It’s a generically sunny day in L.A., and I’m sitting on a couch at Milk Studios, creeping on our v. girly Anna Kendrick cover shoot. The petite, perky actor is wearing a frilly lavender dress and powder-pink Louboutins. It’s all a bit toothachey, until Kendrick comes over to introduce herself and drags her pointy pink press-on nails down my forearm—an oddball little gesture that’s equal parts funny and strange. I’m about to discover this is Kendrick’s default setting.
But first, the mandatory bio. Kendrick is a Tony-nominated former child star who shot Camp, her film debut, the summer before her senior year in high school. She played frizzy-haired outcast Fritzi; the film—a comedy about musical theatre camp— tanked at the box office but developed a cult following among drama clubbers. It was also Kendrick’s initiation into playing lovable weirdos, the type of role she’s slayed ever since. Her first major film break came six years post-Camp, in 2009’s downsizing drama, Up in the Air, alongside George Clooney. Her portrayal of Natalie Keener—a Type A automaton who devises a system to fire employees via video conferencing but ends up ugly-crying on Clooney’s shoulder over a breakup text—was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar. She hasn’t stopped working since, shooting a string of indies (she got to know her rumoured BF, British cinematographer Ben Richardson, on the sets of mumblecore king Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas and Drinking Buddies) and studio films (Into the Woods, the Pitch Perfect franchise, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates). Right now, she has two movies in theatres: The Accountant—in which she plays a straight-arrow number cruncher to Ben Affleck’s financial consultant–gone–rogue—and the animated blockbuster Trolls (she voices a lead).
On Nov. 15, Kendrick unveiled her most personal work yet: a memoir, with an appropriately quirky title, Scrappy Little Nobody (Touchstone, $35). It chronicles her come up from community theatre to the Barden Bellas, and at first, it seems like there’s little in the way of major surprises—that is, aside from the fact that the book contains only one list. (“I thought I was supposed to have lists, so I came up with a few,” Kendrick says of the celebrity memoir staple. “But my editor was like, ‘You know, you don’t have to put more in.’”) It’s tempting to write Kendrick off as just another A-lister who got a book deal because she’s big on Twitter. But like some of her best tweets—“Cooking for one sucks because no matter how much I portion it, I seem to end up wasting food. Also loneliness.”—there’s depth to her long-form writing, most notably in chapters dealing with fame, sex and feeling like an outsider.
When Kendrick was in first grade, she told her mom she was different from the other girls: “It’s like—it’s like I have a different heart. The other girls have one kind of heart, and I have a different kind.” It’s a beautiful line, quite possibly the best in the book, and it also offers the most insight into Kendrick’s go-your-own-way ethos. Yes, Pitch Perfect 2 grossed $286 million, but she still drives a used Prius and is papped in Dr. Scholl’s sandals.
Kendrick grew up in middle-class Maine; her mom was an accountant and her dad a substitute teacher. After killing it in community theatre, she got an agent at 10 (she was signed after belting out “Tomorrow” from Annie) and began travelling to NYC for auditions. By the time she was 12, she’d take the six-hour bus ride to the city with her 14-year-old brother so her parents didn’t have to miss work. During her first theatre gig, which required temporarily relocating to New York with her father, the pair barely scraped by, to the point that her dad had to ask the show’s producer for a measly per diem to keep them afloat.
Life in Los Angeles, where Kendrick moved when she was 17, was equally meagre at first. This made for a serious mindf-ck when she began the six-month promo tour for Up in the Air, which she recalls in the heaviest chapter in the book. “I didn’t want to write the stuff about Up in the Air,” Kendrick says. “It felt like this shameful thing.” During that period, Kendrick was travelling around the world, staying in baller hotels, wearing borrowed clothes and occasionally returning home to sleep in her Ikea twin bed in the apartment she shared with two roommates. (She once asked Paramount if she could stay in cheaper hotels and pocket the difference. The studio said no.) Despite the film’s success, she was dead broke and under constant pressure to be in “sound-bite pageant mode.”
