In her first major screen role — “Up in the Air” with George Clooney — Portland’s Anna Kendrick earned herself an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.
So it’s probably not surprising that, two years later, the 26-year-old actress is very busy.
Her latest film, “50/50,” is currently showing in theaters nationwide. It’s a comedy (yes, a comedy) about cancer, based on a true story, with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
In November, she’ll be seen in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1,” in which she will reprise her role as teenager Jessica Stanley in the vampire/werewolf/teen angst franchise.
Kendrick will also star in two films slated for release in 2012: An over-the-top religious comedy called “Rapturepalooza” with Craig Robinson (Darryl on “The Office”), and a police drama, “End of Watch,” with Jake Gyllenhaal. Her voice will also make an appearance next year in “ParaNorman,” an animated film about a boy who talks to ghosts.
Wait, there’s more — this week she’s in Atlanta, filming “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” a movie based on the best-selling reference book that focuses on the stories of several expectant mothers or couples. Kendrick stars alongside such heavy hitters as Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lopez.
Now, you’d expect an Oscar nominee — even one who didn’t win — to be this busy. But Kendrick says there isn’t necessarily a direct connection between the nomination and her hectic schedule.
She was hired for some of the above, like “Twilight,” before her Academy Award nomination. And she had to fight for some of the others despite having Oscar cache.
“The thing is, when you get a lot of attention for one thing, you get a lot of offers to do a very similar thing,” said Kendrick, speaking during her lunch break on set in Atlanta last week. “The challenge for me (after ‘Up in the Air’) was finding something different. So actually, it took some time to get that going.”
A comedy about cancer is certainly different, and that’s what “50/50″ is. Kendrick plays a young, inexperienced therapist whose patient (Gordon-Levitt) is a 27-year-old who’s been told he as a 50-50 chance of surviving. Based on the true-life struggle of a young man dealing with the disease, the film was written by cancer survivor Will Reiser, a friend of Rogen’s.
“Hearing it was a comedy about cancer made me a little nervous, but the script was so beautifully written, so honest,” said Kendrick. “I really liked the character too; she’s so sweet and such a mess.”
For her role in “50/50,” which has garnered her good reviews, Kendrick talked to a therapist who does similar work with cancer patients. But for her current project — playing an expectant mother — she found that she didn’t have to seek people out.
“I found that anyone who has had a baby is pretty open to telling you about it,” she said.
While Kendrick was giving this interview, she talked quickly, and apologized for not having more time to chat. Such affable traits have served her well in her career, which began when she was just a child growing up in Portland. Although she’s only 26, Kendrick has been performing for most of her life, and acting professionally for more than half of it.
While in grammar school, she got a role in “Annie” at Lyric Theater in South Portland, and received rave reviews. She sang in various local groups, took singing lessons and continued to act locally.
Kendrick and her parents didn’t make any effort to expand her acting career beyond Maine until the family attended a wedding in New York City when she was 10. While there, her parents decided to bring her and her brother (who’s also a performer) to see an agent. For the next couple of years, Kendrick’s parents would periodically drive her from Portland to New York six hours away for auditions.
At the age of 12, Kendrick got the part of the little sister in a Broadway revival of “High Society,” and was nominated for a Tony Award. Her mother, Jan Kendrick of Portland, said young Anna had long said she wanted to be on Broadway — even though she wasn’t quite sure what that meant.
After her Broadway experience, she came back to Portland, attending Lincoln Middle School and graduating from Deering High School in 2003. She continued to audition for theater and film roles, and got a role in the indie hit “Camp” (2003) about a summer camp for musical theater students. That was followed by a role in another indie, “Rocket Science” (2007).
It was her performance in “Rocket Science” — as a high-school debater with a rapid-fire tongue — that caught the eye of “Up in the Air” director Jason Reitman. Reitman wrote the part of Natalie Keener, a young corporate downsizer who goes toe-to-toe with Clooney, specifically for Kendrick.
When the film was released to rave reviews in 2009, Kendrick was catapulted to stardom. And even though she didn’t win the Oscar (it went to Mo’Nique for “Precious”), she did become a household name.
But as her current film projects prove, she’s not content to stick to any one style. As far as her film career is concerned, she wants to continue to try different things.
Take for instance, “Rapturepalooza,” due out in 2012. It’s basically a wacky comedy about what happens when the world ends and some people go to meet their maker. Think of it as “Left Behind” with a sense of humor and none of the heavy-handedness.
“It’s after the Rapture, and everybody who gets left behind is trying to find their way, but it’s a comedy, and it’s meant to be dark,” she said. “I play a girl who gets left behind, and the Antichrist (Robinson) gets it in his head that we should get married.”
“And,” she adds, “hilarity ensues.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]