The 2011 Oscars was a flaming train wreck, and it was in part thanks to hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, who redefined awkward. James Franco came off as a stoned douche (so he came off as he usually does) and Anne Hathaway tried, but compared to him, she was like a way too hyper child beauty pageant contestant who was given pixie sticks before going onstage (so she came off as she usually does). And it was also awkward for those who had to write words for Anne and James. It seems that leading up to the big night, the writers could see the writing on the wall, and try as they did, everything blew up in their faces. Now the writers can laugh about it, but it’s still the worst thing Anne’s done apart from Bride Wars. For James, it wasn’t the worst. James being an alleged predator is worse.
The Ringer has a great post-mortem of the 2011 Oscars. A full decade later, writers for the show were finally able to laugh about the disastrous evening no one can forget. David Wild, who wrote for the telecast and has worked on all kinds of events from the 9/11 Tribute to Heroes to the 2021 Grammy Awards, said that his initial reaction to hearing the hosts was: “huh?” and that pretty much set the vibe for everything. In hindsight David said of the pairing:
“It was like the world’s most uncomfortable blind date between the cool rocker stoner kid and the adorable theater camp cheerleader.”
They were picked as the hosts because the show was getting too old and the people who pull the strings wanted a younger demographic. And listen, it could have been so much worse. The other option was Justin Timberlake.
“I had been writing with Justin and I remember the producers said to me, ‘Do you want to do a soft ask if he’d host the Oscars?’ He said that he’d love to do it, but he thought it was a year too early for him. He wanted to wait until after The Social Network had gone through an awards season.”
Writer Megan Amram, who would later write for Parks & Recreation and co-executive produce The Good Place, said that after she was hired to work on the 2011 Oscars, she too was confused in the brains over how the producers brought on Anne and James to appeal to the youths:
“I thought that it sounded at the time like someone had run pop culture through an algorithm and spit out this thing on paper that sounded like it would appeal to the youth. But in practice, it was very random.”
Jordan Rubin, who wrote for several MTV Movie Award Shows, worked on the 2011 Oscars and said that Anne was all in:
“Anne made herself readily available. 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.”
James, however, was busy with all his schooling and other shit (he was teaching at Columbia and studying at both NYU and Yale). The combination ended up palpably awkward:
“She showed up ready to play and committed 110 percent. 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.”
More evidence of their mismatch came when Anne gave a random acting suggestion to James who took it VERY well:
“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,”” he says. Rubin says he can’t recall anything contentious—”I’d tell you if it happened”—but he suspects that Franco did make a conscious effort to counter Hathaway’s high-octane theater-kid energy with a chiller, edgier attitude: “I think he wanted to play it as buddy-cop movie with two opposite characters.”
So it sounds like Anne Hathaway tried to do the best job and kept it professional while James Franco was a difficult ass wipe. Anne Hathaway IS that student whose backbones are breaking from carrying the school project while her project mate stands in the corner bitching, in between checking out barely illegal interns.