50/50 - Anna Kendrick interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ANNA Kendrick talks about playing an inexperienced, awkward psychologist in cancer comedy 50/50 and some of the challenges it involved.
She also talks about her own career and its associations with Twilight but why she feels more comfortable and more rewarded on smaller sets such as Up In The Air.
Q. When did you first get approached for 50/50?
Anna Kendrick: Well, I read the script mid-2009 and sort of didn’t hear anything about it. Then, sort of out of nowhere, at Christmas, they sort of offered it to me and I was really excited. I thought it had disappeared. But it came back.
Q. It’s very ‘Kendrick’-ian. Did they always have you in mind?
Anna Kendrick: Well, now Seth [Rogen] and Will [Reiser, writer] and Jonathan [Levine, director] will say ‘we had her in mind the whole time’ but you never know about that sort of stiff. It wasn’t written for me, no. It’s funny because I wonder to what degree they were expecting me to do this sort of same performance as I did in Up In The Air and at a certain point I felt like that’s exactly what they wanted and I felt badly because I felt I was tricking them into offering me a part and then planning to do something else. But everybody was happy with what I was doing, so it was fine.
Q. Did the character change very much from the first time you saw the script?
Anna Kendrick: Well, it did and it didn’t because somebody had told me – and they were misinformed – that Katherine was based on a real character and that her dad was a therapist and her heart wasn’t really in it but she felt like she had to carry on the family business or something. I met with Jonathan after they’d offered me the part and said that I can’t really reconcile that back story with what’s on paper, and he said: “Good news, she’s not a real person, so we can do whatever we want!” So, we tried to come much more from a place of a girl who cares so much and is so excited to help people that she is sort of getting in her own way a lot and that was much more exciting to me. So, it didn’t feel like what was on paper was changing but it felt like I was given permission to try something else.
Q. Do you still feel as though you have a responsibility towards psychologists in general though? Seth has mentioned that doctors have complained about their depiction in the film… Did you want to avoid similar complaints?
Anna Kendrick: Yeah, I’ve been really nervous about that. A woman at the New York premiere came up to me and said: “I’m a psychologist…” I was expecting a verbal lashing but she was really cool about it. It’s a lot easier being the inexperienced and laughably bad psychologist, so I figured I could get away with a lot more. It’s a pretty condensed version of every mistake that a young psychologist could make. But I met with this woman who had enough experience to say: “These are the mistakes that I made…” So, I tried to channel all of that into one character.
Q. Did you feel any extra pressure because Will Reiser, the film’s writer, essentially lived through the whole film?
Anna Kendrick: It never felt like pressure, it felt like a relief. If we’d been making a comedy about cancer based on an idea that popped out of somebody’s head that would have been really terrifying. So, having him as our writer but also having him on-set all the time felt like he just kept us honest. So, there was never a moment where we felt like: “Oh my God, some cancer patient is going to see this and we’re going to be crucified for it.” We had a friend sitting in the same room to be our cancer Sherpa.
Q. It’s also a more romantic role for you?
Anna Kendrick: Yeah, my first actually, which I didn’t realise until after we started shooting some of the flirtatious scenes and particularly the final scene. I was so exhausted and I couldn’t figure out why. It’s kind of like, well these kind of things are really simple and I mentioned that to Joe [Gordon-Levitt] that it was my first romantic role… I always play weirdos, so I’ve never had a love interest, and it was great to hear from him that it was OK and that it is a lot harder than it looks. It’s not like I was just sucking! It was difficult to stay charmed for 12 hours, for both of us I’m sure…
Q. But did they leave those sort of scenes until later in the shoot?
Anna Kendrick: Yeah… well, our first scene together was the scene where I drop him off at his house and I sort of give him my number and we had met 20 minutes prior to shooting that scene. So, that’s a testament to Joe, so to keep that going… I don’t know if it got easier or harder. There’s a sense of discovery at first and once you’re friends and you’ve said the same thing to each other 50 times, it’s hard not to just start faking it. It’s hard to keep that sense of discovery. But I’m really, really glad to have had him as my first romantic interest because, as he pointed out, it’s a lot harder if you don’t get along.
Q. You seem to move between the independent film world with a fairly meaty role and then jump into something like Twilight…
Anna Kendrick: There it is… [laughs]
Q. I’m curious about what you prefer to do? A career of more in-depth roles or going for the pay-day type role?
Anna Kendrick: [Laughs] I like sets that feel small. Sets that feel really big are difficult. When you’re on a big set it feels like there’s constant mis-communication, so the thing that gets you through it is being surrounded by cool people. So, I’ve been lucky so far. But I can see why people don’t necessarily have fun on big movies like that. But this kind of thing [50/50] is really rewarding and some of that can get lost on a big movie. I adored everything about Scott Pilgrim and making Scott Pilgrim but there’s a lot of time in between takes and you’re sort of waiting and the pressure builds and you do your one little part in this big movie and sort of obsess about it for a really long time because it’s all this build-up and then this quick thing. So, with stuff like this you’re able to relax a lot more. I think Jonathan [Levine] was a big part of that. He really makes you feel like you’re hanging out and then occasionally it was like ‘oh, I guess we should go and make this movie’.
Q. It sounded like you were playing Twilight bingo there, just waiting for somebody to say the magic word…
Anna Kendrick: Well, it happens invariably.
Q. But does it still dominate your world after something like Up In The Air?
Anna Kendrick: No but it dominates interviews because people want to hit-whore, as it goes… isn’t that a thing, hit-whoring? So, I guess I try to keep my comments boring and minimal because otherwise it seems like I gave an interview about Twilight. But I know that people have to ask about it because otherwise they’ll get into trouble. So, I get it! But it’s tricky to try to be honest and then also be aware that you don’t want it to dominate everything that you try to talk about.
