Anne Hathaway is trying to talk about her new movie, "Rachel Getting Married," in which she plays Kym, a recovering drug addict who cuts out of rehab in time for her sister's wedding. It's a hard-edged, powerful performance that's earning Hathaway Oscar buzz for the first time in her career. But Hathaway keeps getting interrupted. She's sitting on the patio of a New York hotel; five or six stories up, her dog, Esmeralda, keeps whimpering from the balcony window. "Hi, baby!" Hathaway calls back. "If she starts barking, I might have to go up. I'm totally wrapped around her finger." Esmeralda was in New Jersey for the summer with Hathaway's parents while the actress did press for "Get Smart," and last night the whole family celebrated Anne's visit to New York with hamburgers and reruns of "The Office." Esmeralda cries louder. "She's so pretty. Ahh, it's heartbreaking. So heartbreaking. She's looking right at me." And with that, Hathaway dashes upstairs.
Esmeralda, a 70-pound chocolate Labrador, was a present from Raffaello Follieri, Hathaway's ex-boyfriend. You remember him, don't you? Hathaway was splashed across the tabloids in June when he was arrested on charges of money laundering and fraud. The Italian businessman pretended to have connections with the Vatican so he could dupe his wealthy clients, including billionaire Ron Burkle, into investing with him. Hathaway doesn't want to talk about Follieri—there have been reports that the FBI, as part of its investigation, has confiscated some of her jewels and diaries. In that sense, "Rachel Getting Married" comes at a perfect time. It gives Hathaway something new, and very different, to focus on. There are times when she almost sounds like someone who is coming out of rehab herself. "I'm curious again," Hathaway says. "I'm thinking about life as an adventure. I'm just in love with that word right now. Every time I see it in my head, it's in the slanted 'Indiana Jones' font, and I get happy thinking about it: This is an adventure, this is an adventure, this is an adventure." But the past can loom over life like a shadow. The day we meet Esmeralda happens to be the same day that Follieri pleads guilty a few miles away in a Manhattan courthouse.
Hathaway might have had to grow up a lot this year, but she pegs the onset of her adulthood to Nov. 12, 2007, the day she turned 25. "I woke up and I was a little bit nervous," she says. "I realized I would never be precocious again. The good things that happened to me and the bad things, I can own them and earn them." She attributes a lot of that change to "Rachel," which she finished filming last fall. At least physically, you can see the transformation on screen. Hathaway chopped her hair short and she started smoking, a habit she hasn't kicked yet but she promises she will in two more days. She lived on a diet of pasta, pretzels and bread. "It had a nice bloating effect on my body," she says. Hathaway even started dressing like her character, shopping at Target for clothes. "I'd wind up buying a Hanes men's T shirt and some cruddy underwear. And I felt like I got that nomad feeling that Kym had—never quite being settled anywhere."
Hathaway says she and Kym clicked immediately—"almost like a medieval lock"—but their personalities couldn't be more different. The actress is friendly and courteous, and a bit of a klutz. At a dinner during the Toronto film festival, she accidentally sits on her own diamond ring when she tries to get up. She carries an old, bulky BlackBerry because she spilled sunscreen on the last one. "She has a bad record with phones," says her older brother Michael. "She loses them pretty frequently." But like Kym, she's a nomad, too. She and Follieri used to share an apartment in New York. "I don't live anywhere right now," she says. "Yes, my suitcase is a fun place to live out of." Hathaway casually brings up Follieri from time to time, though not always by name. Yet even when she's telling a story that has nothing to do with him, you see that he's on her mind. She talks about how a house fire destroyed her Barbies and baby clothes when she was 12, which made her less likely to get attached to things. "In my life, the more I love something, the more likely it is to get lost or ruined," she says. Then she clarifies: "I'm just talking about possessions. There's no metaphorical thing in there."
