You can always tell when The Devil Wears Prada is playing on TV; every time the 2006 blockbuster airs on cable, a viral tweet labeling Adrian Grenier's puppy-eyed, scruffy haired Nate - the boyfriend of Anne Hathaway's struggling magazine assistant, Andy - "the real villain" of the film surely follows. Now, 15 years into the ever-evolving discourse surrounding his character, Grenier spoke to EW about the criticism that took him (and his fellow cast members) by surprise.
"I didn't see some of the subtleties and the nuance of this character and what it represented in the film until the wisdom of the masses came online and started to push against the character and throw him under the bus, and I got flak," Grenier says in an exclusive reunion interview with the movie's cast and crew, who dive into the way the character's actions - most notably when he pouts around the apartment after Andy misses his birthday party for a work event - have been re-examined through the lens of contemporary social politics.
Everett Collection Anne Hathaway, Adrian Grenier in 'The Devil Wears Prada.'
"All those memes that came out were shocking to me. It hadn't occurred to me until I started to really think about it, and perhaps it was because I was as immature as Nate was at the time, and in many ways he's very selfish and self-involved, it was all about him, he wasn't extending himself to support Andy in her career," Grenier continues. "At the end of the day, it's just a birthday, right? It's not the end of the world. I might've been as immature as him at the time, so I personally couldn't see his shortcomings. But after time to reflect and much deliberation, I've come to realize the truth in that perspective."
Hathaway is more sympathetic to Nate's emotions, joking that perhaps audiences aren't being "completely honest with themselves" when ripping his wounded tone. "Nate was pouty on his birthday because his girlfriend wasn't there! In hindsight, I'm sure he wishes he made a different choice, but who doesn't? We've all been brats at different points. We all just need to live, let live, do better!"
Nate's trajectory didn't necessarily surprise the film's writer, Aline Brosh McKenna, who says she wrote the part as a gender-flipped take on "the girlfriend" trope we've seen play out in countless Hollywood movies over the years, and that he anchors two halves of Andy's burgeoning personal and professional lives in ways viewers perhaps didn't consider at the time of the film's release.
She describes the film as a Faustian yarn about Andy being pulled to the "dark" side by a job that forces her to sacrifice both personal morals and human decency to get ahead - a job Meryl Streep's icy magazine head, Miranda Priestly, has long conditioned herself not to feel sorry about.
"He's saying [she's] following the devil down the wrong path. And that's his role, which is often a role played by women, which is to remind the character of their moral intentions. I think he isn't unsupportive of her work; he's happy for her, at the end. I don't think it's like he doesn't want her to work. What he is critical of is that the values that she set out for herself, she is not following through on, and there's a hypocrisy there," McKenna explains. "Her intentions were not to become a fashionista in Chanel boots and jet off to Paris.... Andy really is losing herself."
While the backlash intimidated Grenier at first, he now savors it as part of the job, and says he's removed himself enough from the role, personally, that he's able to engage with the criticism with an open heart and a clear mind.
"[Andy] needed more out of the world than Nate, and she was achieving it. He couldn't support her like she needed to because he was a fragile, wounded boy. There's a selfishness and self-centeredness in that, and I think Andy needed to be held by a man who was an adult," he muses. "He couldn't support her like she needed because he was a fragile, wounded boy…. on behalf of all the Nates out there: Come on! Step it up!"
For more on The Devil Wears Prada, watch our full oral history video, and pick up the July issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands June 18 and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.