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Up in the Air’s Anna Kendrick on Telling Off George Clooney

Out in limited release today is Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, the year's presumed Best Picture front-runner, starring George Clooney as a frequent-flying corporate terminator who meets his match in Anna Kendrick, an efficiency expert with plans to ground him. Kendrick got her start onstage, scoring a Tony nomination for her role in High Society at only 12-years-old before transitioning to small films, like 2007’s Sundance hit Rocket Science and the recent art-house favorite The Twilight Saga: New Moon. She spoke with Vulture about auditioning for Air and her own Oscar buzz.

How did your role come about?
Well, Jason Reitman saw me in a film I did called Rocket Science, and he started writing the role with me in mind after he saw that.

Did you know that when you auditioned?
No, actually. I just went in and read and I thought it didn't go well at all. And so I was really surprised when they called like two days later and just offered me the job. I was at least expecting to have to go in and read a million times for a role like this.

Why didn't he just tell you?
Jason, I guess, was trying not to psych me out, because he thought if he told me that he’d written the role with me in mind that it would feel like it was mine to lose, and I would choke. So he was trying to keep a poker face, and so I just thought he didn't like me.

Did you know you’d be working with George Clooney and Vera Farmiga?
No! Certainly, I didn’t know that Vera was attached to it. And I’d heard that George was, but I thought it was kind of just a rumor. And then Jason was telling me all about meeting George and how excited George was to do the movie. And I was trying to act really cool and act like that didn't faze me, like I was totally up to the task.

In both Up in the Air and Rocket Science, your characters are very smart, aggressive women.
I like playing characters like that because they’re really outspoken and really opinionated, and I often censor myself and don’t say the thing that I’m feeling. And, you know, it’s great to be able to tell George Clooney off in a movie. It feels very cathartic.

Was that intimidating at first, to work with him?
Yeah, but he kind of goes out of his way to make you feel comfortable, and make you feel like you’re allowed to give him shit offscreen which means you can certainly make fun of him onscreen.

Twilight is a very different kind of movie (and very different role) from most of what you’ve done. How did you get involved in that?

Well, Catherine Hardwicke also saw me in Rocket Science when she was on the jury at Sundance. And she asked me to come in and read. And at first I just didn't get it. I felt like I had no business auditioning for a kind of a queen bee–type girl, because it’s so not who I was growing up. I just figured the only way that somebody like me should be playing that is to be playing up the kind of things underneath that popular-girl image. You know, like the desperation and the jealousy, and I think that's what makes her so funny.

What kinds of things did you do to get into character as Up in the Air's Natalie?
I talked a little bit to my friends about what I think is a big underlying thing for Natalie, which is the idea that she’s really frustrated by the fact that she was born a woman. And I think that there’s a sense for young girls that if you can kind of conquer the corporate world, and be one of the boys, that you can conquer the fact that you were born female. And I think that that’s what drives her. I think she wants to be taken seriously so badly that she has gotten herself into a career that makes her really unhappy and that she can’t really do, but it’s because she strives to reconcile her frustrations with being a woman.

You're being talked about as an Oscar contender. How does that feel?
It’s a little intimidating and strange and it makes me a little nervous. But, you know, it’s good, ultimately. I want people to like the movie, and I want people to like my performance, so it certainly doesn’t make me unhappy, but it is a little strange to hear your name associated with that word, “buzz.”

Photo: Patrick McMullan