“Anne Hathaway to Star in TV Series, Arguably Becoming the Largest Current Movie-Star Ever to Do TV” blares a Vulture headline from yesterday afternoon, and I would like to discuss the truthiness that assertion.
First, though, let’s talk about this show. “The Ambassador’s Wife” is based on a novel of the same title, written by Jennifer Steil, that was released just last month. The Mark Gordon Company (Ray Donovan, Grey’s Anatomy) will produce it as a miniseries, Hathaway will star, and we don’t know which network will pick it up yet. Hathaway is set to play Miranda, the wife of a British diplomat who gets kidnapped in the made-up Middle Eastern country “Mazrooq.” The novel is about how it affects her marriage (negatively, I assume?) and her relationships with her captives.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s return to this idea that Hathaway is the biggest “current” movie star to make the jump to television. Before we get into the full argument, we need some ground rules. First, let’s define “movie star” as somebody who isn’t famous for a TV role earlier in their careers, which eliminates Woody Harrelson (Cheers) types. TV appearances or recurring roles are fine, as long as they aren’t in the canon (i.e., Hathaway’s turn on Get Real doesn’t disqualify her). Also, we’re going to use Vulture’s word “current” to mean “under 50,” because otherwise Al Pacino and Meryl Streep would, quite obviously, take the top prize for Angels in America, and Kevin Spacey would be close behind…with actors like Steve Buscemi, Greg Kinnear, Sally Field, Holly Hunter, and Laurence Fishburne nipping at their heels.
Within those parameters, how does she stack up?
My immediate thought, as a True Detective fanboy, is that we have to consider Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, but crucially, that award came after TD ran. Still, he was in the midst of the McConaissance when HBO ran TD, and Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, Magic Mike, and The Wolf of Wall Street had all hit theaters. Doesn’t that give him a leg up over Hathaway?
NOT SO FAST. As the Internet tells us, he signed on to star in True Detective in early 2012, before any of those movies came out. The version of McConaughey that signed the deal with HBO was still a year removed from his transformation. Sure, he had some solid credits like The Lincoln Lawyer and Bernie in his back pocket, but for the most part he was still known as a rom-com fixture, and not the dramatic superstar we know today.
Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, is a pretty f’ing serious actor. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Rachel Getting Married in 2008, and won Best Supporting Actress in 2012 for Les Miserables. Her credits are insane: The Princess Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada, Brokeback Mountain, Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises, and so many more. She’s worked with everyone from Christopher Nolan to Tim Burton to Ang Lee, and she’s been in blockbusters and indie gems. She is the real deal.
Does Scarlett Johansson, who will star in the miniseries Custom of the Country, compare? It’s super, super close—she’s worked with the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, and Sofia Coppola, and is arguably more tabloid famous than Hathaway. On the other hand, she doesn’t have an Oscar, and her “serious” credentials come up just shy of Hathaway’s.
Who else is in the discussion? Laura Linney (The Big C), Claire Danes (Homeland, though she kinda violates the “not an earlier TV star” caveat), Laura Dern (Enlightened), Robin Wright (House of Cards), and Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer). All significant stars, but none of them are quite at Hathaway’s level.
So, I think we’re ready to make a call: Anne Hathaway is, indeed, the most famous young movie star to make the TV transition, and it’s yet another sign that we are in the golden age of the medium.