Up in the Air is a movie in large part about traveling in the 21st century. So it’s only fitting that when the stars of director Jason Reitman’s acclaimed film — George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick — get together on a mid-December morning in Los Angeles, they compare notes on who’s been logging the most air miles in the weeks surrounding the movie’s release. Kendrick has been doing double PR duty for Up in the Air and New Moon, and believes she has a leg up on Farmiga: ”I definitely made one extra round-trip from New York to L.A. that you didn’t make,” she says. ”Yes, but my 11-month-old has been with me and I’m taking his points,” says Farmiga, who’s heading back home to New York with her son as soon as this interview is over. ”He has the nastiest carbon footprint of any 11-month-old you’ve ever met.”
Clooney, meanwhile, is strangely silent. ”I was in Italy the whole time working,” admits the actor, who conveniently avoided much of the Up in the Air press tour. ”It worked out so nicely for me!”
All three of them had better keep their frequent-flier numbers handy: They’ve got countless awards ceremonies to attend. Thanks to its irresistible mix of Hollywood gloss and timely corporate-downsizing themes — including testimonials from real-life firees — Up in the Air is a surefire nominee for the Best Picture Oscar (see our predictions on page 35). The R-rated comedic drama, which arrived at Paramount via DreamWorks, won Best Picture honors from the National Board of Review and scored the most nominations at the Golden Globes. Its three main cast members all earned Globe and SAG award nods: Clooney for his breezy turn as a high-flying consultant who fires people for a living, Farmiga as a fellow traveler with whom he starts a steamy affair, and Kendrick as his type A young colleague who’s been pushing their boss to save money by sacking people via videoconference. We quizzed the three likely Oscar nominees on awards campaigns, body doubles, and their preferred airplane seats.
EW: George, you play a guy who’s a lifelong bachelor and enjoys playing the field. When you took the role, you must have known people would compare it to your real life.
George Clooney Jason came to my house and brought the script and I read it. There were some things that sounded like they were taken from a Barbara Walters special that I had done. I’m not completely unaware of people’s perceptions of me. I sort of felt like, if you were ever going to deal with it, this is probably the best way to do it and the best person to do it with. If you can’t point at what people think are your shortcomings, then you’re boxing yourself in.
EW: Your performance has such an effortless quality to it. Did it feel that way or did you actually have to work at it?
Clooney I remember I did Batman & Robin, and the next film I did was Out of Sight. Batman & Robin is not a very good film, and I’m not very good in it. Out of Sight‘s a very good film and I’m good in it. I wasn’t that different as an actor. It was a couple of months later. I didn’t learn everything you need to learn. It was about the rest of the elements. Sometimes you get way too much credit when everything else is so well choreographed that your job is to not bump into the furniture.
EW: Anna has a great line about you in the film: Someone asks her if she’s interested in you, and she says, ”I don’t even think of him that way — he’s old.” Is this the first time you’ve been described as old in a movie?
Clooney No, I even wrote a line in one of the Ocean‘s films. I’m like, ”You think I’m 50?” And Casey Affleck says, ”52?” I wrote that. I actually don’t mind it. If it’s coming from Anna, it’s even funnier.
EW: Anna, did you feel bad delivering that line?
Anna Kendrick No! Are you kidding? After the crap that I took from this guy? Jesus! [To Clooney] How’s your hip, old man?
EW: Up in the Air reminds me of some of the classic comedic dramas of the ’80s, like Broadcast News and Tootsie. What did it remind you of when you first saw it?
Clooney When I first read it, I couldn’t pigeonhole it. But when I saw the movie, I thought it fit more into the Preston Sturges old-fashioned films. There’s some great heart to those films even when they’re very funny.
Vera Farmiga It certainly did have Jason Reitman’s signature on it: His heroes and heroines are people that are kind of hard to root for and complex. The tone is unique in the way that Juno‘s tone is, and Thank You for Smoking.
Kendrick The thing that I couldn’t get over was how, like, sexy it is. [To Clooney and Farmiga] Your relationship is so sexy, and Jason seems so kind of buttoned-up. I still don’t know where that comes from.
Farmiga Jason is a prude of all prudes. There’s hardly any physicality [in the film]. He’s pretty old-fashioned in the way he executes romance.
EW: George, Jason told me that you won’t allow a shot by any body double — even a split-second shot of your thumb on a suitcase handle. What’s so great about your thumb?
Clooney I bite my cuticles, so I’m always ashamed. But when you see somebody else’s hand come in and it’s got, like, different fingers or hairy knuckles, it doesn’t look right.
Kendrick They had to do a silhouette shot of me, but I was away shooting this other movie — so they used a body double. The second I saw it in the film, I was like, ”That’s not me. That’s so wrong.” I’m sure most people won’t notice, but I can tell. Clooney Remember her? [That body double] looked exactly like you. She walked on the set… Kendrick And everybody was like, ”Anna’s back!”
