Street interviewed Anna Kendrick, Elizabeth Banks, and the rest of the cast of “Pitch Perfect” to hear a little more about their time in the world of college a cappella.
Street: How did you prepare for the musical element, and how was it different from performing in an actual musical?
Anna Kendrick: Oh, we pre–recorded a lot, which was annoying, because I didn’t have very much fun doing like the recording studio side of it; it was like very sterile, which was uncomfortable.
Brittany Snow: Um, I think the rehearsal process of it was probably similar, in the fact that there was a month of rehearsing and singing and dancing and a little bit of training, and tweaking things, but then actually shooting it was definitely different than doing a play because you have a lot of things that are pre-recorded, also you’re not in front of a bunch of people every night so you don’t get the same energy, but we had each other to feed off of.
Street: The camaraderie with the cast seemed really genuine, was it like that off the set as well?
AK: We really hate each other.
BS: I hate you, so much. (Laughs.) We weirdly liked each other…and I think that that’s really something different than other movies, where I think it’s because we were singing and dancing, and there is such a group aspect to the movie, that we were constantly around each other, and it was a fun movie, so we had a lot of fun. And the chemistry I think shows on camera as well.
Street: The film focuses on a ragtag group of misfits who come together to form a singing group, much like the show “Glee.” How is “Pitch Perfect” different from that show?
AK: Neither of us has ever seen that show! Which I thought this morning—thought I was the only person in America who hadn’t seen that show.
BS: I don’t know it either. I think that it’s different from what I imagine—
AK: Well, the titles are different.
BS: Yeah, that’s a big one. (Laughs.) And I think the thing that is different is different genres of singing. It’s a glee club, and it’s a cappella.
AK: My understanding is they don’t do a cappella. They sing songs with instrumentals, but they don’t do the vocal instrumentals.
BS: I mean, of course there’s going to be comparisons to anything that has singing.
AK: It’s a silly thing to say, but it’s true. This script existed before “Glee.” But, you know, of course they don’t want to make it until “Glee” becomes a hit and they realize there’s a market for this kind of thing. But Kay Cannon, who writes for “30 Rock,” who wrote this script, she started working on this like six years ago.
Street: Anna, we know you’ve done Broadway, but were you nervous making the transition to singing on film?
AK: Uh, I was, you know, just singing—I actually wanted to sing live, in the film, just because I found the recording studio to be a difficult environment. It just wasn’t conducive to performance to me, so anytime I’m singing on my own in the movie I’m singing live. I had no idea how to function in a recording studio, it took me a while— it took me a couple sessions—to learn how to sing for that microphone.
Street: Brittany, how did this compare to your other on-screen musical experiences, like “Hairspray”?
BS: Uhm, the rehearsal process was similar, getting to do the singing and dancing and training and things like that. But I think that this was different because well, it wasn’t a period movie, and I think “Hairspray” was very specific in the characters, and they were very over the top and larger than life. The singing and dancing came from it actually being a musical where people break into song for no reason, and that was part of the over the top nature of Hairspray. I think this one is very relatable, and all justified, we don’t break out into song because we feel like it, there is actually a reason that they’re singing.
AK: Yeah, which technically, I think, means it’s not a musical. Because it’s only a musical if the songs are like in service of the story. Technically, it’s just a movie where we sing, it’s not a musical.
BS: But don’t tell anybody that, cuz that’ll probably ruin everything.
AK: SHUT UP. Nobody’s gonna see this movie now!
Street: Was it hard to shoot the shower scene with a straight face? The entire audience was laughing out loud.
BS: Our being naked in the shower, that’s funny, though, that’s good. Laugh it up, laugh it up.
AK: That was, I mean, it was like, you know, we both were pretty uncomfortable, and like I really, truly, didn’t want to have to do it and felt really uncomfortable, and the environment happened to just be really hot and humid and be really uncomfortable. So, by the time the end of the day rolled around, you know, they kept like asking if we wanted our modesty robes back, and we were like, no, just forget it, we’re fine. Its hot in here, it’s hot in this piece. And like, we’ve seen everything, at this point. It’s fine, we’re fine.
Street: What was the one song you wish made it into the film, and what was your favorite song to sing?
AK: Well nothing really got—we didn’t lose anything, really.
BS: Other songs got cut from the movie, but they were in different drafts of the script, and different songs that were originally put in the script. At one point there was Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which I kind of was wanting to sing just because that song is so awesome—
AK: It’s so, like, cheesy—
BS: Well, that was supposed to be our shower song!
AK: We were like, this far away from each other, I’m not sure that singing “Someone Like You”…with those baby blues? It got real. I don’t know if I would’ve survived Adele…
Street: How was it shooting in Louisiana?
BS: Amazing. We were in Baton Rouge, and obviously Tulane, and we got to do college, like—
AK: Everybody was like, ‘You’ve never been to an LSU football game? You are coming! Like a very comfortable environment.
BS: Yeah, everyone was so nice, it was the first time I’ve ever tailgated before, and it made up for all my years of not tailgating. It was awesome.
Street: Were you both familiar with this underground world of competitive a cappella before you started the movie?
AK: When I was like 18 or 19, I had just moved to L.A., I went to—I got dragged—to the UCLA show. My roommate had a crush on the guy, and I thought it was going to be one of those things, the most excruciating evening of my life… and by the end of it, I was like, ‘These guys are so cool; can we meet them?’ Was I star struck by a cappella? Is that weird?
Street: What do you expect audiences to take away from the film?
BS: Oh, great, give me the hard one.
AK: Go for it, wrap it up.
BS: Oh God, ok. What I think is that—and what the consensus that we’re getting from everyone who’s seen it—is that leaving the movie theatre they are genuinely… not only surprised at how awesome it is—
AK: Every reporter is like, I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it was really good!
