Anne Hathaway’s Stellar Turn as Catwoman in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

After a stellar turn as Catwoman in ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ Anne Hathaway has proven herself to be the real deal. By Marlow Stern.

“Oscars Bomb: James Franco Looks High, Anne Hathaway Overcompensates”

That was the headline plastered atop many media reports following the 83rd Academy Awards on Feb. 27, 2011. The ceremony, viewed by nearly 38 million people worldwide, was an unequivocal disaster, with co-host Anne Hathaway doing her best to buoy her disinterested accomplice.

“I was there in the audience,” Claudia Puig, chief film critic for USA Today, tells The Daily Beast. “She was really going for it and had to work five times as hard to make up for James Franco, and she did. During the breaks, she’d be chatting with the audience, asking us how we were doing.”

The iconic Hollywood sign casting its baneful shadow over the City of Angels might as well read, “What have you done for me lately?” In the case of Hathaway, 29, it’s been a mixed bag.

In addition to the Oscar-hosting debacle, Hathaway starred in last year’s One Day. Directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education), the decades-spanning romantic drama looked like surefire awards bait, but the movie—along with Hathaway’s mangled British accent—was savaged by critics.

Prior to that, Hathaway starred as a woman afflicted with early-onset Parkinson’s disease in Love and Other Drugs. Despite earning her a Golden Globe nomination—a rather dubious accolade these days—the film grossed just north of $32 million in North America. And before that, with the exception of a supporting turn in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, she popped up in the atrocious ensemble rom-com Valentine’s Day (presumably as a favor to her Princess Diaries director, Garry Marshall), as well as the comedy Bride Wars, which was later named one of the 10 worst chick flicks by Time magazine.

But all doubts about Hathaway’s acting ability should be erased in 2012.

The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Batman trilogy, is poised to be one of the highest-grossing movies in film history. It boasts a nonstop barrage of special effects as well as an all-star ensemble, including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard. Given the 14 Oscar nominations—and five wins—among her costars, Anne Hathaway’s turn as Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman) was thought to be one of the film’s biggest liabilities by eager fanboys and fangirls before its release. After all, how could the usually demure Hathaway match the feline sexiness of Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns?

And yet, it’s Hathaway who steals the show.

Her performance as Catwoman sees her acting versatility on full display. She not only looks great in her leather Catwoman suit and pulls off all the action stunts convincingly—flipping over tables and roundhouse-kicking thugs one moment and deftly operating the Batcycle the next—but also, with the slightest shift in her body language and wide, soulful eyes, fully transforms herself from a fragile maid into a wily diamond thief.

Hathaway even channels Audrey Hepburn in one memorable scene, runway-strutting through an airport terminal in elegant designer duds.

“She’s brought a whole new dimension and intelligence to the character,” says Puig. “There’s a wonderful chemistry that flares up between her and Christian Bale, and she’s more assertive and feisty than previous Catwomen. She’s the kind of heroine women can get behind and admire and men can lust after.”

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At age 18, Brooklyn-born Hathaway burst onto the scene in 2001’s The Princess Diaries, which told the tale of Mia Thermopolis (Hathaway), an ugly duckling who, over the course of the film, morphs into a gorgeous princess. While the film went on to gross more than $165 million worldwide, Hathaway was still growing into her own as a woman and actress.

“The first time I became aware of her—in The Princess Diaries, I guess—I thought something like, no, this doesn’t work. Her features are too big for her face. She almost has clown features. That smile is enormous. She’s awkward,” The New Yorker critic David Denby tells The Daily Beast. “I didn’t really see her until The Devil Wears Prada, when the awkwardness—the way emotions would rush out after hesitation—was something, I realized, she was using as an actress.”

Following an impressive turn as an unfulfilled housewife in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and a laughably bad one as a Valley Girl teen cum crack-smoking wannabe thug in the direct-to-video flick Havoc that same year, Hathaway emerged as a full-fledged leading woman in The Devil Wears Prada, holding her own against the inimitable Meryl Streep. Sporting a plethora of designer outfits—courtesy of Sex and the City costume designer Patricia Field—Hathaway became a fashion symbol of sorts.

“She can wear clothes well—she’s got the body for fashion—but there’s still something lovably uncomfortable about her, as if she were abashed, a little hesitant even, about being a beautiful movie star,” says Denby. “She has an absolute refusal of complacency; she isn’t the least narcissistic.”

Indeed, because of Hathaway’s go-for-broke attitude, her failures are just as big as her successes.

After dropping out of Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up because she objected to the scene showing her character giving birth, Hathaway landed the role of Kym Buchman, the black sheep of a dysfunctional family in the 2008 indie Rachel Getting Married. Directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), the film was a critical hit thanks to Hathaway’s fearless, unglamorous performance. As Kym, she exhibits the entire spectrum of human emotion—horrifying one moment and quietly devastating the next. The performance earned Hathaway a 2009 Best Actress Oscar nomination—her first. That same year, she played a psychotherapist tasked with treating a group of plane-crash survivors in the indie drama Passengers. Directed by Rodrigo García (Albert Nobbs), the critically panned movie was quietly released in theaters, grossing less than $300,000 at the North American box office.

“She’s made a lot of interesting choices in terms of versatility and diversity,” says Puig. “She’s not even 30 years old, and you can’t really say this about anyone else in her age group—except for maybe Michelle Williams, although she hasn’t done as much—that she can go from a low-key, sensitive role to a feisty action performance to a comic role.”

One of the biggest criticisms of Hathaway leveled by her detractors is her perceived aloofness—perhaps due to her glamorous fashion sense, lack of “regular gal” characters on screen, or that jet-setting relationship with her church-swindling ex-boyfriend, Raffaello Follieri (which she terminated in 2008, citing the potential damage it could cause her career).

“Not so,” says Puig. “I was talking with my daughter about how a friend had interviewed her and said she was really nice, and my daughter said, ‘Oh, I could totally see her being nice.’ Sure, she’s beautiful and glamorous, but she doesn’t have the detached beauty and glamour of other actresses from her generation. She and Mila Kunis pull off comedy, and even though they’re both really beautiful, they seem relatable.”

These days, Hathaway’s love life is a lot less turbulent: she’s engaged to actor Adam Shulman, whom she’s been dating since November 2008. Unlike flashy ex-con Follieri, the decidedly low-key duo has been known to split $25 checks at bistros, like any regular couple, and even participate in Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

And after The Dark Knight Rises, Hathaway will star as Fantine, a tragic prostitute, in director Tom Hooper’s (The King’s Speech) adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Les Misérables, opening this Christmas. The film’s trailer, which almost exclusively features Hathaway showing off her great singing voice, is already garnering Oscar buzz for the actress.

“She hasn’t gotten jaded and never kicks back and rests on her laurels,” says Puig. “She’s somebody who takes it all on. She’s just one of those rare actresses, and I can see her having a career until she’s 93.”