Starring opposite George Clooney in Up In The Air was, at least at first, a nerve-wracking experience for first-time Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick. “Yes, let’s just say I was terrified,” she laughs. “Who wouldn’t be? I mean, come on, it’s George. He’s one of the biggest stars in the world.”
You’d never know that she suffered from a touch of nerves. On screen, the actress gives a remarkable performance as a self-assured young career woman, Natalie Keener, who has to learn the ropes from an older, more experienced colleague, played by Clooney.
In one remarkable scene she even gets to yell at Clooney and give him a piece of her mind. “Yes, that was a memorable day,” she smiles. “But it was a tricky day, too, and a lot of fun. It’s not often you get to give both barrels to George Clooney!”
Kendrick was recruited for Up In The Air by director Jason Reitman, who was fresh from his Oscar-nominated triumph Juno, a bittersweet comedy about a pregnant teenager, played by Ellen Page. In fact, says Reitman, Page and Kendrick have a similar approach.
“I’d seen Anna in Rocket Science and was just blown away by her,” says Reitman. “I just think she has such a unique voice, similar to Ellen Page, just a voice of her own amongst a generation. I needed somebody who can be witty and fast, and really sharp and go toe-to-toe with George Clooney, giving him shit the entire film. And there was no one that came close to Anna.”
In Up In The Air Reitman delivers another acutely observed tale about Ryan Bingham, a businessman who spends most of his life on the move from one city to the next doing an undeniably unpleasant job: Firing people.
Bingham lives out of an impeccably packed suitcase, stays in stylish but functional hotels and clocks up more frequent flyer miles than a pilot. His life is as neatly packed as his luggage until the outside world—in the shape of two very different women—begin to make him think that he might just be ready to make a real connection.
For Kendrick the central theme of Up In The Air is about connecting to people. “I think it’s about isolation in the modern world. And it’s about these people who think that they have their life’s philosophy all figured out, and what happens to them when they realize that they haven’t.
“I just loved the script. Jason writes so beautifully and he’s so funny and yet it’s really quite poignant, too, because you meet these people at a time when things are starting to unravel for them.”
Originally from Portland, Maine, Kendrick is now based in Los Angeles and is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the brightest new stars to emerge in recent years.
She started acting professionally as a child, and became the second youngest Tony Award nominee ever when she was nominated as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Dinah in the Broadway revival of High Society.
Her first feature film role came along when she was 16. Camp, fittingly enough, was a musical comedy about a group of youngsters at a performing arts camp. It provided the perfect crossover from theater to film for Kendrick. Both the film and Kendrick went on to win huge acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival.
Kendrick has gone on to star as Jessica Stanley in Twilight, the first book to be filmed in Stephenie Meyer’s hugely popular series of vampire novels. She also stars in the sequel, New Moon.
She’s now happily settled into L.A. life, although she admits it took a year or so to find her feet there. “It takes a while to get used to it and it can be a kind of lonely city at first,” she says. “And when I first arrived I didn’t know anybody. But one morning you wake up and it’s home.”
MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Are you pleased with Up in the Air?
Anna Kendrick (AK): Oh yes, I’m so proud of it. I think I would say it’s by far my favorite film experience that I’ve had. It was the most fun and the most rewarding. The combination of this beautiful script and this beautiful character, with George Clooney and Jason Reitman on set all day, everyday, was really fun. You couldn’t ask for anything more.
MM: Is it fair to assume that the character you play is a long way from your own personality?
AK: (laughs) Oh, yes! But that was the fun part about it. Natalie does so many things that I would like to do, and she is unapologetically who she is in a way that I wish I was. Sometimes there are things that you wish you would say or do, and it was easy to transfer that into someone else. Personally, I generally avoid confrontation, so it was a release to play Natalie because she’s not going to back away. And, like I said, getting to yell at George Clooney was pretty cathartic.
