it for. So I’ve been doing a lot of listening.
Earlier this year you’d announced that you were taking a break from social media, and you’ve been posting less.
It’s funny because with this movie, I’ve been asked to up my social media... thing. I’ve been shooting a lot of dumb videos all day. Just silly little things, they don’t really say anything. I’m going to post them on Instagram stories, but I’m not going to post them to my Instagram. I’m happy to post them on Instagram Stories, because I feel like I can be a little freer and a little looser, but the Instagram stuff... it’s going to stick around for as long as anybody cares to look for what is there.
I might be inviting some criticism by mentioning this, but when have I ever not invited criticism? [Laughs] When has any public figure ever not? But I had never posted a photo of my son, and I decided to post a shot of the back of his head, and almost as soon as I’d done it, I wished that I hadn’t. I felt like I had broken some kind of a seal in inviting people into my life. And even though I felt as though I had done it in as protective a way as I could, even though it was a moment I was incredibly proud of, I don’t know that I’ll ever do it again. I’m a big believer that you gotta mess things up sometimes to really see them properly, so if I made a mistake or I messed up, I know how I feel about it much better now. Instagram, when I first started, it was so much fun. And it was a great way to be silly and kind of do things off the cuff. And now, because of the time we live in, I think words and pictures are carrying a much greater weight. Or, much less depending on how you engage with it.
I wonder what you thought about Gloria being an internet writer, given the way you have been talked about on the internet. You’ve talked about it hurting your feelings. Was it a mode of empathy to play someone who could have potentially written, “Everybody Hates Anne Hathaway” four years ago?
It’s very interesting to be talking to you about it, because I love your site, but for a while I had to stop reading it because I would just be reading about something totally unrelated to me and [see] a headline about me and how much your site dislikes me or whoever was writing it dislikes me would come up. That would catch me off-guard. Now, it’s not that I’ve gotten a rhino skin to it, but I sort of see all of that for what it is. As far as Gloria, I thought it could be a positive overlap given my history with that aspect of her life, if you wanted to look at it from that vantage point. And if you didn’t want to look at it from that vantage point, it just seemed like a very timely profession for someone like her to be doing. Like just about everything in this movie, it resonated on several levels.
I thought that conversation was overblown. I think it originated from a place like, “Here’s this wonderfully talented A-list actor, we can take her down a peg,” and then it got to be such a thing that you became an underdog. And maybe that mechanism is why we don’t really hear that conversation anymore.
I mean, how much have you thought about this? It’s weird to talk about, right?
I think it’s weird that it continues to be talked about a little bit. I understand in the context of this movie, why it should be brought up. But it comes up in every interview I do, just about. I am... not eager, but I am ready for the conversation to move to a place beyond it. I don’t have to contextualize all of my stories, all of my experiences through that time. I’m ready for it to be implied, not overtly stated. But I’m also not in the driver’s seat of this interview. But I do appreciate the things that you say. That’s a kind way of interpreting it.
I always thought, “Anne Hathaway’s gonna be fine.”
That’s a really cool way of looking at it.
Did it change you at all? Did that conversation change the way you thought about your image or choices you make? How much did you internalize it?
Um... it made the pause before I answer this question a lot longer. I was just reading [Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview] at lunch, and she said, I’m going to paraphrase it right now, “I don’t try to change other people—it’s so much easier to change yourself.” How the world feels about me has nothing to do with me. How other people treat me has nothing to do with me. But if anything that anybody said resonated with me as something I’d like to work on for myself, I took it in like that. And to that extent, I feel like I got to shortcut a lot of my growth. To that extent, even though I wouldn’t have chosen to go through it, I still found a way to be grateful to it.
As a UN ambassador, you’re outspoken about women’s issues. I wonder if that carries over to your film work. When you’re selecting a role, do choose roles that portray women kindly or at least not negatively, even if the women themselves are a little messy, as Gloria is?
I go for honestly, before I go for kindly. I go for awake as opposed to unconscious. And I’m not trying to pick on you, but I don’t think I’m outspoken about it. I think I’m a spoken person about it. I think that these are conversations that have been underserved in the past, and so we’re just trying to rebalance the scales. And then in terms of how it manifests itself in my film work, I think just because I’m interested in it. It’s not like I have a manifesto. I think it’s just something I’m interested in, so I’m drawn to these characters.
