ParaNorman Interview 3 of 3: Roundtable with Anna Kendrick
I recently participated in a roundtable interview of Anna Kendrick, one of the leads in ParaNorman, the new animated feature film from Laika. In the film, Kendrick plays Courtney, older sister to the titular Norman. Below, Kendrick discusses acting in an animated feature, creating her character, visiting the Laika studios, and the injustices done to Polly Pocket in the modern age.
ParaNorman is Kendrick's first animated feature. She had this to say about starting this new task:
I'd always wanted to do one, but I wasn't really sure how one went about asking to be in an animated film. So I felt really lucky that this really special one fell right in my lap. I just jumped at it. I was so excited.
On what attracted her to ParaNorman:
I will say that part of it was just that I'd always wanted to try [animation], but then when I was reading the script, there was a great moment where I realized, “Oh, it's just going to be all these kids figuring it out.” I wasn't sure if it was just going to be Norman, or if it was going to be Norman and some of the townspeople. When I realized that it was like a kids adventure movie... That was my favorite kind of thing when I was kid. Even when I was watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when they're running through the Department of Mysteries at the end, I had this regression moment where my inner child was so happy. I realized that it's because I love kids banding together to save the day. So I was really excited to go on the ride.
On what was most difficult about doing voice acting for the first time, and how the process differs from live action:
For me, it was allowing myself to make a fool of myself, but that's true of any job I guess. I kept looking at the little camera that they have set up for the animators and being like, “Wait. I have control over that, right? You can't just put that on the internet without telling me.”
It was great though, because Casey Affleck came in that day too. So we both got to be nervous and learning together. Then by the end of the day, we were pretty competitive in just trying to make bigger fools of ourselves. So that was actually great.
The great thing about this experience was that Chris or Sam (Chris Butler and Sam Fell, Directors) would give me a direction, and the second that they'd finish speaking, I would try it. So it didn't feel like I had to have this moment of interpreting what they said, and then finding it my character, staying in character, waiting for “Action,” and then trying it. I was like you could just pop in and out of character really quickly.
When you see Family Guy and you see Seth McFarland changing from Stewie to Brain to Peter, it felt like that. It felt like snapping into character really quickly, which was a fun change, because you don't have to live in it for five minute takes. You just have to live in it in one line at a time.
The great thing was that every time I came in, they had new footage to show me. Some of it would a storyboard, and then there would be a shot, and a storyboard and a shot, but there was more than one instance where I could see how I needed to change my performance based on how it was coming together. So it was like having six tries at reshoots. So it wasn't like dailies, but it definitely felt like I could be helpful in a way that I can't really be on a film set, because you could really see a version of the edit and then base your performance on the rhythm that they were trying to achieve.
On getting to know her character:
They showed me a picture of Courtney when I came in, which was actually really helpful, to know that I had all that physical stuff to work with. She had a lot of physical stuff happening, which I loved, which made me feel just more like a force of nature, like this awful, volatile teenage force of nature.
I had no idea where the inspiration for the look of it came, or certainly how my voice popped into their head for this particular character and physicality. One thing that I like is that Courtney is shaped like a triangle, and Mitch is like an upside down triangle, so they kind of fit together. That's really cute.
In the film, Courtney is the image of the exasperated teen. When asked what problems Courtney blows out of proportion in her daily life, Kendrick responded:
...Everything. But that's unfair, because it's real and you're living it. I never wanted to grow into one of those adults who's like, “You'll never remember this. This won't matter in 10 years.” It's like, “Well, yeah, but that's a long time to wait for this not to matter.”
But Courtney is especially....It's not even like Courtney is worrying about college applications. Courtney is just concerned with who has the best basket toss in cheerleading practice. So I think there's very little of consequence on Courtney's mind.
In both ParaNorman and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Kendrick plays the sister to the main character. She had this to say on whether she drew from real life experience for these roles:
Stacey Pilgrim was something I could relate to much more, because I have an older brother. I felt as though I was much more mature and responsible than he was, so I would give him advice.
