Anne Hathaway on "Ella Enchanted" and Her Princess Roles

Behind the Scenes of the Fantasy Film

Anne Hathaway Ella Enchanted
Anne Hathaway stars as Ella in "Ella Enchanted.". Miramax Films

"Ella Enchanted" is a captivating fantasy film, full of romance and humor, headlined by Anne Hathaway ('Ella') and Hugh Dancy (Prince Charmont). Though at first glance "Ella Enchanted" appears to be a movie strictly for teenage girls, mixing action, adventure, comedy, strong characters, and a love story, "Ella Enchanted" is hard to define and even harder to dismiss as simply a 'teen' film. A pleasant surprise, there's a little something for all age groups - and both sexes - in this bewitching fairy tale.

The Ella of "Ella Enchanted" is a beautiful, intelligent young woman who holds her own in a medieval world. Director Tommy O'Haver cast Anne Hathaway in the lead role after seeing her in "The Princess Diaries." "She has a kind of quality that reminds me of Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, with that mixture of child-like purity but also the confidence and smarts of a mature young woman. It was also so important that this character have a real sense of humor and strong comedic timing – and Anne is a wonderful, natural comedienne. She is also a fantastic singer, so she has it all,” says O'Haver.

ThoughtCo: Are you concerned that you're becoming the new 'princess-in-waiting' on screen these days? There seems to be a royal theme running through your films.
Anne Hathaway: Well, considering that it runs through all 2 of my films, no I'm not that concerned about it. I knew that people would kind of raise their eyebrows if I took on yet another fairy tale, but I thought this one was so different from “Princess Diaries” in that “Princess Diaries” kind of embraces the fact that it is a fairy tale. “Ella” makes fun of itself because of it. But in terms of the princess role, there is only so long that you can play those as a young lady before you start feeling really ridiculous. They are so much fun to do, I figure I might as well get the most out of them while I can. Then [I’ll] go off and play all the drug addicts and the prostitutes, and all the good ones you win Oscars for a little bit later on. But now I am, yes, ready to hang up the tiara [and] put the ball gown in storage.

Both those characters are modern girls with very clear ideas of what they want to do in life. Do you see a parallel between those characters and your own attitudes towards life?
Certainly. It's funny because it occurred to me yesterday that most of the films that I've made thus far, and that includes “Nicholas Nickleby,” were films that I would have enjoyed seeing when I was 10 years old. So I guess a part of me is just trying to reconcile my inner child and apologize to her. No, just kidding. But yes, I think certainly who I am, I believe I've always been a big believer in equality. No one has ever been able to tell me I couldn't do something because I was a girl, so I guess in that, I do have that in common with Mia and Ella.

It’s very impressive that you do your own vocals in “Ella Enchanted.” Any thoughts about pulling a Hillary Duff and releasing an album?
No. I have no aspirations of world domination through the pop charts. None at all.

Was it their idea for you to sing?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I love singing and it’s something that I really enjoy doing, but I didn't want it to appear obnoxious in the film. There have been times when I've seen actors do it, where all of a sudden the character has nothing to do with having a good voice and they bust out this Aretha Franklin-style vocals against full orchestration. I'm like, “Come on, that's completely cheesy and unbelievable." So when they approached me about doing this song, I initially said no because I thought it was going to be cheesy. Then we found the right song and so I thought, “Ok, this would be better. But you have to understand that I'm not going to sing it as me, I'm going to sing it as Ella, which means kind of tentative in the beginning. We have to make it build to a certain point and it has to be really short.” And we met all that criteria so then I just sort of went off and did it, and tried not to mess it up.

How is singing in a movie different than a regular performance?
You can alter movie singing so much because you go into the recording studio and, just technology for recording has gotten so good, you can hold out a note and they can combine a note from take 2 and a note from take 8. Just one note, that is unfathomable to me. But in that sense, you have more control over it in that way. But also when you sing on stage and people are a ways back from you, you can actually pronounce words properly and not have it look stupid. When you do it in the movies when everything is magnified 50 x 100, you should probably keep it under control and make it look more like you're speaking, I guess. That's a trick that I've learned.

Can you talk a little about the physical training you had to do to play Ella?
It wasn't so bad. I'm a pretty active person. I've played sports my whole life. I played soccer for 12 years and I'm always running around doing something. I just trained with a kick boxing instructor for about a month beforehand, and I worked with a mime for 2 weeks. Then once I knew that I was going to be doing the dance combination, I worked with a choreographer. And then once I knew I would be doing a whole ninja sequence at the end, I was like, "Ok, seriously guys." Like "Come on." Like Lucy Lui, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz got months to prepare. I had days but then it was just a matter of they would fix everything I did in editing. It wasn't that hard. I'm a pretty fit 21 year old, so.

Were there scenes that were tough to get through without laughing and messing up your lines?
Tommy O'Haver would come up to me and [say], "Ok, now just imagine there is a snake right there, step on him and kick it." And I was like, "Imagine there's a snake right there, step on it and kick it? Ok, where are we? What movie are we making? What have I signed on to?" But for me a huge one was the ogres because [of] their butt cracks. I died every single time. And just the fact they were so big and brilliant. I knew that there were actually skinny men inside these enormous, enormous suits and they're just funny. They spent so long in make-up, it was so bad.

Did you really join Hugh Dancy on a drinking spree in Ireland when he was exploring the pubs?
It's impossible to completely match Hugh drink for drink, the guy can go, but I definitely developed a taste for Guinness when I was there, which was unusual for me. But I figure when in Rome - or Ireland.

