Anna Kendrick finds something different with cancer comedy “50/50”
The actress, best known for her Oscar-nominated turn in “Up in the Air” as well as her supporting role in “The Twilight Saga,” plays an inexperienced therapist trying to help a young cancer patient in the Toronto Film Festival favorite.
Toronto Film Festival favorite “50/50” certainly qualifies as a bit of an anomaly: a based-on-a-true-story comedy about coping with cancer.
Within that unusual premise, Academy Award-nominated actress Anna Kendrick found an opportunity to play a different sort of role in Katherine, a fledgling therapist trying to help her third patient, 27-year-old Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has just started treatment for a massive, malignant tumor growing along his spinal column. According to his Internet research, the understandably shell-shocked Adam has a 50/50 chance of survival, despite his youth and otherwise excellent health.
In movies, psychiatrists are often portrayed as older, wiser and a bit enigmatic, but Kendrick, 26, was drawn to her “50/50” character’s vulnerability, uncertainty and obvious nervousness.
“It’s not a character I’ve really seen before, but I think anytime like someone sort of admits, ‘I’m just trying to my best here, you know, I’m just trying to find my way,’ I think that’s the kind of moments that intrigued me about this character,” Kendrick said in a phone interview from Dallas, where she was promoting the film.
“It wasn’t specifically that this is a new take on the profession as much as it was that I just liked someone who is expected to know what they’re doing being able to admit, you know, that they’re trying their best.”
For Kendrick, “50/50” gave her the chance to show off one of her best assets as an actress: her versatility. After all, Kendrick began her career playing Dinah Lord in the 1997 Broadway musical production of “High Society,” becoming the second-youngest Tony Award nominee in history with her nod for best featured actress in a musical.
The Maine native made her first foray into film with the 2003 movie-musical “Camp,” earning an Independent Spirit Award for best debut performance. She received another Independent Spirit Award nomination in her breakout role as a fast-talking high-school debater in the 2007 teen dramedy “Rocket Science.”
Her movie career soared to new heights with two vastly different projects: First, she became part of the supernaturally popular vampire romance series “The Twilight Saga” with her supporting role as Jessica Stanley, a gossipy classmate of human heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). She will reprise the role in the hotly anticipated two-part franchise finale “Breaking Dawn — Part 1,” opening Nov. 18, and “Breaking Dawn — Part 2,” due out in fall 2012.
Next, Kendrick garnered an Oscar nomination playing an ambitious young executive opposite George Clooney in writer-director Jason Reitman’s acclaimed drama “Up in the Air.”
“The ‘Twilight’ thing, it’s funny. It’s like this whole other thing where, you know, girls kind of recognize me on the street, but it hasn’t actually affected my career in any way. I’ve never really gotten a job because of ‘Twilight.’ It’s just a funny thing where, yeah, like someone will say hi to me at the supermarket, but it feels sort of separate from other movies,” she said.
“There are a lot of ‘Twilight’ fans who haven’t seen anything else that I’ve been in, and there’s a lot of people who see movies religiously but haven’t seen ‘Twilight.’ So they feel weirdly separate to me, actually.”
As far as her Oscar nomination, Kendrick said “it doesn’t impact my life on a daily basis so … I just think about it as something that was amazing that happened.” But she did find that her superb performance in “Up in the Air” had some unintended career consequences that made her role in “50/50” all the more appealing.
“You do a movie and you get offered a lot of the same kind of thing that you’ve just done. I was getting a lot of sort of very ambitious, precise, insensitive characters offered to me. And this was a nice surprise, to be offered something different,” she said. “It’s nice to sort of show some vulnerability and show that kind of nervous energy. I like that she was sort of soft.”
The film is based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own cancer battle. Seth Rogen, Reiser’s buddy and fellow alumnus of the British import comedy series “Da Ali G Show,” co-stars as the best pal of Gordon-Levitt’s protagonist and serves as a producer. Not only did she admire Reiser’s script, Kendrick said he also was lovely to work with on set.
“It’s just really honest. And honest dialogue is usually the funniest or the most touching or whatever it’s trying to achieve. Nothing felt forced. And that’s what I liked about it,” she said.
“You know, there are moments in this movie where I didn’t expect them to be as funny as they are, but they’re some of the biggest laughs in the movie.”