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Anne Hathaway was terrified of Robert De Niro (at first) on 'The Intern'

"The Intern" stars Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro talk about gradually feeling comfortable with each other and what they learned about themselves making it. (In De Niro's case, not much.)
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    In "The Intern," one of the few times Anne Hathaway helps Robert De Niro is when s|Warner Bros. Pictures

Robert De Niro is scary. That's the line, anyway. In addition to his storied accomplishments, he's quiet and careful with words, loath to open up - qualities that, at least for journalists hoping for a chatty interview, paint him as formidable. Indeed, he recently walked out on an interview(if perhaps not undeservingly) for his new film, “The Intern.” Even Anne Hathaway, his costar, was initially at least a little terrified.

“I couldn't talk around him for the first three weeks. I just felt like an idiot with everything I said,” Hathaway recalls. But she soon found that his reticence was, as their director, Nancy Meyers (“Something's Gotta Give,” “It's Complicated”), had told her, more zen than menace. “Bob's good at having chemistry with people. So I assumed that as long as I didn't mess up I'd be OK.”

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As it happens, in “The Intern” their characters have something like the opposite arc. He plays Ben Whittaker, a widower who takes advantage of a new trend towards hiring retirees as unpaid interns. He winds up at an online clothing startup founded and largely run, or at least micromanaged, by Hathaway's Jules Ostin. She's overworked and remote, but Ben finds a way to earn her trust and is soon offering her advice.

“I think it is [Meyers'] love letter to us, our generation,” De Niro says. “When you're a certain age, you get older, you're less relevant in some ways. That's just not the case.”

Hathaway herself learned a few things, not just from De Niro but also from Meyers. “When we started we saw the character in two different ways,” Hathaway remembers. “I wanted her to be wearing her stress on her sleeve; Nancy wanted her to have it more together. And then I thought, 'Idiot. Who knows a Nancy Meyers character better than Nancy Meyers?' It became this wonderful experience in being guided through a character, which is very new for me.”

Once Hathaway surrendered her initial instincts to Meyers’ vision, she says she found a place of contentment. “Usually up till now I have made a lot of movies from insecurity and neuroses and self-doubt. I just got really tired of it and I decided to make this from a more positive place, to feel good about what I was doing,” Hathaway explains. “It turns out you can make a movie without having non-stop sleepless nights.”

So that’s what Hathaway learned about herself. De Niro didn’t have quite the same epiphany. He says, “I don’t think I learned anything about myself that I didn’t know already.”

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As for their director, Hathaway is typically effusive. “She’s the smartest person in any room she’s ever been in,” she says. “Having been a woman in the industry for the last 30 years, it’s not easy being the smartest, funniest person in the room and being a woman. But she’s handled it with tremendous grace.”

One last note: In addition to a newly zen feel for the craft, Hathaway — briefly, semi-disastrously — found herself with a newfound love for interns. She recalls being on a photoshoot recently, where she was greeted by an intern. “Because of this movie I went out of my way to pay her a little more attention — ask who she was, why she was doing this, where she wanted to go,” Hathaway remembers. Thinking she’d do something nice, she asked her to help out with some music she wanted to play, and had her rig up some iPods to the speaker system. “I didn’t realize the sound system was impossible to work. Every time she would leap from iPod to iPod, it would create the most horrible screech through the entire sound system. Everyone hated it. So, as I was trying to do a nice thing for the intern, I wound up making everyone annoyed by the sound she was making. So I’m not the best.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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