Anna Kendrick lends her voice to Focus Features' stop motion animated film ParaNorman, playing a big sister who torments her weird younger brother, Norman (voiced by Kodi Smith-McPhee) - a kid who just happens to be able to see the dead. When the town they live in is attacked by zombies, Norman's called into action and his big sister, Courtney, finds herself pulled into the fight alongside her now-heroic little brother.
At the 2012 Comic Con, Kendrick talked about the look of her character, actually doing the voice work, and why she gets freaked out by ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement).
Interview with Anna Kendrick
Can you tell us about your character? I hear she's not the nicest person.
"Yeah, she's kind of a typical obnoxious older sister. She is really embarrassed by her younger brother, even though her brother is extraordinary and ends up saving the town. She thinks he's annoying and just wants to be normal and do normal things."
Would you compare this role of being a big sister to the one you had in Scott Pilgrim?
"No. I mean, Stacy was sort of practical and wanted to give her brother advice, and her brother was actually being an idiot. She was giving him very real advice. In this, she does not have Norman's best interests at heart. She's sort of a selfish cheerleader type. There was a lot more love coming from Stacy. I mean, there's a lot of love coming from Courtney, but maybe not so much at first."
What's it like, voicing a movie?
"I'd always wanted to do an animated film, so I jumped at the opportunity. This is my first one. But I was really nervous because I'm not great at ADR, so I wasn't sure how this was going to be. But it was actually really, really freeing. In ADR, you're watching your own movie, and you're trying to watch it and say your line. In this, you just felt like this was a really safe space, and it was okay to make really ugly faces and really ugly body gestures. To use all those things as tools was really helpful. To not be self-conscious about the way you look on camera really helps the intention being really pure."
Can you see yourself in the animated character?
"Yeah, in some things. I would always bend at my waist, going side-to-side, like I was so world-weary that I couldn't hold my own body up, which is a very teenage girl thing. Courtney does that."
How is it different to be directed in an animated movie rather than live-action?
"The direction depends on the director, I guess, but the difference for me is that I get to hear what you want and do it immediately. You tell me what you want and the second my brain processes, I just say it and try it. The five seconds that it takes for them to shut everything down and go, 'Okay, whenever you're ready,' that's the only time that that intention has to live in your body. When a director on a film set says it to you, you get to sit there and stew with it for five minutes, seven minutes, while they're changing the light. You can't just call, 'Cut!,' and go again. There's always 10 adjustments that need to be made, and then you need to reset the camera. And in that time you can get so deep in your own head that you forget the original intention you had when you went, 'Okay, yeah, I'll try that.'"
Did you get to record with any of the other voice actors?
"I got to record my first day with Casey Affleck. He'd never done it before either. We were both really new to it and it was a great way to start out. By the end of the day, we were getting more and more comfortable, and it became a little competitive to see who was willing to embarrass themselves more."
And who won?
Where there any improvised moments? Could you deviate from the script?
"Yeah, that was the other great thing about having Casey there, because I have a crush on him in the film. We got to do a lot of stuff and the directors were so open to improv because, according to them, the process is so slow and so precise that those moments of spontaneity are so important. Anything you can do to keep that process spontaneous helps them later."
How much of a visual element did you have in front of you to figure out what you were doing?
"They showed me the, not the puppet the first day, but it was a picture of the puppet. It was not what I was expecting at all. She's got hips on her. I like that. It's cool. But it certainly made me feel like I could go really far in the characterization. Not just seeing Courtney, but seeing all the people and discovering the world and the tone that these characters live in."
Is it liberating to not having your appearance on screen or is it kind of a strange sensation?
"Yeah, because you get to throw your whole body into it. On camera, you can't help but be aware that you're on film. You want to be able to look at this piece of film and not go, 'Oh my God, why did I do that thing with my mouth?' or 'Why did I do that thing with my hands? What kind of weird tic is that that I'm doing?' This is like you could just throw everything into it. I did spend a lot of the movie with my hands up by my shoulders and my feet all twisted underneath me, and it was all in service of pushing out this intention."
Do you find yourself in the booth overly emoting, since you're doing the voice only?
"Yeah, it's definitely a heightened universe. I was certainly trying not to do a cartoon-y voice. The directors are very grounded in real emotion and they're all about story, so it never felt like we were doing cartoon-y stuff. But it definitely felt like a heightened world."
How did you get hooked up with the film?
"[...] They just offered it to me, which was a thrill. I thought they offered it to me because of Twilight, because I play a similar character. I'm not exactly sure what the process is, but they talked about taking audio from my interviews and Casey Affleck's interviews, and then cutting them together to hear what our voices sounded like side by side. I asked them if that was normal, and [co-director] Chris [Butler] was like, 'Yeah, that's pretty normal,' and [co-director] Sam Fell was standing behind him like, 'No, no, we're obsessive-compulsive.'"
What was that like to hear they were sort of auditioning you with things that you'd never meant to be part of an audition?
"I guess it's cool. It would only be a bummer if they'd tried it and they were like, 'Oh, God, no.' So I guess I just choose to find it flattering."
What do you think sets ParaNorman apart from other animated films?
"I think that this particular art form of stop-motion is a dying breed, and I think it's wonderful that people at Laika are committed to it. It's so gorgeous, and the level of artistry is really admirable. I have nothing but respect for all forms of animation, but there is something really special about people who are so passionate about this art form that they do what they do. It does not look fun, the actual process of doing it."
What is it about ADR that makes you uncomfortable?
"It's like you're watching yourself and you're trying to match up to your voice and you're waiting on those beeps, those horrifying beeps. They haunt my dreams. When you're on set and somebody calls action, I've seen different actors who hear it as a gunshot and they're ready. Other people hear 'action' and it's like, they take it like, 'They're ready, so whenever I'm ready I'm going to start.' And that's cool. But with those beeps, it's literally like you're waiting and waiting, get this line, do it right, do it right...sh*t, I f**ked it up! So it's just the pressure of ADR."
Maybe you should get them to do a different noise, instead of the beep.
"Maybe just somebody going, 'Whenever...you're...ready."
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ParaNorman hits theaters on August 17, 2012.