August 12, 2010
Director Edgar Wright has dubbed one of the stars of his Scott Pilgrim vs. the World “Cinema’s Fastest Talker.” And encountering the beautiful Anna Kendrick in person does at first throw you off. She’s so quick-witted and verbally agile that it can be tough to keep up. Luckily, indie-movie God Jason Schwartzman was also in the room to balance things out. The two co-stars of Wright’s new comedy are even more personable and engaging than you would imagine. Having done hundreds of interviews, it’s become relatively easy to tell when a subject truly loves the project they’re promoting and that’s clearly the case with Schwartzman and Kendrick. The conversation that follows feels more like talking about a great experience than pure marketing. Having interviewed star Michael Cera and director Edgar Wright earlier in the same day (read that interview here), that became the jumping off point.
MovieRetriever: I asked Michael and Edgar to give me a question for each of you that would provide a unique, interesting answer. Anna, you’re first courtesy of Edgar – “How does your talking speed sometimes get you in trouble?”
ANNA KENDRICK: Because when we rehearsed our phone calls, they were split screens, and I recorded my dialogue with pauses so that Michael could just listen to me. And when I was recording my side of it, I was like, “No, he’s talking way too fast. I can’t fit my dialogue in the gaps that he’s left.” And they were like, “Well, we were playing him a recording of you.” So, um, you just need to top your personal best.
MovieRetriever: [To Jason] Michael said to ask you what you were wearing under your pants?
JASON SCHWARTZMAN: (Laughs. Pauses.) I’ve never been formally trained as an actor. For that reason, I don’t really have one technique that’s the exact same every time. So, I just kind of do the best I can. It’s sort of like learning a new city.
KENDRICK: You’re avoiding.
SCHWARTZMAN: No, no. Every time it’s just different. So, I got to the set of Scott Pilgrim about three-quarters of the way through the shooting of the movie. They were almost done and Edgar showed me some crudely-edited “other evil exes” and I was like “Wow, Chris, Satya, Brandon.…” I had a lot of insecurity. Very quickly, I saw the movie that I could destroy. Edgar had basically shown me the destroyable film and I was very nervous because I didn’t want to let him down; I wanted to do a good job. I was the last villain. So, I came up with this idea, mostly out of fear, that my character, Gideon Graves … by the time we meet him, he has Ramona Flowers back. I had this idea that my character flew from New York to Toronto with like just a carry-on bag and he didn’t wear any underwear because he rarely wears underwear. They spent the night together and the next morning because she’s his again and he wants ownership – he thinks in that way – he would have worn her underwear; to own her; to have her underwear on him. And I also wore her perfume every day. I asked the costume department to go find me some red silk panties. I came into my dressing room and there were 20 different pairs – silk, mesh, silk-mesh. (Anna shakes her head.) Which doesn’t exist, she says. But I’m almost positive. Every day while I was working and while you watch Gideon Graves, he’s wearing Ramona Flowers’ panties.
MovieRetriever: It’s actually interesting because while it’s extreme it does bring up the question of how you try to ground a character like this one and bring realism to something that could have just been a cartoonish super-villain. How do you balance being “the bad guy” with “a guy who wants to get a girl back?” There’s a realism there.
SCHWARTZMAN: Edgar Wright is why. I describe it as that I feel like there are two kinds of record producers or people in bands. There are people who read about the making of the record and are studio guys who show up and the guy runs through the song and they play. They’re anticipating and kind of banking on chemistry and spontaneity. And then there are people like, from what I’ve read, Brian Wilson who, for lack of a better term, “heard” Pet Sounds in his head and hires these musicians to execute it. In the case of Scott Pilgrim, Edgar is more on the side of seeing something or hearing something in his head and all of us are brought in to help him. We all have our own point of view obviously, but we are looking at him as a conductor. If you look at a piece of sheet music – there are many ways to play the same piece of music. In terms of Gideon Graves, Edgar gave me the ultimate note when he said, “I think Gideon’s passive-aggressive. I think you should kill them with kindness. Be really patronizing. Smile a lot. Look down on him but also try to help him, which is really patronizing.” Edgar and I came up with a scale from overt passive-aggressive to where he really means what he says. And the lines read either way. When he says, “I’m really sorry. I was in a really dark place,” I actually believe that. Edgar was so cool about playing with the degrees to which Gideon was being honest or just being evil. And then Brian Lee O’Malley gave the ultimate other note – “Just remember that this movie isn’t real. It’s told through Scott Pligrim’s eyes. So, don’t be Gideon Graves. Be Scott Pilgrim’s worst nightmare of Gideon Graves.”
MovieRetriever: How’s Edgar different from other directors?
KENDRICK: I feel like working on this film was like being a part of live-action animation. So much of the film is composed in a really specific visual language. You do feel like you are doing choreography even with just your dialogue. It was really challenging. You always felt like you understood the end product but you were, in some cases, a little blind, and you just had to trust that it doesn’t look goofy. You really did feel like you were being puppeteered. That was like nothing I had ever done before. At times, it was really challenging, but it definitely exercised a muscle that you wouldn’t get to normally. You just felt like you really had to be focused and on-the-ball all the time because you had to get it right, the camera had to be right, a light didn’t fall … you felt like you really had to deliver. But I like being challenged like that.
MovieRetriever: A lot of actors might find something so precise like that restrictive. How does he make it feel comfortable?
