Feature Story by Brad Balfour
[Photos: Thomas Lau/Loud & Clear Media]
There's loads of irony that 26-year-old actress Anne Hathaway was featured in two very different films about weddings this season. Bride Wars was a noxious bit of inconsequential fluff (directed by once credible Gary Winick) loaded with cringe-inducing cliches about the madness of the upperclass getting married. It was throwaway commercialism. On the other hand, Hathaway's shambling performance in Rachel Getting Married got ample praise as an edgy piece of indie-styled work. Until he made this film, vet director Jonathan Demme, an Oscar-winning auteur (The Silence of the Lambs), had abandoned fiction features in recent years for making politically-charged docs.
Support for ramshackle and understated indies rich in stirring performances such as Frozen River and The Visitor, has become de rigueur for the voting constituency of the Academy. So a digitally-shot, steady-cammed work like Rachel Getting Married--with its slice-of-life story of a crash-and-burn, logorrheic young woman out on a weekend pass from rehab trying to cope with her normal sister's blessed event--garnered Hathaway an Oscar nom.
Since addiction--a driving force of Rachel's Getting Married--is a favored subject of playwrights, actors, and rock stars, it seems like an overplayed turf. But thanks to Demme's unique approach and Hathaway's genuinely awkward, almost geeky and sincere improvisations, she informs her annoying character Kym Buchman with a touching vulnerability.
When Kym returns home for Rachel's (Rosemarie Dewitt) wedding, she brings her long history of personal crises, family conflict and tragedy to bear--and Hathaway does it so convincingly. While the wedding couple's abundant friends and relations gather for the joyful weekend of feasting, music and love, the conflicts seething under the surface emerge thanks to Kym-as-catalyst. While everyone else keeps it buckled in, Kym's biting one-liners and flair for bombshell drama pop open the Pandora's box of long-simmering tensions in the family. Director Demme, first-time writer Jenny Lumet, and a stellar acting ensemble leaven the drama of these difficult people with a wry affection.
And what a funny little character Hathaway can be in person. When Hathaway spoke before this interviewer and a few other journos, rapidly and nervously around the time of the film's original release, she revealed with a self-effacing manner, a few things that attracted her to Kym.
Q: Are you anything like your character Kym?
AH: That's so funny because another reporter asked me that. I mean, I'm not going to lie. She was herself, first and foremost. But I definitely could draw some similarities between her and people that I know. And yes, I did tell them so!
Q: Were they happy to hear that?
AH: I think so! I mean, the people that I'm friends with would get along with someone like Kym. And I would get along with someone like Kym, too. So for my group of friends, it's a compliment. But for some other people, it might not be!
Q: Did you audition for this role?
AH: I didn't! Jonathan [Demme] saw The Princess Diaries, and he didn't see me as a goofy young girl. He saw a budding actress. I was so amazed, because nobody ever saw me like that. Well, maybe my parents! (No, they're gonna get mad at me for that.) But Jon sent me the script with a note attached saying, which role do you want to play?
Q: So why did you choose Kym?
AH: Just that thing. I mean, not to sound like a B.S. actor, but I knew, I just knew [I was perfect for her]. And when I read Brokeback Mountain, it was the same thing--you know, a note attached, and I just knew [the part] was going to be Lureen.
And with Kym, I just got her--her whole emotional makeup--that really appealed to me. Once I understand something, I understand it for life, and when I know something to be true, I can't change my opinion about it. I can't go back and feign ignorance. And Kym just made sense to me from the first.
Q: So why do you think Kym was an addict?
AH: Well, I believe addiction is a disease, and that it's genetic. But I can't tell you why, until they figure out why people have this disease. But I can tell you how it got exacerbated. I think she grew up in this permissive household, where she probably saw people drinking and smoking. And she probably, you know, occasionally smelled weed. But she's this sort of extreme person, so she would always want to go faster and faster. Growing up in suburbia she probably started drinking at 12 or 13. And I'm sure somebody brought over some weed, so they tried doing that, and kinda liked it. Probably by the time she was 14, somebody had gotten some cocaine, and so she tried that. And she really liked that! And then she wanted to do more, and more, and more.
Q: Do you think that her mother was the cause?
AH: Uh... What are you hoping I'm going to say? Well, her mother probably had her wild moments too. But I always see her as not the most open of people. I think she had to distance herself from being a mother, there was stuff that was too painful. So she's trying to be a mother, but she's also trying to protect herself.
But I don't want to blame Kym's parents. I think that it's a complicated issue, and blame doesn't do much. However, I do think Kim's soul is very evolved, and very mature, especially at this point in her life, in how deep she goes, and how well she loves. And that's astonishing, and I thought, so beautiful--you know, that you have this girl who is struggling so hard, but never gets any credit.
Q: You have this honesty about you, where you just say whatever is on your mind. Where does that come from?
AH: Oh, that comes from my father... Yeah.
Q: How did you and Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Rachel, get such intense and really smart chemistry going between you?
AH: How do I say this without sounding like an asshole. You can never play a part smarter than the part is. And you can never play a part as having a more interesting emotional makeup than the part has. Because otherwise you're just chewing up the scenery, and putting yourself before the character and the story.
The language that's used in this script, and the fact that Kym was not formally educated and that she is so comfortable with it, really informed her as a character. And her insane level of intelligence--you know, how fast her mind is able to work. So yes, that did have an impact, in terms of just blowing the cap off the top of my imagination, and where I could take her.
Q: How far did you want to push that, making her as big and broad as you could?
AH: I'm sure somewhere on the cutting room floor, there are [a lot of] takes that have that. But I just gave the most truthful, dynamic performance that I could think of. I just concerned myself with telling the truth. And I always clear everything with Jon before doing anything, because I have this fear of wasting film! If you you fuck up a line on film, it costs like five hundred dollars! And I just hate that pressure on me. I won't bore you with all those stories, but yeah, Jon was fine with it.
Q: How about one story.
AH: Well, Jonathan is the master, like the big guy on set, and I don't want to be that actress who causes enormous problems. I don't want to do that. You know the scene where I tell the musicians to be quiet? I was trying to be really diplomatic when I couldn't hear anything while we were doing a scene. So I believe I said, "Are they going to do that all fucking weekend?"
I didn't tell anybody that I was gonna do that, so they all kind of sat up. And I saw Bill Irwin's face collapse in relief! He told me later, "I was having the same problem!" So that became a really organic part of the scene. You don't see it coming, and it gets a huge laugh in the movie. So I was really happy.
Q: Well, it ended up in the trailer too.
AH: Did it? Oh that is so funny!