(Editor’s note: Anne Hathaway received a SAG-AFTRA waiver to participate in this interview for “She Came to Me.”)
“Oh, gosh, I have been fearing this moment,” Anne Hathaway said. The Oscar-winning actress is referring to being asked about playing a psychiatrist in back-to-back independent films, “Eileen” and “She Came to Me” who — in each feature — lets out a cathartic, instantly iconic scream in pivotal dramatic moments, sure to be excerpted by the internet (and adoring 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, OCD-tending New York psychiatrist whose desire to achieve her “most uncluttered space” leads her on the path to becoming a nun. In William Oldroyd’s darker queer noir “Eileen,” she’s the elegant blond-headed prison counselor Rebecca St. John, whose rebellious air allures younger, impressionable secretary Eileen, played by Thomasin McKenzie.
“I saw ‘Eileen’ at Sundance and then I saw (‘She Came to Me’) at Berlin, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I scream in two independent films this year.’ As an actor, you’re always scared that you’re repeating yourself, and I’m thrilled you saw differences in them and that there’s nuance to my primal screams,” Hathaway told IndieWire when asked about the similarities between the two films. (Strike work stoppage orders, of course, prevent us from talking more about “Eileen” just yet.)
Hathaway’s “She Came to Me” character is the wife of creatively tortured opera composer Steven, played by Peter Dinklage, whom she met (chaos alert) when he was her patient. That dynamic sticks, as she whirls around him, propping him up and encouraging his busting career, when she’s not gliding around their coldly decorated Brooklyn Heights brownstone hand-vacuuming the granite countertops and sterilizing every possible surface. Or freaking out when she finds Steven in their bed with his shoes and street clothes on.
Patricia eventually breaks down when certain truths about her husband come to light, and Hathaway gets a career-high scene stripping down to nothing in front of a supine patient, shouting into the void.
“In the case of Dr. Patricia Jessup-Lauddem, she’s a character who’s really, really terrified about what happens if she requires any grace from other people,” Hathaway said. “She’s worked very hard to not require grace from people. She just wants everything to be smooth and extremely functional and competent and pretty and clean but still authentic and genuine, and all of these things. As a result, she’s trying to achieve a certain weightlessness to other people. She doesn’t want to be any kind of drag, and the fact of the matter is that’s just not sustainable. That will drive a person off the edge, and as you heard in my primal scream — one of two this year — that it does.”
Meanwhile, in “Eileen,” in a moment destined for meme-making, her liberated Rebecca explains to Eileen why she loves living alone because she can do whatever she wants and even scream whenever she wants. Then, Hathaway lets out a giddy, hysterical scream at the top of her lungs. It’s not quite pitched to the same emotional extreme as Patricia’s shattering moment, as Rebecca is already post-catharsis, living her life freely. But both scenes take their respective movies into more revealing directions.
It’s not like Hathaway hasn’t played a woman on the psychic ledge before. In her Oscar-nominated “Rachel Getting Married” turn, she’s a recovering drug addict nursing an incoming breakdown at her sister’s wedding, which also functions as a reunion with her estranged family. In the comedic best-for-airplane-viewing “Bride Wars” (an underrated comedy, not sorry), she’s driven to near-hysteria by planning a June wedding at the Plaza.
And there’s, of course, her Academy Award-winning Fantine in “Les Misérables,” an aria of a performance in which she plays an exploited factory toiler forced into sex work before succumbing to madness and death. More recently, her former WeWork exec Rebekah Neumann in TV’s “WeCrashed” veers toward delusions of grandeur while trying to wrest control of her husband’s crumbling empire.
To inhabit Patricia’s specific journey in “She Came to Me,” Hathaway said, “I don’t know how this is going to sound, but I watched a lot of nun cinema. I watched ‘Viridiana,’ which actually was really helpful even though it’s tonally super different from this film. Just realizing the second you put a nun or aspiring nun into a film, you sort of have free rein to do whatever you want. You take a funny premise for a film and then you put a character who wants to be a nun in there, and suddenly the possibilities turn up that much more. Then you put in the opera on top of it, and I just found the whole thing promising and delicious.”
The drama of “She Came to Me” emerges out of Steven’s search to break 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 block as a novelist and filmmaker years prior, and that quest for a creative breakthrough is one Hathaway understands herself — even if she’s aware she can’t totally articulate how she gets herself out of it.
“I just went through one,” she said. (Hathaway most recently shot David Lowery’s “Mother Mary,” starring as a fictional musician, but she’s got a raft of other projects coming up.) “I’ve got a lot of very generous people. I was shown an enormous amount of grace from people right around me. There wasn’t a magic bullet, an ‘aha moment’ and now it’s all pouring out of me. It was every day one foot in front of the other day, living in defiance of the gravity of what it felt like. I had a good friend, one of my best friends actually, give me some advice. I said, ‘This feels really hard,’ and she said, ‘Maybe you can just build a threshold around it. Maybe whatever it is, you step outside of it, and you’re not defined by it, and you live your life, and when you need to go to it, you walk through it.’”
“I don’t know if that makes sense to anybody, but it was enormously helpful to me,” Hathaway said, before laughing, “Nobody knows what I’m talking about.”
“She Came to Me” opens in theaters from Vertical Entertainment on October 6. Look for “Eileen” in theaters from Neon on December 1.