Anna Kendrick is sitting in the middle of the Hollywood Hills house she has just moved into, combing the Internet. No, she’s not looking for her next film project. Nor is she finally getting a break from a hectic work schedule that has made her one of Hollywood’s hottest young comers. The 27-year-old actress from Portland, Maine, actually is trying to learn how to build a spice rack.
“I just wish that I were more handy,” Kendrick says with exasperation. “Nothing makes you feel more useless than when you don’t know how to fix anything.” This admission is from someone who prides herself on a Maine self-reliance and who has catapulted to fame playing brisk, tightly wound, empowered young women. She has done this most notably in her high-profile appearances in The Twilight Saga, as the catty and confident Jessica; and in Up in the Air, for which she was nominated for an Oscar as Natalie Keener, whose alpha personality challenges George Clooney’s corporatist mien.
Lately, however, Kendrick has taken a break from her power roles to focus on women who are not afraid to show their vulnerabilities. On the heels of costarring as a cancer-ward therapist out of her depth in the acclaimed weepy 50/50, Kendrick is part of an all-star cast in this summer’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting, in which she plays a food-truck owner who accidentally becomes pregnant by Chace Crawford. She follows this up by adding her vocal chops to the stop-motion animation feature ParaNorman about a zombie-busting boy. Then in the fall she plays the wife of Jake Gyllenhaal in the police drama End of Watch and the socially awkward Beca in Pitch Perfect, a comedy about rival college a capella groups. Later in the year, Kendrick will be courted by the Antichrist in the apocalyptic religious comedy Rapturepalooza. And next year she appears to return to form as Miles Teller’s edgy, hard-charging girlfriend in Get a Job.
“It wasn’t strategic,” says Kendrick of the broader spectrum of characters. “Those other roles were more a case of wish fulfillment, being able to do [in movies] what I’d find much more difficult to do in life. I’m a control freak but not nearly as rigid. When I fall apart, I’m all over the place.” She admits she can be just as awkward and clumsy as some of her alter egos and often struggles to express herself with clarity.
Scott Ellis, who directed Kendrick in 2003 in a New York City Opera production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, says, “There is an innate honesty to Anna. She works hard to be true to that.” Indeed, in the course of an interview, Kendrick is polite and thoughtful but cautious, eager to protect her privacy and not come across as self-aggrandizing. Even after more than a decade in the spotlight—she was nominated for a Tony Award by age 12 for the Broadway musical High Society—she has yet to become comfortable with her celebrity. “I still find it all rather scary. I still get sweaty and super-nervous before I walk the red carpet,” she says. And nearly 10 years after moving to Hollywood at the age of 18, she still can’t adjust to the ethos of the place.
“I remember when I first came to Los Angeles, I was shocked at the open ambition and complete lack of humility,” she recalls. “Bragging about what you had, what you had done, and what you hoped to do— I thought it was such a strange phenomenon. Those are things you keep to yourself.”
Kendrick says her sense of discretion was forged while growing up in her middle-class Portland home with her older brother, Michael Cooke Kendrick, and parents, Janice, an insurance accountant, and William, a teacher. Kendrick says there was no great “eureka” that impelled her to perform. She just loved to sing and dance. By the age of six, she was starring in a community production of Annie. At eight, she was obsessed with the movie Life with Mikey and dancing around the room to Bette Midler albums; and by 10, she and her brother were traveling by bus to audition in New York.
By age 12, Kendrick was Tony nominated for her featured role as Dinah Lord, the precocious sister of the heroine in the Broadway musical High Society. During the run of that show, Kendrick lived with her father, who homeschooled her and whom she credits for keeping her grounded. Upon her return to Maine, Kendrick attended Deering High School in Portland, where like all teens, she faced the desire for attention while also wanting to fade into the background.
“Anna was a very modest young woman,” says Kathleen Harris, a Deering English and drama teacher, of her former pupil. “Some kids who achieve will try to lord it over others. But Anna, who walked in with [the experience of] a Broadway show and commercials, never talked about it. And it wasn’t that big a deal. The kids probably didn’t even know what a Tony Award was. Now, if she’d played with the Boston Red Sox…”
Having been offered the role of Fredrika, the daughter of an aging stage star in A Little Night Music, Kendrick decided not to pursue a college education. Her next big project was Todd Graff’s 2003 cult film, Camp, as the ambitious and scheming Fritzi, a scary little show-biz minx who claws her way to a scorching rendition of the jaded Sondheim anthem “Ladies Who Lunch.” (In a clip, it’s easy to see the influence on Kendrick of what she says is her favorite film, the bitchy 1939 classic, The Women.) The actress then starred in the 2007 film Rocket Science, which would change her life. As Ginny, the fast-talking and manipulative debate champ, Kendrick drew the attention of writer-director Jason Reitman, who was then in the process of developing what would become Up in the Air.
“When I saw her in that movie, I just thought, This girl has a different voice from everyone of her generation,” Reitman told MTV. “She oddly talks like someone from the 1940s. She’s witty, smart, and sharp, and I needed a girl who could go toe-to-toe with George Clooney.”
Kendrick more than justified Reitman’s faith, winning acclaim and welldeserved honors for the role he specifically wrote for her. She has since chosen to translate her clout largely into independent films that offer the sort of acting challenges she relishes more than money or prestige. She says that her experience on David Ayer’s End of Watch is a case in point. The improvisation she did with Gyllenhaal in one scene, she says, “is the most fulfilling thing that I’ve ever done.”
By comparison, the Twilight blockbusters she has been featured in can’t hold a candle. Says Kendrick, “I don’t know if my agents would appreciate me saying this, but the focus and energy demanded when you don’t have any money or time is much more exciting than those projects where there’s a little too much time and a little too much money and it gets sluggish. You lose that urgency, and that’s what I love most.”
The “urgency” for Kendrick now is to maintain a personal equilibrium in the peculiar hothouse of film fame. The fact that most of her close friends are not in the business helps. (“They give me crap all day long,” she says with a laugh.) And while she has tried to master social media—she has 254,972 followers on Twitter—she is ambivalent about it. “I haven’t tweeted since December,” she admits. “I can’t help but think, Why should anyone pay attention to me?”
As far as work is concerned, Kendrick is giving herself a break from pursuing a perfectionist agenda in favor of, as she puts it, “just having some fun.” She’s good at that, too. “Anna’s probably one of the top comedy actresses around, dry and laconic, with terrific range,” says Paul Middleditch, who directed her in Rapturepalooza. “She is both intuitive and intellectual when it comes to humor. She understands what’s funny, and she likes to experiment. What she offers up is always surprising.”
In What to Expect When You’re Expecting, she says, the best part was being able to give the “obscenely handsome” Chace Crawford some “sass.” In Rapturepalooza, she loved the idea of being romanced by Craig Robinson as the Antichrist and singing “Edelweiss” between takes with him. And in Get a Job, she said that she laughed so hard at Bryan Cranston that she forgot she was actually in a scene. Kendrick adds that she almost passed on Get a Job since the role seemed at first like yet another buttonedup, every-hair-in-place ice queen. But toward the end she discovered a challenging twist. And the best part, she says with a laugh, “is that I got to not wash my hair for three whole days!”