[Editor’s note: Anne Hathaway received a SAG-AFTRA waiver to participate in this interview for “She Came to Me.”]
“Oh God, I was dreading this moment,” Anne Hathaway said. The Oscar-winning actress is referring to the question of playing a psychiatrist in the back-to-back independent films “Eileen” and “She Came to Me,” who lets out a cathartic, instantly iconic scream at crucial dramatic moments in each feature , which surely come from the internet (and are admired by gay fans like this one).
In Rebecca Miller’s eccentric relationship comedy “She Came to Me,” Hathaway plays Dr. Patricia Jessup-Lauddem, a hyper-organized, obsessive-compulsive disorder-prone New York psychiatrist whose desire to achieve her “tidiest room” leads her down the path to becoming a nun. In William Oldroyd’s darker queer noir “Eileen,” she is the elegant, blonde prison counselor Rebecca St. John, whose rebellious demeanor attracts the younger, formidable secretary Eileen, played by Thomasin McKenzie.
“I saw ‘Eileen’ at Sundance and then I saw it [‘She Came to Me’] in Berlin, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m screaming in two independent films this year.’ gives nuance to my primal screams,” Hathaway told IndieWire when asked about the similarities between the two films. (Of course, strike orders prevent us from talking more about “Eileen” at this time.)
Hathaway’s “She Came to Me” character is the wife of creatively tormented opera composer Steven, played by Peter Dinklage, whom she met (chaos alert) when he was her patient. That dynamic remains as she swirls around him, supporting him and fueling his skyrocketing career when she’s not gliding around her coldly decorated Brooklyn Heights brownstone home, hand-vacuuming the granite countertops and sterilizing every possible surface. Or she freaks out when she finds Steven in her bed in shoes and street clothes.
Patricia eventually breaks down when certain truths about her husband are revealed, and Hathaway gets a career-best scene in which he strips completely naked in front of a lying patient and screams into the void.
“In the case of Dr. Patricia Jessup-Lauddem, she is a character who is really afraid of what will happen if she demands mercy from other people,” said Hathaway. “She worked very hard not to ask for mercy from people. She just wants everything to be smooth and extremely functional and competent and pretty and clean but still authentic and real and all of those things. In doing so, she tries to achieve a certain weightlessness compared to other people. She doesn’t want to be a burden, and the fact is that that’s just not sustainable. That will upset a person, and as you heard in my primal scream – one of two this year – it does.”
Meanwhile, in “Eileen,” her liberated Rebecca, in a moment destined to make memes, explains to Eileen why she loves living alone, because she can do whatever she wants and can even scream whenever she wants. Then Hathaway lets out a giddy, hysterical scream at the top of his lungs. It’s not quite as emotionally extreme as Patricia’s devastating moment, as Rebecca has already had catharsis and is living her life freely. But both scenes take their respective films in more revealing directions.
It’s not that Hathaway has never played a woman on a psychological level. In her Oscar-nominated role in “Rachel Getting Married,” she is a recovering drug addict nursing an impending breakdown at her sister’s wedding, which also serves as a reunion with her estranged family. In the comedy best suited to airplanes, Bride Wars (an underrated comedy, sorry), she is driven to near hysteria by planning a June wedding at the Plaza.
And of course there’s her Oscar-winning Fantine in “Les Misérables,” an aria of a performance in which she plays an exploited factory worker forced into sex work before succumbing to madness and death. More recently, in the television series WeCrashed, her former WeWork manager Rebekah Neumann falls into megalomania as she tries to gain control of her husband’s crumbling empire.
Depicting Patricia’s specific journey in “She Came to Me,” Hathaway said, “I don’t know how this is going to sound, but I’ve seen a lot of nun cinema. I watched Viridiana, which was actually very helpful, even though it’s tonally very different from that film. It just makes me realize that the moment you put a nun or a would-be nun in a film, you kind of have free rein to do whatever you want. You take a fun premise for a movie and then add a character who wants to become a nun and suddenly a lot more possibilities arise. Then they added the opera on top, and I just found the whole thing promising and delicious.”
The drama of “She Came to Me” arises from Steven’s attempt to break through his writer’s block, which lands him in the bed of a love-addicted tugboat captain, played by Marisa Tomei. Writer-director Rebecca Miller based the film on her own roadblock as a novelist and filmmaker years ago, and it’s this quest for a creative breakthrough that Hathaway herself understands — even if she’s aware that she can’t quite put into words how to get out of it.
“I just went through one,” she said. (Hathaway most recently filmed David Lowery’s “Mother Mary,” in which she played a fictional musician, but she has a number of other projects coming up.) “I have a lot of very generous people. The people around me have shown me tremendous grace. There was no magic bullet, no “aha moment” and now it’s all pouring out of me. It was one foot in front of the other every day, living despite the severity of what it felt like. I had a good friend, actually one of my best friends, who gave me some advice. I said, “This feels really heavy,” and she said, “Maybe you can just build a threshold around it.” Maybe whatever it is, you step out of it and you’re not defined by it, and you live your life Life, and if you have to go there, you go through it.”
“I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone, but it’s helped me tremendously,” Hathaway said, laughing: “Nobody knows what I’m talking about.”
“She Came to Me” opens in theaters on October 6th from Vertical Entertainment. Look for “Eileen” in Neon theaters on December 1st.