In conversation with the star of Trolls, which is about animated monsters and not Twitter. #burn #lolz #humour
MOST BIG STARS TAKE THEMSELVES PRETTY SERIOUSLY. NOT SO ANNA KENDRICK, WHO’S NEVER HAPPIER THAN WHEN POKING FUN AT HERSELF AND TINSELTOWN
This is Anna Kendrick’s opening gambit as she sits down for tea with Empire in London’s Savoy hotel. It’s a typically wry opening for the actor, who rarely gives a boring interview — although not because she’s habitually hopped up on jetlag remedies. Kendrick is one of those stars who’s as funny off-screen as on, deadpan and selfdeprecating almost to a fault.
The Maine-born Kendrick originally got her start on Broadway, with a Tony nomination at the age of 12 for her role as Dinah Lord in High Society. Her first movie, the musical Camp, came five years later, but the real break was 2007 indie movie Rocket Science, which put her on the radar of every credible filmmaker in Hollywood. Kendrick spent the following years nimbly stealing scenes in every film she made. As a Type A schoolgirl in Twilight, Scott’s wiser sister in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World or in her Oscar-nominated supporting role as an ambitious young executive for Up In The Air, she demanded attention even in small parts. But it was by returning to her Broadway roots that she landed her first mainstream lead, Pitch Perfect (2012), as a discontented college student who reluctantly joins an a cappella choir. A slow-burning cult hit that became a box-office
success with its sequel, it’s now a franchise approaching a third instalment. Pitch Perfect then led Kendrick to her highest-profile blockbuster role to date, playing Cinderella opposite Meryl Streep and Chris Pine in Into
The Woods, and helped put her in the lead for mainstream comedies such as this summer’s Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates.
This month Kendrick stars as Poppy, the tiny hero of Dreamworks’ Trolls. While it’s based on the cult toys with the big hair, this is an original story built around new characters and even a slightly tweaked design. And while Poppy is unreasonably cute, she has a surprisingly anarchic spirit: Poppy is eaten and, er, released several times during her quest. So while the character’s impossible peppiness may seem a far cry from Kendrick’s dry wit, they could just share the same toughness underneath. How did they pitch Trolls to you? I met with the directors [Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn] the week after I had done Saturday
Night Live, and my opening monologue was this manic, musical version of myself. I was like, “Oh, I inadvertently gave an audition in that scene.” They were doing a lot of hard pitching, and I didn’t want to interrupt the presentation because they’d gone to all this effort. But I was sitting there the whole time with saucer eyes going, “The second you stop talking I will say yes.”
“I’M HOPING THAT MY SLEEPING PILL HAS COMPLETELY WORN OFF, BECAUSE OTHERWISE THIS IS GOING TO BE ONE OF THOSE FAMOUS ‘INTERESTING’ INTERVIEWS.”
I really wanted to do an animation and I just got such perfect vibes off of the two directors. Unlike the toys, the trolls have colourful skin now. The directors acknowledged that yes, this concept comes from a toy, but our job is to create a compelling story, and frankly to change the design an awful lot. The trolls are so frickin’ cute. I like that my character, Poppy, is unreasonably happy, a little psycho, because “well-rounded and happy and practical” I couldn’t really get behind. But “so relentlessly happy that she is obviously choosing to block out certain things”, I can relate to that. It’s such a joy to record her. You get some of the best songs as well. After so many musical films, who’s been your favourite duet partner? Even though it barely qualifies as a song, singing with Emily Blunt in Into The Woods was one of my favourite days. It helped that it was towards the beginning of the shoot, so we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. But I loved the interplay. It’s less about the vocals and more about the information exchange. Does a challenge like performing Into The
Woods’ famously challenging Sondheim music change your approach to singing? I think that your voice is like any other muscle. I recently heard a clip of me and I thought, “Okay, I sound alright.” But that’s because it came straight off doing The Last Five Years and Into The Woods, and I’d been keeping my voice in good shape. It’s like going to the gym, and I haven’t been to the gym in a year. Now I’m trying to get my life together so I can sing well in the next movie. Is that Pitch Perfect 3? Yes — although not to be glib, those films are not very vocally challenging. But I feel almost more excited about the third one than the second, because there are a lot of things I want to give the fans. Making movies for the fans is not always a great strategy, because you can end up making a movie that nobody likes. But these hardcore fans are really, really fuckin’ smart. Like, prescient. A studio thinks they can dictate to them what it is they want, and they’re so smart that they’re going, “Is this what the studio thinks that we want?!” So I want to deliver something that I feel really happy to put into the world. Are there any dream cameos for the third one? You had Snoop Dogg last time, and you said you fell in love with his nail art. Oh my God, I think about his really delicate, beautiful nail art at least two times a week. It just fills me with joy. The idea of
crowbarring in a cameo is pointless to me. That said, if I understand the conceit of the film, it’s possible that there will be earned opportunities for that. Did the reaction to those films surprise you? On Twitter, a very, very common thing I get from men is, “I watched Pitch Perfect and I thought it was going to be lame but it was alright.” That always tickles me because of the amount of times that girls pretend to like movies because it’s a male-loved movie! Leaders of our industry oftentimes say something is one of the greatest films of all time, and I watch it and go, “This is unmitigated garbage.” But I feel like I should pretend to like it! So women seem to have really embraced those films and there are just zero men going, “Yay, Pitch Perfect is great.” They’re ashamed to admit that in fact they do like it.
It’s good to have a franchise that isn’t about superheroes.