MM: I was talking to Jason Reitman earlier and he says he really likes writing women characters…
AK: Yes, and you can tell that. He writes great characters for women. Look at Juno. Look at this film—it’s not just my character, but all the women characters are so well-rounded.
MM: What was it like working with George Clooney. He’s arguably the biggest film star in the world, so that must be a thrill…
AK: George is a really smart and sensitive guy and I’m sure he looked at me and knew that I was pretty terrified. I think you’d have to be insane not to be a little intimidated by him. And he’s aware of the effect that he can have on people, but he does everything to make you feel at ease. He sort of encouraged a really playful relationship—a relationship where I could kind of give him crap and he could make fun of me and I’d give it right back to him. So that when it came to do time to do it on screen it seemed perfectly natural. Really—and I know everyone says this—George couldn’t be nicer. The thing is George makes it okay for you to relax and he makes so much effort to put everyone at ease. And it gets pretty easy after that. I really loved working with him.
MM: But you were terrified at first?
AK: Yes, let’s just say I was terrified. Who wouldn’t be? I mean, come on, it’s George. He’s one of the biggest stars in the world.
MM: Is Jason the kind of director who gives you a lot of time to prepare for a scene or is it “Okay, let’s do it..”?
AK: Well, we didn’t have any rehearsals at all, which was interesting, and certainly made certain things challenging. But at the same time it kept a lot of things really fresh. And he’s certainly very willing to talk about anything with you—he’s incredibly available. But he knows exactly what it is that he wants and just sort of tells you to give it to him, and you can try it your way, but you know that he knows what he’s doing. And so even if it doesn’t make perfect sense to you yet, you know that this is a guy that you should trust.
MM: You started acting at a very young age…
AK: Yes, I danced when I was a little kid. And sang all of the time, too. I was just one of those kids that wanted to perform and wanted to be on stage. And when you’re six you just want to jump around, and then when I was about 10 I still really wanted to do it. I was lucky enough to have parents who treated me with an incredible amount of respect for a 10-year-old girl. They really listened to me—even when that 10-year-old was telling them that she really wanted to be on Broadway. They supported me and let me take a real run at it, and I’ll be forever grateful to them.
MM: And you made your first film at what, 16? What was that like?
AK: I turned 17 when we were filming Camp. You know, it was one of those things, it never really felt like we could possibly be making a real film, because it was just a bunch of kids who’d never been in a film before (laughs). We shot the film at the camp, we were all sort of living there, and occasionally we would go in and shoot a scene. Actually, I think a lot of us thought that it would never see the light of day. We were just a bunch of little hoodlums singing and dancing. It was so much fun.
MM: Making a film must have felt so different from being on stage…
AK: Yeah, it did. But it was a unique and special first film and none of us had been in a film before, so that was rare. And we all came from a theater background so we all had the same kind of experience. It was like ‘what just happened? Did we just film something?’ (laughs). Because there was no audience reaction, of course. On stage, something happens and there’s the energy of the audience and you can feel it—it’s very real.
MM: But I’ll bet you still miss that reaction you get from being on stage..
AK: It’s such a cliché, but there really isn’t anything like it, and it’s one of the weirder parts of the transition—not having the immediate validation. I think we were a bunch of very needy little actors on Camp. Our poor director probably had to tell us how great we were, even more than most directors have to tell their actors.
MM: Well, you were young…
AK: We were young, and we just didn’t really understand how do you know it was good. No one applauded, so how do you know?
MM: But how does it feel now a few years on, when you do a film like this? Which again, is a very sort of, calls for a very subtle performance…
AK: I think it’s a tricky thing. There’s this expression about actors, that they get paid to wait, and I feel like you get paid to multitask. You can be really good at your job, but then you have to remember to turn your face so you’re in your light and drop your shoulder, because George is in the background. And you’re going to cut him off and the whole shot is not going to work if you can’t do all of these things. And just slowly but surely, experience is the only thing that’s going to help that. Hopefully I’m getting better at it.
Up in the Air will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray March 9th.