Starring opposite George Clooney in Up In The Air was, at least at first, a nerve-wracking experience for Anna Kendrick. “Yes, let’s just say I was terrified,” she laughs. “Who wouldn’t be? I mean, come on, it’s George and he’s one of the biggest stars in the world.”
You’d never know that she suffered from a touch of nerves. On screen, the actress gives a remarkable performance as a self assured young career woman, Natalie Keener, who has to learn the ropes from an older, more experienced colleague, Ryan Bingham played by Clooney.
In one remarkable scene she even gets to yell at Clooney and give him a piece of her mind. “Yes, that was a memorable day,” she smiles. “But it was a tricky day too and also a lot of fun. It’s not often you get to give both barrels to George Clooney!”
Kendrick was recruited for Up In The Air by director Jason Reitman who was fresh from his Oscar nominated triumph, Juno, the bittersweet comedy about a pregnant teenager played by Ellen Page. In fact, says Reitman, Page and Kendrick have a similar approach.
“I’d seen Anna in Rocket Science and was just blown away by her,” says the director. “I just think she has such a unique voice, similar to Ellen Page, just a voice of her own amongst a generation and I needed somebody who can be witty and fast, and really sharp and go toe to toe with George Clooney, giving him shit the entire film. And there was no one that came close to Anna.”
In Up In The Air Reitman delivers another acutely observed tale about a businessman who spends most of his life on the move from one city to the next doing an undeniably unpleasant job – firing people.
Bingham lives out of an impeccably packed suitcase, stays in stylish, but functional hotels, and clocks up more air miles than a pilot. His life is as neatly packed as his luggage until the outside world – in the shape of two very different women – begin to make him think that he might just be ready to make a real connection.
Keener is a young, clearly bright and ambitious, woman who proposes a radical shake up that will mean grounding Bingham from his constant air travel, but first she has to go on the road with him.
Playing an outspoken character so completely opposite to her own was liberating for the softly spoken actress. “That was the fun part about it,” she says. “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.”
Clooney proved to be the perfect gentleman and on screen sparring partner, reassuring Natalie and making her feel entirely at ease so that those nerves disappeared pretty quickly.
“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.”
For Kendrick the central theme of Up In The Air is about connecting to people. “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.”
Up In The Air filmed at four different airports in the US and the cast and crew were constantly on the move during production. “I don’t have a fear of flying,” says Kendrick. “But I don’t really care for air travel, probably for the same reasons that Natalie doesn’t. It’s that thing of being at the mercy of other people. So that was interesting.”
Originally from Portland, Maine, Kendrick is now based in Los Angeles and is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the brightest new stars to emerge in recent years.
She started acting professionally as a child and she became the second youngest Tony Award nominee ever when she was nominated as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Dinah in the Broadway revival of High Society.
“I danced when I was a little kid,” she says. “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.”
Her first feature film role came along when she was 16. Camp, fittingly enough, was a musical comedy about a group of youngsters at a performing arts camp. It provided the perfect cross over from theatre to film for Kendrick. Both the film, and Kendrick, went on to win huge acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival.
“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,” she laughs. “We were just a bunch of little hoodlums singing and dancing. It was so much fun.”
Kendrick has gone on to star as Jessica Stanley in Twilight, the first book to be filmed in Stephanie Meyer’s hugely popular series of vampire novels. She also stars in the sequel, New Moon.
She’s now happily settled into LA life although, she admits, it took a year or so to find her feet there. “It takes a while to get used to it and it can be a kind of lonely city at first,” she says. “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,” she laughs. “But I don’t know those people. And I’ve got some great friends there now and it’s good.”