“I can’t tell you how terrified I was knowing I was going into this,” “Up In The Air” actress Anna Kendrick told indieWIRE during the Toronto International Film Festival. “I had something like a month after I was cast before we started filming. And the fear was building up inside me… I was really nervous about having to go toe to toe with George Clooney. Because if he wasn’t really game, it would have been impossible.”
A week after the film debuted as a surprise screening at the Telluride Film Festival, and the day after its premiere in Toronto, it’s became quite clear that Clooney must have been game. “Up In The Air” – director Jason Reitman’s follow-up to “Juno” – has been met with universal praise and heavy Oscar buzz in its festival debuts. And much of it has been directed at Kendrick, who it seems didn’t just manage to go toe to toe with George Clooney. She actually stole a few scenes from him.
Kendrick has been acting since aged 12, when she starred in the Broadway musical “High Society,” becoming the second youngest Tony nominee ever. She got her first film role through Todd Graff, who she met while working on “Society,” and who cast her in his 2003 film “Camp.” Since, she’s most notably had a big role in a well-recieved but underseen indie (2007’s “Rocket Science) and a small role in a big film far from underseen (she played Jessica in last year’s “Twilight,” and will continue the role in the film’s sequels). But with “Up In The Air,” Kendrick is likely on the verge of a much more significant spotlight.
In the film, Kendrick plays Natalie Keener, an uptight, control freak of a 23-year old who has just been hired to join Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, at a “career transition consulting firm.” Amidst a crumbling economy, the company thrives as they send employees to travel the United States, helping companies fire people. But Natalie stirs some trouble with an idea to revolutionize the “transition industry” by usuing video conferencing out of corporate headquarters. Ryan, who feeds off his in-transit existence (he gladly spends something like 322 days a year on the road), is horrified. So he decides to take Natalie on a road trip to show her the importance of face-to-face firings, and their adventures lead both characters’ lives to significantly unravel.
“I completely relate to the control freak in Natalie,” Kendrick told indieWIRE. “For the majority of her life, she’s succeeded in staying in control more than I have. But I understand the desire to stay in control and I think I started to feel very protective of Natalie as a character. She’s this girl that has this set of armor, and when she meets Ryan, everything starts to fall apart. There was part of me that almost resented having to show the cracks because I felt so protective of her.”
Jason Reitman has said that he actually wrote the part of Natalie for Kendrick, after being impressed by her work in “Science.”
“I certainly didn’t know that when I auditioned,” she said. “I actually thought that my audition went really poorly. I thought Jason Reitman hated me. So I was so completely shocked when they said I got an offer, especially since it was after my first audition and happened in a matter of days… But I guess he was just trying to stay reserved and professional because he though that giving away that he thought I was right for it was putting too much pressure on me and that it would psych me out and I wouldn’t be able to perform in the audition. Because even though he told me later that he did in fact have me in mind for the role, I still had to go in and prove myself. I mean, I’m not famous and its a big movie. I had to prove myself to everybody else.”
Proving herself on set was guided by the instinctive manner Reitman works with actors. Kendrick said the director was “so intuitive that it was scary.”
“To a degree, it was sort of frustrating and annoying,” she continued. “Because I like to think of myself as not an easy read. And he can just see everything that I’m feeling and would always know when I wasn’t happy with a take. He always seemed to know when you just needed a gratuitous compliment just to make you feel nice. You could see him adjusting his dial to every actor. He could just figure people out immediately and know how to steer their performance.”
Kendrick was also inspired by her larger-than-life co-star, with whom she shares essentially every scene.
“Working with George kind of gives you hope for yourself and all of your peers,” she said quite passionately. “Because he has been working for so long, and he does all these great projects. Everybody knows he’s professional and he’s talented. And he manages to do it without ever being unkind to anyone. He never exhibits any kind of deviant behavior. So if George Clooney had do that and pull it off with such grace and be so generous to everyone around him then nobody else has any excuse. I think that it just makes you realize that sanity is a possibility even if you become someone like George Clooney.”
Though Kendrick is a long way off from that distinction, “Up In The Air”‘s initial response has certainly suggested a step in that direction.
“Yesterday and today have sort of felt like highway hypnosis,” she said regarding the time surrounding the film’s Toronto premiere. “I’m trying to take it all in and be focused and be present. But I’m looking forward to it, as scary as of all it is. Even when I got the job… I mean, any really good news is collared by anxiety because it means that something really big is changing.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.