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Princess Hathaway is blooming into a movie star

NEW YORK -- When you burst onto movie screens as a 17-year-old unknown in ''The Princess Diaries," a sleeper comedy that goes on to gross a whopping $108 million, the movie (and the part of sweet, clumsy Princess Mia) tends to follow you around.

When you follow it up with another princess role (''Ella Enchanted"), then a ''Princess Diaries" sequel, it's no wonder Anne Hathaway, now a Vassar/NYU-educated 23-year-old, gets a little skittish about being typecast.

As she likes to say: ''Before I was a princess, I was an actress."

In a trio of new films -- ''Brokeback Mountain" in theaters, ''Havoc" on DVD, and the recently wrapped ''The Devil Wears Prada" -- Hathaway is playing off her sweet-face image in ways that might make the devil blush.

With her ''Brokeback" work, Hathaway has repositioned herself as a maturing actress, but when she went up for the role of Lureen, the bitchy wife of Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), she had a number of concerns:

First was that she was being stunt cast -- her goody-goody image being used to make the movie's gay cowboy theme more palatable to the parents of her ''Princess" fans.

''Although I don't have that big a name," she said earlier this month, ''with 13-year-olds, I'm huge."

She was therefore thrilled to find out that she had gotten the part based solely on her audition.

Upon reading the Annie Proulx short story on which the film is based, Hathaway had a second concern -- her character is barely mentioned.

No problem there, either. One of the goals of screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana was to flesh out the women.

A third concern arose once Hathaway got the role. During auditions she told director Ang Lee that she could ride a horse, but that was basically wishful thinking.

''You say yes to everything in the audition, short of one thing," she said.

So in her research time leading up to production, Hathaway also learned to ride.

She was so good in the saddle that the stuntwoman brought in to ride for her was told they probably wouldn't need her.

''But on the day of the shoot they switched horses on me and put me on a real barrel-racing horse.

''I pulled on the reins, he stopped . . . and I kept going."

Thrown, in front of 300 extras.

''I was scarlet with embarrassment," she said. ''They used the stuntwoman."

As for Lureen, who's first seen as a vivacious, raven-haired cowgirl and last seen as a worn-down, life-weary blonde (''As Jack turned to whiskey, Lureen turned to bleach"), Hathaway called the character a ''predator at her core."

''I never looked at Lureen as anything other than what happens when you're not honest in a relationship," she said.

As for Hathaway, she'll soon be off to Ethiopia to do volunteer work for CARE, following up on a trip to Africa she made for an Angelina Jolie documentary, which she says gave her a new perspective on life.

She's had very little free time recently, thanks to publicity for ''Brokeback" and a rigorous shooting schedule for ''Prada," in which she plays the put-upon assistant to a top magazine editor.

''I'm a little exhausted," she said, sunk down on a couch, ''because I'm in nearly every shot, so I've been working 75- [to] 90-hour weeks. But when it rains it pours, and I'm very lucky to be in this situation.

With her latest roles, Hathaway is on the cusp of crossing over from teen star to movie star. But she's more concerned about simply being an actress.

''You can't make yourself a star. That's something that only other people can do for you. You can certainly make yourself a celebrity, but I think it should happen from circumstance and not from any of your own scheming or pushing," she said.

''As far as being an actress goes, if I can have a few jobs a year for the rest of my life, you won't find anyone happier than me."

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