- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Anne Hathaway, star of "The Princess Diaries," is watching her own Cinderella story unfold. Only 19 years old, beautiful, talented and smart, the previously unknown actress has taken the semester off from Vassar College to enjoy life as a movie star.

"It's going to sound so cheesy, but I just love acting," she says. "I love learning about new parts of myself through characters and getting lost in people and learning how to breathe differently because all of a sudden you're this different person."

In the meantime, she vows not to let celebrity go to her head.

"If you're on the cover of a magazine, that does not influence how organic your acting is," she says.

During a stay in Los Angeles, where she appeared on a late-night talk show, the Millburn, N.J., native abandons glamour and makeup for a sweater and a pair of faded jeans. She answers her hotel door barefoot, with candy-apple-red toenails. She wears an oversized silver ring with a fat purple stone that she picked up at a Santa Monica, Calif., souvenir shop.

Still basking in the blockbuster success of "The Princess Diaries," Miss Hathaway became a critical darling in the recent Broadway musical "Carnival," in which she played an orphan who falls under the spell of a nefarious traveling circus. The show ended in mid-February.

Her latest appearance is in the family-oriented drama "The Other Side of Heaven," in which she plays the devoted love of a Mormon missionary, awaiting his return from a two-year excursion in Tonga in the 1950s.

"Everyone thinks this is supposed to be my huge follow-up role, but in actuality, this is my 'first-ever feature film,'" she says, enunciating those last words in a weighty announcer's voice.

She credits the low-budget 2001 drama, which is opening in more theaters, with indirectly getting her the lead in "The Princess Diaries." While traveling from her home in New Jersey to New Zealand for the production, she had a daylong layover in Los Angeles and decided to audition for the "Diaries" part.

"I was shaking during the entire audition, but apparently nobody noticed," she says.

Well, director Garry Marshall noticed. The filmmaker, best known for "Pretty Woman," says Miss Hathaway slipped off her chair at one point, which made him choose her to play the awkward teen-ager who learns she is heir to a kingdom.

"But it was such a small part of the interview," Miss Hathaway insists. "It was not this enormous pratfall that everyone has in their minds."

What was it?

"It was just one of those things where you get up, and your foot kind of hits the leg of the chair as you're doing it," she says, "and you sort of trip a little and sit back down and get up very gracefully. Then you pretend like nothing ever happened while you're trying to ignore other people laughing at you."

Miss Hathaway slowly hides her face in her hands.

"I'm such a dork," she says. "I can't believe I fell off my chair."

Such girlish missteps seem only to add to her charm. The actress's wholesome image sets her apart from some other young stars who make overt sexuality part of their stage persona. The New York Times said Miss Hathaway's "Carnival" performance "somehow makes unspotted purity look like the latest fashion."

That makes Miss Hathaway roll her eyes and throw her hands in the air.

"Everyone is saying, 'Wait a minute, you're the wholesome girl next door,' and I keep saying, 'No, there's more to me, I promise.'"

She recognizes that a continued focus on lighthearted roles could typecast her, but although she would like to begin taking edgier roles, she says she's reluctant to play off her sexuality.

Miss Hathaway says she gets guidance from her large family, especially her lawyer father and aspiring-actress mother. She has an older brother and a younger brother who both watch out for her, plus a menagerie of cousins, aunts, uncles and godparents.

"I'm really, really lucky that my family is the way it is, which is completely imperfect, but we're comfortable with who we are and whatever mistakes we make," she says.

Miss Hathaway then falls back against the couch with a groan and covers her face. "That sounds so much like an 'After-School Special.' I'm sorry."

The success and sudden attention from "The Princess Diaries," which earned $108 million in U.S. theaters and is a top seller on home video, caught Miss Hathaway by surprise. "We were just out to make a film that 8-year-olds and their grandmothers would like," she says.

Now she finds herself simultaneously navigating an acting career, juggling her academic future and trying to adjust to life as a grown-up.

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