But that has less to do with me as an ambassador for women’s issues, which is to say human issues, and more that I’m someone who’s fascinated by the human experience. I’m fascinated by what makes us tick, by what makes us make the choices we make, self-destructive of otherwise. How we lie to ourselves. How we lie to ourselves about lying. I’m fascinated by all of that. And the more richly drawn the character, which is to say the more tuned in the person creating the character’s origins, the more drawn to the character I’m likely to be. And in this case, which Nacho Vigalando, who is so tuned in, so on and so delightful, I feel like had to do very little work to play this character. I feel like she just sort of came through.
Yeah, really! I was charmed by her. I know a lot of charming people in my life and a lot of them have been addicts. I’ve loved and continue to love so many addicts. I don’t want to say anything controversial and I don’t want to diminish anybody’s experience, but I do say this from my own experience: There’s a lot of pain there and there’s also a lot of humor there. I think that also colored my understanding of the script. When you’re dealing with stories of addiction, or just any kind of story of humanity, the more you can blend the pain and the humor, the more real it feels to me.
I think that’s the human thing. I think sometimes the sensitive approach can read as condescending.
I think there’s truth to that. Or it’s just like any muscle, you can exhaust it. If it’s the same approach every time, it can’t possibly resonate. That string has been plucked. It’s going to break. You have to retune the instrument, you have to try a different note.
It’s an interesting dance to engage in. And speaking of that, I read something you said to Film School Rejects after watching this movie at Toronto: “I just found it right to see a woman pull herself out from under traditional male bullshit and not in an overtly feminist way that would be off-putting to anybody. Just stand on her own two feet and just own it.”
Do you think that overt feminism is necessarily off-putting?
I think most overt things are off-putting. And I’m careful saying this because I wonder how much my reaction has been colored by the people who have explained it to me, and given the world in which we live, the majority of those people have been men. I personally think that if I could come at this from a gender neutral perspective and say... I think overt masculinity, I find that to be too in my face as well. Overt ageism I think is probably too in my face as well. I think I prefer a more subtle, buried approach. I think I find it more interesting.
But to answer your question, I think that a conversation can only go at the speed that it goes at. And we’ve been in this conversation for a very short amount of time, compared to the length of human history. And that conversation has had a great deal of feeling behind it. For me, I feel more comfortable coming at it from a rational place. In a way, my outrage is exhausted, but I’m not done yet. So I have to be able to connect with it on another level that is going to allow me to stay with it for as long as it needs to be stayed with, which is to say, likely the rest of my life. I can’t let it be rage or anger or even passion to be what it is that drives me. It has to be a belief in equality. It has to be a belief in love. When I speak about being overt, or in that quote, overt feminism, I think it’s off-putting because, like I said, that muscle can become exhausted. I’d like to find something that is a renewable energy source.
Speaking to be heard is a skill, as opposed to just shouting everything. Being heard is an important thing, especially from someone in your position, who’s speaking to the world potentially every time you open your mouth in public.
I’m loving feeling reborn in a certain way as a mom. I don’t often talk about this, but there’s a wonderful thing that you learn when your child’s becoming emotional about something—you become very calm around them. I’m finding that’s transferring to the way I communicate with people as well, and in situations like this. Or earlier, somebody said something and I found myself really bristling against it. I felt my righteousness start to rear its head. And then I calmed down. And I feel like that’s the way I like to communicate. That’s the way I like to be heard—to go below what’s going on. And by the way, I don’t think that one’s right and one’s wrong. I think the way we exist together is by accepting each other and accepting the way people come at things.
POSTSCRIPT: It would be wonderful (for me) if I could conclude this post on this note, taking with me the memory of my final moments with Hathaway—her complimenting my preparedness and sending me out the door of the hotel suite where we sat and had this chat for about 20 minutes with, “Tell Jezebel I love them even if they don’t love me!!!” Oh Annie, she’s so politely tart, I’d think and then move onto the next thing. But given all we talked about, given that I came face to face with Hathaway’s humanity in a way I never would have predicted possible four years ago, there’s one more thing to discuss.
