Every once in a while, a few young actors and actresses emerge who help reassure us all that Hollywood is in good hands. Anna Kendrick, whose latest film Pitch Perfect expands into wide release this week, belongs on that short list. After securing a supporting role in the continuing pop culture phenomenon that is The Twilight Saga, Kendrick went on to nab an Oscar nomination for her superb work alongside George Clooney and Vera Farmiga in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air. That breakout performance led to roles in widely praised films like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and 50/50, and while she currently appears in three movies out in theaters, she has yet another — Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep — set to open in November. In other words, she’s doing pretty well for herself.
Last week, RT chatted with Anna about Pitch Perfect, in which she plays an aspiring electronic music producer who joins her college’s all female a cappella group and helps turn the team into a winner. But first, of course, she gave us her Five Favorite Films, and being that she’s a huge movie fan, we think you’ll enjoy the variety in her choices.
The Women (George Cukor, 1939; 90% Tomatometer)
I love all the Bergman films I’ve seen, but this spoke to me personally in a really profound way. I remember feeling very shaken after watching it. I feel like the greatest thing a writer or filmmaker can do is say something so honest that most people wouldn’t be brave enough and that’s what I love about this film. The characters are deeply flawed and sometimes very ugly to each other, but that’s why it’s so effective.
Next, Kendrick talks about collegiate a cappella, being a drama geek, and fainting on stage.
RT: Let’s talk about Pitch Perfect. You’re obviously a big movie lover, which is interesting because your character here, Beca, is kind of a movie Grinch. Skylar Astin’s character Jesse wants to score films, and he tries to share some of his favorites with Beca, and your reaction to it is “Meh.” But you’re not like that at all…
Anna Kendrick: No, it was a funny thing where I almost thought, “This person isn’t real. A person who doesn’t like movies doesn’t actually exist in the world.” But then there have been people on Twitter who are like, “Oh, I don’t really like movies, but I’m going to check out your new movie!” I’m just like, “Where did you come from?” It’s like saying you don’t like music. It’s baffling!
When did your love for the movies start?
AK: When I was twelve, my dad started showing me some classic movies. So I had a basic education of classics from the ’30s to the ’60s, I guess. Not a ton of them, but that era of filmmaking — it’s kind of wide, but that feels really cozy to me. That feels like home base. And I know that, for most people, if they had to pick an era, it would be the ’70s, but for me, all the visual language of the ’40s feels like home to me.
In Pitch Perfect, one of the movies that plays a particularly key role is John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club.
AK: Yeah, I saw that movie a little late. I saw it probably when I was 18 or something. It was one of those movies where I felt like such an idiot because I had obviously heard about it for years and years. And then you see it and you’re like, “This is great!” and you feel like you’ve discovered something because it’s so great and you want to tell your friends about it, and they’re like, “Yeah, we know, idiot. We’ve been telling you to see it forever.” That same kind of thing happened with Terms of Endearment, and it’s like, “Oh right, there’s a reason that The Breakfast Club and Terms of Endearment are some of the most popular movies of all time.”
Which of the kids in The Breakfast Club do you think you most identify with?
AK: I suppose Ally Sheedy. I was kind of just a drama nerd. That was my world when I was in high school. I would like eat lunch in the auditorium and hang out with all those kids all the time.
AK: Yeah, I started doing theater at around six, and my parents exposed me to a lot of different stuff, like soccer and rock climbing and academic stuff. Performing was just the thing I came back to again and again. Who knows what was going on in my psychology at that age, but that’s what I enjoyed.
Right, and a lot of people might not know this, but you performed on Broadway at a young age and even got a Tony nomination for it, so the stage has been a part of your life for a long time. With that background in mind, do you sort of jump at opportunities like Pitch Perfect where you can showcase your singing ability?
AK: You know, with this one, it felt more like just being able to sing is a nice trick to have up my sleeve. It’s a nice thing to have on my resume, as it were. But for me, the thing that I loved about this script was everything surrounding the singing. I think it could have been a cappella, it could have been chess club, it could have been math club. You know, I think it’s about the way that, even within a really geeky subculture, there are gods, there are rock stars, and I think that’s the case with everything. I thought a lot about King of Kong when I was reading this script. So to me, it actually had nothing to do with music in this particular case. If anything, I just knew that was going to make the filmmaking process harder. I was just really drawn to Kay Cannon’s writing and her voice; I think 30 Rock is the best show ever made, and I was just excited about this script.
Based on your experience, is it more difficult to rehearse for a stage production and then do it live in one shot, or is it more difficult to capture that same live theater energy when you’re shooting a film about stage performance?
