LOS ANGELES — With her first animated feature, Anna Kendrick got to channel some of her best childhood movie memories, along with some of her worst adolescent moments.
“This was a great first experience doing something like this, to play someone so volatile and such a force of nature in the way that only a pink sweatsuit-festooned teenager can be,” Kendrick said with a laugh during a recent press day for the movie “ParaNorman.”
In the new 3-D stop-motion horror-comedy, the sleepy hamlet of Blithe Hollow runs its local economy on spooky lore about a witch hunt that happened there 300 years ago. The ghost stories may keep the townsfolk in the black, but they regard 11-year-old Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) as a black sheep because he can actually see and talk to ghosts. Even Norman's family — his blustering father (Jeff Garlin), ditzy mother (Leslie Mann) and shallow older sister Courtney (Kendrick) — are perplexed or downright scornful about the boy's special abilities.
When zombies begin to rise from their graves, it lends credence to creepy old Uncle Prenderghast's (John Goodman) claims that the centuries-old witch's curse is real and about to come true. And only Norman — with the help of his sister, his loyal pal Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Neil's strapping older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) and school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) — has the supernatural stuff to save the town.
To play the over-the-top Courtney, who is embarrassed by and secretly protective of her oddball little brother, Kendrick, 27, actually channeled her teenage relationship with her mother.
“Courtney's kind of like my shameful revisiting of like my worst arguments with my mom, where she doesn't do anything wrong and you're like ‘You're the worst!'” she said with a chuckle during an interview at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel.
Best known for her Oscar-nominated co-starring turn in Jason Reitman's acclaimed drama “Up in the Air,” her mean-girl role in the blockbuster “Twilight Saga” movies and her standout supporting performances in “50/50,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Rocket Science,” Kendrick has already notched an impressive number of acting credits. The Maine native launched her career at the age of 12 playing Dinah Lord in the 1997 Broadway production of “High Society”; she became the second-youngest Tony Award nominee in history with her nod for best featured actress in a musical.
Still, she was nervous when she took on her first voice-over role with “ParaNorman.”
“Since they just offered it to me — I didn't audition — I was worried that I was gonna show up and they would be like ‘Oh, you don't know what you're doing. You're bad at this.' But I think that kind of fear just makes you work harder, so it was probably a good attitude to have going into it,” Kendrick said.
For her first recording session, co-directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell put her in the booth with fellow first-timer Affleck.
“We were starting out together and being kind of nervous and learning the process together, but by the end of the day, we felt a little competitive with each other. So we were doing all the vocalizations at the end of the day — all the kind of grunting and screaming — and it felt like, ‘I can make a fool of myself, like what have you got?' It became like the stupidest looking competition,” she said with a laugh.
While “ParaNorman” is her first animated experience, it brought back fond childhood memories of her favorite live-action movies, including 1985's “The Goonies” and 1986's “Space Camp” and “Flight of the Navigator,” which have a common theme that isn't so common these days.
“There was a really great moment when I was reading the script where I realized that all these kids were gonna be going on this adventure and that the adults were not gonna be a part of it,” Kendrick said.
“I love those movies where it seems like kids band together and they have this kind of contained adventure where the adults don't even know what's going on but they (the kids) know how high the stakes are. You know, that was my favorite kind of thing when I was a kid.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Focus Features.