Entertainment & Arts

Anna Kendrick interview: Can Pitch Perfect 2 live up to the original?

Pitch Perfect 2 Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption Pitch Perfect 2 reunites the original cast, along with newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (fourth from left)

Pitch Perfect 2 is the follow-up to a surprise hit about a university a capella group - but can it live up to the beloved original?

Anna Kendrick is exhausted.

The star of Pitch Perfect 2 is on the promotional trail for the third time this year, making a flying visit to London before going back to work on one of the seven films she has lined up for the next 18 months.

"I can't tell if I'm really jetlagged," she laughs, "but I woke up at three in the morning and, just five minutes ago, I told someone 'goodnight' instead of 'goodbye', so we'll see how this goes."

Despite this, she's as irreverent and zesty in person as she is on Twitter - devilishly suggesting we use our interview slot to catch some shut eye.

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Media captionAnna Kendrick on Pitch Perfect 2

"Five minutes of us sleeping would make compelling TV," she argues.

Her disregard for the conventions of press junkets is part of the 29-year-old's appeal. She brings a down-to-earth, acerbic edge to all of her films and public appearances, while managing to be warm and likeable.

To adapt a well-worn cliche, girls want to be her, and guys want to be her, too. She's that cool.

Kendrick first came to attention in her Oscar-nominated role as a no-nonsense management consultant in George Clooney's Up In The Air, but it's in musicals that she's made her name.

She got her professional start on Broadway, and was nominated for a Tony Award for playing Dinah in High Society when she was just 12.

The original Pitch Perfect - a comedy musical about the quirky world of competitive a capella - was her first lead role and a surprise sleeper hit.

Produced for a meagre $17 million, it made $113 million at the box office and another $103 million in home video sales. It even gave Kendrick a top 10 single in the US.

The success made a second movie all-but inevitable. But comedy sequels are notoriously difficult. And musical sequels are even worse.

"Wait, have there been many musical sequels?" asks Kendrick, astonished. "I never even thought of this!"

Image copyright Paramount Pictures
Image caption Up In The Air earned Anna Kendrick an Oscar nomination at the age of 24
Image copyright Rex Features / Getty Images
Image caption Grease 2 - not in Anna Kendrick's personal top 10

A quick brainstorm brings up Love Never Dies, the ill-fated follow-up to Phantom of the Opera, as well as film flops Blues Brothers 2000 and Grease 2.

"But Grease 2 is kind of fabulous in its own way," Kendrick argues, breaking into Michelle Pfeiffer's Cool Rider... A song which brings to mind the full horror of the film.

"No, it's a terrible movie," she corrects herself. "I agree with that."

'Stupid movie'

Historically speaking, then, the prospects for Pitch Perfect 2 were suitably dim.

"People keep saying that," laughs director Elizabeth Banks. "It's almost as if they're rooting for us to fail."

Kendrick is more sanguine. "To me, it felt like the pressure was off because I knew people wanted to see Pitch Perfect 2," she says.

"When you do almost every other film, you have no idea if anybody's going to be interested in sitting down and watching your stupid movie."

Pitch Perfect was based on the true story of an all-female a capella troupe who fought their way to the national finals of a college singing competition.

Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption The female-driven film passes the Bechdel test in almost every scene

It was adapted from a non-fiction book by Mickey Rapkin, but it was the catty, shrewdly-observed characters - invented by 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon - that gave the movie its real heart.

Kendrick played Beca, a spunky freshman dragged reluctantly into the Barden Bellas; but the stand-out was Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy (self-professed so "twig bitches like you don't do it behind my back"), who shamelessly stole scenes from the rest of the cast.

"I've got a trophy cabinet now, thanks to Pitch Perfect!" says the Australian actress.

"The MTV Movie Awards are pretty cool, 'cause they look like popcorn. And sometimes in the middle of the night, you're like 'that's not real popcorn, that's gold!'"

The sequel broadens the scope - as the Barden Bellas square off against German aca-champions Das Sound Machine (an arrogant bunch of "Deutschbags") in an international singing contest.

But not before Fat Amy destroys the girls' reputation with a mid-air wardrobe malfunction.

Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption Rebel Wilson's aerial stunt required weeks of training

"Yeah - there's a 'muffgate', when I expose myself to the President of America," Wilson deadpans.

"I did have to train very hard to do that 40-second stunt," she says of her acrobatic exposure.

"I only did three takes of the actual routine at 27 feet because it's very dangerous to hang upside down for a long period of time.

"But luckily I smashed it and got to go home early. And then we did a couple of cut-away takes of me hanging upside down by the butt."

The sequence, filmed at the Lincoln Center, is indicative of the increased ambition (and budget) of the sequel, all of which presented a challenge for first-time director Elizabeth Banks - who also plays commentator Gail Abernathy-McKadden.

"I think I was very naive," she laughs. "I was very confident going in. But it is, of course, a challenge, to give people more of what they loved about the first film but also expand the world.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Elizabeth Banks produced the first film, and stepped into the director's chair for the sequel

"What helped is that we had a sweet, small, university-set story the first time around and we had a great opportunity to blow it up this time.

"The musical numbers were all bigger and crazier and more comedic. We just leaned into what people already liked."

Despite the pressure, Banks, an accomplished comedic actress, allowed her cast to improvise extensively on set.

The jokes occasionally got out of hand (expect an 18-rated gag reel), but the best lines undoubtedly go to John Michael Higgins, who plays a staggeringly sexist commentator, calling the Bellas "an inspiration to girls all over the country who are too ugly to be cheerleaders".

"He's one of the great improv artists of all time, and he's not afraid of anything," says Banks. "I think comedy has to be very fearless or it just gets bland."

Kendrick adds: "There'd be times when we would be doing improv and I'd think 'this is never going in the movie,' but it is!

"I think we definitely pushed it a little further in this one, and somehow managed to sneak it in."

Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption The first film gave Kendrick a top 10 single in the US

And if the film matches the success of the first one, is a three-quel on the cards?

Banks, who spent so much time editing Pitch Perfect 2 that "all I see now are the mistakes", says she won't make a decision in haste.

"If people embrace it in the way we hope that they do, we will absolutely talk seriously about what the next part of this journey could be," she says.

But she has reservations about where the story of the Bellas could go.

"I think we have to do a big right turn and do something completely different, otherwise we'll be facing off against aliens," she laughs.

"We'll be the Avengers of a capella."

Pitch Perfect 2 reaches cinemas on 15 May, 2015.

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