Anna Kendrick wanted to be on Broadway when she was 5, maybe 6 years old.

By the time she was 12, she had made it and more: She was nominated for a Tony Award for her role as the kid sister in a revival of “High Society.”

“She didn’t even know what Broadway was, but she always said she wanted to be there,” said her mother, Jan Kendrick, of Portland. “When she got nominated, I don’t think she realized what a big deal it was, and that helped her deal with it.”

As a teen, Kendrick started auditioning for films. Tonight, at the age of 24, she will be attending the movie industry’s biggest event as an Academy Award nominee, which will be broadcast live on ABC at 8 p.m. She’s up for a best supporting actress statuette for her role in “Up in the Air” opposite George Clooney.

And there’s no way, after spending most of her young life on one stage or another, that she doesn’t know what a big deal this is. Win or lose.

“The nomination will give her agent bragging rights, and it will make filmmakers interested in having her attached to their projects,” said Lynn Kippax, a Mainer who has worked as a production and location manager for several major films, including “Empire Falls” starring Paul Newman and “Message in a Bottle” starring Kevin Costner.

A PART MADE FOR HER

“Anytime an actor gets a nomination, it brings them closer to the front of the casting line,” Kippax said.

Although for Kendrick, a Portland native and 2003 Deering High School graduate, getting to the front of the casting line has never been much of a problem.

Her Broadway exposure helped her get a role in the indie hit “Camp” (2003) about a summer camp for musical theater enthusiasts. With that critically-acclaimed role to her credit, she landed another role in the indie “Rocket Science” (2007), in which she played a high school debater with a rapid-fire tongue.

Her performance in “Rocket Science” caught the eye of director Jason Reitman, who has said in interviews that after seeing that film, he wrote the part of young corporate downsizer Natalie Keener in “Up in the Air” specifically for Kendrick.

“When I saw her in that movie, I just thought, ‘This girl has a different voice from everyone of her generation,’ ” Reitman said in an MTV interview last December, when “Up in the Air” was released. “She oddly talks like someone from the 1940s, and she’s so witty and smart and sharp, and I needed a girl who could go toe-to-toe with George Clooney, and she was the one.”

So in her first really big role — a movie with lots of screen time and an A-list co-star — Kendrick gets nominated for an Oscar.

Kendrick’s busy schedule meant she was unable to conduct an interview for this story. But even as a student at Deering, her attitude was one of taking things as they come.

“When I was in high school, there were no rules set up about what I would or wouldn’t do. We just figured if an amazing opportunity came up, we’d figure it out,” Anna Kendrick told the Portland Press Herald in the summer of 2003.

So, win or lost tonight, those who know her best say that Kendrick’s star is bound to shine for many years to come — and shine brightly.

TALENT OBVIOUS AT YOUNG AGE

Kendrick’s mother and her brother, Michael, will be at the Oscars with her tonight. And tons of other people around Portland who saw her talent emerge at a young age will be glued to their TV sets cheering her on.

“She had such stage presence for a young kid, I remember telling her mom that she definitely had the “it factor,” said Cheryl Greeley, who taught Kendrick at her dance school in South Portland starting when Kendrick was about 4 years old. “And she was always a nice kid, is still a nice person.”

Kendrick took dance lessons like a lot of little kids, but Greeley knew right away she had that special spark. She encouraged the young Kendrick (actually, she bribed her with a trip to the bowling alley) to audition for a version of “Annie” at Lyric Theatre in South Portland. She was cast as the littlest orphan, and got rave mentions in local newspaper reviews.

“She was just adorable and vivacious, and I went up to her mother and said, ‘Your daughter has a lot of talent,’ ” said Jaye Churchill, a Portland voice teacher and founder of the vocal chorus Musica de Filia who gave Kendrick singing lessons for many years. “I’m not surprised at what she’s done. I’ve had lots of students with talent. Part of it with Anna is how she worked, and the opportunities her parents gave her.”

When Kendrick was 10, her family attended a wedding in New York City, and her parents decided to bring her — and her brother Michael, who is also a performer — to see an agent.

For the next couple of years, Kendrick’s parents would periodically drive her to New York for auditions. Basically, they’d drive seven hours or so for a half-hour audition, then drive back, Jan Kendrick remembers.

Then, when she was 12, Kendrick got a part — the little sister in a revival of “High Society” — and ended up doing eight shows a week on Broadway for seven months.

She also got to sing in a Broadway fundraiser with Julie Andrews and Liza Minnelli, and got nominated for a Tony award in the best performance by a featured actress category. She lived with her father and brother in New York while on Broadway.

‘KEPT HER HEAD ON STRAIGHT’

After her Broadway experience, Kendrick came back to Portland, went to Lincoln Middle School, and then Deering High School. She continued to audition and get parts, which kept her from doing much in school productions.

Kendrick’s mother says that even after making the film “Camp” before her senior year at Deering, Kendrick came back to Portland and did one more Lyric Theatre show, “Footloose,” because she wanted to perform with old friends. And even though she wasn’t in school theater groups, she hung out with the “theater kids” as much as possible, her mother said.

After high school, Kendrick went to Los Angeles, and has been there ever since. She was hired to do a proposed TV show that never took off. But the money she was paid allowed her to stay in L.A. and pursue other roles, her mother said.

Does Kendrick have a chance of winning tonight? A chance, yes. But often the winners of other film awards, like the Golden Globes or the Screen Actors Guild Awards, go on to capture the Oscar.

This season, Mo’Nique won at both those ceremonies in the best supporting actress category for her role in the film “Precious.” Other contenders for the best supporting actress Oscar include Kendrick’s “Up in the Air” co-star Vera Farmiga, Penelope Cruz for “Nine” and Maggie Gyllenhaal for “Crazy Heart.”

Jan Kendrick says what she’s proudest about is that her daughter has “kept her head on straight” during this crazy time. She recently participated in a telethon for Haiti relief organized by Clooney, and she comes back to Maine to visit both with childhood friends and adults who helped her along the way.

“With everything she did in school, all the jobs, she still made honor roll,” said her mother. “She still loves learning. The timing wasn’t right for her to go to college after high school. She still wants to go to college, but she doesn’t care about graduating, she just wants to learn.”

Having “Oscar winner” listed on your college application would certainly be an attention-getter.

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]