Clooney I was like, ”What are you doing here?” She’s like, ”Um, hi.”
EW: Vera, Jason used a body double for a nude shot of your character. Was that because you had just given birth to your son?
Farmiga The breast milk down both sides — it would have been inappropriate. I think that’s where Jason misstepped as a director. I really think it should have been George’s tushie.
Clooney I was lactating as well.
EW: Anna, your killer scene is when you fire someone via videoconference even though he’s sitting in the next room.
Kendrick That was one of the toughest days for me. I remember when we were finally done, George looking at me and being like, ”Who’s happy?” Immediately my demeanor changed because I had been concerned about it all day. But the actor that they cast reminded me of my dad a little bit, so I think that helped.
EW: George, I can’t recall a movie where you’ve shared so much screen time with someone as relatively unknown as Anna.
Clooney After the table reading [before filming began], I walked over to Jason and I go, ”Well, we know who steals the movie!” And we all started laughing. It was really fun to watch.
EW: A few years ago, you told me that campaigning for an Oscar literally felt like a political campaign, to the point where you said you were kissing babies of Academy members. What do Vera and Anna need to do to campaign effectively?
Clooney Kiss a lot of babies. I’m enjoying watching people talk about Vera and discovering Anna. I’ve been in good movies that were not successful. Out of Sight bombed, Three Kings really didn’t do well. O Brother, Where Art Thou? did okay, not great. The problem is that if they don’t [perform at the box office], then it really is going to be just Transformers. I’m not making any judgment on Transformers, I’m just saying [Hollywood will only make] those tentpoles.
EW: At the same time, I haven’t seen one interview with you for this movie.
Clooney It’s closing in on two years since I’ve really done any interviews. Leatherheads bombed. And what occurred to me is that I did everything. I did the whistle-stop tour. What you realize is, when you’re at a certain place in your career where people know you, it’s not like you have to get known. I don’t want to be more famous. You realize that movies are going to be successful or not based on the trailer and how it’s sold and what people’s perception of the movie is. No amount of going out there and trying to be funny on a talk show or doing covers of magazines is going to make any difference. I don’t believe that’s true for actors who are making their name. But once you get to that place, I find it to be sort of soul stealing.
EW: But then you just end up getting stupid questions on red carpets and marriage proposals at press conferences. At some point, don’t you want an avenue to discuss your work intelligently?
Clooney I’ll do the red carpets, but I’m not going to do the press conferences anymore. You focus on a few smart interviews and try to do them every once in a while and make them hard to get.
EW: Let’s wrap up with a frequent-flier question. Window or aisle?
Clooney Always window for me, so I’m at least one person away from being automatically grabbed and touched [by fans]. You need a little buffer.
Farmiga Window. Because it’s a nice head prop.
Kendrick Window. Which gets tricky when the person next to you is trying to sleep and you don’t know them. I have actually been in the middle of crawling over a man that I did not know, thinking that I was stealth enough to get over him without waking him — and he woke up. He was looking at me as I was hovering over him.
Clooney”Not now, baby, relax!”
EW: And finally, how does it feel to know that no matter how many Oscar nominations this movie gets, it still won’t make nearly as much money as Anna’s other movie, New Moon?
Kendrick Yeah, take that, bitches!
Clooney [To Kendrick, sarcastically] How did it do? Did it do okay?
EW: George, are you Team Edward or Team Jacob, by the way?
Clooney I’ve gone right over that. I’m Team Anna
Piloting an Adaptation
Walter Kirn’s keen-eyed novel Up in the Air was altered on its way to the screen. The movie contains more hope — and two great new women.
Jason Reitman knew when he sat down to adapt Walter Kirn’s 2001 novel Up in the Air that challenge No. 1 would be moving the protagonist, Ryan Bingham, out of his own head. Though sharp and funny on the page, Bingham’s first-person, stream-of-consciousness narration about his frequent-flier exploits just wouldn’t translate cinematically. ”I had a character who spent his entire life alone on the road. I needed to give him people to talk to,” says Reitman, who shares a writing credit with Sheldon Turner. ”Otherwise, this was going to be a very quiet movie.” So he transformed the pill-popping party planner of the book into a sexy, feisty love interest for Bingham, and invented another female character, a spitfire colleague. It’s thanks to these women that the film’s Bingham reassesses his bachelor-for-life philosophy — which, in turn, imbues the movie with a brighter outlook than the source material. ”The book is about a man having a mental breakdown,” Reitman says. ”Someone told me, ‘It’s about a guy who’s losing it, and the movie’s about a guy who finds it.”’ That’s a major alteration. How did Kirn feel about it? ”To me, the heart of the book is the main character and the setting. So all the DNA is there,” Kirn says. ”When I see that still from the movie of George Clooney looking up at the departures boards with that puzzled, melancholic expression on his face, I see the character that I imagined?in a way that’s almost spooky.”