Interview: Anna Kendrick from ‘Up in the Air’

We had the pleasure of speaking with Anna Kendrick from Up in the Air about how she got her start, where she got inspiration for her character, and what it was like to work with George Clooney.

Are you pleased with the film?

Anna Kendrick: Oh yes, I’m so proud of it. I think I would say it’s by far my favourite film experience that I’ve had. It was the most fun and the most rewarding. The combination of this beautiful script and this beautiful character, with George Clooney and Jason Reitman on set, all day, everyday, was really fun. You couldn’t ask for anything more.

Is it fair to assume that the character you play is a long way from your own personality?

Anna Kendrick: Oh yes! But that was the fun part about it. Natalie does so many things that I would like to do and she is unapologetically who she is in a way that I wish I was. Sometimes there are things that you wish you would say or do and you think about it. And it was easy to transfer that into someone else. Personally, I generally avoid confrontation so it was a release to play Natalie because she’s not going to back away. And like I said, getting to yell at George Clooney was pretty cathartic.

Yeah, I’ll bet. That must have been a great day on set…

Anna Kendrick: Yeah, I mean, a tricky day, but it was a lot more fun than some of the smaller scenes. Getting to just kind of give it to George both barrels.

Have you met people like Natalie?

Anna Kendrick: I think we all have. She’s a little rigid and a little annoying and she has a strength that she’s not afraid of. But there’s also a weakness there – and actually you probably see her at her weakest in this film, it’s probably the most vulnerable time of her life. I imagined that she was the sort of person who prides herself on the idea that she’s overcome a lot of challenges in her life and I think that in reality this is the first time she’s ever been challenged.

I was talking to Jason Reitman earlier and he says he really likes writing women characters…

Anna Kendrick: Yes, and you can tell that. He writes great characters for women. Look at Juno. Look at this film – it’s not just my character but all the women characters are so well rounded.

What was it like working with George Clooney. He’s arguably the biggest film star in the world, so that must be a thrill..

Anna Kendrick: George is a really smart guy and a really sensitive guy and I’m sure he looked at me and knew that I was pretty terrified. I think you’d have to be insane not to be a little intimidated by him. And he’s aware of the effect that he can have on people but he does everything to make you feel at ease. He sort of encouraged a really playful relationship – a relationship where I could kind of give him crap and he could make fun of me and I’d give it right back to him. So that when it came to do time to do it on screen it seemed perfectly natural. Really – and I know everyone says this – George couldn’t be nicer. The thing is George makes it OK for you to relax and he makes so much effort to put everyone at ease. And it gets pretty easy after that. I really loved working with him.

But you were terrified at first?

Anna Kendrick: Yes, let’s just say I was terrified. Who wouldn’t be? I mean, come on, it’s George and he’s one of the biggest stars in the world.

Is Jason the kind of director who gives you a lot of time to prepare for a scene or is it ‘OK, let’s do it..’?

Anna Kendrick: Well we didn’t have any rehearsals at all, which was interesting, and certainly made certain things challenging, but at the same time, kept a lot of things really fresh. And he’s certainly very willing to talk about anything with you – he’s incredibly available. But he knows exactly what it is that he wants and just sort of tells you to give it to him that way, and you can try it your way, but you know that he knows what he’s doing and what he is going to want in the end. And so even if it doesn’t make perfect sense to you yet, you know that this is a guy that you should trust.

Did you talk to Jason about the themes he is exploring in this film?

Anna Kendrick: Oh yes, I think it’s about isolation in the modern world. And it’s about these people who think that they have their life philosophy all figured out and it’s what it does to them when they realize that they haven’t. I just loved the script. Jason writes so beautifully and he’s so funny and yet it’s really quite poignant too, because you meet these people at a time when things are starting to unravel for them.

You started acting at a very young age…

Anna Kendrick: Yes, I danced when I was a little kid. And sang all of the time, too, and I was just one of those kids that wanted to perform and wanted to be on stage. And when you’re six you just want to jump around and then when I was about 10 I still really wanted to do it, to sing and dance and I was lucky enough to have parents who treated me with an incredible amount of respect for a 10 year old girl. They really listened to me – even when that 10 year old was telling them that she really wanted to be on Broadway. They supported me and let me take a real run at it and I’ll be forever grateful to them.

