Hathahate: Why the world turned on poor Anne Hathaway

Confident and poised: Anne Hathaway
Confident and poised: Anne Hathaway - Getty
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We humans are suspicious of perfection: when we can’t easily spot someone’s flaws, we’ll often come up with some ourselves, just to be on the safe side. Looking back, that now seems to be what went wrong ten or so years ago for the actress Anne Hathaway – who on the press tour for her new film Mothers’ Instinct has been reflecting on the extraordinary blasts of on- and offline vitriol that blew her career off course in the 2010s.

It was a precarious moment for Hollywood stardom in general, with both #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite rumbling away – though Hathaway’s supposed crimes a) could hardly be described as crimes at all, and b) seemed to change depending on who and when you asked. One moment, she was too enthusiastic, too earnest, too humble for comfort; the next she was inauthentic, entitled and insincere.

She was both the soul-baring, Oscar-grabbing star of Les Misérables – so pretentious! – and the millennial Julia Roberts knockoff of Valentine’s Day and Bride Wars – so superficial! She was essentially living out America Ferrara’s Barbie monologue 10 years before it was written, and apparently lost out on work as a result.

“A lot of people wouldn’t give me roles because they were so concerned about how toxic my identity had become online,” she told Vanity Fair this week. Mercifully not everyone, though: Hathaway went on to describe Christopher Nolan as “an angel” for casting her in Interstellar at a particular low point, paying no heed to the blare of bad press.

'Pretentious': Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables
'Pretentious': Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables - Alamy

“I don’t know if he knew that he was backing me at the time,” she went on, “but it had that effect. And my career did not lose momentum the way it could have if he hadn’t backed me.” Even so, only Nancy Meyers took a chance on her as a lead (in 2015’s underrated The Intern) until 2018’s badly received all-female heist caper Ocean’s 8, and it took working with Todd Haynes and James Gray, in the superb Dark Waters and Armageddon Time respectively, to finally pry her from the decade-long rut.

There might be no neater précis of differing 2010s attitudes towards male and female celebrity than the fact that Matthew McConaughey – who’d also spent the last 10 years being unavoidable in projects of varying quality – was about to enjoy his McConaissance at the very moment Hathaway was staring down the barrel of a decade’s Hathahate. And Hathahate is apparently what we’re calling it, even though Anne-imosity was right there.

Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises
Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises - Alamy

It’s worth noting that McConaughey and Hathaway both won their Oscars as all of this was kicking off, and Hathaway’s 2013 acceptance speech – which began, perhaps a little too tweely, with “It came true!” – was waved around as evidence of unsound character for years.

So too was her face, which a psychology professor told Salon in 2013 was too sharply defined to chime with the upbeat post-recession mood. “When times are good, we prefer actresses with rounder faces,” said Terry Pettijohn. “They convey these ideas of fun and youth...As the economy improves, Hathaway may just be a reminder of bad times.” (Compare Jennifer Lawrence, who was flying high at the time in The Hunger Games and X-Men.)

As was her crisp intonation in speeches and interviews – which, a speechwriter told CNN, came off as overly rehearsed. (Again, compare Lawrence, whose naturally funny, down-to-earth vibe made her the most beloved actress of that decade.)

Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway were pitted against each other
Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway were pitted against each other - Getty

Tellingly, commentators also repeatedly likened her to a “theatre kid”: the ambitious young drama whizz everyone remembers from school. Richard Lawson wrote in the Atlantic: “She’s got this theater-kid thing where she adopts the mood of every situation she’s in... but wildly overcompensates every time.” (That was also the persona she employed when presenting the Oscars in 2011, with James Franco, mellow to the point of comatose, providing contrast. It was reported she even rehearsed her Oscar speech to sound “less annoying”.)

Critics also thought she was simply “too happy”, with the New Yorker positing that she represented the “archetype for the happy girl”. Comparing the “inscrutable” unsmiling women we are used to seeing on the red carpet with Hathaway, Sasha Weiss wrote: “she stands with her long arms at her sides, looking directly (even a little pleadingly) into the camera, her smile is toothy and takes up half of her face. It’s a look of unfettered excitement and openness, an expression of high-wattage joy that reminds me of none other than a nine-year-old girl about to dig into a big slice of birthday cake.” (Note that much of this criticism came from respected publications rather than Twitter trolls.)

But perhaps what really rankled, beyond her confidence and poise, is that she was equipped with the talent to back those qualities up. And that particular combination – gifted; knows it – was a red rag to social media, which was about to redefine the currency of celebrity in the years ahead. Parasocial fandom was suddenly in: it was boom time for stars who could double as imaginary BFFs and/or crushes.

But the diligent and doe-eyed Hathaway was few people’s idea of either, and so found herself frozen out. In the less status-conscious 1980s and 90s, where the fame-equals-looks-plus-talent equation still held, she would have surely had an easier time of it – but perhaps her 2020s will help redress the balance.

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