"I said, 'Oh no, no, no, no, no. I'm not Alma. I need to be seen for the other part,'" the 31-year-old actress revealed during a recent chat with the film's director Ang Lee.
Hathaway knew she was best fit to play Texas rodeo queen Lureen — even though it was a much smaller part. "Just trust me," she recalled telling casting teams.
Hathaway unearthed a list of juicy behind-the-scenes "Brokeback" facts at the Wednesday event in Beverly Hills, hosted by Louis XIII (the cognac) and The Film Foundation. From her hilarious audition outfit to the lie she told Lee to the way she leveraged the part to get Meryl Streep's attention, Hathaway let everyone in on some good stories about the film.
Hathaway and Lee in Beverly Hills on Wednesday; inset from 'The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement' (Buena V …
Secret No. 1: Hathaway was dressed in head-to-toe "Princess Diaries 2" garb when she first read for Lee. "During a lunch break I got in a golf cart," she said of racing to her "Brokeback" audition during another film shoot. "I was just so excited to get in the room."
Lee recalled with a smile, "I told her, 'It's OK. You play a Texas princess, anyway.'" (He knew immediately she had the role: "She was brilliant.")
Secret No. 2: Streep previewed a key "Brokeback Mountain" scene that convinced her to hire Hathaway for "The Devil Wears Prada." "She approved my casting based on that," Hathaway explained. "Meryl only had the 'Princess' roles to go on and [Lee] was kind enough to show her that scene [before the film came out]."
The scene that proved so useful to the Oscar-winning actress is when Lureen (Hathaway) informs Ennis (Heath Ledger) that Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) has died. It's powerful, gut-wrenching, and displays Hathaway's ability to tap into a deep well of emotion. "I kind of live close to there, anyway," she said.
While her castmate Williams went on to earn an Oscar nomination, along with Gyllenhaal and the late Ledger, the "Princess Diaries" actress came up dry that year.
She's not complaining in the least and she certainly has no regrets about passing on the possibility to play Alma.
"That scene is responsible for my entire career," the actress said. (Lee pointed out it was her fourth and final take that made the cut: "After take three it was really good. But I got greedy.")
Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Brokeback Mountain' (Everett)
Secret No. 3: Hathaway didn't know bupkis about horse riding, but that didn't stop her from lying to Lee on behalf of her rodeo queen role. "He asked me, and it was that classic thing where I said, 'Oh, I can do that,'" she sheepishly confessed in front of the director.
In spite of her best efforts, including clandestine training before filming began, all hell broke loose on the "Brokeback" set. Hathaway had to swap horses twice — the second time because "I realized after about 10 seconds I was going to die," she recalled of a massive rodeo horse that "only had two speeds, which were stop and lightning."
And yes, she managed to disappoint the director.
"I get out there during the first rehearsal and the horse would not do anything I wanted it to," she said. She eventually fell off the horse.
Hathaway recalled Lee's angry words: "'I thought you could ride!'"
Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger in 'Brokeback Mountain' (Everett)
Secret No. 4: The story behind Ledger's pursed lips. "Heath always said the reason he always kept his mouth like that [mimicking his cowboy character's voice] is that he was worried that flies might get in."
Lee won an Oscar for directing "Brokeback" as the film also picked up Oscars for writing and score. And nearly a decade later, Hathaway would win her first statuette for her supporting role in "Les Misérables."
It all worked out.