Q. You’re in a fortunate position, though, because someone once said about you, that you’d walked away from it ‘unscathed’… You’re associated with it and your part has been bumped up in the sequels, but you’re not like Kristen and Robert in terms of profile. Is that kind of something you’ve ever imagined for yourself?
Anna Kendrick: Yeah, I have anxiety dreams about it. I can’t imagine what that’s like, I really can’t So, I feel really lucky to have gotten all the best parts of that experience and none of the worst parts.
Q. It’s a reciprocal thing, though, isn’t it? In Eclipse you get the graduation speech, which was done for you, and they’re saying: “It’s the Up In The Air girl, look who we’ve got’! So, you’ve been able to do it without compromising being an actress…
Anna Kendrick: Yeah, I mean they definitely seem to want to throw me a bone, which is cool. Weirdly, I feel like that’s based more to the fans’ reaction to the zombie monologue in New Moon. So, they wanted to give me a thing that I do in every movie. So, I’m happy to have my one little thing. But it doesn’t feel like it’s a reaction to the work that I’ve done outside of it. The thing is, I am not putting a single butt in a seat. People come to see those movies for the story and for the other actors and they sort of just give me a thing to do to fill a little bit of time. So, it’s not like they’re trying to put me front and centre to sell more tickets… they don’t need to do that.
Q. Do you feel that your Twilight association is helping to put bums on seats for something like 50/50 though?
Anna Kendrick: Oh, I hadn’t really thought about it. I doubt it. I don’t know. My feeling is always based on people go to see movies based on what they think the movie is going to be. If they happen to see that they don’t recognise a single actor in it, they’re less likely to go because they think it must be a stupidly bad movie or something. But I don’t know that many people that go based on actors. There doesn’t seem to be that kind of following for anybody that people had for Cary Grant. So, I don’t know that actors are doing that at all anymore. So, I guess you just sort of hope to be in a movie that people go and see based on the movie itself. I mean, I certainly don’t think that I have to worry about that kind of thing. That would be a nightmare!
Q. What do you think would put bums on seats for 50/50? Do you think people will respond to it because it’s something that might have happened in their life?
Anna Kendrick: Well, it’s tricky certainly, a comedy about cancer, tricky! But I think knowing that it’s a true story and especially the thing of seeing Seth essentially playing Seth is fascinating to me… that’s why I would want to see it because Seth was actually the best friend to this guy. I mean, when has that happened before? So, I think with a movie like this a lot of it is word of mouth because I know a lot of people that say to my face, which always amazes me, ‘I was thinking about seeing it but it’s going to be such a downer because it’s about cancer’. I think it takes having a friend see it and say ‘no, it’s really good because it’s not like a sappy cancer movie’ to make them want to.
Q. Was the set kind of blokey?
Anna Kendrick: The old boys’ club? I didn’t find that at all. I was nervous about it, particularly because I showed up a little later than everybody else and I was really, really pleased with how welcoming everybody was. I did not find that there was an atmosphere of exclusivity or male dominance at all. If anything, it felt like everybody was on their best behaviour because a lady had arrived [smiles].
Q. From your experience, how was Seth playing Seth? He says he’s not that close to the person he’s playing. But how did you see that?
Anna Kendrick: Um, well it’s hard because Seth is so insensitive in the film and I don’t find him to be an insensitive person at all. I think he is smart enough to know when a joke is inappropriate and reaches that line but doesn’t, from what I’ve seen, really step over it. I do think it’s an extreme version of the immature Seth that he may have been at 23. But he’s been nothing but really open, in my experience, and I feel like he, actually, is definitely – along with Will – who have this infallible bullshit barometer on-set, where if something didn’t feel honest he would be the first one to point it out. So, it doesn’t feel to me that he was the guy with the shtick, which maybe Kyle has. He’s more open, I guess.
Q. Were you ever given notes about a scene… like, ‘that wasn’t how it happened’?
Anna Kendrick: Of course, the only scene I can think of is this moment where I go and see Joe in the hospital and we were about to start shooting and Joe sort of popped his eyes open and said: “Get Will in here, get Will in here!” And he was like: “Will, what’s morphine like?” So, Will had to give this detailed description of what it feels like to be on morphine. So, that was a fun day!
Q. You’ve been seen at film Q&As. Why do you go? Isn’t it like a busman’s holiday?
Anna Kendrick: Wait, wait, what is strange about that?
Q. I don’t go to many journalist Q&As….
Anna Kendrick: Wouldn’t you? If there was someone you admired?
Q. Which ones have been particularly memorable for you?
Anna Kendrick: Well, it was one of my first Q&As but Tilda Swinton did one after she did Michael Clayton and I just thought: “Oh, this is clearly the coolest woman alive!” I remember her talking about her character being a bad actress who is poorly cast. It’s funny because I almost feel that way about Katherine, that once she gets over these anxiety hurdles, she’ll be good at her job. But right now, she’s so out of her depth… it feels like bad acting. Her advice is so stilted and her body language and her inflection is a product of what she thinks she’s supposed to be doing. So, it feels like you’re weirdly playing a bad actress.
Q. You have that moment with the touch, of course…
Anna Kendrick: Oh that was even weirder to shoot than it looks! It felt like: “I know I have to do this because it’s coming up in the scene but this is so bizarre!” But obviously that was perfect because she thinks she’s supposed to and it doesn’t come across well because she’s her kind of person. But I felt so weird about touching Joe… super weird.
- Read our review
- Seth Rogen interview
- Anna Kendrick interview
- Will Reiser interview
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