But I would say Courtney does not have Norman's best interests at heart. Courtney's advise, and I'm using the term “advice” very loosely here, comes from a place of just being annoyed by him and wanting him to go away, and being very embarrassed by him. So her advise is basically just, “Be less embarrassing,” which isn't really advice.
So I definitely know what it is to be a sister, but I feel like in this, it felt more like my teenage relationship with my mom, where just nothing she says isn't the most embarrassing thing I've ever heard. Girls are awful to their moms when they're teenagers. So I feel like it was more of that relationship than my relationship with my brother.
Bullying in schools and elsewhere has become part of the national conversation of late. With ParaNorman's main character being a outcast, bullied kid, that national conversation is particular pertinent to the film. Kendrick had this to say about whether she herself had been bullied during childhood:
I think everyone's been bullied to an extent, and of course, we all got our fair share of that kind of thing. Middle school was worse than high school for me, but at the same time, I don't really want to say that I was bullied, because I know that some kids are going through it in a way that I can't even imagine. So, did I have awful days where I thought I would never go back to school? Yes. But, I wouldn't consider myself a victim of bullying in the way that people mean it right now, in terms of the conversation that's being had right now about bullying. I wouldn't want to put myself in that category, because I know that some people are going through something that I couldn't even begin to understand. I definitely know that kids can be mean, but I was lucky enough to kind of get through it all relatively unscathed.
On whether this kind of film can have an impact on bullying:
I'd certainly like to think so. This is obviously a kind of magical realism version of why a kid might be bullied or singled out. This is absolutely the kind of story... The kind of thing that's been made for a long time. I think it's great that that tradition continues, that the underdog who no one believes in is the guy that everybody has to turn to for help.
I know that that comes from a lot of the people who made this film and a lot of their experience. I think that's the reason that these kind of movies continue to get made, is enough people take something bad that happened to them and try to channel it into something beautiful and entertaining, but that also will resonate with kids who are going through the same thing.
ParaNorman has what can be considered an emotional, intense ending. On whether what her thoughts were upon seeing the sequence for the first time in the finished film, and whether it took her by surprise:
I know that some of my friends who have seen it were like, “I love that last scene. It's so beautiful,” but I had read it in the script and was looking forward to it, so it just kind of felt like, “That's awesome. I'm some happy that came out well.” So it didn't take me by surprise, but it was one my my favorite scenes in the script.
In the film, a group of 17th century settlers are raised from the dead as zombies. In their lumbering zombie way, they show that they are most displeased with the state of affairs in 21st century America. When asked what she would find most disturbing about 2012 America if she had woken from a long hibernation, she had this tongue-in-cheek reply:
Do you know Polly Pocket is huge now? Remember Polly Pocket? Little tiny Polly Pocket, where the whole house was a makeup compact? Poly Pocket is [huge] now. She can't even fit in your pocket!
Polly Pocket's a lie. Toys are a mess. Risk the choking hazard for Polly Pocket! I'm upset about it.
Kendrick had the opportunity to visit Laika after production ended to see the sets before they were torn down. She had this to say about the experience:
They had finished filming, and they were planing on taking everything apart soon. So I got to actually walk around in the sets, because they were no longer using them. So I got to take pictures like I was The 50 Foot Woman, which was awesome. There was still enough there that it was really beautiful and magical to see, like the meadow set, which was amazing, and getting to walk through the layers of it and see how it was made. This was before I saw the movie. So then it felt like that sensation you get when you're watching a movie, and you're like, “I know that restaurant. I've been to that restaurant.”
Lastly, Kendrick has several projects set to come out in the near future:
I have this, End of Watch, and Pitch Perfect coming. Then I have Get a Job and Drinking Buddies, but those don't have release dates yet.
ParaNorman opens nationwide on August 17th.