"(Director Ed Zwick) turned me on to the American Parkinson's Association and they were instrumental in putting me in touch with a few people who had been diagnosed at the age my character was diagnosed," the actress told reporters in New York recently.
"(One woman) very generously took me to a few support groups. I was a little nervous because I had gone to support groups for 'Rachel Getting Married,' but this one felt a little different," Hathaway said. "I've spoken openly about the fact that, like many people, I've had experiences with addiction in my life and I've never known anyone with Parkinson's disease and I've never had it myself, so I was really coming at it from total ignorance and I was anticipating a little resistance from people in the support groups. And I was met with absolute openness and warmth."
She said participants seemed to want to share their stories.
"People were excited because Parkinson's is a very, very insidious disease, as I'm sure everyone here knows. But it doesn't get a lot of attention. Everyone sat there and said, 'Thank God for Michael J. Fox.' Because I don't think anyone would know anything without his advocacy," she said. "They shared their stories with me and they shared their fears and they shared their anxieties and they shared their triumphs and I also spoke to neurologists."
It soon became clear to her, she said, that Stage 1, early-onset Parkinson's disease is about good days and bad days.
"Ed and I talked about that a lot and we wanted to be sure we showed the bad days honestly on-screen," she noted. "But what so much of it is, is anxiety -- anxiety of the future and learning what it is that is happening to your body. And, so, I really, through my research, realized that it was so important to imbue Maggie with the psychological trauma of her diagnosis. And that she is caught up in a world where all she can see is her disease and throughout the course of the film she learns to accept it and she even has that wonderful line in the movie.
"Thank you for writing it," she told Zwick. "She says: 'Parkinson's isn't my life. I have Parkinson's. Why does it have to be my life?' It was an amazing world that was opened up to me. I also, of course, read basically everything Michael J. Fox has ever written or said."
Fox is a beloved, award-winning actor who is semi-retired because of his battle with Parkinson's.
Hathaway earned a Golden Globe nomination for her work in "Love & Other Drugs." The romantic comedy co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal is in theaters now.