Hathaway comes from a close-knit family, and they're still a big part of her life. Her mother, Kate McCauley, used to be a stage actress who inspired Hathaway to act when she played Eva Perón in a regional production of "Evita." Her father, Gerald, is a lawyer who made her promise never to lie or ride a motorcycle, and not to get a tattoo until she was at least 23. He bought a shredder as soon as Anne started acting—after he heard a story about the National Enquirer digging through another child actor's trash. The Hathaways are one protective clan. "I said to her once, 'You have the best parents I've worked with since Ronnie Howard's parents,' which were the benchmark of all parents of actors," says Garry Marshall, who directed the "Princess Diaries" movies. "I think that has helped her stay centered." Paradoxically, her family might be a reason that she trusted Follieri for so long. "I have come from the best salt-of-the-earth family you could ever ask for," Hathaway says. "My father's role model is Sir Thomas More. My mother doesn't have a cruel bone in her body. I've never had to deal with anybody lying to me. I just didn't realize people could be like that."
But she's a lot tougher than she gives herself credit for. She doesn't have to put herself out there now for the inevitable painful questions about her past. But she's doing it, in part because she says she's so proud of this movie. Despite her Disney-princess lineage, Hathaway has proved that she's willing to take major career risks. She followed "The Princess Diaries" with "Havoc," in which she did her first topless scene as an L.A. rich girl, only to see the movie go straight to video. "For a while, I didn't like that the one word I got again and again was 'sweet'," she says. "There was something in my mind very polite about that word. Sweet's very simple. I thought, 'Am I actually bland?' I started to feel angsty about it." "Rachel Getting Married" is her most unsweet role yet. Her character is an unpleasant narcissist, a woman who would sooner ruin her sister's wedding than cede the spotlight to her. One journalist in Toronto told Hathaway that watching the movie was like getting a two-hour colonoscopy, to which Hathaway responded, "With or without anesthesia?"
Hathaway agrees to go for a walk, and you can see how unguarded she can be. She takes long, confident strides in downtown New York, seemingly oblivious to her own celebrity. She stops by a craft store where you can paint your own pottery, and she decides she wants to do it. But first she'd like to get a bottle of wine to take inside with her. The task devolves into a 90-minute trek: she ducks into a furniture store to see if it has a cover for a sofa she gave her brother, she stops at a newsstand to buy an art magazine and also picks up another magazine because it includes a photo spread of her. All along the way, she's constantly shaking hands with people and introducing herself as "Annie." She doesn't have a problem marching up to strangers in the street for directions. "Excuse me, officer," she says to a cop in a bodega, "do you know where a liquor shop is?" The officer, who looks about 19, shakes his head, either unfazed or unaware that the star of "The Princess Diaries" is hitting him up for booze.
She finally finds the liquor store, but her fame catches up with her. Two paparazzi are camped out on the sidewalk. They hover around her like the evil monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz," snapping photos until Hathaway hails a cab and makes her escape. She's a little tense, until she makes sure they aren't chasing her on a motorcycle, which sometimes happens. "I'm very good at forgetting I'm a public person, and then stuff like that happens and you're reminded," she says. Back at the pottery store, there's another entourage waiting for her. This one is easier to handle: a father of a young girl says his daughter loves "Ella Enchanted" and asks for an autograph. Hathaway gets up to meet her fan, but the little girl is so terrified, it's as if Cinderella herself had made an appearance. Hathaway laughs, sits back down and works on her mug. She paints it blue, with the word SATISFIED across the base. And then on the handle she draws a question mark.
Is Anne Hathaway satisfied? You might have gotten a different answer earlier this year, but she seems to have found her voice. "In the last two months, I've really been myself," she says. "I can honestly say I'm balanced and grounded and happy right now." Hathaway has a tendency to break out into song at a moment's notice. She once serenaded "Rachel" director Jonathan Demme in a canal in Venice, and she cheerfully sings a song about wigs from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and a bittersweet ditty from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" that was her old Broadway audition song.
The new Anne also thinks about love differently. "The romantic I-knew-it-at-first-sight thing? No, I'm not really open to that," she says, though that's how she once described meeting Follieri. "But the hey-let's-stick-around-and-get-to-know-each-other, no-surprises love—yeah, I believe that exists." She says the topic was on her mind recently when she read a book called "Freddy and Fredericka," a satire about a fictional prince and princess of Wales who married for political reasons. "It just led me to think, 'What is love?' " Hathaway says. "You're given examples all the time. The Greeks had so many words, but honestly love is knowing someone's faults and sticking around." She pauses. "And I'd argue there's an addendum to that. Love is letting someone else see your faults and letting them stick around." It's not your classic fairy-tale definition, but it feels right, for a girl who's retired her tiara.