But you don’t come from a family of actors do you?

Anna Kendrick: No, my Mom was an accountant and my Dad was a teacher.

Did you see a lot of Broadway shows yourself as a kid?

Anna Kendrick: You know, honestly, it wasn’t as though I went to New York and saw a Broadway show and thought that’s what I wanted to do. It was more of an idea – just the idea of being on stage in front of real theatre fans.

Did you get nervous appearing on stage as a child?

Anna Kendrick: No, it was just huge fun – I think it probably gets harder as you get older. When I was seventeen, I did A Little Night Music, at New York City Opera, and opening night, I became incredibly aware of how many people fit in that room, and I really sort of psyched myself out. But then you do it and it’s fine and you forget that anybody is even watching you. But yeah, I had a little panic attack moment, when I thought about how many people would be looking at me – and seventeen is an age where you are not sure if you want people to be looking at you or not.

And you made your first film at what, 16? What was that like?

Anna Kendrick: I turned 17 when we were filming Camp. You know, it was one of those things, it never really felt like we could possibly be making a real film, because it was just a bunch of kids who’d never been in a film before. We shot the film at the camp, we were all sort of living there, and occasionally we would go in and shoot a scene. Actually, I think a lot of us thought that it would never see the light of day. We were just a bunch of little hoodlums singing and dancing. It was so much fun.

Making a film must have felt so different from being on stage…

Anna Kendrick: Yeah, it did. But you know it was a unique and special first film and none of us had been in a film before, so that was rare. And we all came from a theatre background so we all had the same kind of experience. It was like ‘what just happened? Did we just film something!’. Because there was no audience reaction, of course. On stage, something happens and there’s the energy of the audience and you can feel it – it’s very real.

So film is a different discipline that you had to learn…

Anna Kendrick: Yes. And each of us sort of realized when they turn the camera on and they say action, nothing actually happens. And you have to make it happen. But it was this incredible thing where you felt like, that couldn’t have possibly been it, that couldn’t have possibly been a performance… Because I know what a performance feels like, and that was just me talking and them pointing a camera at me. So that was a very strange hurdle to get over. But you know, it’s a different way of doing the same thing. You have to learn that too and I really enjoy the difference.

But I’ll bet you still miss that reaction you get from being on stage..

Anna Kendrick: Yeah. I mean it’s such a cliche, but there really isn’t anything like it, and it’s one of the weirder parts of the transition – not having the immediate validation. I think we were a bunch of very needy little actors on Camp. Our poor director probably had to tell us how great we were, even more than most directors have to tell their actors.

Well you were young…

Anna Kendrick: We were young, and we just didn’t really understand how do you know it was good, no one applauded, so how do you know?

But how does it feel now a few years on, when you do a film like this? Which again, is a very sort of, calls for a very subtle performance…

Anna Kendrick: Yeah, I think it’s a tricky thing, there’s this expression about actors, that they get paid to wait, and I feel like, you get paid to multitask, you know. You can be really good at your job, but then you have to remember to turn your face so you’re in your light and drop your shoulder, because George is in the background or something. And you’re going to cut him off and the whole shot is not going to work if you can’t do all of these things. And just slowly but surely, experience is the only thing that’s going to help that. Hopefully I’m getting better at it.

You’ve got the best of both worlds so will you continue to do stage and film?

Anna Kendrick: Well, I haven’t done stage in a while. I think the last thing I did on stage was probably A Little Night Music, and I want to do it again. It just gets scarier, the more time you spend away from it. But also I love film, I love the medium and I’m having fun doing it, so I’ll figure it out.

What do you like to do when you’re not working, what kind of things interest you?

Anna Kendrick: I watch a lot of films and I bake. Just desserts and stuff. I make a flourless Hazelnut chocolate torte – it’s great! I usually take that if I’m going round to friends for dinner. My life is always sort of a mess and it’s spilling out everywhere, so I like to go to other people’s houses.

Do you enjoy living in Los Angeles?

Anna Kendrick:Yeah, it takes about a year to kind of get used to it, and it’s a kind of lonely city at first.. And when I first arrived I didn’t know anybody. But one morning you wake up and it’s home. There are certainly people who seem like they are straight out of Beverly Hills 90210. But I don’t know those people. And I’ve got some great friends there now and it’s good.

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