"Meryl [Streep] is my idol," Hathaway – winner for her role in Rachel Getting Married – said backstage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium Thursday night. "To win with my idol who I was nominated against is amazing. I'm so thrilled for her and I'm very thrilled for myself, too." Streep shared the best-actress win for her work as a nun in Doubt.
Hathaway told PEOPLE it is "overwhelming" to be recognized by critics and peers with so many nominations this awards season – accolades she expected it would take much longer to rack up.
"I thought maybe by the time I was 50 I would be in this kind of, I might have gotten here, and I kind of gave myself until 50 to get nominated for something. So for it to happen at 26 in almost half the amount of time I'm pretty thrilled!" she said.
Still fresh from her break up with Raffaello Follieri, the actress, who says she'll be bringing her mom to the Golden Globes, thanked her father during her acceptance speech, saying he "protects me and has shown me that there are good men in this world and lets me know everyday that I am worthy of the love of good people."
Also honored: Heath Ledger. Dark Knight director Chris Nolan picked up the late Australian actor's award for best supporting actor, saying working with Ledger was "one of the greatest experiences any of us ever had or probably ever will have."
"I'd like to think that [Heath] would be quite proud of the effect that his role in the Dark Knight has had over audiences," Nolan said. "He was a joy to work with. He's incredibly missed and his contribution to cinema should be greatly appreciated so thank you for this measure of appreciation"
14th Annual Critics' Choice Awards: The Winners
Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Actress: Tie: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married, and Meryl Streep, Doubt
Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Supporting actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Acting ensemble: Milk
Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Writer: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Animated feature: WALL-E
Young actor/actress: Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
Action movie: The Dark Knight
Comedy movie: Tropic Thunder
Picture made for television: John Adams
Foreign language film: Waltz With Bashir
Documentary feature: Man On Wire
Song: The Wrestler, Bruce Springsteen
Composer: A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
Joel Siegel award: Richard Gere
With reporting from EUNICE OH