When I ran into Anne Hathaway at the Sundance Film Festival last night, the 31-year-old actress was celebrating the premiere of her new movie Song One at the Grey Goose lounge, and she kind of needed a moment to take it all in. “I’m sorry, excuse me,” she said, eyes open wide as she scanned the crowded party. “I’m a little overwhelmed by this whole experience. This is my first Sundance!”
You can forgive Hathaway her nerves, since Song One reps her first starring role since that Oscar-winning turn in Les Misérables, and this film is almost as music-drenched as Les Miz was. Hathaway plays Franny, a young woman who returns home to New York when her busking brother is hit by a car and left in a coma; as she grieves and steeps herself in the life her brother has left behind, Franny also strikes up a tentative romance with the indie folk star (played by British newcomer Johnny Flynn) whom her brother idolized.
The real surprise, though, is that of the 32 songs that we hear in the movie (which was directed by newcomer Kate Barker-Froyland), Hathaway herself only sings two, and she’s clearly suppressing those Academy Award–winning pipes while doing so. “My character’s not a singer!” she explained to me. “You have to abandon the training. I always thought that Franny has a musician inside of her, but she’s never developed it — she’s always been too afraid, too scarred by her past. Kate and I decided that her father was an intellectual but he was also a passionate lute player, and he died when she was 15, and Franny’s really not been able to have a relationship with most music since then.”
“My wife, I think, is such a versatile actress — I think she sings in her own way in this movie,” said Hathaway’s husband Adam Schulman, who co-produced the movie with her. “The music moves Annie’s character, and she’s awoken from it. Franny sort of sings without singing.”
“Listen, I’m not a singer — I’m an actor who sings,” Hathaway added. “These are really extraordinary musicians in the movie, and I think if I’d had to audition, I wouldn’t have gotten it.” All modesty aside, Hathaway was instrumental in putting together the movie’s soundtrack, featuring a bushel of original songs written by Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice. “My husband and I knew Jenny and Johnny socially and we were becoming good friends, and around the time that Song One was coming together, we came up with a wish list and I put them at the top, never thinking that we would get them,” she said. “Just because it would be too perfect, and I didn’t want to take advantage of the friendship, you know?” But after Rice asked Hathaway if he could read the script, “They met Kate, they had their own love affair, and the next day when we woke up, they had written the first song. They were off the races from there.”
Hathaway wasn’t the only one beaming at the party: Sony Pictures Classics co-chairman Michael Barker was over the moon, and with good reason, since the director is his daughter. “It’s fabulous,” he said. “You know what I thought? I wish Louis Malle was alive, because Louis loved Kate as a little girl. He would’ve just kvelled, you know?” Still, Barker got words of support from two other auteurs in the Sony Classics family: “Pedro Almodóvar sent me an e-mail saying, ‘We’re with you today,’ and Michael Haneke sent an e-mail, too.”
With a soundtrack play goosing the movie’s distribution chances, buyers will no doubt be circling, but will Barker be among those bidding on his daughter’s film? “They can talk to my colleagues,” he laughed. “I am recusing myself.”