We might be more use to seeing the funny side of Anna Kendrick in films such as Up In The Air, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and 50/50, but the actress shows she’s equally comfortable playing a dramatic role in David Ayer’s End Of Watch. Kendrick plays Janet, the new girlfriend of Jake Gyllenhaal’s LAPD officer and a young woman who comes to find that life for a cop protecting and serving the streets of South Central LA is filled with both camaraderie and peril.
How did you come to be involved in End Of Watch?
I had done a music video with David for LCD Soundsystem so I knew that I would be excited about working with him again if I had the opportunity. I remember sitting down to read the script and being completely pinned to the spot. I immediately called my agent and said that what struck me was that, while I should be not that interested in a kind of wife and girlfriend part, it didn’t feel like a placeholder role. It felt like an important role that really added to the world and grounded the other characters. You could feel the female characters’ presence throughout the film, even though they weren’t on screen that much.
How would you describe Janet?
She’s a smart girl but she has a tendency to over-intellectualise things and doesn’t really know how to relate to people. She’s figured out how to project the trappings of social interaction but isn’t that great at connecting with people on a deeper level. I think what she finds in Brian is a similar thing, but she doesn’t realise what it means to be in a relationship with a cop. She has to go from looking at him as her interesting new boyfriend to accepting that his job is part of him.
Could you imagine yourself being with someone who risks their life every day on the job?
It’s not the kind of thing you can help, necessarily, but I don’t know if I’d be strong enough to do it. I worry about people when they have normal jobs so I can’t imagine the hell that you go through when you’re dating somebody in law enforcement and they’re an hour late coming home.
What did you admire about David Ayer as a director?
It’s funny, he’s a really stoic person and he’s very intimidating when you first meet him. He’s very protective of his work so I think until you prove to him that you are just as dedicated to what he wants to do as he is, he plays things pretty close to the vest. But what he’s good at is he asks you a lot of questions – he doesn’t want you to verbally answer them, he just wants to get your wheels turning.
What did he tell you about your role?
Because I have a limited amount of screen time, we talked a lot about laying the foundation of who the character is, what her background is, the idea that she comes from this big Irish family, that she feels like a fish out of water in her family and that the things that are broken inside of Janet are a mirror of what’s broken inside of Brian. And that creates a relationship in which they really need each other. There’s not a lot of flirtation with them – they discover pretty quickly that they should either break down all the walls or go their separate ways.
Did you have an opportunity to spend time with Jake before you arrived on set?
We had a rehearsal period together but we didn’t rehearse anything that we intended to shoot. David wrote a really lovely scene that was meant to be our first date and we rehearsed it for hours and we never intended to shoot it. I wish I could do every movie that way, where you rehearse just everything that comes before the movie. We had the luxury of shooting in chronological order so when I came onto set for my first day, when I’m meeting Gabby (Natalie Martinez) and Mike (Michael Pena), I felt as though I’d already got to know Brian and I was just meeting his friends for the first time. I genuinely felt a little out of place, a little like I was trying to prove myself and make the best first impression. That in turn made Jake extra protective of me as he would be if you were introducing your new girlfriend to your friends. It was a really interesting dynamic.
How were the dance rehearsals for your wedding sequence?
Jake pouted his way through those dance rehearsals. He was not pleased, although obviously on the day he was really committed. He’s a team player so he didn’t leave me hanging but he was not excited to do that. I thought that three seconds of that dance was going to be in the movie and it just went on and on and on! I was like, “David, how could you?!”
Does it bring any added pressure to have less screen time and therefore feeling like you have to make your presence felt more when you are on camera?
Pressure has such negative connotations but I do think that with our characters it’s less about the number of scenes and more about feeling their presence throughout. Putting across that heart and soul when you can creates a much more well-rounded world for the entire arc of the movie. In terms of it being a boys’ club, I found actually they were really deferential to the females when we were on set. It almost felt like when we were there, it was our territory and they would look to us for what we wanted to do on those days.
There’s a lot of hand-held camerawork in the film. Did you enjoy that aspect of the shoot?
Very much. When the more traditional cameras would all be reloading and no one was filming, which was pretty rare actually, that would be the moment where Jake or Michael would pick up a hand-held and we’d just shoot something. It almost became too weird to not be filming. We were in character for 12 hours a day. We had so much time to play and try different things.
We’re used to seeing you play more comedic, uptight characters. Do roles like this help change how the film industry views you?
A little bit. On the film I just finished, Get A Job, when I first read that script I didn’t even finish it because it was another one of those, “Will you please play the exact same role for us?” But my agent told me I should finish it and I’m glad I did because the character kind of goes off the rails and has this breakdown and becomes a stoner. I’d love to play a stoner in every movie from now on! But I just want to try as much as I can. I get antsy if I’m not working, and I just try to make sure I go into each situation with a lot of trust. That’s the key.
Did making End Of Watch influence or change your opinion about the job that law enforcement officers do?
It gave me a newfound appreciation for the kind of things that they might face every day, but I don’t think the film over-romanticises the kind of people that do this work. Our two leads are really good men but they don’t always do what would be considered the right thing, and there are also characters represented who can’t wait to retire and people who are there for the wrong reasons. You find good and bad in all walks of life, and this film shows that.