BS: But not only that, but I think that people who are really looking forward to seeing it are not gonna be disappointed, and that’s almost a guarantee. And that’s my pitch!
Street: Jason, how did you become involved with the project?
Elizabeth Banks: Jason directed an amazing—a bunch of amazing things—he did “Avenue Q” on Broadway, a very fun show, and we knew that he would get the comedy of “Pitch Perfect.” And for us, it’s all about making a comedy, with fun music, and he knows music as well. So, best decision I ever made.
JM: Yeah, I read the script and just fell in love with it, cause Kay’s original script was so funny and captured this weird world that—
EB: Kay Cannon, who writes for “30 Rock,” wrote the script.
JM: Yeah, and uh, met with Elizabeth and her husband Max, they’re the producers, and we just all fell in love, and wanted to make something as funny as what we were paying tribute to.
Street: What did you think of Tulane?
JM: We were shooting in Louisiana, and we quickly did some research; we wanted authentic—we wanted good singers to be in the movie, and we also wanted some authentic groups to be in. So we quickly went to New Orleans—Tulane in particular—because they have a couple groups there, and auditioned them both individually and as a group. I think we cast everybody in those groups somewhere in the movie.
Street: Elizabeth, any advice for Penn ladies looking to find a husband on campus?
EB: Yay, Penn! Go…you need to, probably, leave campus, and go downtown, just go to South Street, on a Friday night, and try to meet somebody else.
Street: Classic Penn!
EB: No, umm, here’s the thing: don’t settle. Take your time, I did meet my husband at Penn, but…I’m telling you to sleep around. Sleep around.
Street: Were you confident about promoting the film by word of mouth?
JM: I’m almost becoming more confident, in a way, because the more people we show it to, and seem to enjoy it… and audiences laugh, it’s a fun way to get the word out.
Street: Did you have any actors in mind that you strongly wanted to cast?
JM: Um, I did. The script had been around for a while, and I had lunch with Anna Kendrick right after she was nominated for the Academy Award, actually, and we both loved the script, and Kay’s writing, and the character of Beca, but it hadn’t been green-lit yet. So as soon as it was…we all felt the same way about her: great actress, can ground the role, can kind of set the tone—
EB: Nominated for a Tony for singing, so we knew she could do it.
JM: A great leader, and she was sort of the first, and in a way, a very important choice to get all of the other great actors that we got.
Street: What influenced the musical choices?
EB: Jason’s amazing taste in music, number one.
JM: Everybody has that taste.
EB: Well, no. You picked “Titanium” before anyone had ever even heard “Titanium.” And now it’s like a huge hit. We feel like nobody knows that we picked it almost two years ago!
JM: That’s one of the challenges of picking a movie with music, is that you have such a long time till it comes out… you’re even more like, how do you make it relevant, how do you choose songs that feel like people will want to hear them again, in case they haven’t heard them too much over the summer—
EB: How to get some classics in there that nobody can argue with.
JM: One thing that was tricky with this particular story is we have a lead character Beca, who’s trying to define what’s cool in music, and everybody has a relative sense of what’s cool. What genres they like. So we tried to choose as many genres as we could, to kind of keep it changing and interesting.
EB: Yep, fresh and interesting, for anybody who likes music, and any kind of music.
JM: But trying to choose like a—our girl group sings a song from the past that’s kind of lame—so to choose what that is, we ended up with a song, you know, that we all grew up on. It’s “I Saw the Sign,” a song that kind of defines the 80’s, I guess. We picked songs to tell the stories and that was one of the challenges.
Street: What kind of musical experience had you had before?
EB: Neither of us sang a cappella. Um, at Penn, there are a bunch of a cappella groups, and I knew people in those groups, and I remember seeing a kid as a freshman, singing Elton John’s “Rocket Man” better than Elton John. And it became, ‘Wow! That guy’s like in my biology class, and now he’s a rock star!’ And it was that dynamic that I think really attracted all of us to this movie. The idea that this nerd could become a rock star, like, just by opening his mouth, is pretty powerful.
JM: Yeah, and I didn’t have any experience with a cappella in particular, but I had done music theatre, you know working with actors sort of singing back up vocals and stuff, but was not prepared for how intricate and talented you have to be to sing all these different parts, all together, and dance at the same time. So I have an extra kind of respect for a cappella groups now that I’ve been through this process. So do our actors, now that we’ve busted their asses to get there.
Street: Elizabeth, what was it like producing with your husband?
EB: My husband and I work really well together. Umm, I think. (Laughs.) You know, we…we just wanted to make…we’re really proud that this movie came out, sort of the way we wanted it to. I mean, we set about to make a certain type of movie, a really fun, funny, hopefully sort of cult-ily iconic movie with great characters, and we had a partner in Kay Cannon for a long time before we attached Jason. And then we felt like wow, now we have another partner who’s in it with us, and then getting the company Gold Circle on board with Paul Brooks, then we had another partner, and we felt like we just kept getting great, great, great partners, who saw the movie that we wanted to make. So, umm, it’s great.
JM: And Liz, obviously, her personal ability with comedy; Max also is incredibly funny, and their sensibility about comedy with Kay helped define the tone, so always trying to make choices for the movie based on that comic sensibility that we share was important
Street: What was the best scene to film?
EB: Well, I love the shower scene, with Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow. They sing together in the shower, and they’re naked, and they sang live on the day, and they harmonized together, and it was beautiful, and touching—
JM: And awkward.
EB: And weird!
JM: And weird, and horrible.
EB: (Laughs.) Um, so, I thought that was a really fun scene to shoot.