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TIFF: Anna Kendrick on Singing Her Way Through ‘The Last 5 Years’

TIFF: Anna Kendrick on Singing Her Way Through 'The Last 5 Years'

Anna Kendrick is in Toronto promoting a number of movies (she’s a busy gal), but one is especially close to her heart. In said film, the musical “The Last 5 Years,” Kendrick gives one of her most appealing performances as Cathy, an aspiring actress trying to hit it big in New York. The film — directed by Richard LaGravenese and based on the hit off-Broadway musical — traces her character’s relationship to Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), an up-and-coming novelist, over the course of five tumultuous years. “The Last 5 Years,” which RADiUS-TWC opens next Valentine’s Day, isn’t the only musical the actress has completed this year. This December sees the wide release of Rob Marshall’s “Into the Woods,” based on the classic Stephen Sondheim musical. Indiewire sat down with the Oscar nominee to discuss “The Last 5 Years” and her current reign as Hollywood’s go-to musical actress.

The film played like gangbusters last night. It was like a night out at the theater with every song getting a round of applause.

Yeah, that was so special. I mean first of all I kind of can’t believe that they let a movie that small play at the Ryerson. It’s so wonderful and I’m just so grateful. But it was a hell of a crowd. That was so special and so exciting.

Is “The Last 5 Years” a passion project for you? I’m guessing it is.

Absolutely! I had the easy bit, you know it’s not like one of those things where I was behind it or anything — it just sort of fell in my lap. I told Richard at the time, “It’s really great that you offered this to me because I would have fought tooth and nail for it and maybe cut a couple bitches to make sure that I got to do it.”

Your character in the musical, Cathy, auditions a lot over the course of the film, something I’m sure you didn’t have to do to land this part.

No, lucky me.

Were you familiar with the show before signing on for the film version?

So get this: “Parade” is my favorite musical and I like adore Jason Robert Brown [the composer of “The Last 5 Years”], and through some kind of universal serendipity I had managed to make the total lifetime mistake of never familiarizing myself with this show.

What about the musical spoke to you? You’ve been acting for how long now? You’re not even 30 yet!

I started when I was 12, that was my first job so —

So you haven’t experienced the struggle Cathy endures over the course of the film.

I think starting young was a huge blessing, but there were certainly times when I was 19 to 22 where it was always a question of like, “Wait, can I pay my electric bill?” And you know, driving down to the downtown location and giving them a cashier’s check. So I could relate.  I think that Cathy’s struggle at that point is less the specifics of auditioning even though that’s very funny, and more just the feelings of inadequacy and the frustration and the self doubt and the way that that eats away at her and consumes her in the way that she projects it onto Jamie.

What was it like to tap into that self doubt?

Easy, therapeutic, I don’t know. It was kind of great and it didn’t feel like I had to reach all that deep. So it was really fun.

During the number where you sing an interior monologue while auditioning, Cathy takes a swipe at Russell Crowe’s performance in “Les Miserables.” The original musical was written before that film came out. Was the dig of your doing?

I did think that maybe Linda Blair [whose name was used in the place of Crowe’s in the stage show] was a little too esoteric. I had said to someone, “Hey listen, in terms of syllables, Russell Crowe fits!” And then I was sort of like, “Oh no, that’s too far. That’s too far.” And then we were there shooting it on the day and I was doing it live and Jason pipes up from the piano and was like “What about Russell Crowe?”  I was like, “Okay we’re doing it!”

You weren’t afraid of incurring the wrath of Russell?

Well, once it was his idea, I could just blame it on him.

That’s not the only time in the film that you sing out an interior monologue. What was it like having to sing with everyone around acting oblivious?

I guess in some ways it’s analogous to acting with a tennis ball or pretending that you’re not on a wire and that you’re fighting, ’cause, you know, there’s all these weird technical aspects to filmmaking that you have to make white noise in the back of your head and focus on what you’re doing. In some ways, it’s similar because this is totally insane and we’re acting like we’re just normal people having a conversation at a party. But then, there’s tons of times where people have green screen dots on their faces and they’re trying to act like, “Oh, I’m so in love with you,” or whatever the thing is.

Did you sing live?

We sang live whenever possible, but obviously it was more important to us to have a visually dynamic movie as opposed to being able to say we did everything live. So when I was in a convertible, there was no reason to do that live — we’d have to do it in the booth later anyway. So we just pre-recorded some of that stuff. And then there were a hand full of lines where —  like with the many pieces of dialogue in every other movie I’ve done — something creaks on the set or the camera buzzes and they say, “You have to do that over again.” But we tried to sing live whenever possible. There were a couple of instances where there were really minor creaks or pops and I was like. “Richard, please don’t make me do that again.” It was such a delicate emotional place. We just made judgement calls on ‘is it more important to make sure that the audio was really clean, or to preserve what was happening in that moment?’.

For the scenes where it was pre-recorded, did you just mime along, or did you sing in live time?

No, I mean you sing it. And they record that so that you can listen to it later on if you’re lip sync is off. And also I would feel like such an idiot just mouthing along — that would be harder, you know? It would be like you can either really hold this light saber that doesn’t have a light on it, or you can just hold nothing.

“Pitch Perfect” really put you on the map for many as a singer, largely thanks to the huge success of your breakout song from the film, “Cups.” You’re now bringing back the film musical in a big way with this and this December’s “Into the Woods.” Was this always your dream, to become the go-to actress for film musicals?

This is the opposite of my plan! [Laughs] I did not mean for this to happen, but obviously “The Last 5 Years” and “Into the Woods” — to say that they are incredible opportunities doesn’t even come close. I wasn’t going to be like, “Oh no, I really shouldn’t do another musical right now, I’m just going to pass.” Obviously I didn’t intend to be Sally Singalong, but they’re just such incredible pieces, they’re dreams come true one after the other.

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