If you have two ears and an Internet connection, you’ve probably heard Anna Kendrick‘s “Cups,” a sing-song-y tune from her sleeper hit “Pitch Perfect.” You could have very easily not seen “Pitch Perfect” and still heard “Cups” – it was everywhere. So it’s not that big of a surprise to learn that Kendrick is anchoring a big budget studio musical, Disney‘s “Into the Woods,” based on a beloved show by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, for “Chicago” director Rob Marshall. In the film she plays a skewered version of Cinderella, who learns that having the prince fall for you isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We recently sat down with Kendrick and talked to her about the development process (she was part of a preliminary script reading that happened in 2012), what she took away from the movie, and just how thrilled she’d be to see an Anna Kendrick version of Cinderella walking around the Disney parks. (Hey, it could happen.)
One of the things that comes across from talking with Kendrick is a sense of surprise. She was surprised when she was offered the part (especially because she thought she was better suited for another role) and that the “Pitch Perfect” song was such a big hit and that “Into the Woods” turned out so well. It’s endearing and speaks volumes about the kind of vulnerability she is able to lend to her performances; clearly it’s from an easily tapped well. It’s this vulnerability, backed by her steely resolve, that makes her Cinderella such an engaging screen presence and unlike any fairytale princess you’ve seen before.
You were involved in the initial 2012 script reading.
What was going through your mind then?
To be totally honest, at that point I didn’t think they were ever going to make the movie. I love this material from the bottom of my heart, but it’s really challenging. It’s challenging in every way – logistically and musically and thematically – and I just thought no one is going to put up the kind of money it would take to make something like this unless it is the safest, most squeaky clean, guaranteed money maker. And I’m so thrilled that a studio like Disney is brave enough to make a movie where everything goes sideways. And not just everything goes sideways but their beloved tales go sideways. It’s so exciting. So when I was doing that reading I was thinking, Wow this is such an honor to be performing this in front of these people and for Rob Marshall and Sondheim and James Lapine. I was also thinking, See you guys maybe never again! I was so bowled over that they let us make it and that they threw the kind of support that they did behind it – gave us a month of rehearsal. It was definitely a tight shooting schedule and an ambitious one but they’ve been so supportive it’s amazing.
Did anything change from that initial reading to what you shot?
I’m not sure. I don’t think so. I think the bones of it were there. It wasn’t like, “Oh this song was in, this song was out.” It was mainly on the page. Some of the cast changed, but I watched James Corden do that scene with his father in the woods five times and I cried all five times, including the time we were in front of all the Disney executives. I was like, Hold your shit together. But he’s just so talented! He destroys.
You had been a fan of the original musical.
Yes. The music is not easy and you always wonder: Do you have to be obsessed with the musical to even follow the story? I’m so happy that people who didn’t know the material beforehand are still engaged.
But there was a minor uproar about things being altered or removed from the play.
We can’t make a four-hour movie, that’s the only thing I can say. Every cut was excruciating, even little things like there’s a line in “He’s a Very Nice Prince,” “How can you get what you want if you see what you want if you like it,” and then another line, “If you know you can’t get what you want, what’s your profit in wishing?” So there are songs that got cut and pieces of songs that got cut and every one was horrible. It was painful because it’s Sondheim and he doesn’t waste a single word. There’s never a single moment in any Sondheim musical where you go, “Well that could have gone.” But you cannot make a four-hour movie. People think they want an exact representation. I want to see a 13-hour adaptation of “Harry Potter,” but it’s not going to happen. I think I would secretly hate it. Those are the decisions we had to make. And I think that hopefully people will go to the musical and be exposed to all of those other themes because they liked “Into the Woods.”
You’ve obviously done a lot of singing in this and “Pitch Perfect.” Was that ever a career path you thought about going down?
No. I’m so happy that people are making these movies with music in them, because that’s as close as I’m ever going to get to the music industry, thank you very much. The movie industry can be tricky and occasionally creepy and I have this sense that the music industry is just shady as hell. I don’t want to be a part of it.
Wasn’t the “Cups” song a #1 hit?
Yes. And then it became a whole question of: Do you want to do an album? And it was like: no.
There’s nothing appealing to you?
I don’t write music. So if I did write music and I had something to say, then absolutely. But I don’t feel the need for expression in that way and while there are amazing songwriters out there, there are better singers who can sing those songs. I am neither such a great songwriter or such a great singer that the world must hear my album. There’s just no point to make.
Would you ever do a Broadway musical?
I would love to do that. It’s just a matter of getting the courage to go back on stage. It’s been 10 years now that I haven’t been on stage and it’s about wrapping your brain around doing something eight times a week. I’m glad I got to do “The Last Five Years” and “Into the Woods,” which are both shows that I just don’t think I could have the stamina to do them eight times a week. I just have so much respect for the women who do these vocal roles eight times a week. They’re so challenging.
Did doing “Into the Woods” stoke something in you that made you think you could do a role like that on Broadway?
Honestly, a lot of it is about vocal range and I think I could probably do the baker’s wife but I couldn’t do Cinderella.
What surprised you the most when you were watching the final movie?
One thing that surprised me, and I’m so happy, and I hadn’t really been talking about it. And we were just at this press conference with everybody and I just thought, This is important to me so to hell with it. And one thing that surprised me was that I had this intention with the scene with the Prince where we have a hard conversation about what we want. And that was about civility and compassion and I thought it would be really easy to just confront him and call him out and be angry and hurt. And I think there’s something really beautiful in respect within separation and my parents showed me that when I was growing up. I feel like the thing that is represented over and over in media is separation where one person is wrong and one person is right and everything is tied up into a little bow with good and evil. I think that I was so happy that that came across on screen. And I think it did, in a big way. I was so moved watching that scene and watching Chris [Pine] be so open in that scene, not be the dog with his tail between his legs. Be the guy who says, “I finally see you for who you are, but if you don’t want me, I’m going to go back to being the storybook character.” He does. But they do it with love. There’s love in that scene. And I feel like that’s never, ever seen in scenes like that.
Was Cinderella always your favorite fairy tale?
No. I liked “Hansel and Gretel” because I liked the idea of a house made of candy. That sounds like a joke but it was my main reason for loving that story. And I loved “The Little Mermaid” growing up. “Cinderella” the cartoon scared me. I watched the bits with the mice and the scenes with the stepsisters ripping her dress apart scared me. Cinderella was never even my favorite character in “Into the Woods.” I thought I would be auditioning for Little Red, because she’s mostly played by a grown woman on stage. So when my agent called me, I was like, “Great.” Then they told me I was auditioning for Cinderella, I just thought I don’t know how to sing in that range, I don’t know how to be that warm, open person, because I’m so awkward and so closed off in so many ways and Cinderella wears her heart on her sleeve and is so vulnerable. I think it’s amazing that Rob gave me that opportunity because it’s so not what I’m known for and so not what I am in real life.
Conceivably there could be an Anna Kendrick version of Cinderella walking around Disneyland. Have you ever thought about that?
Oh wow… No, surely they’ll stick with the original cartoon.
There’s the Angelina Jolie Maleficent and the original cartoon version; they’re in two different parks.
Really?!?! Oh whoa… That is exciting!
“Into The Woods” opens on Christmas Day.