songone-posterI’m still deeply moved whenever I hear Anne Hathaway’s powerful rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from the 2012 movie version of Les Misérables. Her performance of that song played a big part in her Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actress that year. The power of music plays a key role in Hathaway’s latest film, Kate Barker-Froyland’s Song One, even though, for the most part, it’s not Anne singing the songs. Hathaway stars as Franny in this film, a drama set against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s indie music scene. After her musician brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield) is hospitalized in a coma following a car accident, Franny, estranged from her brother and her family, returns home and begins to use his personal notebook as a guide to understand how his life had evolved during her absence. Franny seeks out the musicians and artists Henry loved, including Henry’s musical idol, James Forester (Johnny Flynn). A strong connection develops between Franny and James, as both try their best to help Henry return to the world. Song One, produced by Jonathan Demme, also stars Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen as Franny and Henry’s mother. The film features original music by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, as well as live performances by Sharon Van Etten, The Felice Brothers, Dan Deacon, Paul Whitty, Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, Cass Dillon, Elizabeth Ziman, and Lola Kirke.

I spoke with Hathaway in a roundtable discussion and asked her if she’d had any secret fantasies about becoming a singer-songwriter herself.

Anne Hathaway: No, my fantasies were more about being in the center of a Broadway stage, my arms raised like Eva Peron! I appreciate singer-songwriters but songwriting is not one of my skills.

But this film’s message about the power of music obviously resonated with you.

Absolutely. It sounds cheesy to say out loud, but I really believe in the healing power of music. I know, I know! I thought Kate’s screenplay did a great job of capturing that feeling. Then when Jenny and Johnny came on to do the music, I got even more excited about being a part of it.

Is there a certain kind of music that you personally find soothing in your life?

Soothing is an interesting word — do you mind if I offer up a different one?


jennylewisCathartic. And my answer is the music of Jenny Lewis. I’m not even kidding! Even before we were friends, I was such an uber-fan. It took me two years into our friendship before I told her this story. I’d had this terrible day on set in the movie Love & Other Drugs. I had to do this emotional climax and I just couldn’t get to the place where I needed to get to. I was really down on myself and Ed Zwick sent me home and told me not to worry about it. I was still feeling awful as I headed back into work the next day and I asked my iPod to send me some really great music. I pressed Shuffle and out came this Rilo Kiley (Jenny Lewis’s band) song “A Better Son/Daughter.” I heard it before but never really heard it and it just spoke to my soul in a moment of real need. That song pushed me out of the car and got me onto set that day. I’m really proud of my work in that scene.

There are so many emotional scenes in this movie, including many with your on-screen brother. To get to that place, did you find yourself thinking about your relationship with your own brother?

I have two brothers, and you do use that very primal feeling of love. And yes, you do go back over the catalog of your memories when you’re making a movie. In this case I was thinking, “Where did I mess up? Where did I make a mistake and feel guilt about it?” But other than that, you kind of have to leave your real life behind. Truthfully, if something like this was happening with my own family member, I don’t know whether I’d be able to function so you have to have a separation there and remove yourself from the character. But it’s funny — when I told my brother about the movie he said, “What is it with you and little brothers in distress?” When I was making Rachel Getting Married, I called him and said, “So, I’m in this movie, and my little brother died and I kind of killed him, and there’s a part where she’s looking back at family photos — do you mind if we use photos of you?” And he was like, “Really?” But he let me do it and that was actually very helpful.

It’s so interesting in this film how Franny sort of finds her own life by following her brother’s.

Kate and I spent a lot of time talking about Franny and trying to figure out why she was the way she was. When you meet her, she is so removed from her life — she’s isolated and frozen. We discussed the back story behind that, but Kate felt very strongly that she didn’t want this film about back story — this was a film about the present. And even though Franny and James were falling in love, this was not a typical love story, either, where you want to know everything about the other person — the stakes were so much higher here — a young man’s life.

And then we see her thawing the more she’s exposed to the music that her brother loves.

Yes. I kept thinking about molecules and that when you cool them, their vibration gets smaller and smaller and smaller and then when you heat them up the range gets so much bigger. For me, that’s what happens to Franny and I think Kate did a masterful job of reflecting that. It’s very unusual for the filmmaking to echo what the character is going through. As the character is opening up, the film begins to open, the colors change, and everything becomes much lighter. It’s a real risk to take, I think Kate is a very bold filmmaker.


Do you draw on aspects of your own experiences when you’re making a love story?

I’ve had a few different types of relationships in my life. I’m thinking back to an experience I had where I was going through a very rough time and this stranger came into my life and we spent a lot of time together for a very short period. I don’t see him at all now and we don’t talk anymore, but he had such a positive impact on my life and opened me up in a lot of ways. This is a movie about a moment in your life when only a stranger will do.

It must be very different making such a small film after movies such as Les Misérables and Interstellar.

To be honest, I don’t really notice the size of the movie. I just focus on the resonance of the story and that comes in all packages and all sizes. Oh, there’s more variety to the catering on a bigger film. (Laughs) And you even get your own trailer! On this film we were all in these little honeywagons. It was nice because they were all so small so that after we changed into our costumes in the morning we’d open the doors and kind of have this communal space where we’d talk and play music.

I love the scenes of Franny trying to revive her brother’s senses with his favorite pancakes. Are there any foods that have that kind of power over you?

There are very few things I wouldn’t do for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. (Laughs.) That is a deep favorite and partly why I stopped being a vegan after two years!

Did Franny’s career as an anthropologist interest you?

Kate gave me these books that she thought Franny would read and I could not get through them. The density of the books kept getting lighter and lighter until finally she found these books that were like graphic novels about being an anthropologist and even those were too hard!  I had a lot of fun discovering the science of Interstellar but for some reason I found the particulars of anthropology really difficult. I do think it would be fascinating to go out and discover different cultures, but also lonely.

We discover James’ favorite song in the course of the film. Do you have an all-time favorite?

Not an absolute favorite, I just couldn’t choose, but I do have a favorite karaoke song — “99 Luftballoons” from the band Nena!

Whoa — in English or in German?

I can do both, actually! I’m very accomplished.

You have to promise to sing that in an upcoming role.

I promise nothing! But next time you interview Christopher Nolan, tell him that’s the musical number he needs to have in a film.

Song One opens in select cities and will be available on VOD on January 23, 2015.