One of my last really big-deal magazine stories (to date, anyway) was a profile of Anne Hathaway for Elle. I’d spoken to her a few times before, including twice for the cover of Teen Vogue, so in addition to the usual pre-interview preparations—googling “Anne Hathaway baby” and “Anne Hathaway husband”; finally watching Bride Wars, Love & Other Drugs, and The Dark Knight Rises—I dug up my transcripts from our earlier conversations.
For the most part, they were as I’d expected. But there was one moment at the end of our 2004 interview that shocked me: The actress, then 21, had answered the question, “Is there anything I should have asked you about that I haven’t?” with a rather verbose declaration that, contrary to how she may or may not have come across during the previous hour, “I’m not as serious as I seem… I don’t sit around thinking about, you know, my career… I really don’t take myself seriously in this job at all. Like, if there’s one thing to know about me, it’s that I consider myself, you know, extremely lucky that I’ve had what I’ve had… So, just that I’m very grateful for everything, and you know—” at which point I, then 27, cut her off. “Slow down,” I told her. “This isn’t the Oscars.”
From the vantage point of 2017, this seemed almost breathtakingly rude. How could I have spoken to Anne Hathaway like that? But, per my transcript, she’d taken it more or less in stride. “Stop it,” she’d responded, to which I, apparently pretending that I was accepting an Academy Award, had replied, “Thanks, Mom.” I thought about looking around for the original recording, which was on microcassette, simply to parse our respective tones, but I was due at my friend Sarah’s birthday dinner shortly thereafter, so I didn’t. Instead, when I got to the restaurant, I told everyone about my incredibly obnoxious comment and then I pretty much moved on.
Two days later, Anne and I met for lunch in Tribeca. After some initial chitchat about our young children, she asked me whether I was on staff at Elle, which was my cue to remind her that we’d met before. “You seemed familiar,” she told me. “When did you interview me?”
I told her, adding that we’d been at the Cupping Room, just a few blocks away.
“I remember that,” she said, “because, um. I do remember. Because, do you remember those enormous, like, basically they were bowls of coffee? I don’t know how many espresso shots they put into mine. But I was taking the subway home, and I couldn’t breathe, because it was like, probably, a poisonous amount of coffee. I had to get off the subway, and sit on a curb, and call my boyfriend to come pick me up.”
“It wasn’t you. But I do remember. It’s nice to see you again.”
At which point I, apparently feeling guilty, said, “Yeah, I was reading the transcript the other day and I was like, ‘Wow, I’m not the same person I was back then.’ Like, even just: knowledge lost. Because at one point you mentioned that you were getting ready to go to Calgary to film Brokeback Mountain, and I go, ‘Is that in Alberta?’ Now I can’t imagine having that information, or asking about it.”
“Oh, this is going to be fun,” she said, “to meet ourselves again and see how we have changed.” She might have even clapped her hands, although I wouldn’t swear to it. “Because knowing who I was back then, if I didn’t know the answer, when you said that, I probably would have run home and googled it.”
From there, we proceeded to have a perfectly normal, pleasant interview. If you want to be a completist about it, you can read the resulting story here. But I must have passed some kind of test, because at the end, as I was getting the check, she said, “I enjoyed this very much. I think it’s cool that we had history,” and then, after I’d produced copies of the issues in which she’d appeared (I have a very comprehensive collection of early Teen Vogues), she asked, “Were we at the Cupping Room, or were we at Candle 79?”
“Definitely the Cupping Room.”
“Because I remember, and I just wonder if it was you, but maybe I’m conflating it with a different memory, I just remember at the end of the interview the person saying, ‘Is there anything else you want to say, or…’”
“That sounds like me.”
What Anne couldn’t have known, and what (I now see) almost certainly contributed to my impatience with her rambling response, was that I used to end every interview by asking if there was anything else I should have asked about. The internet wasn’t as comprehensive, back then, and it wasn’t uncommon for the person I was profiling to answer by suddenly bringing up a just-wrapped indie movie or an allegedly-forthcoming debut album that I’d otherwise never have known about. But the question had not been designed, as young Anne had apparently perceived it, as a way to give my subject the last word.
“And then I started to thank my fans,” she said (that must have been where she’d been going when I cut her off), “and you said, ‘Okay, you’re not winning an Oscar.’”
“That was me,” I admitted. “I just re-read the transcript the other day, and I was like, ‘Did I really say that?’”
“You really said that. I’ve never forgotten it.”
“I can’t believe you remember that,” I said. Truly, I couldn’t. Someone like her, who’s been working at a really high level for more than a decade and a half, has to have had hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of faux-intimate coffees and lunches and drinks with journalists. I’ve done hundreds of interviews too, so I know what it’s like, and I’ve forgotten a ton; in fact, when I was working on the Elle story about Anne I realized that I had no specific recollection of our second big interview. (A search of my inbox jogged my memory: We’d met at midday in an emptied-out Los Angeles restaurant that later became famous as the setting for the reality show “Vanderpump Rules.”)
“I remember it. Because I was so embarrassed.”
“It was so rude…” I began lamely.
“I have no idea if it was rude,” she said, almost certainly lying. “It was a little harsh.”
“When I read the transcript, I was like, that’s obnoxious!”
“It was a little harsh.”
“Oh my god, I am so sorry. I read that and I couldn’t believe I’d have said it. It seems unthinkable to me now. It’s rude, it’s abrupt, it’s strange…I saw it in the transcript, and I was like, that does not sound like me. And it especially doesn’t sound like something I would say to a famous person.”
“I wasn’t that famous at the time,” she pointed out.
She was right, I realized. She’d been in The Princess Diaries, of course—the story was timed to promote that film’s sequel, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (written by Shonda Rhimes, BTW)—and a few other things, but there was no real indication that she’d go on to become, well, Anne Hathaway. Meanwhile, I was the Senior Writer at the premiere teen magazine in the world, according to me, a magazine so generally excellent that it had recently won the American Society of Magazine Editor’s Award for General Excellence.
So, I’m sure part of it was that she was already, even in that pre-Hathahate era, a bit of a drama-geeky try-hard; mere moments before I’d asked my go-to final question she’d listed the qualities she admired in the actresses Jodie Foster, Angelina Jolie, Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, and Julie Andrews, and then concluded, earnestly, “Hopefully, a little bit of all of those will be Annie Hathaway.” (Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the statement she was trying to retroactively obliterate with all of her protestations of not really taking herself so seriously—she’d immediately added, “I know how bad that sounded,” and tried again: “Hopefully, if I’m lucky, my career will have elements of all of those wonderful ladies.”)
And part of it was also that I was, maybe, sort of an asshole? At least, at times? Which is bad enough.