Actress Anne Hathaway at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Manhattan. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
When she was 16, Anne Hathaway decided she was a failure.
Tara Lipinski, the figure skater only five months her senior, had recently won a gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics. And Hathaway was being rejected by nearly every casting director she auditioned for.
"She started crying and told her father and I that she couldn't even land a Clearasil commercial while Tara had a gold medal," Hathaway's mother, Kate, recalled. She and Anne's father tried to ease their daughter's anxiety but quietly took pride in her resolve.
"What I admire the most about Anne is that she keeps challenging herself," said Kate, a former stage actress. "She's always been that way. She just can't settle."
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Though most teenagers never live up to the success of their idols, today Hathaway's accomplishments rival those of her ice skating hero. A dozen years on, her determination has seen her through personal and professional tribulations — and now, at age 30, she is enjoying pivotal moments in both her career and her private life.
In August, President Obama called Hathaway the "best thing" in "The Dark Knight Rises," in which as Catwoman she supplied the rare moments of lightness in a portentous film. Then in September, four years after a messy breakup with convicted con man Raffaello Follieri, she married jewelry designer Adam Shulman. And she is receiving the best critical notices of her career for playing the tragic heroine Fantine in Tom Hooper's big-screen adaptation of the Broadway hit "Les Misérables," which arrived in theaters on Christmas.
Hathaway has received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for her performance, but the actress is also thrilled at the "over the moon" response from a more personal constituency: her mom, who played Fantine in the first U.S. tour of the musical in 1987.
"I know I'm her mother," Kate said, "but I think she's the perfect Fantine. I don't feel like I dove into Fantine as far as she did. Annie actually opened my eyes to the character because of all the research she did."
At age 6, a wide-eyed Anne watched Kate perform in "Les Misérables" for the first time in Philadelphia and instantly became "stage-struck," as her mother says. She wanted to jump up on stage with young Cosette and the rest of the children performing alongside her mom. But Kate and her husband, a lawyer, were reluctant to let their daughter get into show business as a kid. Even when she landed her first big break opposite Julie Andrews in "The Princess Diaries" at age 18, her parents insisted on sitting down with the film's director, Garry Marshall, to express their concern about the seedy side of the industry.
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"Her mom and dad were scared she'd become a movie person and go to the Viper Room and that I would give her drugs," the filmmaker recalled. "I said, 'You're talking to a man who created 'Happy Days.'"
True to her nature, the aspiring actress spent more time studying her lines than cruising the Sunset Strip. Shortly after the Disney flick about a squeaky-clean teenager who discovers she is secretly royalty hit theaters in 2001, Hathaway was quickly being heralded as a parent-approved role model for young girls. She even took a hiatus from acting to attend Vassar College, though at the time, Hathaway viewed attending the highly selective liberal arts school as a disappointment.
"I felt a certain degree of failure in going to school at first because I couldn't put it off by having a job" in acting, she acknowledged.
She continued to audition during her college years, finished out her undergraduate degree at New York University, and in 2004 filmed a "Princess Diaries" sequel (as she was contractually obligated). After that, she moved on to more complicated roles — including the wife of a closeted gay man in "Brokeback Mountain," a recovering drug addict in "Rachel Getting Married" and a young Parkinson's patient in "Love and Other Drugs" — but had trouble shaking her goody-two-shoes persona.
Her sunny reputation, though, may have helped her weather some public humiliations, including her four-year romance with Follieri, who was convicted in 2008 of wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy and sentenced to four years in federal prison. There was also her widely lambasted turn as the co-host of the Academy Awards in 2011 with James Franco — though more of the blame was put on him than her. ("I walked around feeling sick to my stomach for a week," she admitted.)
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Finally, more than a decade after her first big film, Hathaway says she believes she is no longer thought of as "the girl who was in 'The Princess Diaries.'" But that doesn't mean she has eased up on herself. On the contrary, she is pushing herself harder than ever, driven by a belief that for what she lacks in natural talent she must make up for in effort.