Continuing our talks with the people behind Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, we spoke to actress Anne Hathaway, who plays the White Queen.
What did you make of the platinum blonde look and shimmering white gown you have in the film?
Anne Hathaway: I think the look of my character really fits into Tim Burton’s canon, when you look at a lot of his heroines. A lot of them have pale hair and shadowed eyes and dark lips. I think this is the more extreme version of it. She is the White Queen so obviously the color of her hair is informed by that. What I was struck by when I saw the film was that the hair and make-up actually matched what I was trying to do with the character – which was to play her as someone who was good but with a tiny bit of darkness in her. I thought that came out in the lips and the nails. I was so happy that I did not recognize myself.
Where did the vegan/punk rocker description of the White Queen come from?
Anne Hathaway: That came from the script actually. When she says it is against her vows to harm any living creature, well I am a geek – and I had a lot of time on my hands, obviously – so I made up a whole back story about how she maybe liked meat but it made her sick and how maybe her parents saw her sister start to display violent tendencies and so they got her to make a vow that she would never harm another living creature. So she had repressed her aggression and hadn’t explored it. So that is where the punk rock and vegan thing came in.
Were you a fan of the books?
Anne Hathaway: I loved the books. I didn’t read them till I was at college. I was really struck by Alice’s emotions and the way she felt overwhelmed by the world around her. Also I was so entertained by the world of the books. When I was doing my research for the film I read a lot of essays on the books. One of the things that someone pointed out was that Wonderland is a place of extreme emotions. People [in Wonderland] have emotional reactions to things – often angry reactions. I remember when I read the book that my hormones were raging and I felt a connection to it. I had been planning on reading the books for some time because when I was in Fifth Grade a teacher had us memorize the Jabberwocky poem. So when Johnny was reciting that in the film I was saying it along with him.
What was it like to work with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton?
Anne Hathaway: Johnny, Tim and Helena are all like this awesome rock band and I felt like I was invited to play back-up on their album. And then they would say…here’s a solo…and be like, oh really!, Thank you! Tim has a joy to him and a commitment to his own aesthetic that I respect so deeply. I felt so privileged to be around and I was so inspired by that. When you work with Tim Burton everybody not only tries as hard as they can, they also bring their most creative selves and everyone does what they can to make it as special as his vision. So one of the biggest differences about working with Tim is how much he inspires people. On this film Tim pointed me in the direction that he wanted me to go in and then he basically said to do what I wanted to do with it. I had been very nervous about working with Tim because I had admired him from the first time I saw Beetlejuice and I didn’t want to disappoint him. I wanted to fit into Wonderland, which was a mad, imaginative wonderful world. Also I was very nervous about working on green screen, which I had not done before. So I worked out all the details before I got on the set and Tim was totally open to everything. He is not a director who says ‘no’ very often. He likes to play, he likes to explore. Even if he might disagree with you or if he doesn’t understand where you want to go, he will give you the opportunity to try. For instance my character having a weak stomach was a happy accident. He made an entire arc in the movie about that and I was so happy with that. I don’t know him very well but he is very easy to get along with. He is very interesting, very funny and he is a rule breaker.
You have gone from Princess [in The Princess Diaries] to Queen, but not the usual type of Queen. Are you drawn to roles that subvert expectation?
Anne Hathaway: I try to bring an unconventional approach to all my roles. It is not necessarily to defy expectation but it is more to ask what would I expect in reading this and how can I mess with the rhythm of this character?
What about preparation?
Anne Hathaway: I have been very lucky. I have worked with wonderful directors who love actors and who are creative. On this film I only worked for two weeks and I had six weeks to prep the character. That is just the ratio that I like. I love long prep and rehearsal periods.
It is said that you are very choosy with your roles?
Anne Hathaway: I have never thought about it that way. My choices are character driven. I want to play characters that interest me in films that are directed by film makers that I respect.
Do you think that after Rachel Getting Married and your Oscar nomination that people saw you in a different light?
