For 15 years, The New York Times has published a weekly column called “Modern Love,” in which New Yorkers submit personal essays about their relationship to love in all forms—romantic, platonic, familial, and otherwise. Now, those stories about the sometimes-futile attempts to connect will unfold on the small screen, as the column has been spun into an anthology series on Amazon Prime, starring a bevy of A-list talent, from Tina Fey and Julia Garner to Catherine Keener and John Gallagher, Jr.
The third episode of the Amazon anthology series, “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am,” is based on a 2008 column entry of the same name, written by a woman named Terri Cheney, a lawyer living with bipolar disorder who starts her day by manically rushing to the market for some peaches, where she meets a potential new paramour, but ends the day in pain. In the televised version, the character is named Lexi and she’s played by Anne Hathaway.
Here, ahead of the show’s release on October 18th, the Academy Award-winning actress speaks to W about playing a fictionalized version of a real person living with bipolar disorder, her philosophy on love, and the one stage direction she never expected to see written in a script.
Had you read the Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am “Modern Love” column entry by Terri Cheney that came out about ten years ago before the episode?
It would have been great if I did, but no. I didn’t know there was a Modern Love column, that wasn’t my way into this project. John Carney and I had been emailing each other for years, trying to find a story to tell together. One day I woke up and there was an email in my inbox telling me about this project he was working on and I was so moved by the story and so taken with the character that I just said yes and didn’t put deeper thought into it, and subsequently found out that Modern Love is this huge cultural thing with a massive following, and I felt silly for not having read it.
Do you read the column now that you’re a part of it in some way?
Yeah! When I come across it, I read it and I love it. I love how open people are with their lives. It just goes to show that we’re really not as alone as we tell ourselves.
That’s a good point, and this episode leads you to think it might initially be about romantic love and ends up emphasizing self love and platonic friendship. Did you expect the story to end that way? What’s your philosophy on the different forms of love?
Each part of love is vulnerability, learning how to be vulnerable in front of someone. I’m a huge fan of RuPaul, and I really think that he’s onto a huge spiritual message when he says, “Love yourself because if you don’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else?” I think Lexi, with very good reason based on the way mental health is stigmatized not just in our country but around the world, had been very afraid to be vulnerable. And while she’s swimming in this place of fear, I don’t know that she had a chance to learn how to love herself. So, in her case, the thing that changes her life is finding someone that does give her space to be all of herself. Who knows what’s going to happen to Lexi in the future, but one person showing up for her with love, changes everything for her.
Did you need to research anything about bipolar or mood disorders for the role?
I read a fair bit about it, but I also got to speak to Terri Cheney, the woman who wrote the original column. She was incredible and invaluable. I was on the phone, and she told me a bit about herself and her life, how bipolar disorder physically manifested itself for her which was really helpful for me. Then she told me that she wrote a memoir, which I read and leaned on in terms of creating the character. But, to be honest, Lexi was on the page. This was a really beautifully written character, and I really trusted the words. Especially when Terri told me she felt that they represented the joy and the pain of it. I felt very free to trust my director.
In the opening scene, your character takes a hit from a Juul. Was that written on the page in the script or did you improvise that?
I’m not that clever! It was straight up in the script: she takes a sip of her tea and vapes. [Laughs.] Now, of course with everything going on in the news, all I can think about is that people are going to watch it and…it’s definitely going to place this movie in 2019, but we shot it in 2018 before the news broke. It’s the first time I’ve ever had in the stage directions “character vapes.” I’ve never had that before.
Do you vape in real life?
I have vaped. Never continuously or habitually. I’ve been at parties where people were passing around flavored cigarettes, which seemed like a good idea at the time. [Laughs.] In a stress moment, I’ve taken a hit off of somebody else’s vape, but it never became a thing for me. I’ve gotta say I’m happy it’s on its way out because when I had to vape on camera, it wasn’t that pleasant.
What flavor was it?
They got me mango, and I was like, “Seriously? Blech.” They said it was the least flavored one they could find, and I was like, “Mango?! For real? What are the other options?” They were like, “Bubblegum and Roller Coaster.” So I was like, “Just give me the mango, it’s a fruit, we’ll do it and it’ll be done.” [Laughs.]
You also dyed your hair red for the role. Did you enjoy being a redhead?
The red hair was to draw parallels between Lexi and Rita Hayworth, but Terri Cheney does have red hair and the reason she gets compared to Rita Hayworth is because Terri gets compared to Rita Hayworth. Did I like it? I certainly didn’t feel negatively about it. I don’t really have opinions about when I change my hair color for films because it’s usually so short lived it’s not really worth getting attached to, but after this, my colorist is begging me to wear wigs for a year because I’d gone bleach blonde for a part, then back to brown, then up to strawberry blonde after brown, then up to red, and she just said, “Your hair is about to fall out of your head, please wear wigs. Please. Or be a brunette for a while.” So I’m in the brunette zone for now.
Speaking of Rita Hayworth, do you have a favorite film of hers?
I don’t actually know Rita Hayworth’s work very well. I obviously watched Gilda to prepare for this, so by default it’s that. I love the golden age of Hollywood and the films that came out of it, but I don’t actually know her work that well.
When you filmed the musical number in the parking lot, was the choreography difficult to learn? Did you have any mjoves you wanted to add to it?
I’m so not gifted enough to have opinions, I just want to do a good job. I just want to do what I’m told. I was very happy that we got it because the weather that day, there had been a massive storm the day before. And the temperature dropped about 20 degrees overnight. We were filming and it was freezing out. You know the Fairway in Red Hook? We were filming in that parking lot, so you know that is right next to the East River. The wind chill blowing in from the river made everything a frozen 20 degrees colder and it was so intense. We didn’t know if we were going to get the shot. We had like 50 dancers, and they were being such pro dancers about it, they were not complaining and they’d be like, “Woo! This is awesome!” They were just fantastic. We didn’t know if we were going to get the shot and we did one take and everyone loved how it looked so we just committed to doing it, and we got it. Then we all went inside and thawed out. It was a very focused thing, just sell the joy of this, lie through your teeth, get your pirouette in, and then go inside and warm up.
You also had a choreographed fake title sequence scene with Judd Hirsch that felt reminiscent of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. How did that come together?
Oh, that was me just blowing up the costume budget! That was me and our costume designer having so much fun. I’ve had some pretty memorable costume fittings in the past 20 years, but that one was so much fun because she just raided vintage shops and we just played. It was pure play on that level. Because it was a title sequence for a show that didn’t exist, we didn’t have to settle on one look for the character, we could explore all of the hits from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It was very fun.
Is that your favorite era for fashion?
You know, I think my favorite eras change depending on where my body’s at, so when I’m a little curvier I think that the ‘60s are it, and when I’ve been working out a little bit more I like the ‘70s. [Laughs.] My favorite decade is whatever is most flattering on me at the moment.