- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2001

LOS ANGELES — "You gotta work in here to be a movie star," drawls Garry Marshall, as he frames the area of the face with his two hands. "You gotta have somebody home in the eyes, and the smile is very helpful."
The no-frills summary of star potential from one of our most seasoned and personally distinctive comedy directors comes in response to a reporter's question about the promise of Anne Hathaway, the delightful newcomer who plays the title character in "The Princess Diaries." This is Mr. Marshall's latest film, a clever and ingratiating update of the "Roman Holiday" pretext, which seems to have defied a fresh approach for almost 50 years.
"Princess" alludes to a San Francisco prep school girl named Amelia Thermopolis, Mia for short, who discovers that she is the legitimate successor to a tiny, pear-loving European kingdom called Genovia. Encouraged by her paternal grandmother, Clarissa (Julie Andrews), the girl agrees to give serious consideration to protecting the family heritage and submits herself to a crash course in social polishing.
Mr. Marshall and his leading ladies, 19 and 65 respectively, were the principal attractions at an interview session for the press hosted by Walt Disney Pictures at the Four Seasons Hotel on behalf of "The Princess Diaries," which opens next Friday. Mr. Marshall, of course, helped the 20-year-old Julia Roberts blossom in "Pretty Woman," a blockbuster 1990 tale of a prostitute.
In "The Princess Diaries," the worst misadventure of a romantic sort is a misguided crush. One of Mr. Marshall's additional selling points for "Princess" is that he has rejuvenated the G rating, staying within the guidelines of the MPAA's unrestrictive letter even though his movie is not an animated feature and does not specialize in innocuous humor for a predominantly juvenile audience.
"Princess" is likely to remind the industry and the moviegoing public that a popular comedy can still be made without tilting toward the bland or the lewd. The rating system may have hastened the decline of this tradition and encouraged fragmented and restricted forms of presentation aimed at divergent age groups and demographic blocks.
Mr. Marshall prefers to be cautious in predicting a brilliant career for Miss Hathaway, a New Jersey native who had the lead in a short-lived Fox TV series called "Get Real" during her senior year in high school. She made back-to-back movies right after graduating: an unreleased feature shot in New Zealand and then "The Princess Diaries," whose October, 2000, start in San Francisco delayed her freshman year at college. Miss Hathaway, an aspiring English major, made the dean's list during her first semester at a prestigious university, which Disney press material and the young woman herself try to camouflage as "a top-tier East Coast liberal arts college."
"With Annie I saw a little more Audrey Hepburn [than with Julia Roberts]," Mr. Marshall says. "And I saw my sister. She does all the physical stuff my sister Penny did — and Cindy Williams too, of course — when we were doing 'Laverne & Shirley.' Annie is a great reactor, and she's very brave. A lot of girls, you know they wanna look pretty, they won't fall down, they won't act stupid, they won't do this, they won't do that. Annie babbled about being a klutz when we first met, and she takes one of a fall in the movie. It was an accident but so good we had to leave it in. She can makes faces like Harpo Marx. So, yeah, I think she's a unique girl. I think she's got a shot, a future. But she's a college girl now, and she'll graduate from college if I have anything to say about it."
The movie opens in a potentially daunting market, with "Rush Hour 2" as the likely top attraction among the weekend's offerings. Two slapstick farces with aggressive advertising campaigns, "American Pie 2" and "Rat Race," are scheduled for the subsequent weekend.
"I always hope for the best," Mr. Marshall says. "I think the kid is good. I think people are looking forward to seeing Julie again. It's a funny picture. This is not always a combination you get, is it?
"But who knows? This is not an expensive picture, less than $35 million. I'm going around the country with a joke about how Disney opened 'Pearl Harbor' on an aircraft carrier in Hawaii and we'll be opening on a rowboat in Lake Michigan. But the upside of our picture could be very nice. I think a father-daughter is a good angle. There's not much out there for fathers and daughters."
He says the movie "seemed like a good challenge: try to make it funny while keeping the whole range of the audience."
"So far, the previews show good indications. Whitney Houston owned the book, and her company has a deal with Disney, who said to me, 'We have this sweet little property, and we thought if you did it, you could punch it up, make it a little crazier. And if it could be done, we'd like to have it a 'G,'" Mr. Marshall says. "So that was a real challenge, in the midst of all the pictures today doing other kinds of humor, which I like. But a straight-out G. I have grandchildren. I know that if parents bring their kids to the movies these days, they spend half the time like this" — and he mimes placing hands over the ears of a nearby listener.