If you weren't the princess, would you prefer to be the ogre, the elf, the giant, or the snake?
I would want to be the snake; he was the coolest character. The thing I loved about Heston was, in fairy tales particularly nowadays when people can be a little bit more cynical than maybe they would have been 30, 40, 50 years ago, Heston voices the opinion of a lot of people when they're watching it. Everything is going so well for the characters [and] he just comes out with a brilliant one-liner, just kind of cutting them down, which is nice. Which keeps it, by the way I think, within the realm of we're aware of the fact that we're making a fairy tale and we're not taking ourselves too seriously.

Did you read the book before filming?
I did. Miramax actually gave me the book to read when I was 16 years old. They said just keep it in the back of your head and it might be a fun project somewhere down the line. And I never could get it out of my head actually, after, I read it. I read it and was just floored by it and thought, “My God, I wish that I'd known about this book when I was 10.” I would have loved it and read it every night. When the ability to play Ella came up again a number of years later, I was very excited.

What do you think about the changes from the original book to the finished film?
Originally there was a script made that was closer to the way the book was and it didn't work as a film. Maybe it would have, but it wasn't necessarily a film that I wanted to make.

Just because I had already made an old-fashioned fairy tale. “Princess Diaries” - the great thing about it was the kind of feelings of nostalgia people had for it. And with “Ella,” the thing that I love about it was it makes fun of itself for being a fairy tale, the movie version. I understand that there are some people who are disappointed about that, but it's not the first time a movie has been different than a book. I think that if you love the book there is no reason to stop loving it just because the movie is a little bit different. There is no reason not to give the movie a chance because on its own merit it is, I think, a very good film.

How reticent were you about doing “Princess Diaries II?”
I was very hesitant and nervous about doing the sequel. Not because it was the sequel to the “Princess Diaries,” but just because I think sequels, in general, are such difficult waters to navigate. It took a lot to convince me that it was going to be ok. I credit most of that to Garry Marshall who held my hand through it and said, "It's ok, this won't end anything. You're not repeating anything. You're giving a fresh performance. It's all right, it's all right. People care about me." But eventually yes, it was Garry sitting me down saying, "Do you understand how happy this will make people, like little girls across the world?" He goes, "It's an extraordinary possibility that you have here to make people happy and you should really embrace that." When it was put to me in that way I was like, “Ok, it's just ego getting in the way.”

What kind of responsibility do you feel to be a role model?
Me personally, not too much. I'm just a person living my life and people don't know me that well. I think if people were to look at me as a role model, it wouldn't be complete for them. It wouldn't be honest because so much about me people don't know, and I'm fine with that. However, I do understand the characters that I play are very good role models for young ladies. They are smart, they are in possession of their lives, and I do have a lot in common with them, so I don't mind being seen as a role model. But it's not something that I have ever aspired to be or courted because I think the second that you say, "Oh, I am a role model and that's why I make the decisions that I make," you've kind of shot yourself in the foot. A role model is somebody that does things because of what they believe in regardless of what other people think.

How do you deal with success and what keeps you grounded?
I beat up animals. I don't know. I take out my aggression on small, furry, little things. No, I don't take it too seriously, to be perfectly honest. I mean, it just seems so silly to me, to be perfectly honest, because if I thought about it too much all I could ever come back to you [with] is why me? Like, I just made a little movie that I thought was cute about princesses and it just happened to turn into this beloved film and experience for so many people. And because of that, I have been given a completely new pathway in life. But I can't believe that it has anything to do with me.

So you think fame is rather ludicrous?
Well, yes. What's the point of it? It doesn't, for me, serve any purpose. I mean, I don't want to appear ungrateful for the extraordinary experiences that it's allowed me to have, but I don't take it too seriously because as we all know, as we've all seen, it disappears like that for some people.

Do you have time to date and do normal things?
Of course. I mean not right now when I'm my every waking moment is talking about fairy tales. But my whole attitude about it is that you always need to have time to do normal things, and normal is obviously just a really relative concept. But the thing about dating is that when you find the right person, you make time for them.

Would you date another actor?
It's never arisen, the possibility, but I don't say no to anybody because I would hope that people wouldn't say no to me because I'm an actor. But they would have to be a pretty extraordinary person.

How do guys approach you?
Hesitantly. Honestly, guys don't. I approach guys.

I never, ever, ever, ever get hit on, wherever I go. I'm always with my friends who have relationships and guys really don't come up to me. Or they come up and get autographs for their little sisters and then they go away. So I usually do most of the approaching.

Uh-huh. I mean, how else am I going to get a date?

How different is “Princess Diaries II” in terms of the progression of your character and what we can expect?
Well, I didn't wear a wig in it and no fake eyebrows so that is pretty nice. It's Mia as a woman. I mean, if “Princess Diaries” was about Mia becoming a young woman, making the transition from young girl to young woman, “Princess Diaries II” is about her going from young woman to full on actualized, realized woman.

What is happening next for you? You've finished filming “Princess Diaries II?”
Yes, and right before I wrapped “Princess Diaries II” I made a film called “Havoc,” which is very different. It was written by Steve Gaghan and directed by Barbara Kopple, and that's kind of my very anti-princess role. I play a girl from Pacific Palisades who forms a gang with her friends and goes around beating up other gangs and doing drugs and then becomes a hooker.

So it was another big action role?
It was. There was a lot of fighting; there was a lot of physical stuff to it.

The real kind of violence as opposed to a fantasy kind of violence?
…This one was full on with guns and stuff like that.

How do you like shooting a gun?
I didn't have to and I never have.

Did you have to beat somebody up?

And how was that experience?
Horrifying. I really felt disgusting at the end of that day, and it was not fun. I'm not a violent person by nature and playing one was very different.

So the little girl role model thing will go right out the window now with that movie?
I don't know. People will look at me in a different way I'm sure.