Published: Saturday, December 12, 2009, 6:00 AM
You may think this is the year of Robert Pattinson (swoon-inducing “New Moon” mega-stud, cover of Vanity Fair). Or even George Clooney (more seasoned mega-stud, three films, big Oscar buzz).
But maybe it’s Anna Kendrick’s year.
The young actress has a small supporting role in “New Moon,” as Bella’s human high school friend, Jessica, and a large supporting role opposite Clooney in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” the fabulous flick that lands in Cleveland on Friday, Dec. 18.
“Up in the Air” will probably earn Kendrick an Oscar nomination. To kick off the movie awards season, the National Board of Review recently anointed “Up in the Air” best picture, and named Kendrick best supporting actress.
Not bad for the relative newcomer. Part of a pop-culture phenomenon and riding in the clouds with Clooney in the same year.
In “Up in the Air,” Kendrick, 24, is both biting and vulnerable as Natalie Keener, an ambitious efficiency expert who develops new heartless ways for firing people. Her methods clash with Clooney’s Ryan Bingham, a country-crossing corporate downsizer who spends most of the year, happily, in airports and hotels.
Director Jason Reitman (“Juno”), who adapted the film from Walter Kirn’s novel with Sheldon Turner, wrote the part of Natalie specifically for Kendrick. How cool is that?
“It’s incredible. I was totally flattered and bewildered,” said Kendrick from Los Angeles. “I had gotten the role, and I was already trying to act like I wasn’t completely out of my depth. So when he told me that, I tried to play it really cool, like that news was in no way surprising to me.”
Reitman remembered Kendrick from her role as Ginny in “Rocket Science” in 2007, when she played a smart, fast-talking debate-team fanatic.
“When I saw her in that movie, I just thought, ‘This girl has a different voice from everyone of her generation,’ ” Reitman said recently on MTV.
“She oddly talks like someone from the 1940s, and she’s so witty and smart and sharp, and I needed a girl who could go toe-to-toe with George Clooney,” he said.
Instead of trying to force a certain type, Kendrick was a certain type, a 1940s-style actress.
“Most of my favorite films are from the late ’30s and early ’40s,” she said. “My favorite film of all time is ‘The Women’ from 1939. I guess there’s an influence because I’m such a fan of those films, and there’s definitely an influence from that era on the dialogue in ‘Up in the Air.’ I wanted to make it a kind of old-school battle of the sexes. I loved it that this young girl was challenging this older guy in that way.”
Kendrick has been acting since she was 10. She was a smash on Broadway, playing Dinah Lord in the musical “High Society,” and picked up a Tony nomination — at age 12. But she’s appeared in only a few films. So what’s this about being the perfect screen foil for Clooney?
“I certainly wouldn’t have looked at myself as the girl who was going to go toe-to-toe with George Clooney,” said Kendrick.
Whatever level of intimidation she was feeling quickly evaporated once shooting began last March.
“The great thing is, George is the one who goes out of his way to make you feel comfortable. It’s not like you have to psych yourself up for battle every day. I was thinking about what kind of crazy playlist I was going to have to come up with [of things to say] to dish it out to George every day. Then after a few days, you realize, he’s just your goofy acting friend.”
The film, which co-stars Vera Farmiga and Jason Bateman, also benefits from excellent timing. It chronicles the recent rash of layoffs in an interesting and relevant way. Originally, it was more of an aside, but as the economic picture grew grim during the writing process, Reitman and company expanded that theme.
Kendrick’s character grapples with the realities of people losing their jobs, and there’s the added subtext of a young woman finding her way in a cutthroat corporation.
“I think Natalie is kind of frustrated by the fact that she’s female,” said Kendrick. “I think there’s a moment in every girl’s life when she feels like, if she can conquer the corporate world, then she can conquer the boy’s world. That’s where a lot of that drive comes from. She has to be the most ambitious girl and work harder than the men.”
It’s not something Kendrick has had to address in her career.
“I understand that frustration, but I have other ways of dealing with it. I get to play women like this.”