In the 3D stop-motion animated adventure/comedy, Paranorman, the small New England town of Blithe Hollow comes under siege by the undead. Only a misunderstood local boy, Norman Babcock, who has the ability to speak with the dead, is able to prevent the destruction of his town from a centuries-old witch’s curse. He takes on ghosts, witches, zombies and worst of all, the moronic grown-ups around him.
Anna Kendrick is the voice of Courtney, Norman’s obnoxious older sister. I recently joined a handful of other journalists in a round table Q&A with Kendrick. We wanted to know how this talented actress approached her first-ever animated film.
What’s it like voicing an animated film?
Anna Kendrick: I always wanted to do an animated film, so I jumped at the opportunity. This was my first one. I was really nervous, because I’m not ADR rated (Automated Dialogue Replacement), so I wasn’t sure how it was going to be, but it was actually really freeing. With an ADR, you’re watching the movie and you’re trying to say your lines. You feel like you’re in a really safe space. You realize it’s okay to make really ugly faces or really ugly body gestures, and to use all those things as tools was really helpful—all without being conscious about the way you look on camera.
What can you say about your character in Paranorman?
AK: She’s your typical obnoxious older sister. She’s really embarrassed by her younger brother. Even though her brother is extraordinary and ends up saving the town, she thinks he’s annoying and she wants him to be normal and do normal things. Unlike Stacey in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Courtney doesn’t have her brother’s best interests at heart. She’s a selfish cheerleader type. At first, there’s not a lot of love from Courtney toward her brother.
Do you see yourself as the character when Courtney’s animated?
AK: Yeah. There are some things, like I would always bend at my waist. Kind of side to side, like I was really tired. So world weary that I couldn’t hold my own body up, which is a very teenage girl thing. I think Courtney does that.
How do you find the direction different from live action films?
AK: It depends on the director, but the difference for me is that I get to hear what they want and do it immediately. They tell me what they want, and the second my brain processes it, I say it and try it. When a director on a film set says, action, you get to sit there and stew with it for like five minutes for them to get ready, change the lights, re-set the camera and what not. So that’s the time you can get re-set in your head and you say, ok, yeah, I’ll try that.
Did you get to record with anyone else or are you always by yourself?
AK: I got to record my first day with Casey Affleck. He’s never done animated voice work, either. It was a great way to start out, especially because, by the end of the day, we were getting more comfortable with it and it became a bit competitive to see who was willing to embarrass themselves more.
Were there any improv moments where you were allowed to vary from the script?
AK: Yeah, Yeah, that was the other great thing about having Casey there. I have a crush on him in the film. So we got to do a lot of stuff. The directors were so open to improv because the process is so slow and precise that those moments of spontaneity are so important. Like anything you can do to keep the process spontaneous helps them later.
How much of the visual elements did you have in front of you to figure out how to interpret the character?
AK: They showed me the picture of the puppet and it was not what I expected at all. She’s got hips on her, which is cool, so I liked that. It certainly made me feel that I could go really far in the characterization, and not just seeing Courtney, but seeing all the characters and discovering their world and the tone that went with it.
Was it different to act out the character in an animated film?
AK: Yeah, because in a film, you get to throw your whole body into it. And you can’t help but be aware that you’re on film, and you want to be able to look at this piece of film and not go, Oh, my God, why did I do that scene with my mouth, or why did I do that thing with my hands, like what kind of weird tick is that? But with animated films, you can throw everything into it. And I did spend a lot time in the booth with my hands on my shoulders and my feet all twisted underneath me.
Do you find yourself overly emoting because you’re in a booth doing voice only?
AK: Yeah. It’s definitely a heightened universe. I was certainly trying not to do a cartoony voice. The directors are really grounded in real emotion and they’re all about the story. You never felt like you were doing cartoony stuff, but it definitely felt like a heightened world.
Did you audition for the role of Courtney?
AK: No, they just offered it to me. And it was a thrill. I thought it was because of my work in Twilight because I play a similar character in that. I’m not exactly sure what the process is, but they talked about taking audio from my interviews and Casey Affleck’s interviews and cutting them together to hear what our voices sound like side by side. And I asked them if that was normal and Chris (Butler) is like, yeah, it’s pretty normal. And Sam (Fell) was standing behind him going, No, that’s not the typical process.
How do you deal with that process, stuff that you didn’t know would be an audition?
AK: Well, I guess it would only be kind of a bummer if they tried it and said, Oh God, no.
With all the other animated films out there, what will set this one apart?
AK: I think this form of stop motion is sort of a dying breed and it’s wonderful that people are still so committed to it. The level of artistry is really admirable. I have nothing but respect for all forms of animation, but there is something really special about the people who are so passionate about this art form that they do what they do.
What’s it like seeing your character on the screen while you’re in the sound booth?
AK: You’re watching yourself and you’re tying to match up to your voice. You’re waiting on those horrifying BEEPs—they haunt my dreams. Usually when you’re on set and somebody calls, action, some actors will say to themselves, they’re ready, so when I’m ready, I’ll start. With those BEEPS, you’re literally waiting and waiting to get this line and do it right. It’s the pressure of ADR.