Miss Andrews appears to entertain no doubts about Miss Hathaway's potential. "Isn't she extraordinary?" the movie's established star says. "She is so clear and focused and bright. She doesn't need a mentor. I had a conceit that she might be asking a lot of questions. But within a week, I realized she didn't need any help from me."
She recalls herself at the same age "racing to catch up to myself." The child of an English show business couple, Miss Andrews made an early performing debut in music halls and had a professional breakthrough at age 12 in a London revue, specializing in precocious operatic arias. "All I knew," she recalls, "was how to belt out a song. I got a good beginning education about audiences, but the real learning began when I got to America. I loved performing, but it took me a while to feel less gauche and shy while I did a number. The actual embracing of an audience was slow to come. I attributed to them a lot of the insecurity I felt about myself. Happily, that has disappeared now."
Miss Hathaway insists that she has only recently emerged from a seven-year "awkward phase." Mr. Marshall says he invented a set of code words, "Red letter, yellow letter," to try to slow her down when her readings began to race. She's still prone to overexcitable gushing in interviews with the press.
For example, on the subject of Miss Andrews, she says: "Isn't she, yeah? When I talk about her, I need to sit up straighter." Miss Hathaway illustrates by sitting up very straight in her chair.
"In addition to being this beloved actress and incredible philanthropist and writer of children's books and extraordinary person," Miss Hathaway continues, "she's just Jules [Miss Andrews]. She's funny and she kicks it with people on the set."
If fame does arrive quickly? "I don't expect it," Miss Hathaway says. "But if it happens, I could use my voice to help certain causes I really believe in. And as an actor, it would help in getting jobs and scripts. Do I wish for it? I'm not in this to be a household name. I want to do good work that I can respect and my peers can respect."
She also wants to play down the Julia Roberts connection. "The comparisons are flattering, obviously, but they're not deserved," Miss Hathaway says. "I have so much to learn before I can ever get to the place she is."
The daughter of a lawyer and a former actress, Miss Hathaway says her acting aspirations began when she hung around backstage as a little girl while her mother was in the national touring company of "Les Miserables." She has an older brother, a senior at New York University, and one 13, whom she considers a terrific budding musician.
Acting classes were no more important than ballet classes and sports until her early teens. Then Miss Hathaway became active at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, playing roles in "Gigi" and "Jane Eyre" and ultimately the lead in "Once Upon a Mattress" — the role originated on Broadway by Miss Andrews' friend and occasional performing partner Carol Burnett. She also was the first teen-ager accepted at an acting program in New York City called the Barrow Group. A soprano, she has performed in choral concerts at Carnegie Hall
Mr. Marshall says he might have found room for a song interlude between Miss Hathaway and Miss Andrews if the latter's voice had been in better repair. A botched surgical procedure left Miss Andrews with vocal damage. "It's in the process of improving a little," she says. "I still don't have a middle register. I wouldn't go out and sing, but I'm still optimistic. I'm exploring all sorts of options. But to sustain a song, there's no way I could do that right now. I would love to be able to use my voice if I needed it."
Her return to Broadway, in a protracted run of "Victor, Victoria," left Miss Andrews unimpressed by complaints about the use of microphones to enhance modern theater performances. "The miking system frees you in many ways," she says. "You can move wherever you want, and that gives the director more options. In the old days you could only move downstage and kind of sidle from one mike position to the next. I think the modern system has been a tremendous help. For Broadway performers it's probably a godsend. No one can sustain eight performances a week in a long run. It's terribly damaging, no matter how strong your voice is. Especially if you're doing something as demanding as 'My Fair Lady.'"
Miss Andrews finds it odd when people speak of "comebacks." Although performing work tends to seek her out more often than she seeks it now, she regards herself as very active. "I was on Broadway for several years," she points out. "I did a movie in England about 21/2 years ago, and it kind of slid away. An adaptation of a Noel Coward play, 'Relative Values.' A charming play and a nice movie. I'm playing myself in a very funny piece called 'Unconditional Love,' directed by P.J. Hogan, that will open later in the year. I think it could be a huge smash. My bit is a cameo, really tongue-in-cheek, but enormous fun. I try to do as much that is varied as I possibly can."
Miss Andrews hopes to begin working on an autobiography later this summer. "I've done an enormous amount with assembling and categorizing material, with memorabilia and things," she says.
"It's a huge project, and I'm not sure I can cut it. I'm not trying to go beyond the early years. It would be too daunting otherwise. But it's the early vaudeville years that I especially want to get down. They're gone now, and people should be reminded of what they meant.
"That's why people like Garry and Mel Brooks are so beloved. They're still steeped in vaudeville comedy traditions, which inspired some wonderful, wonderful things," she says.

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