Anna Kendrick was looking for a change.
“I knew that I wanted to kind of stretch away from the kind of performances that I’d been giving. Not because I’m not proud of those performances, I’m incredibly proud, but I think that I wanted to kind of reset a little bit.” In the aftermath of quarantine in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kendrick found herself drawn to smaller, more intimate films. Her favorites? Kitty Green’s The Assistant and Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s Swallow. “This almost unbearable level of restraint… I just found [them] so suffocating.” In a good way, she’s quick to clarify: “Doing so much with so little is really challenging, but I think all the more powerful than spelling it out and just letting it exist.” That restraint, to show the effects of past trauma without necessarily showing the source of the trauma itself, struck a chord with the actress.
When she got the script for Alice, Darling, Kendrick was reeling from the ending of a bad relationship. “They weren’t trying to push it, but I’d been talking to my team about what I was going through in my personal life and so I think they knew that this was going to really hit home for me.” And hit home, it did. Alanna Francis’s screenplay centers on Alice, a young woman in a relationship with Simon (Charlie Carrick), who is so emotionally abusive that Alice tells him that she’s going on a trip for work when she’s really going on vacation with her friends. Once on vacation, Alice’s tightly constructed facade starts to crumble, and her friends Sophie and Tess (Wunmi Mosaku and Kaniehtiio Horn, respectively) have to stage an intervention. The connection Kendrick felt with the material is palpable – she digs deeper than she ever has before, making Alice’s panic attacks over what Simon might do if he finds out she lied feel claustrophobically real.
“When you’re in it, you only have your own experience and your own perception, and trusting that is really difficult. And you’re not always a perfect person and maybe you’re cold to your friends and maybe you’re not super likable all the time. And to stay in that experience and trust that Alice has enough evidence, I think it was really bold and really speaks to the uncertainty and complications of that experience.” Having been through something similar heightened Kendrick’s senses, and when she read the script, she was “blown away” by it. “Not only was Alanna talking about the experience, but she was presenting it in a way that was really analogous to my experience.”
Her experience making the film was, thankfully, much more pleasant, even if Kendrick admits that she “was really living up to the reputation of being an American bull in a China shop” compared to her director. First-time feature director Mary Nighy, whom Kendrick referred to on set as “my English rose,” is very much Kendrick’s opposite. “She’s so lovely and she has this really soothing voice and this beautiful accent.” Kendrick recalled that, when shooting on the lake that is a key setting in the film, “there would be times where… she’d be giving me this note that was just this whispered poem, and from across the lake, my shrill American ass would be, ‘What? Mary, you gotta speak up!’”
Thankfully, the Alice, Darling set was a space where everyone felt comfortable speaking up about their experiences. Kendrick describes Nighy as “very cool, calm, and collected,” saying that she encouraged an on-set environment where people felt comfortable sharing with each other. “There were actually times where me and Wunmi, Kaniehtiio, and other people on the set who were in different departments… we would be sharing stories and details. Things would kind of end up being like group therapy, which was really great.” Sometimes, these conversations would go on for so long that Nighy had to step in and remind everyone that they were actually there to make a film. For Kendrick, it was an indelible experience. “I just couldn’t have asked for a better team to be surrounded by, because it is really challenging as a subject matter, and everybody from every department showed up with their own experience and a complete willingness to talk about that and bring that into their work. It was just really extraordinary.”
Alice, Darling is in select theaters now and goes wide from Lionsgate on January 20, 2023.