Today: Anna, quite contrary
We’re expecting big things from What To Expect When You’re Expecting’s intriguing ingenue Anna Kendrick
It was a shock to find Anna Kendrick curled up in a bathrobe when I entered her hotel suite. On closer inspection, though, the 26-year-old turned out to be beneath the robe, rather than inside it. “I do have clothes on under here,” she squeaked. “It’s just so cold.”
She was perky, with subtly Manga-esque features – wide-open eyes and a tiny, expressive mouth – but she hadn’t had the most relaxing morning. Whisked to Salford, north-west England, at bleary o’clock to appear on breakfast TV, she got stuck in traffic on the way back to London and hadn’t eaten all day, hence the pizza that she began nibbling on while we talked.
Not that Kendrick would bemoan her lot. “I’m the person who wouldn’t send back my food even if I got steak when I’d ordered fish,” she sighed. This could be why she is often drawn to the tenacious or hyper-confident characters in her work – the “bad asses”, as she put it.
Think of her as a censorious busybody in Scott Pilgrim vs The World, or the ruthlessly ambitious debate-team captain in Rocket Science, or the corporate axe-wielder opposite George Clooney in Up In The Air, a performance which brought her nominations from every awards body from the Oscars down. She is a crisp dramatic actor with a facility for screwball as well as a knack, best exhibited in last year’s “cancer comedy” 50/50, for being adorable without lapsing into kookiness.
She has reached her largest audience in the Twilight films, where she provides zesty and necessary comic relief. But her career trademark has become that moment when her characters undergo a revelatory or disorienting change – let’s call it the Kendrick kink.
“Are we coining that term?” she asked. “I’m nervous about this.” It’s visible in much of her work, right from her first film, Camp, a proto-Glee musical in which she plays a mousey introvert who poisons another cast member before announcing: “She’s f***ed, I’m ready, and the god**** show must go on!” The movie critic Roger Ebert captured her appeal when he said: “Kendrick can make you like her even when you shouldn’t.”
Kendrick resists taking too much credit. “I guess the ‘Kendrick kink’ is actually a character’s fatal flaw. It’s really all about being very well-written.” Still, it is she who says “yes” to these unconventional roles when there are other, more homogenous parts she could presumably take instead. “Sure. Especially recently. God, yeah.” She gave a roll of the eyes and an audible “ugh”.
So what exactly is she doing in a kink-free comedy-drama based on a best-selling pregnancy manual? What To Expect When You’re Expecting is a largely white ‘n’ wealthy perspective on motherhood. Cameron Diaz is the star, but the film only comes to life when Kendrick is on screen as a chef who has a bun in the oven biologically as well as professionally. Her story, darker-hued than the rest, brings fibre to a sugar-based movie.
“I wasn’t so good at Doing that cheesy little kid thing”
Kendrick was raised in Portland, Maine, the sort of place, she claimed, where “people were literally walking around saying: ‘I’m gonna get out of this town one day!'” As a child, she was distinguished by seriousness and integrity. She preferred hanging around with older people and developed an early interest in acting, persuading her parents to drive her to auditions hundreds of miles away. At one casting call for a shampoo commercial, she began to understand how different she was from her fellow pre-pubescents.
“There was a roomful of kids and they taught us this jingle which we all had to sing. I remember looking around: Everyone seemed so thrilled to be singing it. Then the casting director stopped us and said, ‘Anna, can you smile more please? You don’t seem like you’re very happy.’ I wasn’t so good at doing that cheesy little kid thing. At least now when I go on David Letterman, they don’t have some embarrassing clip of me singing a shampoo jingle.”
Musical theatre was a more natural home for her, and she found success on Broadway playing Dinah in High Society – at 12 years old, she became the third-youngest performer ever nominated for a Tony award. Todd Graff, who directed Camp, has described her as “an old soul”. “I suppose it’s a compliment so I should take it at face value,” she said, with the rattled air of someone who intends to do no such thing. “I just never know what people mean when they say that.”
Wise beyond your years? “Well, there you go,” she laughed. “I’d feel weird saying, ‘Oh, I guess Todd means I’m wise beyond my years and I’m pretty damn great!'”
Her unease may come from a dislike of being singled out. At school, the other children called her “Broadway” when they saw her in the halls. It can’t have helped that the local press went cock-a-hoop over her; one magazine included her in its list of the 10 Most Intriguing People In Maine when she was barely in her teens. “Oh, I was very intriguing as a 13-year-old. You have no idea,” she hooted. “I was an old soul. Did I mention that?”
“They ask the same question: What’s George Clooney like?”
These days she finds it baffling when the press in her hometown want to talk to her. “They ask the same questions I’ve been asked 3,000 times. ‘What’s George Clooney like?’ ‘What’s it like being in Twilight?’ Maybe I was more intriguing when I was a kid.”
I doubt she’s changed much. She certainly didn’t have her head turned when she decamped to Los Angeles in her late teens to pursue her career.
Socialising, however, brought its own pressures. “You start to think it’s important to go to nightclubs. It’s urgent, almost, that you do it, because there’s magic inside! Then you get in and there isn’t,” she said. “You know, someone would tell the door guy that I was Ashley Olsen’s best friend, just so we could get into some club I didn’t want to go to anyway.”
Her revulsion at superficiality in general, and celebrity culture in particular, is comprehensive. She has witnessed the effect fame has had on her Twilight co-stars (“Sure, they’re wealthy, but they’re basically in a prison”). And she has experienced the shock of seeing paparazzi photographs of herself and her partner, the British film-maker Edgar Wright (who directed her in Scott Pilgrim), taken without their knowledge. “I started crying immediately. It was like someone emailing a picture of you sleeping. It felt scary and dangerous. It still does. I try to ignore it.”
Fortunately, there is one small upside to fame. “People send you stuff if you say you’re interested in something,” she said. “I have a tonne of body lotion. So I could mention I was interested in, you know, surfing, and some company would send me a surfboard.”
Forget surfboards. Let’s put the word out that she is into intelligent, unorthodox screenplays. Yes, that’s it. Someone send Anna Kendrick some decent scripts pronto. THE GUARDIAN