AK: I think the latter. I insisted that any time I sing alone in the movie that I got to do it live, because I just think that you, as an audience member, can feel when it switches over to a pre-recording. I understand that, obviously, with the nature of some of the musical numbers, you just have to pre-record it, but as far as when I’m singing on my own, it’s not too complicated and I trust myself to be able to show up and do my best, better than I could in a recording studio, really. So every time I open my mouth when I’m on my own in the movie, I’m singing on set.
Here, you’re also surrounded by a lot of other talented people as well. Did you guys form bonds specific to your individual groups?
AK: Well, I think we all bonded. You know, the girls, seven out of ten of us came from just an acting background, and even though we all came to the table with some level of singing ability, we didn’t come from this world, and I think eight out of the ten guys came from this world, so we were just so impressed with them. Only three of our girls had experience in the a cappella world, but a lot of the guys were from the collegiate a cappella world. I tried to hang out with those kids as much as possible to try and have it rub off on me. They had so many ringers in their group, and their energy and their work ethic was really infectious.
And how familiar were you with that world before the movie?
AK: When I was 18 — that’s when I first moved to LA — a friend of mine had a crush on a guy in an a cappella group, so I got dragged to this competition between UCLA and USC, and they had a bitter rivalry. I thought it was going to be the most excruciating night of my life, but by the end of it, I’m like on my feet and I want to meet them, I think they’re the coolest, and I’m like starstruck by them. And once again, that was something I was thinking about when I read the script, which is like, that’s absolutely true the way that these kids shouldn’t be cool, and outside of their little world they’re not cool, but within it, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
AK: I’m kind of an everything girl. I feel like, you know, in the grand scheme of things, my musical tastes are probably pretty pedestrian. I’m not going to pretend I’m like all up on the music scene. But there’s obviously a lot of pop music in this movie and I think it works and it gets the job done.
One of the moments I really love is… Any time I get to embarrass this character, because she thinks she’s so cool, which she’s not — she’s an 18-year-old girl who’s mad at her dad, you know; she’s not a cool girl and she has no right to think that she’s above these other more obviously dorky girls — and so I love that she has like a shameful, secret Miley Cyrus love. That moment was really, really funny to me and said a lot about her character. You know, I think Beca sees herself as sort of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I think it was really fun for me to break her down. I think that’s when the audience gets on her side, is when they realize she’s not actually “too cool for school.” She’s secretly weird just like everybody else.
That’s actually when I knew the movie had gotten to me, was when I found myself swaying in my seat to Party in the USA, of all things. But this is a good example of the movie blending its musical strengths with comedy, and Pitch Perfect has a lot of funny moments, thanks to a really great cast with surprisingly good chemistry. A lot of people are talking about Rebel Wilson, who’s fantastic, but Hana Mae Lee, who plays Lilly, also had some hilarious one-liners, for example.
AK: Yeah, obviously Rebel is like the MVP of the movie, no question, but we’ve got amazing people scattered throughout. Hana Mae Lee in real life is the funniest person, has the sweetest personality, and then when she goes into this Lilly character, it’s like her whole face changes, you know what I mean? It’s not just how she delivers her lines; it’s like, I see a change in her, physically, the second that she’s Lilly from when she’s Hana.
Here, you sort of anchor the movie as the “straight man,” so to speak, but you’ve always displayed impeccable comic timing throughout your career. When you got into acting, did you see yourself fitting so well into comedic roles?
AK: It’s hard to say. You know, I started so young. It’s interesting because I think… Like, Katherine in 50/50 ended up getting a lot of laughs, but she isn’t a funny character. So I guess I didn’t think about it as one way or the other, like the fact that Beca’s a straight man. I played her the same way that I played Katherine; it’s just that one of them turned out to be really funny. Does that make sense? It’s like one of them came out funny because she didn’t know she was funny. So it’s not like I’m hitting for big laughs, yeah.
Do you have a preference between doing more dramatic roles and funnier ones?
AK: I guess I’m drawn to… I think, even when I read serious scripts, the moments that I connect to are the little glimpses of humor, because, you know, I think every script, no matter how serious it is, has bits of humor in it. Even End of Watch is really funny. So those are the moments where I can kind of see what I can do with it that’s different, and I feel like that’s the easiest way for me to get inside a character’s head, is through the humor, like what sense of humor they have.
In the 2003 movie Camp, which was also a musical, the character you play makes another character vomit on stage, and then it happens here in Pitch Perfect, too. So this must happen all the time during stage performances, right?
AK: Oh my god, I hadn’t put that together; that’s so interesting. Well, a lot of people in choir pass out. That happens a lot. I bet if you YouTube that, there will be a veritable cornucopia of kids passing out, because you stand with your knees locked, and you’re nervous, and you’re using your diaphragm. I’m sure there are a couple vomit videos out there, but I’ll bet you there are a lot of passing-out videos. When I grew up doing choir, I felt like once every performance, some girl or some guy went down. But it’s never happened to me, thankfully.