In spite of not being a household name (yet), Anna Kendrick has notched up a diverse and interesting selection of roles in her relatively short career, including Scott Pilgrim’s sharp-witted and slightly scary sister, the very sweet and somewhat out of her depth Natalie in Up in the Air – for which she received an Oscar nomination, as well as putting in the only watchable performances in the entire Twilight saga.
She’s also a massive film fan, and for that reason alone we absolutely love her.
Anna was recently in town to promote 50/50, and we had the opportunity to speak to her about her experiences making the film, her first time as a romantic interest, and how to talk about Twilight without actually talking about Twilight.
On becoming involved with 50/50
I read the script mid-2009, and didn’t hear anything about it I met with Nathan Kahane from Mandate about it, but it was sort of about other things, and you never want to say, ‘I really want to do that movie’. You want to act super cool. Then, out of nowhere, at Christmas they offer it to me and I was really excited. I thought it had disappeared, and then it came back. I was very excited.
Now Seth and Will and Jonathon say, ‘we had her in mind the whole time’, but you never know about that stuff. It wasn’t written for me, no. It’s funny, because I wonder to what degree they were expecting me to do the same performance I did in Up In The Air. At a certain point I felt like that’s exactly what they wanted, and I felt bad because I felt like I was tricking them into offering me a part, and then planning to do something else, but everybody was happy with what I was doing.
On creating the character of Katherine
Somebody had told me, they were misinformed, but they told me that Katherine was based on a real character, and her dad was a therapist, and her heart wasn’t really in it, but she felt like she had to continue the family business, and I met with Jonathan after they’d offered me the part and said, ‘I can’t really reconcile that back story with what’s on the paper’, and he was like, ‘good news. She’s not a real person, so we can do whatever we want’. We tried to come much more from a place of a girl who cares so much, and is so excited to help people that she is sort of getting in her own way a lot – and that was much more exciting for me. So it didn’t feel like what was on paper was changing, but it felt like I was given permission to try something else.
On the reaction of real life psychologists
Yeah. I’ve been really nervous about that. A woman at the New York premiere came up to me and said, ‘I’m a psychologist’ and I was expecting a verbal lashing, but she was really cool about it. It’s a lot easier being the inexperienced and laughably bad psychologist, so I figured I could get away with a lot more. It’s a pretty condensed version of every mistake that a young psychologist could make. I met with this woman who had enough experience to say, ‘these are the mistakes I made’ and I tried to just channel all of that into one character.
On filming a story based on real experiences
It never felt like pressure, it felt like a relief. If we’d been making a comedy about cancer based on the ideas that popped out of somebody’s head, that would have been really terrifying. Having him as our writer, but then also having him on set all the time, he just kept us honest. There was never a moment where we felt like ‘oh my God, some cancer patient is going to see this, and we’re going to be crucified for it’, because we had a friend sitting in the same room to be our Sherpa.
On Seth Rogen playing a character based on himself
It’s hard, because Seth is so insensitive in the film, and I don’t find him to be an insensitive person at all. He’s smart enough to know when a joke is inappropriate and reaches that line, but from what I’ve seen, doesn’t step over it. So I do think that it’s an extreme version of the immature Seth that he may have been at 23, but he’s been nothing but really open in my experience, and I feel that he, actually is definitely, along with Will is one of the people that who had this kind of infallible ‘bullshit barometer’ on set, where if something didn’t feel honest, he would be the first one to point it out. So it doesn’t feel to me that he was the guy with the schtick, which I think maybe Kyle [Rogen’s character] has more of a schtick. He’s more open I guess, I don’t know.
How Seth and Will ensured the film was authentic
The only thing that I can think of is this moment where I go to see Joe in the hospital, and we’re about to start shooting, and Joe popped his eyes open and said, ‘Get Will in here! Get Will in here! Will, what’s morphine like?’ and Will had to give this detailed description of what it feels like to be on morphine. That was a fun day.
On her playing a romantic role
My first actually. Which I didn’t realise until we started shooting some of the flirtatious scenes, and particularly the final scene. I was so exhausted and I couldn’t figure out why, it seemed like, these kind of things are really simple, and I mentioned that to Joe, ‘I just realised that this was my first romantic role’. I always play weirdos, so I’ve never had a love interest, and it was great to hear from him, ‘it’s OK. It is a lot harder than it looks’, so it’s not like I’m just sucking. It was difficult to stay charmed for twelve hours, for both of us, I’m sure.
Our first scene together was the scene where I drop [Joseph Gordon Levitt] off at his house, and I give him my number, and we had met twenty minutes prior to shooting that scene, and that’s a testament to Joe. To keep that going, I don’t know if that got easier or harder, because there’s a sense of discovery at first, and once you’re friends, and you’ve said the same thing to each other fifty times, it’s hard not to just start faking it. It’s hard to keep that sense of discovery. But I’m really glad to have him as my first romantic interest, because as he pointed out, it’s a lot harder if you don’t get along.
On the difference between major roles in smaller films and small roles in blockbusters
I like sets that feel small. Sets that feel really big are really difficult. When you’re on a big set it feels like there’s constant miscommunication, so the thing that gets you through it is being surrounded by cool people, so I’ve been lucky so far, but I can see why people don’t necessarily have fun on big movies like that. But this kind of thing is really rewarding, and some of that can get lost on a big movie. I adored everything about Scott Pilgrim and making Scott Pilgrim, but there’s a lot of time between takes, and the pressure builds, and you do your one little part in this big movie, and sort of obsess about it for a really long time because it was all this build-up for a really quick thing. So sets like this, you’re able to relax a bit more. Although I think Jonathan was a big part of that. He makes it feel like you’re hanging out, and then occasionally, ‘oh I guess we should go make this movie, and then we can go to hanging out again’.
It dominates interviews, because people want to hit whore, as it goes. Is that a thing, hit whoring? So I guess I try to keep my comments boring and minimal, because otherwise it seems like I gave an interview about Twilight. But I know people have to ask about it, because otherwise they get in trouble, so I get it. But it’s tricky to be honest, but also be aware that you don’t want it to dominate everything you try to talk about.
Actors drawing in an audience
My feeling is always, people go to movies based on what the movie’s going to be. If they happen to see that they don’t recognise a single actor in it, they’re less likely to go because it must be a secretly bad movie or something, but I don’t know that many people that go based on actors. There doesn’t seem to be that following for anybody that people had for Cary Grant, so I don’t know that actors are doing that at all anymore. So I guess you just hope to be in movies that people seem based on the movie. I certainly don’t think that I have to worry about that sort of thing. That would be a nightmare.
Convincing people to see a film about cancer
Well, it’s tricky. Comedy about cancer, it’s tricky, but I think knowing that it’s a true story, and I think, especially the thing of seeing Seth, essentially playing Seth is fascinating to me. That’s why I would want to see it. [The fact that] Seth was actually the best friend to this guy is bizarre. When has that happened before? I think a movie like this, a lot of it is word of mouth. I know plenty of people that say to my face, which always amazes me, ‘I was thinking about seeing it, but it’s going to be such a downer because it’s a cancer movie’. I think it takes having a friend see it and say that it’s really good and it’s not a sappy cancer movie.