It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over a year since Anne Hathaway last graced the screen in “Les Misérables,” the film that went on to win the actress her first Oscar. Since singing her way to glory as Fantine, Hathaway has maintained a low public profile, working on Christopher Nolan’s hugely anticipated fall blockbuster “Interstellar” and diving into her first job as a producer on the low budget indie “Song One,” in which she also stars. The film (written and directed by newcomer Kate Barker-Froyland) marks the first of Hathaway’s to screen at the Sundance Film Festival.
In the drama, Hathaway stars as Franny, an anthropologist who returns home to New York when an accident leaves her brother comatose. Spurred by her brother’s passion to be a musician (British newcomer Johnny Flynn), Franny reaches out to his favorite singer-songwriter, and in getting to know him, begins to fall in love. Fellow Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen co-stars as Hathaway’s chain-smoking mother.
Indiewire sat down with Hathaway the day after the film’s premiere to discuss what led her to producing and the pressure of following up her Oscar win.
“Song One” marks your first producing credit. What made you take that leap?
Well, I was curious what producing would be like. My husband and I were looking for something to work on together, and we told Jonathan Demme [her “Rachel Getting Married” director] that. He was working with Kate on the script and he thought to slip us the script and get us all the meet. We felt a connection. We loved her screenplay and thought it was so beautiful on the page. There was also so much potential to find the right musicians to write the music. So it was something we really, really wanted to do.
I’m so happy that it’s done now and that we made it together. It feels really special.
Did anything surprise you about the producing process?
I feel a little embarrassed to say this because I’ve been acting for so long: it’s really hard work making a movie! As an actor I didn’t appreciate producers’ work to smooth that over for you. You really just see such a small part of the huge production. And that’s the way it should be because you have focus on your part. You can’t be distracted by the behind the scenes drama. You have to stay focused.
But now that I did have the behind the scenes drama, it makes me appreciate the great producers I’ve worked with much more. It’s a lot harder to do than it looks from the outside.
Did you see “Song One” as a risk? You made this after just winning your Oscar and Kate’s a first-time filmmaker.
Yeah. I mean it’s very easy to believe in Kate, but I did know that if something went wrong, it would come down on me a lot harder than on anyone else. But that hasn’t happened. It didn’t feel like a risk at the time, it just felt like a really good opportunity to try something that wasn’t necessarily a sure thing. I’m so proud of the film, and I hope it now gets the recognition that it deserves with Kate’s face on the front of it. In a way, my fears were mitigated as soon as we started rolling.
Did you feel any pressure following your Oscar win, with regards to your career?
Of course you grow from everything. Life is not black and white. If I felt any pressure it was just pressure not to let anyone down. I was telling somebody we didn’t have a studio to fall back on, it was us, and the only people we could count on were each other.
So that was the pressure I felt: to show up for Kate as a producer and as an actress. I don’t know how much it serves you to look back. All you can do if learn as much as you can from every experience, be grateful for the lessons, and try to apply them to new experiences. So in that sense, I was really grateful for all the experiences that I have done beforehand. It has made me the actor that I am.
These things are weird because you get asked these questions about yourself that you never think about. You never stop and think, ‘Does it line up like that?’ You just try to make the most of every moment, whether you’re an actor, you’re a director or you’re a baker. I think that’s what the movie is about.
There’s a scene Franny is begged to sing by her mother and she grants her mom her wish, albeit very reluctantly. You’re a born performer with a marvelous voice. Was it tough to play that scene?
Well it was Franny, so I felt all of her bashfulness for having to sing a song half drunk in front of a guy she likes, maybe loves. Mary [Steenburgen] and I were talking about our characters earlier, and Mary described her character as selfish. Franny has exhibited selfishness for a very long time in her life, and a certain single mindeness towards what she wants. I love that moment because it’s Franny choosing to make her mom happy and making a little bit of a fool of herself. So I guess because I am a performer I’m used to making a fool of myself, so it wasn’t challenging in that way. But that was just such a fun scene.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who walked into “Song One” expecting you to sing more than you do in the film, just given the tale’s musical bent.
I don’t think that would have fit the story. If we made that choice we would have been fulfilling people’s expectations based on what they know about me.
‘She’s an anthropologist and secretly can sing!’ (Laughs.) Also we have musicians of such extraordinary caliber in the movie that I don’t think I would have added anything. When you have Johnny Flynn up there just singing his heart out, you don’t want Anne Hathaway to sing something.