KENDRICK: I would say it was challenging. I think you felt an absolute trust in what was going to happen because pretty much everybody got to see the footage. So, you knew it looked f**king cool. I can’t say that .…
MovieRetriever: Say whatever you want.
SCHWARTZMAN: Say it girl!
KENDRICK: F**king cool. You knew it would be amazing but it was definitely not without its obstacles.
MovieRetriever: So they showed you guys a lot of effects on-set to make the final product clear?
SCHWARTZMAN: It was pretty amazing how quickly they were turning it around. Even like Michael and I’s fight had been shot with a little HD camera with two stuntmen dressed like us with sound effects and music, just as a guide for Michael and I. She said a great metaphor recently. She said it was like painting over a painting. I LOVE knowing … as specific as you can get, I LOVE. But the thing I really loved was that it felt like Edgar loved the actors and the scenes – he was cracking up so much. You could just feel his enthusiasm. He was excited to have everybody and he really wanted us to feel that way. It was so much fun.
KENDRICK: Nothing is worse for me than not knowing where the camera is, when it’s moving, when it’s on you – it’s truly the most frustrating thing in the world. So, this is the complete other end of the spectrum. Which, as I say, is not without its challenges but totally worth it.
MovieRetriever: And we’ve all seen movies where that’s clear to the audience. “Director-for-hire” jobs. This clearly was not a “director-for-hire” job.
SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. I feel like it’s his biggest budget film and I think it’s mine but it feels so handmade. It feels like everything you see in the movie is Edgar’s choice. It doesn’t feel like it was made by committee. It feels like it’s one guy’s vision.
KENDRICK: And he’s the only person, even with all the super-fans, no one was more excited to see this film than him. So there was never a moment where it was like “Oh, that’ll do.” So, it had to make him explode with laughter or it wouldn’t make it in the movie.
SCHWARTZMAN: I also think that Michael Cera is contagious in that way. He has an ability … I remember when we did the rehearsals. It was me and Michael and Mary and we were sitting around and I was looking at the lines on the page and they were coming out of Michael’s mouth and he makes it sound like it’s not written. He makes it sound like he’s just thinking of it. It’s amazing.
KENDRICK: And I think that’s why people tend to think that he’s just playing himself.
SCHWARTZMAN: He’s not.
KENDRICK: That’s a testament to how talented he is.
SCHWARTZMAN: Most people don’t know he’s English. (Laughs.) I ask him, “Why did you do this? What were you thinking about?” And the thing I get is that he doesn’t … he thinks about these things but ultimately he relies on some sort of God-given talent.
MovieRetriever: Can you speak a little about the Comic-Con experience?
KENDRICK: It was nerve-wracking. It could have been disastrous. It’s always a risk but I think it’s a risk that paid off for us. You’ve got people coming to the theater dressed as Scott, Knives, and Ramona. If those people don’t like it, you’re really in trouble. And we were just so thrilled at the reaction. It sounds like a phone answer but the reaction was great.
SCHWARTZMAN: And those are the people that really care about it. You know, ultimately, I want people to see the movie pretty badly and there are all these other movies coming out and it’s hard to have success but I really just feel like this is a wonderful piece of material and I’m glad we got to be a part of it. That night at Comic-Con, no matter what, will never be taken away. That was a sincere moment between the people who know this a lot and they say they like it and that means the most.
KENDRICK: And seeing them clap for Brian Lee O’Malley was cool. He’s such a stoic presence that pleasing him is like the ultimate thing. Edgar’s SO enthusiastic and Brian’s so stoic that I was like, “Is that okay, Brian?! Was that good?”
SCHWARTZMAN: Every time Brian talks to me, I always feel so happy. “He chose to come talk to me?!?! There’s like ten other people here!”
MovieRetriever: What do you think it is about the source material that makes it so beloved?
KENDRICK: I think Brian stays one step ahead of you and never underestimates you and people really value that. I felt like when I read the comic that I had the sensation of meeting someone for the first time and having that feeling like the first couple of times that they tell jokes you don’t laugh because you’re not really sure if they’re kidding or not. And then you realize that they’re always a step ahead of you and they’re SO smart and so funny.
SCHWARTZMAN: To me it’s like … when Pinkerton came out, this Weezer album. When Rivers [Cuomo] is up there singing, I remember thinking “F**k, he’s singing FOR me. He’s telling the girls that I can’t talk to how WE feel.” And I kind of feel like people who like Brian’s material relate to this guy who’s struggling that can also then fly through the air and punch people without having a special explanation for why. He speaks to the person who’s frustrated and walks in a normal world but has extreme fantasies.
MovieRetriever: How much of your character is from you? Do you have a brother?
KENDRICK: I have an older brother and when I told him about the movie he said, “Oh, so you’ve been preparing for this movie for 24 years. Ha ha ha.” Yeah, I’m just being me. I was SO lazy. I had source material and the REAL Stacy Pilgrim and I’m still just playing me. (Laughs.)
MovieRetriever: What’s next? More Bored to Death?
SCHWARTZMAN: Mored to Death . Yes. That comes on in September and hopefully we won’t lose anyone.
MovieRetriever: I doubt it. It did pretty well, right?
SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. To me, it’s just awesome that that guy gets to have a show. I mean, you meet a lot of people and then you meet Jonathan Ames.
MovieRetriever: And are you done shooting Twilight movies?
KENDRICK: I honestly don’t know. Honestly.
MovieRetriever: Do you have anything after that?
KENDRICK: I shot a movie with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt but it’s untitled and I don’t know when it’s coming out, so that’s a very boring answer.