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December 29, 2011

‘Dark Knight Rises’ star Anne Hathaway: ‘Gotham City is full of grace’

Posted in: Movies

SPOILER WARNING: This story, which will appear in the upcoming Los Angeles Times 2012 Film Sneaks issue, reveals some details about a scene in the upcoming film “The Dark Knight Rises.” 

Gotham City is a war zone. A ruthless madman named Bane has ripped away any sense of security and the citizens, haggard and clutching suitcases with refugee anxiety, sit behind barbed wire waiting to see what will blow up next. A hooded prisoner is dragged in – it’s Bruce Wayne, one of Gotham’s most famous faces – but the eyes of the crowd go instead to the woman in black standing at the top of the staircase.

“Sorry to spoil things, boys, but Bane needs these guys himself,” says sultry Selina Kyle, played here by actress Anne Hathaway, navigating the steps with stiletto heels that, on closer inspection, turn out to have serrated edges capable of leaving nasty claw marks in a fight. She also wears high-tech goggles that, when not in use, flip up and resemble feline ears.

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Actress Anne Hathaway (Peter Kramer / Associated Press)

Meet the new Catwoman — but don’t expect her to do any purring this time around. “I love the costume,” Hathaway said last summer on the set of “The Dark Knight Rises,” after shooting that scene for the film. “I love the costume because everything has a purpose, nothing is in place for fantasy’s sake, and that’s the case with everything in Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City.”

Nolan is the director who truly made Batman a grim creature of the night after decades of Hollywood versions that climbed into the Batmobile with a wink. On July 20, the filmmaker delivers “The Dark Knight Rises,” his third and, he says, his final Gotham City film. Christian Bale, now a newly minted Oscar winner, is back as the haunted hero and the supporting cast again includes Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.

The newcomers this time include Hathaway and Tom Hardy (who worked with Nolan on “Inception”), who plays Bane, the hulking, masked terrorist who will test the hero physically more than any of his previous foes, Nolan says. The movie is set eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight,” the billion-dollar 2008 hit that will be a tough act to follow, especially considering the Oscar-winning performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker.

Hathaway says the new script (based on a story by Nolan and David S. Goyer and written by the director and his brother, Jonathan Nolan)  is strong and that she and Hardy have Nolan on their side, which counts for a lot in a franchise that has been defined by his carefully crafted shadows and symbols.

“Gotham City is full of grace,” Hathaway said. “You look at Heath’s performance as the Joker, there was a lot of madness there but there was also a grace and he had a code there. There’s a lot of belief and codes of behavior in Gotham and my character has one, too. A lot of the way she moves and interacts with people is informed by her worldview. Chris has given us all such complex, defined, sophisticated worldviews that it’s just a matter of doing your homework and getting underneath the character’s skin.”

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Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Warner Bros.)

The character has considerable history. She first appeared in the comics in the spring of 1940 as a villain driven more by profit than madness or blood lust, and Batman’s attempts to reform her would become a staple part of her mythology – as would the sexual tension between the Bat and the Cat.

“I really got into the comics after I was cast and I like that when she made her first appearance she meets Bruce Wayne and says ‘Let go of me or I’ll claw your eyes out,’ and he says, ‘Careful, claws in or papa spank,’” Hathaway said. “So I’m glad we’ve come a long way since then. I’m not saying anything against Bob Kane, though.”

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Actress Hedy Lamarr in 1946. (Associated Press)

Kane, the credited creator of Batman (writer Bill Finger is now acknowledged as co-creator but wasn’t at the time), said that the movie star Hedy Lamarr was a key inspiration for Catwoman, so Hathaway did a deep dive into the Vienna native’s films.

“I know this sounds odd, but her breathing is extraordinary,” Hathaway said. “She takes these long, deep, languid breaths and exhales slowly. There’s a shot of her in [the 1933 film] ‘Ecstasy’ exhaling a cigarette and I took probably five breaths during her one exhale. So I started working on my breathing a lot.”

Hathaway began her career in tiara mode with “The Princess Diaries” films and “Ella Enchanted” but now, at 29, she has plenty of genre distance between herself and “role model for children” roles (as she called those early films) with projects as varied as “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Love and Other Drugs.”

During a break between scenes last summer on the London location shoot, while still wearing her Catwoman suit, Hathaway killed time by doing a crossword puzzle, talking about politics and, when things got too drab, launching into a Tina Turner dance routine while singing “Proud Mary.” The actress said that Nolan’s set is the most well-organized operation she had ever seen, that the pressure that comes with it is welcome, and that for cast and crew “it’s a pleasure to give your best.”

Nolan, in a later interview in Los Angeles, said that Hathaway brought a special skill set to the role.

“She had something very important we needed for this character — she’s an incredibly talented but naturalistic actress, which makes her great in film. She also has terrific theatrical skill so she can project a persona and there’s a big aspect of the character that is a persona. She’s a multi-layered character and we needed a great actress that could rise to that challenge.”

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Catwoman through the years: Julie Newmar, left, Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry have all portrayed the character. (Los Angeles Times Archives / Warner Bros.)

As Catwoman, she follows in the feline footsteps of Halle Berry, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether as actresses who have played the character in film or television. Newmar has already given her blessing to he newest member of the club, saying Hathaway will be “marvelous,” and Hathaway appreciates it. At the same time, the new Catwoman says that  for her particular character, the past is really never as important as her present.

“What’s come before doesn’t limit or even affect this new version,” Hathaway said. “It doesn’t affect me because each Catwoman – and this is true in the comics as well – she is defined by the context of the Gotham City created around her. Catwoman is so influenced by Gotham and whoever is creating Gotham at the time. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was informed by Tim Burton’s Gotham and Eartha Kitt was informed by Adam West’s Gotham. You have to live in whatever the reality of the world is and whatever Gotham is.”

— Geoff Boucher


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Nolan: Hollywood takes too many shortcuts

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