Kendrick’s rise was so immediate and stratospheric, she can still barely believe it happened. Credit the Stephenie Meyer Effect. “None of us knew that Twilight was going to be such a big deal. We really thought we were just making this little movie. Maybe it would turn out OK, maybe a few people would see it, maybe it would break even,” she says. “We were all just happy to have jobs.”
Kendrick relished the opportunity to play a high school student so completely opposite from her own adolescence — her version of Twilight’s Jessica Stanley is a prickly, self-absorbed gossip girl — just the same as she embraced Natalie Keener, the tightly coiled corporate lass she portrayed in Up in the Air, a role Kendrick says is “much closer to who I am.” The similarities may or may not be coincidental; either way, the film’s screenwriter and director Jason Reitman, a longtime fan of Kendrick’s work, penned the role of Natalie specifically for the young actress.
“You get a lot of stuff from Anna that you don’t get from other young performers. Her voice is so clearly articulated,” Reitman says. “What impresses me most is her ability to play a part without judging a character and her obsession with honesty in the moment.”
For Kendrick, the gig was a no-brainer. “People ask me what drew me to Up in the Air and I’m, like, ‘Is this a joke?’ It’s George Clooney and Jason Reitman and the script is beautiful and they actually want to hire me,” she says. “It didn’t matter what the movie was about, really. I was just so lucky to be asked to do it.”
Today, Kendrick is exercising a more powerful voice in the projects she chooses, and she’s doing her best to choose wisely. She recalls a piece of advice she was given before Up in the Air premiered. “Everyone told me, ‘After this movie comes out, you’re going to be offered a lot of movies and 99 percent of them will want to cast you as the character you just played, but with a different name. Don’t do those projects,’ ” she says. “And it’s true: Almost every script I’ve gotten has been, ‘Rebecca, overachiever, business suit, uptight.’ I don’t think I can do that any better than I have.”
Kendrick, whose favorite films are screwball comedies of the 1930s such as The Women and His Girl Friday, is particularly sanguine about this month’s Scott Pilgrim — which is “stylistically, tonally and visually like nothing anyone’s ever seen before,” she promises — and is presently holding out for the right roles in the right projects. She would love to do a musical comedy and deeply desires the opportunity to deliver more crackerjack dialogue in the Cary Grant–Rosalind Russell mode, the kind rarely offered up by contemporary cinema. After several years of playing strong women in search of their softer sides, Kendrick is looking to portray women “who feel a little lost or a little vulnerable,” she says. “Maybe the interesting part of that job would be finding the character’s strength. This is certainly a reflection of what I’m going through in my life right now.”
And if her good fortune should expire — if she doesn’t find the character she’s yearning to play or nobody wants to hire her ever again and she’s suddenly small again — what would she do? Kendrick, who has recently discovered a passion for baking, has a viable plan B.
“I could just walk away and go to culinary school or something,” she says with a winsome smile. “With a movie, I work for a few weeks or months, but the movie doesn’t come out for a year and it takes so long to know if people like what you did. And even if they do, you’re only a small ingredient in a bigger thing. With baking, it’s cause and effect, instant response. You can always say, ‘I made this.’ That’s an important instinct in human beings, I think.”
Reitman, for one, is confident Kendrick won’t be sending tuition checks to Le Cordon Bleu anytime soon.
“She’ll be working long after the rest of us,” he says. “She is so well beyond her years that it will be exciting to see who she is when we all catch up with her.”