Anna Kendrick dug deep for her shocking performance Alice, dearwhich makes its world premiere Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival.
In the emotional drama, directed by Mary Nighy and written by Alanna Francis, the Oscar nominee, 37, plays Alice, a woman stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship with her successful boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick). To her friends, played by Kaniehtiio Horn and Wunmi Mosaku, Alice seems frighteningly distant during a birthday trip. As Alice slowly unravels as a result of the mind games Simon has played on her, her friends try to step in and help.
As Kendrick tells PEOPLE, Alice’s story “resonated” with her for a specific reason.
“I was coming from a personal experience with emotional and psychological abuse,” she shares, recalling the time she first saw the script. “I think my agent sent it to me because he knew what I was dealing with and he sent it along. Because he was like, ‘This kind of speaks to everything you’ve been talking to me about.'”
“It felt really special because I’d honestly seen a lot of movies about abusive or toxic relationships and it didn’t really feel like what was happening to me,” she adds. “It kind of helped me normalize and minimize what was happening to me, because I thought, ‘Well, if I was in an abusive relationship, it would look like this.’ “
Describing her past relationship, Kendrick shares, “I was in a situation where I loved and trusted this person more than I trusted myself. So when that person tells you that you have a warped sense of reality and that you’re impossible and that all these things you think are happening are not moving on, your life gets messy very quickly. And I was in a situation where, at the end, I had the unique experience of discovering that everything I thought was happening was actually happening. So I had that springboard for feeling and recovery that a lot of people don’t have.”
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Kendrick later describes sorting out “what really happened” in her relationship as “the hardest task of my adult life.” (The actress declined to name her ex-boyfriend.)
“My body still thinks it was my fault,” she says. “So even with that concrete leap from the point for me, to walk away from that relationship knowing I wasn’t crazy, it’s incredible how the recovery was so difficult.”
For Kendrick, Alice, dear marks the first time he has taken on a project so relevant to her.
“Usually, I just read a good script and like the people involved and make the movie,” he says. “And it was really amazing the timing that we found this script at that time in my life. And actually, I remember my first meeting on Zoom with Mary Nighy, the director, telling her what I was going through. And I even said to her , “This all happened very recently. In fact, it happened so recently that if the movie was shot in a month, I probably shouldn’t have done it.” But it was many, many months away. So I wasn’t in any danger of re-injuring myself. But yeah, it’s definitely a unique experience. “
Kendrick recognizes this because of her personal connections to his subjects Alice, dearmaking the film “felt incredibly cathartic”.
“But like so many things in life,” he adds, “I think the part that was most therapeutic was building relationships with these collaborators and sharing our personal stories with each other and then creating this thing together.”