Though Rob Marshall's “Into the Woods” shrinks the original Sondheim musical from its three-hour runtime to a lean 124 minutes, its fairytale characters haven't lost any dimensionality. Arguably the most dynamic role is Cinderella, whose conundrum about romantic fulfillment and self-sufficiency seems only apropos in the age of “Frozen.” Anna Kendrick takes to the role with her familiar blend of innocence and sardonic intelligence, and it's no surprise her character's dilemma is so taxing when one considers that her Prince Charming (Chris Pine) is so comically posturing in his valiance.
Kendrick's appreciation of Broadway is easily traceable; she earned a Tony nomination as a 12-year-old for the stage adaptation of “High Society” in 1998. We caught up with the Oscar-nominated actress to discuss the toughest parts of filming the fairtytale extravaganza, working with difficult actors, and why Meryl Streep reminds her of her “Up in the Air” costar George Clooney.
HitFix: Whose response to the film are you most looking forward to getting?
Anna Kendrick: I mean, the theater fans are the end-all for everybody I think. That's not to say we're not thrilled when people who weren't familiar with the piece enjoy it. It's just when somebody prefaces their statement with, 'I was in 'Into the Woods' in high school and I love Sondheim,” then we're just like, 'Oh, gosh, what will this person say?'” So far the reaction has been great and it makes my heart grow ten sizes every time a theater fan likes the movie because I've been so, so pleasantly surprised at the acceptance of the fact that it's a three-hour musical turned into a two-hour movie. We're pleased that people think we honored the spirit of it even though obviously some things had to go. They were painful cuts for us, believe me.
Whenever I see you do interviews, you seem to relish in being off the cuff and candid. Did you get a chance to perform anything spontaneously in “Into the Woods”? It seems like such a precisely staged movie.
I mean, I have a lot of fun with Emily [Blunt]. Those scenes, to be weighing a decision and almost having a debate with the baker's wife meant that there was a lot of room for discovery. “Spontaneity” implies improv, and of course there just wasn't a lot of that going on. Those scenes were exciting because we were singing those live; ato be talking yourself into something and out of something as the angel on your shoulder is going, “This is a great opportunity! He's a prince!” — those scenes felt really, really alive. For other scenes, Sondheim's music is so alive that it's not like other work where I might think, “This is getting really stale, I'm just falling into this third chorus.” Sondheim demands your focus and energy in a way that forces you to be totally present. It's exhausting, but there's no danger that it's going to feel like the 500th performance of “The Phantom of the Opera” on a regional tour or something.
I heard that you and Chris Pine cracked each other up on set. How do you get along with actors who aren't as sociable?
Oh my goodness. I mean, it's hard because — obviously on the record, everyone I've ever worked with has been amazing and we've gotten along like a house on fire. But everyone's different. Everyone has a different process, and that's valid. Sometimes that person's process can be detrimental to your own. You're kind of in a tricky position because you want to be a team player but you also want to protect your own performance. It's a balancing act, I guess. I think that's true of any work environment. If you have a coworker and you're working together towards something, you might still be very different people. There's no formula, I guess. You're kind of going through it every day.
Your definitive performance, to me, is in “Up in the Air.” For some reason I feel like George Clooney and Meryl Streep would have a similar energy. Am I wrong?
I think they are two peas in a pod, quite frankly! I have met some super famous people and worked with some super famous people, and I forget that George and Meryl are in a league of their own in terms of respect that people have for them within the industry. I think they share a quality which is just a generosity of their time and energy. It feels silly to say because it seems like an easy thing to do to be nice to everybody, but I think there are people in our lives we wouldn't notice if they weren't nice to us on a certain day because we're not in their world. But every interaction that you have with George or Meryl means something to you because it's a big deal for you. They take that into account! They go so above and beyond to make sure that every interaction they have with everyone they encounter is relaxed and that that person has their full attention. They just want to make you forget that you're talking to somebody you're afraid of. I saw that in Meryl the first day of rehearsal. I was like, “Oh! You're just a female George. In the best possible way.” I think there's a reason they are who they are, and it's not just because they're transcendently talented. They've reached the echelon that they have because they're extraordinarily kind human beings.
Do you have a favorite Meryl performance?
I do enjoy Meryl in “Death Becomes Her.” It's just so delicious, her performance in that. I mean, if I'm picking a Meryl performance as a spirit animal, I'm going to go for that.
Lastly, is it at all limiting as an actor when you know you're catering, in some degree, to children? Do you feel you have to alter your performance to make it kid-friendly?
I mean, I saw “Into the Woods” when I was really young and I felt really challenged by it — but in a really good way. I knew it would be something I would revisit again and again in my life even at 10 years old. To me, there was never a sense of, “I need to censor myself,” but I did appreciate the fact that you have a responsibility for what you put out in the world. Something that was important to me was the theme of a lot of the movie is that things are not simple. It's not easy to say who's right and who's wrong, who's a good guy and who's a bad guy. In the scene where Cinderella says goodbye to the prince, we tried variations on how that scene would feel. We really landed in a place of civility, which I appreciated. I think there's a lot of people who would want the satisfaction of that scene to feel like Cinderella kicking that guy to the curb and now she's this independent woman. I mean, she is an independent woman, but that doesn't mean she can't handle a separation with respect and compassion. I know it sounds silly to be talking about Cinderella in those terms, but fairy tales are supposed to be a guide for us. It feels right to put something into the world that says that even within a breakup or a divorce or a separation, you can have love for each other and you can acknowledge that neither of you is the good or bad guy; it's just something that happens and happens so often. I think the idea of right and wrong in a breakup is outdated and I'm glad we got to make that scene a reflection of that.