When I got back to my desk after our interview, I looked up old Jezebel posts to see if I could detect the offending headlines that Hathaway referenced. During the search, I came upon one post about a 2012 Today show interview in which Matt Lauer referenced a widely circulated paparazzi picture that showed her accidentally exposed crotch. I had totally forgotten about this incident... and my involvement in it. And then it started to dawn on me.
After Googling to confirm, I realized that I had been one of the people who posted that picture (again, this is when I worked for Gawker). Even though I didn’t remember posting that, I can say with confidence that I didn’t think much of doing so in 2012. It was just another piece of content that came and went as soon as I hit publish. Our understanding of celebrity and its limits was different then—earlier that year, Gawker had published paparazzi pictures of Kate Middleton topless, as well as footage from a Hulk Hogan sex tape, both to viral popularity. (Little did we know of the reckoning that would ensue regarding the latter story.) It’s hard to remember now, but paparazzi shots of celebs getting out of cars in skirts sans underwear were enough of a regularity in the mid- and late-aughts to make the whole thing seem like not a big deal at all. Revenge porn laws were then scarce. It wasn’t until before the so-called “Fappening” of 2014, in which several celebrities’ private nude photos were exposed, that the broader culture came to understand just how fucked up it was. Granted, it was always fucked up—it just took people a while to realize it. I’m one of those people, and I’m ashamed and embarrassed about that. This is not an excuse—there is no excuse—but an explanation.
So indifferent was the culture regarding celebrity women’s bodies that the day after that photo leaked, Matt Lauer started his interview with Hathaway with a snickering, “Seen a lot of you lately.” Hathaway responded eloquently:
It was obviously an unfortunate incident. It kind of made me sad on two accounts. One was that I was very sad that we live in an age when someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment, and rather than delete it, and do the decent thing, sells it. And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies the sexuality of unwilling participants. Which brings us back to Les Mis [...] So let’s get back to Les Mis.
In this conversation, Anne Hathaway was right and ahead of the cultural curve.
I didn’t feel particularly repentant for what I’d remembered writing about the “Everyone hates Anne Hathaway” phenomenon—while harsh at times, at least I had some perspective. But after realizing I’d posted a picture of her exposed, I felt terrible. It is absolutely something I would have apologized for, to Hathaway’s face, if I’d remembered having done it before we talked.
So what to do? I asked the Colossal publicist for five minutes to follow up. Because Hathaway had been so gracious, I thought she deserved a direct apology from me. But at the same time, I didn’t want to put her on the spot: “Hi, I did a really repulsive thing involving your body a few years ago. Thoughts?” I ultimately decided to write a note similar to this postscript, explaining my reason for wanting a follow-up and letting Hathaway know that I’m sorry for posting that picture, that causing her pain was not worth a stupid blog post, that my values have changed, and it’s not something I’d ever consider doing again.
The film’s publicist told me she’d pass the note along in lieu of follow-up time with Hathaway. I think that is fair. While I wish I could have apologized directly to Hathaway, it could have created a viral moment that would have been undeserved (“Anne Hathaway Confronts Blogger Who Posted Her Exposed Crotch”; “Blogger Apologizes to Anne Hathaway for Being a Male Shithead and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next”). It would be inappropriate to re-profit, so to speak, off of something that I shouldn’t have done in the first place—it would be like getting an award for bringing myself up to the level of morally neutral.
I hope that Hathaway read my note, or is reading this, and I hope it’s clear how sorry I am for publishing a picture of her body without her consent. I hope, too, that this incident emphasizes the strength of her character. Anne Hathaway was under no obligation to talk to me—in fact, given her feelings about Jezebel, she had good reason not to (or to merely turn down the interview—there are plenty of interested takers at other outlets because Anne Hathaway continues to be doing fine). And yet she showed me a level of civility above and beyond what I had extended to her. Colossal is a movie about being the bigger person—sometimes rendered literally—and it couldn’t have a more appropriate star playing its lead.
Colossal opens in theaters Friday, April 7.