With her big Bambi eyes and gleaming smile, Anne Hathaway could pass for the flesh-and-blood incarnation of a cartoon princess. Even the actress' bubbly spirit comes off as that of an animated heroine try as she may to deny it. ''I do debaucherous things all of the time,'' insists Hathaway, over a light lunch at a Manhattan bistro. ''You just don't read about it. I want to be practically invisible except when I'm working.''
And yet, as the meal draws to a close, she's told the bill has been taken care of by a man at a neighboring table. ''My daughter is a huge fan of...what's that movie?'' the middle-aged stranger explains. Hathaway affably supplies the title The Princess Diaries and offers an autograph before turning back to the interview. ''You're not going to mention that, are you?'' she asks.
You'll forgive Hathaway if a little concern slips through. Beginning with her memorable big-screen debut in Garry Marshall's klutz-turned-swan family comedy, six of Hathaway's eight films have been either G- or PG-rated affairs. Now the clearly ambitious 23-year-old seems determined to shake the tiara from her image. ''Because I became so associated with The Princess Diaries,'' she explains, ''my main [criterion] is to look for the opposite of what I last did.'' Hathaway's plan is paying handsome dividends. Critics lauded her portrayal of the lusty cowgirl-turned-icy housewife Lureen in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. She has just wrapped the drama Becoming Jane, in which she plays a young and in-love Jane Austen. And, more immediately, she's costarring in The Devil Wears Prada (out June 30), an adaptation of former Vogue employee (and ex-Anna Wintour assistant) Lauren Weisberger's 2003 novel.
Hathaway fit easily into her Prada part, Andrea Sachs, a dowdy journalist who is seduced by the call of Chanel. Leading her into the sartorial fold is Meryl Streep, whose presence like that of the ice-queen editrix she plays, Miranda Priestly both frightened and inspired Hathaway. ''Horrifying!'' the young actress exclaims. ''Acting against her was like taking a cold bath of terror every day. I was always ready to wet my pants.'' She pauses. ''Wait, how can I say that nicer? My mom called the other day and told me to stop [using foul language] because she didn't raise me like that.''
If aw-shucks asides like that make you question whether Hathaway can possibly be for real, her Oscar-winning costar has no doubts. ''There's no artifice about her,'' says Streep. ''Anne is just sort of buoyant, and it's a lovely quality for this character who could be annoying. She's just darling.''
But don't mistake a lack of guile for naïveté. ''Annie is a girl who is very aware of herself, of what every shot is, and how it might be used,'' says Prada director David Frankel. ''After every take, she'd go to a monitor and watch herself and judge herself. Some of the biggest arguments I had with her were over her wanting to go again.''