Anna Kendrick goes “50/50” with the Cinematic

Directed by Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”), “50/50” is dramedy about Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young Seattle native who receives news that he has been diagnosed with a rare case of spinal cancer. As he goes through his treatment, he must rely on his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), best friend (Seth Rogen) and mother (Anjelica Huston) for support. Oscar-nominee Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) plays Adam’s assigned hospital therapist, Katherine. As Katherine tries her best to get Adam through his treatment via sessions with her, they soon develop a strong bond with one another. I had the chance to sit down with Kendrick at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Brickel when she was in town promoting the film.

 Anna, congratulations on receiving the Spotlight Initiative Award in Toronto.

 Anna Kendrick: Thank you.

 How was the reception for the film there?

Kendrick: The reception was really extraordinary. I’m so proud of the film. At the end of the movie everybody was on their feet looking for Will Reiser to find him. It was just like a standing salute thing; it was sort of really special. I was also really pleased to see how young the audience was. There was a part of me that thought, ‘There’s all these college kids here, and they might be into Seth Rogen making  dirty jokes, but are they going to be into the rest of the movie?’ It went amazingly well, so that was really reassuring.

 There are moments in “50/50” when Katherine was very uncomfortable when she’s dealing with Adam, and I was wondering during those moments, do you feel uncomfortable internally and, if so, what do you do to reach those places?

 Kendrick: I would say this was like tennis in the way that you have a great partner, and it makes you better. In those moments, Joe made me feel uncomfortable because Katherine’s insecurity comes from the feeling that deep down Adam suspects that she is not good at her job, but that she suspects other people can tell too. Joe would be in those scenes and he’d look at me like I was crazy. It would make my stomach turn, so it definitely helped me feel uncomfortable. He was a great partner to have and made my job a lot easier.

 When you were reading the script, and considering doing the role, did it give you an indication that there are feelings between Adam and Katherine as it starts to develop? What did you think about that development when you were first reading the screenplay?

 Kendrick: We knew that it was going to be a tricky balance for so many reasons. You never want an audience to feel like they can see it coming. I think it’s possible to maybe see something coming, but then eventually root for them, and I think that’s what we tried to do, but Joe and I were really nervous about making the first move. As actors, I think we were just as hesitant as our characters were. It was a conversation I eventually had with him where I realized both of us were really fighting to not cross the line, sort of going to the director and saying, ‘I don’t think that character would do that,’ because there was a weird life-imitating-art thing where neither of us wanted to be inappropriate with the other character. I think that was part of it where we were both really careful. As actors, we were being just as careful as we would in real life like if I was really a therapist and he was really a patient. You don’t want to disrespect that person so hopefully people root for us. If they do, I guess all that nail-biting over it worked.

 You’ve worked with great directors like Jason Reitman and Edgar Wright. How are they different, those two in particular, from working with Jonathan Levine?

Kendrick: Jonathan is the most collaborative director that I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with some really specific directors and Jonathan pulls a really great trick on people. I think he’s an evil genius. He makes you feel like you don’t have to do anything or think about anything. You’re just doing so great that you’re making his job so easy. I don’t think that’s true because he certainly made everybody feel that way and I think he’s a mad genius. The great thing about this set was the feeling that your opinion was not only allowed but expected. When we were changing things and scenes, it was never someone disappearing over lunch and coming back with new pages. It was really collaborative and it made me feel so relaxed that I think you’re more receptive to direction. You’re more receptive to your other actors with this no-pressure environment that he created. It made us feel like we were making a movie without adult supervision.

 How would you describe “50/50” to people?

 Kendrick: It is a tricky thing. I guess what I try to say is, ‘This is just one guy’s experience, and this is what he found so perverse and bizarre that you have to laugh at it.’ It’s not like it is sick, inappropriate humor. It’s just one person’s experience with surviving and the humor that he found in it. It’s easy to just say that Seth Rogen is in this movie. It’s not a bummer. I guess I’m still working on exactly how to get people to see it, but I wish I could have the people who have seen it on speed dial because they’re better at that than I am.

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