Anna Kendrick is aware of the kinds of movies made about domestic abuse, but the ones that aren’t so mainstream are the ones about the psychological abuse that happens devoid of any physical violence—and that’s far more sinister.

In the new film, Alice, Darling which played at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Kendrick plays a woman in a psychologically abusive relationship with her boyfriend Simon (Charlie Carrick). It’s only on a weekend getaway with her two best friends, Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) that she gains perspective to recognize the truth about the toxic relationship. Playing in theatres this weekend and on digital, Alice, Darling was filmed in Ontario and produced by Toronto production company Babe Nation.

For Kendrick, it was the script by Alanna Francis that she found to be a “piece of poetry that gave everybody a unified sense of the movie we were making.”

“The goal we were working towards because it did feel like we have seen certain kinds of movies about abuse and this was a chance to make something that felt a little more nebulous and a little more confusing. And that can be scary because sometimes there’s a temptation after weeks of shooting many scenes that feel confusing and restrained that you want to spoon-feed the audience something,” she said in an interview.

Boundaried Performance: Therapeutic instead of Traumatic

For Kendrick, this film was a lot more personal than her other projects. She recently shared that she too was involved in an emotionally abusive relationship with her ex-partner for six years. It’s not easy to share that or relive that when making this film, and Kendrick credits her team for the boundaried performance.

“I felt like there were points when Mary Nighy, our director, was being very supportive and very sweet. And she was always like, ‘You can always give me a signal if you need a break or if you’re getting overwhelmed,’ and if anything, it actually felt like this very boundaried performance, which is kind of what made it feel safe.”

She continued: “I think if I’d been working with the kind of director who needed me to be kind of method acting and in the zone for like 24 hours a day, that would have been a disaster, and to be able to have really light, connected, lovely moments on set was the reason that everybody was able to kind of give the performances that they gave. So it was almost like, knowing that there was this life raft of these beautiful group of artists that had all responded to the material for the same reasons everybody that was involved, came to it. It resonated with them personally so everybody had the same kind of sensitivity about it, but not over sensitivity either. So it was just an amazing supportive group of people to have around me.”

On Psychological Abuse

The film doesn’t show violence but subtle forms of emotional abuse and gaslighting are highlighted throughout. It certainly makes victims of psychological abuse feel validated, showing that not all abuse looks alike and is violent. Kendrick says that that’s the hope.

“I think that the mission statement was that we never wanted to push it so far that anybody would watch the movie and go, ‘Oh, well, that never happened. So I guess my relationship is fine.’ I just never wanted there to be a moment where something so clear happens that you would invalidate your own experience if you were watching it,” Kendrick explained.

The Body Keeps the Score

It was certainly not easy for Kendrick to step into the role that echoed her own trauma and stepping away from the role after filming was certainly something she worried about but was able to let go due to the space created for her on set.

“I did start to worry right before we went into the movie. I was reading this book, The Body Keeps the Score. There was something in that book about how sometimes traditional models, like talk therapy, can be counterproductive, because you’re making your body stay in that activated space. I did start to worry about that and I really just found that everybody on set was just so lovely, and made me laugh so much. It felt like expelling something more than holding on to it. Because I have this really boundary sensitive framework of the people around me.”

Elevation Pictures

The Power of Self-Trust

“It was a kind of daily battle to trust that it was on the page, and it’s going to be in the movie. The first day that I met Wunmi [Musaki], who plays one of the friends, she and I were talking about this exact balancing act,” she said.

“I was saying something about how it’s going to be tricky to know when to hold back and when to kind of give the audience enough evidence and she was like, ‘But Anna, you are the evidence.’  And, you know, she meant the performance but I think that was such a powerful thing for her to say, and such an amazing thing to keep in mind. You’re in a situation where you have to self-trust, and that it’s not as simple as just saying, ‘Yeah, I need to have self-trust.’ So it’s an incredibly small and intimate film, but we really wanted to try as much as we could to not make it black and white.”

Pushing Boundaries

The role is a departure for Kendrick, who has often played peppy characters in films such as Pitch Perfect, Trolls and Twilight. So when it came to her creative and artistic pursuits as an actor, she wanted to push herself.

“I wanted to sort of put down all of the tools in my bag of tricks that make me feel most comfortable and safest because I worked so much I’ve been on so many sets, that I have a real sense of what people want to see before they want to say, ‘Okay, we’ve got this and we can move on.’ And there have been times where I go, ‘I could have pushed myself.’ I can see that I was relying on a handful of things and I wanted to try not to do that,” Kendrick explained.

“This sounds like very self indulgent, artistic nonsense, but it was terrifying to not have that kind of parachutes to rely on and trust that I could be still and that the truth of the moment will come across. I know how to make people who are standing around the monitor and people who are watching dailies feel very happy and to trust that I was building a performance over many, many weeks was uncomfortable.”

Directing Venture

The actress is already set to make her directorial debut titled The Dating Game, which she will also star in. The filming has already begun in Vancouver.

“In the next thing I’m doing I’m directing as well. It’ll be the first time that I’m directing myself as an actor. So that will be its own challenge. I’m interested to see how that will go. I’m nervous about knowing when to move on because also, as the director, I’m like, ‘Oh, I want a million options. So I’ll just do five different versions of the scene and that’s a very tempting thing to call into. But yeah, I’ll be trying to make sure that I have it all mapped out.”

Alice, Darling releases in theatres today and is available to rent across all digital platforms.