Not long into Jason Reitman's superb dramedy Up in the Air, it's obvious that Anna Kendrick is a major player this award season.
Kendrick, 24, nearly accomplishes what seems impossible — upstaging George Clooney — playing Natalie Keener, a type A-to-Z personality throwing a huge wrench into the life of Clooney's compulsively frequent flier.
Apparently the National Board of Review agrees. Kendrick was honored by the critics group Thursday as 2009's best supporting actress, while Up in the Air was voted best picture, Clooney shared best actor honors with Morgan Freeman (Invictus), and Reitman's screenplay co-written with Sheldon Turner also won.
Up in the Air opens Friday at AMC Woodlands 20 in Oldsmar, expanding to more Tampa Bay theaters by Dec. 25.
Friday morning, Kendrick called the Times five minutes earlier than planned (that's so Natalie). After congratulations, the first question for her was a no-brainer:
When did you find out about the award, and how did you celebrate?
I was on a plane from JFK to LAX that was delayed, so we're sitting on the runway and Jason called to tell me. I was trying to be quiet around all the other passengers. Sigourney Weaver was on the plane and I was trying to not disturb Miss Weaver with my good news.
We had a little cocktail party planned last night, anyway, and a Q&A, so I actually got to see George and Jason as soon as I got off the plane, so that was great. They're so, so sweet. George is constantly telling people that I steal the movie but that's just a mark of what a gentleman he is.
Jason told me he wrote Natalie with you in mind after seeing you in Rocket Science. What's it like to be part of someone's creative process like that?
I was so thrilled and completely bewildered. I was so in the mode of trying to prove that I wasn't out of my league that I tried to play it cool, like that kind of thing happens all the time.
Did it help playing Natalie's internal insecurities?
Yeah. I'm basically completely out of my element in the movie. As much as it was this incredible, supportive environment, there was part of me wondering if I'd be fired every day. It definitely helped.
You play an uptight person here, Bella's pushy conscience in the Twilight movies, and I remember your little Lady Macbeth in Camp. Is that how filmmakers see you, or is it you?
There are so many times in my life when I wish I was more assertive, or stood up for myself more, really say what's on my mind. So, I kind of revel in playing these characters who are so self-assured and ambitious. I like exercising a part of myself that I don't get to do in real life.
I have to ask, as everyone does, I'm sure: What's it like working with Clooney?
It's amazing. He's the kind of guy who understands the effect he has on people and goes out of his way to make you feel like he's not George Clooney. He's just this goofy guy you're going to be working with.
He's also a notorious prankster on the set. But I read that you're disappointed that you were never a target.
So many people have asked what pranks he pulled on me and I don't have anything to say. When I saw him at the premiere in L.A., I was like: "Damn you for not pulling a prank on me. You screwed me, Clooney."
What makes Jason so good at what he does?
Jason sees humanity in all people. The amazing thing about him is the way he finds good in people who aren't understood by all people; a tobacco lobbyist (Thank You for Smoking), a pregnant teenager (Juno), people who fire people for a living in this movie. He wants to find heart in those people and comes from the compassion in him. It doesn't hurt that he's a freakin' genius.
Are a superstitious person?
Not really. Sometimes I don't talk about roles before I start. I didn't tell anybody about Up in the Air for, like, weeks. I sat on it for ages because I feel as soon as you start celebrating, something can go wrong.
So, I shouldn't mention the O-word (Oscar)?
Oh, um, probably not. (Laughs)
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.