Anna Kendrick did not expect to become Hollywood’s resident musical theater It Girl, even though she earned her first Tony Award nomination at 12 years old and made her film debut in the cult musical comedy Camp.
With Pitch Perfect under her belt and the upcoming big-box items Into the Woods and Pitch Perfect 2 on deck, Kendrick’s next belting role is significantly more indie. She’ll play Cathy Hyatt in writer-director Richard LaGravenese’s film adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years, an Off Broadway two-hander that tells the story of a couple’s five-year relationship through two interweaving storylines (one moves forward, the other backwards).
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, EW has an exciting official first look at Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan (Smash, Broadway’s Newsies) in the roles of struggling actress Cathy and rising novelist Jamie. The film is in the can and about to screen for buyers, who would be wise to snatch up the alluring Kendrick and Jordan and the giant fanbase that the cult musical has accrued since debuting in 2001.
We caught up with Kendrick to talk about her surprising arrival on Hollywood’s movie-musical scene, getting drunk with her co-star, and whether there’s another stage turn in her future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can I assume you were a fan of the cast recording before you signed on to the movie?
ANNA KENDRICK: No! Here’s the thing, right? Parade is my favorite musical of all time, and I think that Jason Robert Brown is an absolute genius, and so many people have told me to listen to this recording and to see the show, and for some reason it just never happened. And then it wasn’t until I got this script and saw that it was Jason Robert Brown that I even familiarized myself with the material. I wept my way through the script before I ever heard the music, and then the next morning I woke up and I re-read the script while I listened to the recording and I was just an absolute mess, because it’s so beautiful. I immediately realized I could never listen to this cast recording again, because I had to learn it from scratch so that I don’t just do an impression of the recording. But it was such a blessing to come into that experience with no preconceived idea of who Cathy was.
Did you see any parts of yourself in the character of Cathy?
I definitely see myself in Cathy and I see myself in Jamie. The thing that I loved about Cathy was this feeling that her partner was starting to take up more emotional space in the world and that meant that she had to shrink down, like that she represses herself to a degree that she ends up exploding. I thought it was so true to so many situations that I see my friends go through. It definitely echoes the things that I’ve experienced.
Did you get to have any conversation with composer Jason Robert Brown that helped shape how you approached the role?
Jason was always really reticent about giving direction. Georgia Stitt, his wife, was my vocal coach, and she taught me the entire score from top to bottom, the poor thing. And she obviously is very close to the material, so she could kind of lay the groundwork for ideas and things that people have done in the past. But mostly it was about [director] Richard [LaGravenese] and his vision. I had an opportunity to really shape who she was, and that was a real treat.
Tell me about your co-star Jeremy Jordan. How did you find your chemistry?
The first day that we had rehearsal together, we just were going through music, and that night we decided to go out for drinks and I basically got him super-duper drunk. He doesn’t drink that much, and I was like, oh well, if we’re going to get to know each other, we have to do it really fast, so we’re just going to do shots of whiskey and it’s going to be a great night. So we just got drunk and basically went through the life history, one point at a time.
The actual show is weirdly structured because you’ve got one timeline moving forward and another moving backwards. Is that the way the movie will work?
Yeah, the movie is exactly like the show where it moves forward and backward in time. Something about it on film feels a little less like we have to really be paying attention to the timeline. It all just kind of feels like vignettes, like scenes from a marriage, except musical versions. So it has the exact same structure, but it doesn’t feel like you are lost in time. We were really worried about making sure that people were following the timeline of it, and actually it all works.
The Last Five Years has such die-hard fans. They will be pleased that it’s becoming a movie, but how did you make sure that those comparisons to original stars Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott didn’t get to you?
Obviously that’s something that you have to think about, but I really didn’t think about it that much, because Sherie was on set a bunch! Sherie makes a cameo and she was incredibly supportive. She immediately was so unbelievably kind, so generous with her advice and her praise that I never thought about her as this looming figure of somebody’s shoes I had to fill.
With Pitch Perfect and all the musicals you’re tackling, how surprised are you that this is a path your career has taken? It’s full circle back to your theater roots.
I definitely did not expect to do more musicals. Particularly after Pitch Perfect, it’s not a choice that I would have consciously made. If anything, I wouldn’t just do any musical. It happened that they were making two of the most incredible musicals with some of the most incredible roles. To do Last Five Years and Into the Woods is such a dream that obviously I wasn’t about to be, like, “Well, I don’t really want to do another musical right now.”
You’ve done Sondheim, Cole Porter, Jason Robert Brown—anything else that would galvanize you to do another?
I can’t really think of anything, and I know I say that, but I’m such an MT at heart that it would probably be a tough thing to turn down if I were offered another musical. But I do feel like I need to remember how to deliver dialogue on screen.
You do have these Broadway beginnings. Any inclination to go back to the stage?
At this point, it’s so terrifying. I know that I shouldn’t admit this, but it’s not like it’s some big secret – I just could not sing The Last Five Years eight times a week. I have so much respect for Sherie, so much respect for Betsy Wolfe and anybody who’s ever done Cathy in a theater. It is a hard freaking role.
How have these last five years been for you?
It’s funny, because the last five years of my life have actually been hugely transitional, and it’s been mostly really good. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have this balance of my career going really well, but it doesn’t feel overwhelmed. I don’t feel like I’m drowning. I feel incredibly fulfilled and incredibly lucky. I guess it hasn’t been filled with as much turmoil as Cathy’s last five years, but it’s been really exciting.