By KEVIN WILLIAMSON, QMI Agency

Last Updated: 17th December 2009, 5:57pm

Anna Kendrick at the Red carpet screening of "Up in the  Air" at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. (MARK  O'NEILL/QMI Agency)

Anna Kendrick at the Red carpet screening of “Up in the Air” at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. (MARK O’NEILL/QMI Agency)

Anna Kendrick was due for a promotion.

After a decade of supporting film roles (including that of Kristen Stewart’s human gal-pal in Twilight), stage work and niche indie cinema, she graduates to “the grown-ups table” in the terrifically entertaining corporate-themed comedy Up in the Air, which expands its run across Canada today.

Her performance as Natalie — the chipper brittle go-getter who spars with George Clooney’s detached professional downsizer (he fires people for a living) — is already generating heat this awards season.

Up in the Air scored six Golden Globe nominations this week including one for Kendrick for best actress in a supporting role.

An Oscar nomination, if not a lock, would also not be a surprise. And yet Kendrick isn’t gloating. She still sounds a little astounded she was hired at all.

“I’ve worked with phenomenally talented people before, but they’ve been mostly young actors. It was so amazing to sit across from George and Vera (Farmiga) and watch them work. I felt like I was watching Cirque du Soleil; it was just fascinating,” Kendrick remembers. “I was trying to keep up. That pressure was definitely there.”

As it is on-screen for her character, she notes. “Natalie is constantly trying to prove she’s good enough, and to kind of outperform expectations based on her age and her gender. And that was easy to relate to, absolutely.”

She needn’t have worried quite so much. She learned only after she got the job that director Jason Reitman — whose past two films were Thank You for Smoking and the Oscar-winning Juno — had written the role for Kendrick after seeing her in the indie flick Rocket Science.

“I wish he had told me that when I auditioned because I thought he absolutely despised me,” she says.

“He told me that he was trying to be very reserved and very professional because he thought giving away that he had me in mind would put too much pressure on me. It would be like, ‘Hey, I wrote this for you, so don’t screw it up.’ And so he was trying to stay very, very professional.

“But it came off a little cold. I thought, ‘I’ve done nothing to impress him, he hates me.’ So when I got offered the job, I was just thinking, ‘This makes no sense — I’m not a person the studio would want and the director clearly hates me.’

“And then I had lunch with him and he told me all of this and it made me more comfortable. But we still debate whether he should’ve let me know he was rooting for me.”

It’s probably safe to assume all is forgiven.

The character of Natalie is, she observes correctly, uncommonly complex compared to the roles usually offered to young actresses.

“This character could be either gender and almost any age. It has nothing to do with romance or sex. She’s just this well-rounded character with so many dimensions and her own problems. That she’s also female is so rare.”

Should Kendrick nab an Oscar nomination, it won’t be her first experience competing for an award.

At the age of 12, she was nominated for a Tony for her performance in Broadway’s High Society in 1998, which made her the third-youngest nominee ever.

“When they revived Annie on Broadway, every little girl in America went to sing their hearts out, and I was 10 when that happened. So I went to New York to get an agent so I could audition for that, and even though that didn’t work out, they continued to send me out for other shows and I got High Society.”

Yet 12 years after the Tony nomination, she confesses she still doesn’t feel established — or confident there will be another acting job.

“I never feel that way. I always feel — ‘What’s next?’ ”

Small part of ‘Twilight’ craze enough

Just a nibble of the Twilight craze is enough for Anna Kendrick.

“I get to be part of the franchise and sort of go on the ride when I feel like it. But I still have my real life and I can walk away and people don’t speculate about my private life.”

In the movies based on the wildly popular bestsellers, she plays the small but recurring part of Jessica, one of Bella’s mortal friends.

“It’s an insane, insane franchise to be part of,” Kendrick understates. “Most people have never, ever seen anything like the Rob Pattinson phenomenon.”

So much so that even she doesn’t understand the hysteria that he inspires in millions of screaming, delirious fans.

“He’s attractive and funny and charming, but do I get why people do that? No. (His undead character) Edward is like nothing you’ve ever read and I understand why girls go crazy, but I don’t know why there isn’t a disconnect when they see a real human being.”

The fans, she adds, “tend to leave me alone. If they say anything, it’s something nice. I’ve had it easy with that.”

Which isn’t to suggest it doesn’t feel overwhelming even for her at times.

She recalls signing up for a Twitter account.

“Because of Twilight, I had 10,000 followers in 24 hours, which was terrifying. Everything I say on Twitter, I try to keep it benign and work-related because, you know, I have to think, ‘Is this something I want to say to 50,000 people?’ ”

Nor is the madness going to fade anytime soon. She has already completed work on the third Twilight installment, Eclipse, which is due out in June.