And Radius-TWC will release “The Last Five Years,” Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway musical chronicling the relationship between a struggling actress (Kendrick) and her novelist boyfriend (Jeremy Jordan), in February. After that, Kendrick will be seen reprising her role as a cappella group leader Beca in a sequel to Universal’s 2012 comedy sleeper “Pitch Perfect,” thanks to the hefty DVD sales and platinum-selling soundtrack which boosted that film’s relatively modest $113 million worldwide gross.
Was it a thrill to be making “Into The Woods,” being someone who respects Sondheim’s work as much as you do?
It was a total dream. There was a day when Tracey Ullman and I were just staring at the set wearing these lush Colleen Atwood costumes and Chris Pine was riding in on a horse. The two of us are just standing there feeling so grateful to be there. It was like the old Hollywood dream.
Was Cinderella the “Into The Woods” character you always wanted to play?
No, Little Red was always the role that appealed to me because inside I have always felt like a weird little 12 year old. It was actually a tricky transition to get myself into ingenue head space as opposed to feisty, potentially not-all-there-mentally little girl. But I am closer to 30 than 12 so there is that.
You first collaborated with Sondheim more than a decade ago on your film debut, ‘Camp’, and a New York City Opera revival of ‘A Little Night Music’. How was the reunion?
The best part for me working with him this time was that he was changing some of the lyrics to ‘On The Steps To The Palace’. He wanted to try new lyrics for that song so he was coming in with handwritten lyrics every time I did a take. It made me feel like we were collaborating when obviously we weren’t. I was just doing exactly what he told me to do. But it made me feel all groovy and cool.
You can count yourself as one of the few people to have heard Meryl Streep sing live.
That was a hell of an experience. Meryl sings ‘Last Midnight’ to Cinderella, the Baker and the kid, and James Corden at one point said to me, “People would pay so much money to get to be here.” And that’s really true. The idea that we got to watch Meryl Streep sing ‘Last Midnight’ live is something that people would kill for, and it was we hapless goons who actually got to do it.
How was it working alongside James and Emily Blunt, two of our favorite Brits?
James is blindingly clever. It’s like having ten cats and trying to catch them all. You’ve barely said hello to him in the morning and he’s made you laugh three times. And Emily is just the coolest chick. She’s self-deprecating and warm and really inspirational as an actress; she just puts it all out there.
James is about to take over from Craig Ferguson as a talk-show host. Are you angling to be one of his first guests?
He’d better invite me on, right? I think he’ll be amazing.
Who’s your current favorite talk-show host? Can you even dare say for fear of offending the others?
[Laughs] I don’t have a favorite but the one I haven’t done is Jimmy Fallon and I really want to because I like all the activities that he does. I want to be the first person to completely forego the interview and just do Beer Pong and Flip Cup and Lip Sync Battle. Not talk to each other at all.
You shot ‘The Last Five Years’ before ‘Into The Woods’, which was either a useful vocal tune-up or completely ravaging. How was your throat at the end of that shoot, given that you and Jeremy Jordan are belting your asses off for the entire film?
I’m amazed that it held up the entire time but there were definitely days where I thought, “Thank god Jeremy’s song is tomorrow.” We had a great on-set musical director and vocal coach so she was always warming me up, which I hated because it’s like doing sprints. I would actually equate “The Last Five Years” to running a marathon and “Into The Woods” to ballroom dancing: equally challenging but totally different disciplines. I just drank a lot of coconut water and hoped for the best.
Your ‘Last Five Years’ character endures the usual discouragements of being a struggling actress, from embarrassing auditions to jobs she’d rather not do…
Most actresses can identify with that. Let’s just say I didn’t have to dig that deep to get to that place of feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt and frustration.
You’re also returning as Beca in ‘Pitch Perfect 2’, which you shot during the dog days of summer in Louisiana. Was that as muggy as it sounds?
None of us were prepared for the melting make-up and the sweaty costumes. It was like a trial but, you know, we tried to think that we were just ten ladies in a sauna, relaxing and singing and telling jokes.
The film is Elizabeth Banks’ directing debut and she also reprises her character from the first film. How did she cope with her dual remit?
The crazy thing was that some days she would be playing Gail and they had to get her hair and make-up ready at the beginning of the day. So she’d walk around directing us in jeans and boots but with this insane beehive and grotesque eyelashes and too much blush. It was like being directed by a Tim Burton character.
Do you have a favorite movie musical?
I’m so boring: “Singin’ In The Rain”. It’s just indisputable that it’s the greatest movie musical of all time. And with the modern ones, I couldn’t be more grateful to Rob Marshall for bringing back musicals and “Chicago” happens to be extraordinary.
While today’s youth audiences are more au fait with the genre, did you ever feel uncool being a musical geek when you were growing up in Maine?
Happily, I don’t think I ever realized that other kids considered them uncool until after the fact. As far as I was concerned, I was just the coolest, loving the coolest stuff and being up on the coolest movies. I never realized that other people thought musicals were lame.