Anne Hathaway: People that I really respect have come up to me and said that they did not think that I had that in me. That is a very nice feeling but I wasn’t out to prove anything with that role. But that happened without me trying and it was nice. I started when I was so young and my goal has always been career longevity and so I always planned to take my time with everything and explore things. I am not sure that I could have played a character like Kym [in Rachel Getting Married] before I did. I had a lot of growing to do and I still have a lot of growing to do. So I just hope to work with people who are going to help me grow.
How important for you is it to mix things up by doing indie movies and big budget productions?
Anne Hathaway: I have been told it is very important. But it is just that I don’t like repeating myself. I like to change it up a lot. So I have explored as many options and genres and types of films as are available to me.
A bonus must be that this film has the quirkiness that Tim Burton brings?
Anne Hathaway: If Tim had asked me to do Blade Runner – The Musical I would have done that. Actually that is a great idea, I would want to see that AND be in it! But actually the fact that Tim was doing Alice made it even more exciting for me. And that it was a return to Disney was wonderful. But it was really more that I was motivated by Tim and also I fell in love with the White Queen. From the moment I saw her in the script she sparkled to me. I was really drawn to it. I have always had strong feelings about which role I was drawn to. And it has always been the role in the script that I have been asked to consider. I have been very lucky because not every actor is given the option of auditioning for a different role.
Tim says he had Nigella Lawson in mind as a model for the White Queen. Do you have things like that in mind?
Anne Hathaway: Unless you are playing a real life person it will be inspired by other things. For the White Queen there were a lot of different sources. I was looking at silent films with Greta Garbo and looking at the way she moves and I looked at Debbie Harry for the glam, punk rock element. And Tim had mentioned Nigella and she helped in the cooking scene because of her ease in the kitchen and the way Nigella is very sensual with food. I wanted the White Queen to have that.
Do you cook?
Anne Hathaway: I’m trying. I am new to it. One in five things is very good and everything else is a nice effort. I am working on the basics right now and trying to find my go-to chilli recipe. The other day I roasted a chicken that I have got to say was awesome. But I used a lot of butter and it’s not hard to make chicken taste good when you use a lot of butter. I am not a very imaginative cook, I follow recipes, but I really do enjoy it. That and baking. I used to be a vegetarian but obviously I am not a very committed vegetarian when you roast chicken. My favorite recipe is the Waverley Inn’s Chicken Pot Pie. That is a restaurant in the West Village of New York where they make a Chicken Pot Pie that is the most delicious comfort food ever! I found the recipe and I have made it a few times and it is really fun. I like time consuming cooking projects when I spend all Sunday in the kitchen making a big meal. I like Sunday and I invite people over for brunch and then it turns into dinner.
You are not an adventurous cook but are you an adventurous eater?
Anne Hathaway: I have eaten Fried Crickets. It was fine. They were very greasy and dense. They were crunchy but I did not think they were nice. But I was happy that I had done it. The one thing that I absolutely cannot eat – it turns me off – is tripe! I cannot eat any type of intestine. A friend has come back from Bhutan and they showed me pictures of something they ate and it was the grilled guts of some animal and it was not appealing. I get a little nauseous thinking about it. So I am not that adventurous. The Travel Channel would never give me my own show.
So how was the green screen experience in Alice In Wonderland?
Anne Hathaway: There was a huge room that was just green. If I had had to work on it longer I might have got freaked out but it was just two weeks. Tim knew what he was doing and most of the cast had worked on green screen before, so I just watched what everyone else was doing and pretended I knew what was happening. I felt that way at the world premiere when we met Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. “What do you do? Is it ma’am as in jam?”
What do you think of Blu-ray?
Anne Hathaway: It’s great. Honestly I am not really technical so my dad could answer that question better. My parents have Blu-ray and I love watching things at their place. Whenever we pop something in my dad just sits there and for the first five minutes of the movie goes…’Oh, Blu-ray! Gosh this is great!’ And I’ll say that’s great dad but I don’t know what’s going on in the plot.
Alice in Wonderland is Now Available on Blu-ray & DVD!