The following story appears in the upcoming issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine, on newsstands in LA and NY on Thursday.
When Academy Awards producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer settled on the idea of staging the Oscars as a visual journey through movie history, they decided the hosts should be young, energetic actors who could pull it off. Come Feb. 27, viewers will see James Franco, 32, and Anne Hathaway, 28, travel back in time in an ambitious opening montage and become immersed in a digitally-enhanced “virtual” set. To kick off Oscar week, The Hollywood Reporter corralled Franco and Hathaway on Feb. 21 for their first interview together.
THR: Anne, you initially passed on hosting but reconsidered once James was in. Why?
Anne Hathaway: Much like James, I initially had a knee-jerk reaction, which was “no.” I just focused on all the ways it could go wrong. But Bruce (Cohen) was a bit craftier than I had realized because while I was hosting SNL (in November), while I was loving the idea of hosting something and doing the song-and-dance thing, Bruce came back and said, “We have James Franco.” He’s so brave and so willing to make unconventional choices. All the ways I was worried about it going wrong, it wouldn’t go wrong in any of those ways. It could go wrong in entirely new ways. (Laughs.)
THR: James, you recently joined Twitter. Is that for the show?
Franco: Yeah, I don’t know what that is. I’m just trying it out.
THR: Do you plan to tweet during the show?
Franco: I’m still learning how to do all that. Yeah, it might be fun.
Hathaway: I have no plans to tweet.
THR: Have they made you watch all 10 nominated films?
Hathaway: You mean like something out of A Clockwork Orange where they sit us down and force us to watch?
THR: No, more like, “Hey, we’d really appreciate it if you’ve seen Winter’s Bone.”
Hathwaway: It was always expected, and James and I are Academy members so we’re supposed to see everything anyways.
THR: Have you filled out your ballot yet?
Hathaway: I’m doing it today (Monday), last-minute.
Franco: Wait, when are they due?
Franco: I turned mine in last week.
Hathaway: Well, you’re a better student than I am.
THR: Anne, can we assume you voted for James?
Hathaway: Actually, the ballot says on the front: “Important, do not tell anyone, especially The Hollywood Reporter.” (Laughs.) I’m a big fan of James’s performance.
THR: Very diplomatic. How involved have you been in the creation of this new plan for the show?
Hathaway: The show was pretty much laid out when we were asked. We were given a presentation. So we knew the concept behind the show and what the moving parts would be. We’re not writing the jokes or the scenarios but we are collaborating with the writers to figure out what fits. It’s so different doing live comedy, that’s kind of the scariest thing about it. Being funny in a movie usually has to do with how committed you are to your character. But standing up and telling jokes is not something that comes easily to me.
THR: You must have watched some old Oscar shows. Got any favorites?
Hathaway: Jack Palance, man. Jack Palance doing the pushups (on the 1992 telecast), I can watch that forever. And the way Billy Crystal incorporated it into the show. “Jack Palance just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood sign.” “Jack Palance is now in space.” All these kids from Peter Pan did this really sweet, earnest song, and Billy Crystal comes out and says, “Jack Palance fathered all those children.” (Laughs).
THR: Some of the 70s and 80s shows are pretty funny in how earnest and formal everything was, right?
Hathaway: I really love the Star Wars year (1978). Debbie Reynolds did this amazing opening number that is just so completely what you’d think an Oscar opening number would be. (Singing) “Look how faaaar we ‘ve come….” It was just a very straightforward version. Something we probably couldn’t do today.
THR: Did you watch the 1989 Rob Lowe-Snow White duet?
Hathaway: No, I didn’t see that one.
THR: Who’s given you the best advice about hosting?
Hathaway: Alec Baldwin, when I ran into him a couple weeks ago, said “the thing to remember is, it’s not about you.”
Franco: I talked to Jon Stewart. He’s done it twice (in 2006 and 2008). He said he felt a little weird doing it because he didn’t feel like he was exactly from that world. He talked about this with Letterman too, and they are comedians, talk-show hosts, and here they were presenting to film people and they kinda felt like outsiders. Because of that, it wasn’t necessarily antagonistic, but there was some sort of disconnect. He said we’ll be fine because we’re more insiders, though I feel like kind of an outsider.
THR: You’re a nominee. Doesn’t get much more insider.
Franco: Oh yeah, I forgot.
THR: Do you feel less pressure now?
Franco: Well, nobody is shy about saying Colin Firth is going to win. I’ve accepted that. By hosting, it makes it easier to go to the events and not feel like a total schmo.
THR: And you can tell three hours’ worth of jokes about Colin Firth.
Franco: Yeah, I’m sure that would go over really well.
THR: We hear Aron Ralston, the real guy you play in 127 Hours, is going to attend as well. Anything planned with him?
Franco: Who knows? Aron is full of surprises. I’m sure he’ll find his way into the show.
Hathaway: We don’t want to tell you anything! People have been speculating for months. You’ll find out in less than a week.
THR: This new “projected” set—have they shown you what it’s going to look like?
Hathaway: We’ve seen mockups. I’ve seen one on my computer. The set is finished at the Kodak and I’m a terrible host because Bruce asked me to go yesterday but I had friends over for brunch instead. (Laughs). So I’m going to see it on Wednesday.
THR: Ricky Gervais made some enemies at the Golden Globes. And at the 2005 Oscars, Chris Rock singled out Jude Law and did a whole bit on how he was in every movie. A lot of people think it hurt Law’s career. Any zingers planned?
Hathaway: I hope Chris Rock never says that about me. I can guarantee that if you’re looking for someone to call people out, we’re not your hosts. I think that humor is really difficult to pull off, and I’m not particularly adept at it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it. Also, I don’t mean to sound overly serious, but I am the youngest host in history and I have no business being cynical or calling anyone out. I certainly haven’t earned the right to do that.
THR: Got a favorite movie moment from this year?
Hathaway: For me, the last 10 minutes of Toy Story 3. I just cried like a baby.
Franco: Jeremy Renner in The Town. He’s so awesome. He’s so chilling and so convincing.
THR: James, we know you’re a big Three’s Company fan, can we count on at least one reference during the show?
Franco: I would love to.
Hathaway: I’m in if you’re in!