Most child actors either burn out or fade away. At 12, Anna Kendrick earned a Tony Award nomination for Broadway's "High Society" in 1998, becoming the third-youngest nominee after 11-year-old Daisy Eagan (1991, "The Secret Garden") and 10-year-old Frankie Michaels (1966, "Mame"), both of whom won. Yet while those two worthies went on to amass, respectively, few and no other credits, Kendrick has continued a steady rise that now finds her "Up in the Air."

That's the title of the new serio-comic film, opening in limited release Friday and wide on Christmas Day, in which George Clooney and she spar as reluctant mentor and protege in a corporate-downsizing consulting firm. The Portland, Maine, native matches the established star blow for blow, showing the same fierce talent she's demonstrated in such disparate roles as a manipulative, high-school debater barracuda in "Rocket Science" (2007) and boy-crazy best friend Jessica in the "Twilight" films.

Now 24, Kendrick spoke at the Waldorf Towers in Manhattan.

You're known to cult audiences for your knockout performance in the underseen but critically acclaimed "Rocket Science," and for a YouTube clip of your knockout song "The Ladies Who Lunch" in the movie "Camp" (2003) . . .

Oh, no!

Oh, no? What, oh, no?

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[Laughs] No, it's just funny that for whatever reason only that one number has really resurfaced on YouTube, and it makes me regret that people don't see the whole movie . I mean, I understand it, and I'm happy people are watching any piece of it, but people really should see the whole movie!

That's a very modest way of looking at it. So you have fans who know your work and you've got this indie career and a role in the "Twilight" movies. How did that background lead to co-starring with George Clooney in a big studio picture?

People assume, and rightly so, that it was this grueling audition process and I must have screen-tested with George and probably went in five times. And what actually happened is I went in once, thought I blew it, and then two or three weeks later I got a call saying they were going to offer me the job. And I was completely thrown. Jason told me that he had written it with me in mind.

He knew your work from . . .

From "Rocket Science." And I basically had to come in and prove I had the goods, because from a studio standpoint why wouldn't you hire Natalie Portman or somebody like that? Nobody's heard of me - like, why would you put me in a movie with George Clooney? That's ridiculous!

What went through your head when you heard who your co-star was?

I had heard that George was attached to it, but I just assumed it was one of those things they just say on a movie when there's a slim possibility it will work, just to generate interest, and there was no way it was going to work out, because why would I be given the opportunity to so much as audition for a George Clooney film? And then when I was cast, I had lunch with Jason and he was telling me about "me and George" and how excited he was to do the film, and I was eating my taco trying to act like it was the most normal thing in the world, for me to be doing a movie with George Clooney.

What's next? "Twilight" surely raised your profile.

It's funny - I was cast before "Twilight," actually. "Twilight" is this huge phenomenon, but I've yet to get a job from it! [laughs] I was cast in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" [her next film] for ages before "Twilight" came out. And Jason saw "Rocket Science" and didn't even know what "Twilight" was. He actually texted me after seeing it and said, "Oh, I loved 'Twilight,' great job, but I prefer when you play a genius." As strange compliments go, that's pretty good!