In con­ver­sa­tion with the star of Trolls, which is about an­i­mated mon­sters and not Twit­ter. #burn #lolz #hu­mour



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 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


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).

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