Gurney's Inn
August 22, 2007

From "Tiara Flicks" To English Romance

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"That girl needs a husband." That sentiment is one of the first uttered in Becoming Jane. In the class-conscious fictionalized bio-drama about beloved English novelist Jane Austen, the protagonist never attained marital status. Instead, society became the benefactor of Austen's life and romantic longings funneled into a six-volume collection. Boasting titles of Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility, they celebrate chivalry and virginity, without sacrificing the matter of practicality.

It's impossible not to speculate whether Austen's life might have turned out entirely different, however, if she had only looked like Anne Hathaway, the 24-year-old actress tapped to play her.

Becoming Jane is set in 1795. Jane is 20 and her family, headed by her pastor father (James Cromwell), is clearly in dire financial straits. The logical solution would be to marry the well-heeled nephew (Laurence Fox) of a local aristocrat (Maggie Smith). Instead, Jane's heart is clearly aflutter for a rascal Irishman named Tom LeFroy (James McAvoy from The Last King of Scotland).

Screenwriters Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood have borrowed elements of Pride and Prejudice, incorporated them into Jane's life, and then spun them into a fabrication inspired by her prose.

Director Julian Jarrold of Kinky Boots fame described Hathaway as "tough, independent-minded with a feisty quality." So what was the common denominator that enabled Hathaway to relate to Austen? "Loneliness," the Brooklyn-born, Short Hills, NJ-reared actress confessed. "Jane lived in a rural setting, had only limited company and was a genius. So that would have isolated and set her apart, making her lonely. I have been lonely."

As for the old-fashioned type romance depicted in Becoming Jane, Hathaway isn't longing for an earlier era. "I think there's a happy medium. I like the freedom we have now to write our own rules. It's very easy to romanticize chaste courtships. You know, where an engagement is sealed with the first kiss. But in actuality, I think it would have been pretty depressing. It's like basically choosing your husband at a club.

"Also, courtship back then had nothing to do with love. It was just really an economic transaction. That's not to say it's not like that nowadays. I don't want to sound obnoxious, but there are parts that I would keep and parts where I would just say . . . good riddance," said Hathaway, who has been in a relationship with real estate developer Raffaello Folliere since 2004.

"I like feeling independent, but also being in a relationship. It's not a bad thing if a man wants to take you out to dinner and pay the check. But for me, I like knowing that I can pay the check, you know?"

Prepping for the film, Hathaway attended "18th century boot camp." The curriculum featured letter writing, piano lessons and etiquette. During a recent interview in Manhattan, the former co-ed at Vassar College explained, "We had an etiquette coach on set because this story is very much about respecting propriety. Do you challenge arbitrary rules because you see a way in which the world could be different or better? It was good to have something to rail against."

Her reference guide was a book titled What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, recommended by Ang Lee.

Admittedly, the hardest subject to master was dancing. "I'm not a good dancer. I was actually pretty tragic! James [McAvoy] worked really hard, but he kept falling out of frame. He probably won't speak to me, now that he knows I told you all about it. But we all had moments when we forgot our steps and fell. It's nice when everybody is appalling at the same thing," said a laughing Hathaway, whose lush brunette hair, porcelain complexion, and killer smile earned her a place on People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in 2006.

Becoming Jane is Hathaway's latest step towards separating herself from her Disney "tiara flicks" as Mia Thermopolis in 2001's The Princess Diaries, and 2004's Ella Enchanted and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.

How did it feel becoming an overnight star? "All of a sudden I had opportunity and attention, buzz and heat. All those things that people tell you you're supposed to work for and I didn't know if I could act. I had no training to figure it out. So now one of my prerequisites for doing a movie is that it has to be on the opposite side of the coin from the last film I did," she said.

Seizing creative control of her career in 2005, Hathaway co-starred in the adult theme Havoc playing a spoiled socialite, and as the wife of gay ranch hand Jack [Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain], both of which required extensive nude scenes. She then returned last year to share the screen with Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.

Her career continues to evolve with two films premiering next year. In the first, Passengers, she play a grief counselor, returning later as sexy Agent 99 opposite Steve Carell's Maxwell Smart in the movie version of 1960's spy comedy Get Smart.

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