Up in the Air - Anna Kendrick
Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is an ambitious young woman who thinks she has all the answers © DW Studios & Cold Spring

Coming off of her role as Jessica Stanley, Bella’s best friend in The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Anna Kendrick is generating Oscar buzz for her part as Natalie Keener, an upstart efficiency expert in Jason Reitman’s new comedy Up in the Air.

In the movie, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer, whose job it is to travel across America to businesses to fire surplus employees. It’s a job that comes with many perks, including meeting beautiful women on the road like Alex (Vera Farmiga). But his life is about to collapse in ruins, as Natalie wants to stop all the expensive traveling and use technology to deliver the bad news to the workforce.

I spoke with Anna at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills about this potential award-winning role.

Did you tap into your own inner control freak for this role?

Up in the Air - George Clooney and Anna Kendrick
Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) work life is complicated by the arrival of Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) © DW Studios & Cold Spring

I think she’s a control freak, and I think I’m a control freak, but we react to being out of our element in very different ways. I get more awkward and I fumble and things immediately fall apart. And, Natalie’s rigidity and self-awareness increases exponentially, when she feels out of control. She tries to cling to anything that she can control or keep orderly, whether it’s her hair or her computer. It makes for some very interesting comedy.

What did you enjoy most about your character?

I love that she’s unapologetically ambitious. I don’t have that and I wouldn’t really want that for myself, but I admire it so much, in her. I love that she’s independent and strong. I know that the audience really falls for her, after she completely melts down, and I love her even when she’s in her bratty mode. There was almost a desire for me to not show as much as Jason wanted me to show, and keep her protected and not give as much away because I feel protective of her and I wanted her to maintain her dignity. I love her, even when she’s a nightmare.

Your character got to tell George’s character that he was too old for her. Is George Clooney too old for you?

Up in the Air - Anna Kendrick and George Clooney
Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) and Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) try to work together... © DW Studios & Cold Spring

Yes, George Clooney is too old for me. It’s funny, a friend of his, who was his age, was dating somebody younger than me, and he thought that was fine. And, I was like, ‘What would you say to me, if I was dating somebody your age?’ He was like, “Oh, no, absolutely not!” He had this older brother thing with me, where he had rules for me about dating and stuff. It was really sweet.

How was it to work with George Clooney?

He is amazing to work with. If you’d told me how much I was going to end up making fun of George Clooney on this set, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. He gave me a hard time, all day, every day, so it was just like, ‘Okay, it’s on! Bring it!’

Did you learn anything about acting from George?

Yeah. The lesson from George is just about how incredibly present he is on set. I think a big part of that is because he’s been a director.

He is so aware of your performance, especially when it’s your coverage and your close-up. He is so there for you, and he will alter his performance to a place that wouldn’t have been appropriate for his side, but just to try to get you to a place that the director is trying to get you. I think that’s really, really rare.

He sets a real example for the way that actors should treat each other.

With such great dialogue in this film, did you have a favorite line or moment?

Up in the Air - Anna Kendrick and  George Clooney
Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) and Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) © DW Studios & Cold Spring

I loved yelling at George and telling him off. I loved telling George that he was a 12-year-old. I was so looking forward to that scene, almost to the extent that I was concerned that it was going be an indulgent thing. And, Jason reassured me and made sure that I stayed on track, but I was so looking forward to that, when I read that scene in the script.

It was like every ex-boyfriend that I’ve ever had, in the form of George Clooney, on a boardwalk.

Jason Reitman said that he considered your character and Vera’s character as the same person, but with 15 years difference. Do you see that, in 15 or 20 years, Natalie would be where Alex was?

I think they’re certainly on a similar path, and I think there’s a possibility that that’s how her life could have gone. Maybe this epiphany that she’s having at 23, leads to a lot more. Maybe she becomes fun-loving, or maybe she has an affair.

But, I think that there’s hope for her, in the end, and there’s hope that she can find a real balance in her life and accept compromise. In a way, I think that’s what Alex does. Alex has to accept compromise. Maybe there is an element of Natalie needing to accept compromise in the way that she has, but I’d like to think that there are other ways for Natalie.

Have you had any airplane experiences that stand out for you?

Flying into Vancouver is always weird because I look like such a bum when I fly and Vancouver is the one place there’s always sure to be Twilight paparazzi, so there’s tons of pictures of me online, in the exact same hoodie. I’m like, ‘Well, you really needed that picture, didn’t you? I look exactly the same, in the same outfit.’


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.