It’s a nice surprise. It’s like, cars, monsters, dinosaurs, superheroes, and girls who sing in a cappella choir — which is choir, but nerdier. Speaking of nerdy, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World wasn’t a big role. Why take that? I was just gagging to work with Edgar [Wright]. Because of Shaun [Of The Dead], obviously, but especially Hot Fuzz. His directing style is bizarre. There were scenes where I was like, “Oh my God, I’m a living puppet.” I was doing those splitscreen shots on the phone with Scott [Michael Cera, her on-screen brother], and Edgar had planned everything. “The cut comes here, you turn your head here, you blink here.” It was like animation.
That’s obviously how he’s able to cut as fast as he does.
Yeah. Poor man, I keep waiting for him to work with some actor who’s like, “I can’t work like this, I have a process.” Luckily that still hasn’t happened. He just attracts such professional talent because he’s such a professional. To me, while Edgar’s process is demanding, I love it. If you know what you want, I’ll be the puppet.
Tell me about Twilight. Jason Reitman called it the “graveyard of acting”, but you came out of it unscathed.
Twilight never did anything but bring me joy. And rent. It was all cool when I had my Oscar nomination [for Up In The Air], but if I hadn’t been making the Twilight movies I would have been straight-up evicted, and I know that that sounds hyperbolic but it’s not. And it was the easiest job on the planet. I came into those movies for two weeks and was like, “Oh, here’s a series of stupid jokes.” Every filmmaker that I have worked with, literally, ends up going, “You weren’t in Twilight, were you?” It made a lot of noise, but it was bizarrely, uncannily disconnected from the rest of my career. You mentioned your Oscar nomination for
Up In The Air. Did you sense awards glory while you were making it? I thought it was going to be a comedy. I didn’t understand that it would be an awards contender at all. The script changed a lot while we were making it, because we were making it when the bubble burst. Lay-offs meant something else by the time that we went into production. The idea of a man who fires people for a living went from hitman to genocidal maniac, you know?
And meanwhile your character seemed frustrated that being a woman held her back.
I wonder how I would feel making that movie today, if I would feel a responsibility to make her more owning of her femininity and strong, and that sort of thing. She was over-confident, she was vulnerable. And she didn’t like being vulnerable and she didn’t like the fact that she had to do double duty to be a businessperson and female. I wonder if the landscape of feminism right now would take issue with that. But it’s a flawed character; not every character is going to be a perfect feminist.
You said once that you don’t have a thing for likeable characters, but a lot of your characters are likeable because of their flaws.
I guess that was my pedestrian way of saying I don’t mind if [my character] doesn’t save the cat. I don’t have a problem with getting an audience on your side if you expect them to take a journey with you, I get that. But there are different ways of doing that.
One, presumably, is the sort of outrageously bad behaviour that you and your friend Aubrey Plaza indulge in in Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates.
Yeah, we both read the script with each other in mind, and we then just had to wait patiently, as ladies do. They had to get a director and cast the boys. We just bided our time, and then when everybody was ready we went, “It’s going to be us, bye, thanks so much.” I’m happy to be evilly sipping tea while I explain that. But it was the most fun. I love a character where you’re justified in going from complete silence to 60 decibels for no reason at all. Within a comedy, a girl who is, in theory, mentally sound but who is just kind of an asshole, is such good fun. There are jokes in that movie that I literally don’t remember filming. [Director] Jake [Szymanski] would roll the camera for 30 minutes. By the end of it I was like, “I’m in an insane asylum and the inmates are running it.” A very different experience to the improv in End Of Watch, then. Yeah, End Of Watch was almost like my training wheels for going in to do Joe Swanberg films [Drinking Buddies and Happy Christmas], because End Of Watch had a script and we were perfectly happy to stick to it, and also, “Let’s keep the cameras rolling.” In that case it was about listening and creating a scene. For something like Mike And Dave I almost wish there were a separate word for it, because it’s almost the antithesis, but it has this incredible energetic result. We’ve heard you like to hold Lord Of The Rings marathons. Any other movie traditions? I like to do a Harry Potter marathon around Thanksgiving — but starting at number three because, c’mon, who are we kidding? Then at Christmas time my family and I watch [Dr. Seuss’]
How The Grinch Stole Christmas, the cartoon, and Scrooged. Absolute classic. Carol Kane hitting Bill Murray with a toaster? That’s my dream role.
You could do worse than model a career on hers.
It’s funny she’s come up, because the other day I was thinking that whenever the question of whose career would you want to emulate comes up, I can never think who to say. She’s one I finally remembered, because she’s so good on
[Unbreakable] Kimmy Schmidt. I’d happily, happily end up doing that. God, she slays me on that show.
And like its creator, Tina Fey, you’re writing a book [Scrappy Little Nobody, out on 15 November]. How did that happen?
Somebody asked me if I wanted to do it. For a while I thought, “No, that would be a suicide mission.” Then I got excited about creating something completely my own, because collaborators are absolutely wonderful and also a pain in the ass. I had days writing it when I was like, “Why would I ever make a movie again if I could possibly make my living sitting at home?” Then there’s other times where I’m like, “This was a mistake and I should burn my house to the ground with me inside it.”
Sounds like writing. So, is it a collection of essays?
I don’t know how the fuck to describe it. A collection of essays, sure. But that makes it sound like I’m pontificating. It’s just chapters. You sound like a fucking asshole no matter what. TROLLS IS IN CINEMAS FROM 21 OCTOBER
“I LIKE THAT TROLLS’ POPPY IS A LITTLE PSYCHO. ‘WELL- ROUNDED AND HAPPY’ I COULDN’T GET BEHIND.”
Clockwise from here: Trolls’ Poppy; With Brittany Snow and Anna Camp in Pitch Perfect (2012); Alongside George Clooney in 2009’s Up In The Air; As Cinderella in Into The Woods (2014).