SPOILER ALERT: The Barden Bellas have split up.
But before you scream “A ca-scuse me?!” it’s just a temporary separation. On this muggy June day in Baton Rouge, La., the cast of Pitch Perfect 2, the sequel to Universal’s sleeper about a college a cappella group, is pulling double duty. Rebel Wilson (returning as blunt bombshell Fat Amy) and Brittany Snow (back as dim bulb Chloe) are cloistered in the production offices, recording and preparing for dance rehearsal.
Meanwhile, a few miles away, Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin, reprising their roles as vocal power couple Beca and Jesse, are shooting Beca’s first day of work as an intern at a recording company. “Any first-day jitters?” Jesse asks. “No,” Beca responds. “I’m just going to be moody and distant—artists love that, right?” If anyone has slight jitters, it’s the woman behind the camera: actress Elizabeth Banks (the Hunger Games franchise), who produced the original and appeared in a small role as sassy judge Gail. She’s now making her feature-directing debut. “This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever had,” she jokes during a break in shooting. “My first movie is this huge studio movie that a lot of people care about that also happens to be a musical with massive dance numbers. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
But Pitch Perfect is all about defying the odds. Released in September 2012, the original movie, directed by Jason Moore (Avenue Q) and written by Kay Cannon (30 Rock), focused on a ragtag a cappella group at a Southern college and their surly but sensational new recruit, Beca. The film earned solid reviews and grossed $65 million in the U.S. “It was pretty modest,” Banks says. “But it engendered a lot of love. That’s what we could not have foreseen.” The other surprise was its success on DVD and a platinum-selling soundtrack, boosted by Kendrick’s “Cups” single. ” Pitch performed on DVD like a movie that did at least twice what its theatrical business was,” says Peter Cramer, Universal’s co-president of production. All of which fast-tracked the sequel. “It went from ‘Boy, it would be great to do this!’ to ‘We must do this!’ ”
The little comedy that could is now striving for franchise status. Pitch Perfect 2 will swing into theaters on May 15, 2015, facing off against some of the biggest guns of the summer. (Avengers: Age of Ultron opens two weeks earlier.) “The first film flew under the radar, and it was a gift,” says Banks. “This time around, much higher stakes.” And the studio knows it. “Everybody is much more involved,” she adds. “As the saying goes, ‘Success has many fathers.’ ”
For more on Pitch Perfect 2, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands this Friday.