The 2011 Academy Awards have gone down in history as one of the most bizarre ceremonies to date, especially due to chaotic hosting performances from Anne Hathaway and James Franco. In a new oral history from The Ringer, the writers of the event, David Wild, Bruce Vilanch, Megan Amram, and David Rubin shared a little bit about what went wrong. The hosts were picked by a committee in order to appeal to younger audiences, but Wild explained that Hathaway and Franco's conflicting energies made it "like the world's most uncomfortable blind date between the cool rocker stoner kid and the adorable theatre camp cheerleader."
Rubin explained that the two actors took very different approaches to the months of preparation required for the hosting gig. "Anne made herself readily available," he revealed. "I went to her house and worked on the script and she was on a bunch of conference calls and responding to emails and was a great collaborator." Franco was a different story, deep in his academic phase and taking doctoral English classes at Yale University, earning a master’s degree in film at New York University, and co-teaching a course on film editing at Columbia College Hollywood in L.A. called "Master Class: Editing James Franco With James Franco" during that Winter 2011 semester. "He always seemed to be on a flight and it was very hard for me to get a hold of him," Rubin said. "That was a red flag."
The personality differences became even more clear when the co-hosts began rehearsal together. "She showed up ready to play and committed 110 percent," Rubin said. "And he was a great guy but often looked like he had just woken up from a nap. It’s almost like you’re showing up to a tennis court and one person decided that they were going to play in the U.S. Open and the other wanted to play in jeans and just kind of hit a few balls." Rubin explained that while the two weren't openly contentious on set, Franco did chafe against an acting note from Hathaway. "Again, this is a memory, but [she] was like 'Maybe you should try that,' and he was like 'Don’t tell me how to be funny.'"
Rubin did feel like Franco's more laidback approach to hosting was a conscious choice. "I think he wanted to play it as buddy-cop movie with two opposite characters." Amram revealed that a 127 Hours themed spoof on "You're The One That I Want" from Grease was scrapped and acknowledged that there were just too many conflicting opinions behind the scenes. "There were too many cooks," said Amram. "The producers had a direction, the writers had a direction, and Anne and James each had a direction. It didn’t mix well."
Amram also shared a story about Hathaway making sure that her material was feminist enough, pulling the writer into a closet to discuss the matter. "She wanted to make sure it was positively reflecting women," Amram said. "I remember thinking that it was amazing that this was important to her and weird that I was in a closet with Anne Hathaway."
The rest, as they say, is history. Franco and Hathaway both acknowledged the show's failure over the years, with Franco joking to David Letterman in 2011," I love her but Anne Hathaway is so energetic, I think the Tasmanian Devil would look stoned standing next to Anne Hathaway." Hathaway was much more introspective."You know how sometimes your optimism tips into delusion and you’re just like, ‘If I’m just really, really nice to everybody, everything’s going to work out?’ It did not work," she admitted to Hugh Jackman in 2020.