After her Oscar nomination for ‘Up in the Air’ and working on the massive ‘Twilight’ films, Anna Kendrick explains how relieved she was to get stuck into a more modestly sized movie, the bold new comedy ’50/50’.
6:32PM GMT 18 Nov 2011
Anna Kendrick is on the couch. It’s a plump, purple-striped three-seater in a London hotel room, to be precise, and she’s perched in the middle of it, dwarfed by bulging cushions.
The 26-year-old actress is half reclining with her legs out to one side and her hands in her lap. Her body language says “I’m deeply enthusiastic yet entirely relaxed about this interview,” albeit without much conviction. Kendrick might be a terrific actress, but her “nonchalant Hollywood starlet” needs work.
She’s here to discuss her new film, the “cancer comedy” 50/50, giving her first serious round of interviews since she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar last year for Up in the Air. She’s been teetering on the line between actress and movie star since, and isn’t entirely delighted by the thought of toppling over it.
“After Up in the Air, for the first time ever, I wasn’t sure if moving 3,000 miles away from everything I had ever known [from her family home in Portland, Maine to Hollywood] had been the right decision,” she says. “There was so much noise, constantly, and I didn’t really know what any of it was about.”
She mimes holding a clipboard. “’You need to be here. This person needs to speak to you.’ There was a lot of urgency over what, in retrospect, seems very trivial. I mean, people were asking me about my shoes,” she gapes, unconsciously flexing her feet, on which she is wearing a pair of decidedly unglamorous moccasins.
Unusually for a young American actress, Kendrick finds talking about herself faintly absurd. She has no compulsion to blab about her “struggle”, although this is partly because she has not had much of a struggle about which to blab. Aged 10, she asked her parents, a history teacher and an accountant, to drive her on the 600-mile round trip to an audition in New York City. Two years later, she was starring in a Broadway run of High Society and had been nominated for a Tony, making her the third-youngest nominee in the awards’ 64-year history.
While this early success was the making of her career, last year’s flush of fame almost had the opposite effect. “Obviously the Oscar nomination itself and the company I got to keep during that time wasn’t trivial, but the rest of it made me wonder what I’d been killing myself for,” she says. “Everyone told me, ‘This is the best moment of your life,’ but it didn’t feel like it. I started on a film two days after the ceremony and it felt like coming up for air.”
That film was 50/50, a bittersweet comedy about Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young radio producer who discovers he has cancer. Kendrick plays Katherine, a freshly qualified psychologist who helps Adam come to terms with his illness. Katherine couldn’t be keener but is totally out of her depth: drawing parallels between this and Kendrick’s month at the eye of the Oscar hype storm feels almost too easy.
“Yes,” she grins. “I think that’s exactly where I got Katherine from. I’m not sure how aware I was of it at the time, although now it feels like obviously that’s what I was channelling. It must have been textbook therapy.”
Kendrick’s role in 50/50 is not unlike Natalie, her self-assured graduate trainee from Up in the Air, and that’s no coincidence. “The most common fantasy I had in childhood was being able to say the right thing at the right time,” she says. “Any chance I have to project intelligence or confidence on screen, I take. I wish I could do it more in real life.”
While we chat, Kendrick often stops and says “I need to phrase this right” or “I hope that doesn’t sound wrong”. Earlier, as I watch her field questions from a panel of journalists who ask almost exclusively about the Twilight films (she plays Jessica Stanley, a role that was expanded from the books after producers realised they had hired a good ‘un), she answers them incredibly carefully, settling on each word as if she’s testing a wobbly stepping stone.
“I know that people have to ask me about Twilight,” she says, when I bring this up. “But it’s tricky to be honest about those films and also,” she pauses, looking for her next stone, “to be discreet. I like sets that feel small. Big sets are difficult; it feels like there’s constant miscommunication. I’ve been lucky so far, but I can see why people don’t necessarily have fun on big movies. Smaller films are really,” she pauses again, “rewarding.” Then she mouths “rewarding” to herself and rolls her eyes.
One big movie that did prove rewarding for Kendrick was graphic novel adaptation Scott Pilgrim Vs the World: she met her boyfriend, the English director Edgar Wright, on the set in early 2009. When asked about Wright, Kendrick clams up, but it’s fair to assume the couple must have bonded at least partly over her enthusiasm for British comedy – during our interview she talks excitedly about Harry Hill, Stewart Lee, Bill Bailey, QI and sitcoms Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and The Mighty Boosh.
Kendrick’s next role has comic overtones: she will co-star in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a romantic drama inspired by, of all things, a pregnancy handbook. While it might seem like an odd move for an actress who found success in a more highbrow milieu, it’s all part of her career plan.
“It’s going to be a big, shiny movie but I’m consciously trying to do different things,” she says. “People want you to do the same thing over and over and then complain that you never do anything else.
“Actresses have to redefine themselves at certain ages – you’re supposed to be an ingénue in your twenties, Kelly Reilly in your thirties and Laura Linney in your forties. And I will try my very best to do that.”
She bounces slightly on the sofa, with nerves, or enthusiasm, or probably a mixture of both. You wouldn’t bet against her succeeding.