Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey have a lot in common. They're talented, they're attractive, they have Oscars, and they really think you should see their new movie Serenity even if you don't totally get it yet.
Written and directed by Steven Knight (Locke, Redemption), Serenity tells the story of Baker Dill (McConaughey), a fisherman obsessed with catching an elusive monster tuna he's named "Justice." On his quest for "Justice," Dill finds himself down on luck, money and everything else (except a good tan). That changes when a woman from his past, Karen (Hathaway) re-enters his world with a proposition. She wants him to kill her abusive husband (Jason Clarke), and in return she'll pay him $10 million so he can finally buy the equipment and resources to get that damn fish.
But all of that is just groundwork for the big twist that I won't reveal here. "Part of it is that you are teed up to be manipulated," McConaughey says over the phone from L.A. alongside Hathaway. "And that is the fun of going to a film like this." This manipulation isn't subtle — and may even become a bit controversial. It's also something the two huge stars of the film have tried to get in front of, Hathaway in a lengthy Instagram post, and McConaughey during our conversation.
Having finally seen it, the actual film is quite different than I think everyone is expecting it to be. Is that exciting for you?
McConaughey: "I’m not sure anyone will come away from this movie going, 'Oh, that’s what I expected.' I think part of the reason going to see this movie is that you like a mystery film, a horror film, a sexual film, and a thriller. A movie that is going to look good, smell good, make you want to be there."
Hathaway: "I think it goes to a place that people probably aren’t imagining. But I think what you get from the trailer is that it is a lush, dark mystery that turns you on in all the right ways. And I think that people will be surprised by the darkness that shows up in it. But I don’t think there is a lie in the trailer that people will be angry about, you know?"
Matthew, you deliver one of the most iconic lines in the film early on with Diane Lane: “I’m a hooker with no hooks.” Was that in the script? In my head, you thought of that.
McConaughey: "No, that’s Steven Knight. Thank you for wanting to give me credit, but he has the gift for the phraseology like that. I was telling Anne earlier that the screen direction that he put in the script when introducing Baker Dill. When I read the script he wrote, “He lights his cigarette in that one-handed way.” That is Baker as Steven."
How would you describe Steven’s directing style? What direction did he give you, Anne, especially regarding how your character talks, with all the “daddy”s?
Hathaway: "One of the best things about being as far away from home as we were on this one [the film shot in Mauritius] was that we were all staying at the same place, and there was a lot of opportunity to have conversations. I would meet with Steven to discuss the work week we had coming up, and we would hash it all out so there was room and we weren’t coming up with it on the set. I wanted to talk to him about all that [dialogue] because I thought that one of the opportunities in playing this character was to play a character with all the iconography of a femme fatale, but with the history of the feminist movement behind her. I thought it was as great way to subvert expectations about a femme fatale.
I’ve been sadly not even surprised by some of the questions I’ve received, and some of the things I’ve seen about her, that she’s a 'no-good woman' or she’s a 'sexy, mysterious woman,' focusing on their perception in the film rather than the reality of who she is as a battered woman. So, that is one aspect of it, and the other aspect of it is that I was treated with so much care and respect on this movie. Respect, not just in terms of every aspect around my comfort and vulnerability and talked through and thought through, but I was also given space to be independent. This is not a situation where we’re all walking on eggshells. This was a situation where they knew I was a performer there to do my job. I’m a muscular and physical performer and I like to get in there and there was space for that, too."
I think that what you said about it being a remote location and getting in that headspace is really interesting. Was it challenging, at the end of the day, to turn that off?
Hathaway: "I didn’t notice that it was until it swamped me. It wasn't the longest job, I think we were only there for 5 weeks, but I remember on the last week looking at my husband [Adam Shulman] and saying something to him, and he looked at me and he said, 'I’m going to give you the dignity of your process right now. I know this isn’t you. You’ve got two days left. I’ll talk to you in two days.'"
Wow. That is so intense.
Hathaway: "He knows me well enough to know that a character has taken over, and this is a woman with a lot of rage directed at her husband, but he [Shulman] didn’t get sucked into it. [Laughs]. He knew I had a job to do, but he was right, you know? I felt very privileged to leave this character behind because her situation isn’t a choice that a lot of women [in abusive relationships] can actually leave behind. I can just get on a plane and easily put thousands of miles between me and her."
A little change of pace — Matthew, did you really jump off that cliff naked?
McConaughey: "I did."
That was a huge cliff.
McConaughey: "Well… I wasn’t completely naked. To jump off a cliff that high when you have any dangly bits can make it dangerous."
Hathaway: "I think if you have any 'bits' period... [Laughs]"
Without giving the twist away, it feels very Black Mirror-esque. As public figures and parents, does our obsession with technology ever frighten you?
McConaughey: "Technology? Oh, I mean — yeah. Somewhat. Look, I think it was Kissinger who said that our greatest fear was going to be robots. It’s not extra-terrestrial. I mean, look around. That always gets my noodle going on — technology, who’s running who. Because technology is a tool, because we made a tool. But then the tools start to run the humans. It’s something that I try to be as aware of as possible."
Hathaway: "Matthew, I’m just remembering something you said when we were doing Interstellar press, and we were talking and being asked a lot of questions about the environment and you said, 'I have great faith in humanity’s ability to wake up for its own survival, but I hope it doesn’t get to the point where waking up doesn't matter.' And you said we tend to take it to the absolute limits and wake up too late. I feel like that applies to technology as well. We are all treating it like some limitless resource. I do think there is a danger to that, but I also don’t know what the answer is to it. It’s everywhere. I was sitting next to this beautiful teenage girl on the plane the other day and she was on her phone — she was actually watching Oceans 8…"
Hathaway: "... Which initiated our conversation. [Laughs] But I just remember watching her and she was so hunched over. There is nothing necessarily wrong about watching a phone on a plane — I do it — but I just was worried about her posture. I just thought, here’s this young girl whose life is shaped around this phone. Her body is going to be shaped around her phone. It’s a complicated thing that is going to be entering all aspects of our lives and I don’t see us having as many conversations about it as we are. I guess we can just assume everything is going to be okay. I don’t know! I really like getting into the mill of it all when it comes to stuff like this. I’m kind of a pain in the ass in that way. [Laughs]"
After Interstellar, a lot of people were talking about how you each had a career renaissance. Is that something that you guys ever discussed?
McConaughey: "We actually planned that together. [Laughs]"
Hathaway: "Yes, it was over dinner at the Chateau Marmont.... [Laughs]"
McConaughey: "But I don’t think we’ve ever discussed that."
Hathaway: "No... [Laughs]"
McConaughey: "Should we start now?"