Kendrick ended up including this chapter because she wanted to be real about the divide that can exist between an actor’s “real life and fake life,” but she realizes she could face some check-your-privilege backlash. “There are so many people who are in the business of being outraged,” she says, referring to the 24-7 feedback factory that is social media. That said, she loves Twitter, and her 140-character truth bombs landed her a writing assignment for Vogue that ultimately led to her book deal.
“Twitter just has a more negative energy [than Instagram], which I feel more at home in,” she says. Her dispatches—“That thing where you haven’t shaved your legs in a bit so you decide to wait and get a wax but then you don’t do that either” and “I spent the morning biting my fingernails down to jagged stumps. Why has no one contacted me about starting a lifestyle blog?”—are almost uncomfortably genuine. The fact that you can actually imagine Kendrick with hairy legs and stubby nails says a lot about her legitimacy as an Everygirl.
Scrappy Little Nobody is all real talk all the time, exploring topics that might be off the table for other millionaire movie stars. Like, she might not want to become a mom: “I feel like maybe the planet is going to blow up in 40 years? I’m cool with that, but I want to know if it’s going to happen before I have kids.” And she’s smoked a not insignificant amount of weed. “I did think, Oh, will mentioning that be a problem?” says Kendrick. “But it’s something that basically every comedian talks about openly.” For the record, she used to love getting high and… baking? Not exactly the stuff of after-school specials. “Concentrating on the measuring and the mixing and whatever just made my brain so happy,” she says, after dropping this rather stoner-speak analogy: “It was like my brain was a jar and this was the perfect amount of filling it could take.”
Kendrick’s sex life is also open for discussion, as evidenced by a chapter detailing how she lost her virginity at 19, with an assist from a sex manual purchased at a West Hollywood thrift shop. “I mean, it wasn’t, like, well-worn,” she says when I marvel at the fact that she purchased a used sex book. “It was just urgent for me that I had to figure out how to get intimate with people.”
Another essay talks about a time in her life when she was obsessed with the number of guys she had slept with—and what to say when asked to disclose it. “When you’re 22, it feels like there’s an ideal you’re supposed to aspire to, but nobody will tell you what it is,” she says. “It’s completely arbitrary, and some people are going to think it’s the right thing and some people are going to think it’s the wrong thing.” I suggest this concern seems a little quaint in the age of lady-run sex-positive shows like Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City. “A woman who celebrates the idea of her best friend pegging a guy is just heaven,” Kendrick immediately replies, referring to the Broad City episode in which Abbi uses a strap-on, before declaring herself a Dan Savage devotee.
These are precisely the types of comments Kendrick had to tamp down during the Up in the Air publicity circuit. For six long, hard months, she had to police her every word in front of a whack of journalists—and ended up spewing some weird shit to random people, anyway, relating her latest sex dream or her fear of death. It sucked. “Having to take any dark and strange parts of my personality and shove them down for a few months—it made me crazy,”she says. “I was worried I was going to let people down if I ever acted like me.” As it turns out, acting like Anna Kendrick—zero affectation, sense of humour slightly askew—is what sets her apart from the other bland beauties Hollywood is stuffed with.
Back at Milk Studios, it’s almost time to wrap. While we’ve been chatting, Kendrick’s glam squad has been working in reverse. She’s been defrocked, her waves subdued and her makeup taken down about 5,000 notches. All that remains are the nails…for now. “I’m going to meet a man who’s kind of, even for me, a square, and I don’t want to scare him with fashion,” Kendrick says, examining her fingers. She smiles. “I’ll probably just rip them off on the way.”
Hair: Craig Gangi, Oribe, GHD Tools, Exclusive Artists Management.
Makeup: Vanessa Scali, The Wall Group.
Nails: Nettie Davis.
Set Design: Mark Helf, The Rex Agency.
Art Director: Jed Tallo.
Editor: Briony Smith.