While at Comic-Con for a panel presentation, actress Anna Kendrick (The Twilight Saga) spoke to the press about the stop-motion animated feature ParaNorman. Set in the town of Blithe Hollow, 11-year-old Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) unexpectedly learns that a centuries-old witch’s curse is real and about to come true, and that only he can save the world from zombies.
During the interview, Anna Kendrick (who plays Norman’s deeply superficial older sister, Courtney) talked about getting offered the role, what it was like to record for her first animated feature, why ADR makes her uncomfortable, how she can see herself in the character, that she did get to record some of it with other actors, getting to improvise, what she thought of the look for Courtney, and what makes ParaNorman different from other animated features. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ANNA KENDRICK: She’s 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?
KENDRICK: No. Stacy was 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 a selfish cheerleader type. There was a lot more love coming from Stacy. There’s a lot of love coming from Courtney, but maybe not so much, at first.
What’s it like doing voice-over?
KENDRICK: I’d always wanted to do an animated film, so I jumped at the opportunity. This is my first one. 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 trying to say your line. In this, I just felt like it 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 helps the intention to be really pure.
KENDRICK: You’re watching yourself and you’re trying to match up to your voice and you’re waiting for those horrifying beeps. They haunt my dreams. I’ve seen different actors who hear it as a gunshot, and they’re ready. Other people hear take it like, “They’re ready, so whenever I’m ready, I’m going to start.” But with those beeps, it’s literally like you’re waiting and waiting, and then you have to get the line right. I do it, and then I’m like, “Shit, I fucked it up!” It’s just the pressure of ADR.
Can you see yourself in this animated character?
KENDRICK: Yeah, in some things. I would always bend at my waist, going from 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. And Courtney does that.
How is it different to be directed in an animated movie rather than live-action?
KENDRICK: The direction depends on the director, I guess. The difference for me is that I get to hear what the director wants and do it immediately. You tell me what you want and, the second my brain processes it, I can say it and try it. The five seconds that it takes for them to shut everything down and go, “Okay, whenever you’re ready,” is the only time that the 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 or seven minutes while they’re changing the light. You can’t just call, “Cut!,” and go again because there are always 10 adjustments that need to be made, and then you need to reset the camera. 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?
KENDRICK: 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.
KENDRICK: Probably Casey.
Where there any improvised moments? Could you deviate from the script?
KENDRICK: Yeah, that was the other great thing about having Casey there. I have a crush on his character, 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?
KENDRICK: They showed me a picture of the puppet, the first day, and it was not what I was expecting at all. She’s got hips on her. I like that. It’s cool! 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.
KENDRICK: Yeah, it is liberating 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 a 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?” With this, I 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.
Did you find yourself overly emoting in the booth, since you’re only doing a voice?
KENDRICK: 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?
KENDRICK: They just offered it to me, which was a thrill. I thought they offered it to me because of Twilight, since 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 that they were auditioning you with things that you’d never meant to be part of an audition?
KENDRICK: 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?
KENDRICK: I think that this particular art form of stop-motion is a dying breed, and 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. The actual process of doing it does not look fun.
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