The reimagining of Annie Hathaway

Evan Ross Katz is In The Know’s pop culture contributor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram for more.

“Fully here for the Annie-aissance,” some are saying about Academy Award-winning actress Annie — she prefers to be called Annie — Hathaway, who has been making the rounds in promotion of her new Apple TV+ series, WeCrashed, with particular verve. Maybe it’s the style, which has seen her stepping out in Christopher John Rogers, Paco Rabanne and Aquazzura. Maybe it’s her Gaga impression. Maybe it’s her “Since U Been Gone” cover. Whatever it is, people are noticing, and they’re saying things like “Je suis un Anne Stan,” “She’s like fine wine,” and “Queen of Genovia and my heart.”

But this unabashed stanning hasn’t always been the case. Well, it was … until it wasn’t. From her screen debut in 2001’s The Princess Diaries, Hathaway seemed destined for superstardom. She was noted both for her performance (“radiates movie star allure”) and her looks (Roger Ebert called her a “classic beauty in the Daphne Zuniga tradition” in his review of the film). She went on to star in a string of hits, both critically acclaimed and box office successes, like Ella Enchanted, Brokeback Mountain and The Devil Wears Prada. She maintained an impressively robust resume that proved her dynamism. She could do comedy: Get Smart. She could do indie: Rachel Getting Married (her first Oscar nomination). She could do big budget: Alice in Wonderland. She could do rom-com: Love & Other Drugs. She could do animation: Rio.

Then came Les Misérables, the 2012 film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, and what should have been a career milestone (she won a frickin’ Oscar, after all!) became a shift in the wrong direction. “It came true!” she declared while accepting her statuette, and like a starting gun at a race, the Hatha-hate was born. Many felt she came off overeager, likening her energy to that of a theater-kid, “perhaps wanting her statue a little too much.” “If you want to divide a room, just bring up the actress’ name and watch the venom fly,” Richard Lawson wrote at the time.

The criticism wasn’t lobbed at her performance capabilities but rather at her crime of being, well, herself. “My my,” writer Alexis Rhiannon said in a now-deleted post that went viral at the time. “What a large beautiful mouth. I don’t like it. Look at those dark, beautiful eyes. I don’t like them. Listen to her skinny beautiful words. I don’t like them. Shut up. Shut up, Anne Hathaway.” It wasn’t just a dislike — it was a disdain. And it wasn’t just a few. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. 

Still, there were defenders, though few and far between. “Ladies: Anne Hathaway is a feminist, and she has amazing teeth,” wrote Lena Dunham on Twitter in the midst of Girls‘ second season. “Let’s save our bad attitudes for the ones who aren’t advancing the cause.”

The conversation apexed with a New York Times headline that read, “Do We Really Hate Anne Hathaway?” (Or “What Is Anne Hathaway Doing Wrong?” according to the article’s URL.) In the story, writer Alex Williams cites the fact that no one within the spiraling hatesphere was accusing the actress of any wrongdoing. “Rather, Ms. Hathaway seems to have become a mirror for our own inadequacies,” he argues. In other words, hating Hathaway has nothing to do with Hathaway herself; we’re all just projecting. And yet! 

“My impression is that people needed a break from me,” she said in 2014.

I’m reminded of an interview that Hathaway did with New York Magazine in 2006 in which the writer said of her, “it’s tough to be smart and talented and relatively sober without coming off as something of a prig,” in some ways foreshadowing the very persona many felt Hathaway went on to occupy in the zeitgeist. She reflected on this nearly a decade later. “I really don’t want to dredge up the past, but I did have my monster out there. I did have the internet turn on me and hate me, and it was like a whole big thing,” she told The Sun in 2021. 

But what changed in the nine years since her Oscars win to shepherd Hathaway back into the public’s good graces? It’s not as though she retreated from Hollywood. Quite the contrary. She earned acclaim for her roles in Interstellar, The Intern, Ocean’s 8 and The Hustle. And lest we forget her memorable cameo on RuPaul’s Drag Race. In fact, one could argue that Hathaway hasn’t changed at all in her unwavering commitment to her craft, and instead, it’s us that have changed. I’m reminded of the shift in conversation around Britney Spears, one that has turned from scrutiny to empathy. 

Luckily for Hathaway, the thing about being the most hated woman in a culture rife with unchecked systemic misogyny means there’s really nowhere to go but up, however twisted that may be. “I was overly harsh at times, and I certainly didn’t consider Hathaway’s humanity to the extent that I should have,” writer Rich Juzwiak opined in a fabulous 2017 piece he penned for Jezebel titled “Consider the Hathaway.” In that piece, Hathaway stated that she was “ready to move on” from the conversations centering on her public persona. This era ushered in a wave of about-face think pieces like “It’s Not Cool to Hate Anne Hathaway Anymore.”

Perhaps most impressive a feat is how Hathaway has deftly moved beyond the narratives, both of “most hated” and “reconsidering of,” keeping the focus through and through on the work, work she continues to make with peerless alacrity. But Hathaway was no doubt affected by a narrative foisted onto her at a time that should have been a career high point. “I have people that I can absolutely speak freely with, but I have to say, I wish I was more comfortable doing it,” she told The Wall Street Journal in a new profile. “I see [actors] who are so great at — they never seem like they’re watching their words at all, but they’re also never giving anything away. I think with me, it’s still a little uncomfortable.”

In that sense, those fleeting moments — Hathaway channeling Gaga or Hathaway busting out live vocal greatness — are all the more sacred in showing us something she is perhaps too uncomfortable to tell. The something: Annie Hathaway was worth loving all along.

If you enjoyed this article, check out Evan Ross Katz’s recent piece about breakout sitcom “Abbott Elementary” here!

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