anna kendrick: up in the air, and down to earth
read our interview with the star.
photos by aaron richter, styled by isabel dupré
Despite a seemingly pitch-perfect existence, Anna Kendrick has not always flown through life with the greatest of ease.
"Shit! Why did I think this was a good idea?" yells Anna Kendrick, balancing on a tiny wooden platform. Suspended from the rafters, she peers at the ground below, her brow furrowed, possibly contemplating an escape back down two 10-foot-tall ladders that are precariously tied together. She shakes her head and regains focus, takes a deep breath, and grabs the trapeze bar in front of her—first with her right hand, then her left. She bends her knees and jumps.
The petite 29-year-old, fresh-faced with her copper-colored hair pulled into a ponytail, dangles ever so delicately from the trapeze bar. In a gray sweatshirt, tribal-print leggings, and black ballet slippers, she swings back and forth, high above a group of jugglers in Long Island City, New York’s Circus Warehouse, where professional performers come to train and teach. Suspended in mid-air, Kendrick’s legs are clenched together, her toes perfectly pointed. You’d swear she was a longtime gymnast based on her form, but, no, she’s just a natural. Something even she couldn’t have predicted.
Less than an hour earlier, the former Twilight star was enjoying a cereal-bowl-sized green tea at nearby Café Henri—and confessing her nervousness over our impending trapeze class. “I’m not afraid of breaking something—I’m afraid of being revealed as a total puss,” she admitted then. “I can see it now: You’ll write how one minute I was so excited, then turned out to be all talk and no walk.” But that was certainly not the case. After dismounting onto the net—which sends her 5-foot-2 frame into a bouncing fit— Kendrick asks, “Can someone please remind me to breathe next time?” Before I’m even done laughing, she has rechalked her hands, reattached the harness and safety ropes, and has started climbing back up the rungs for another go. This time, the fear in her eyes is replaced with an “I’ve got this” determination.
Kendrick’s Pitch Perfect co-star Rebel Wilson, a.k.a. Fat Amy, is not surprised to hear Ms. Overachiever has overachieved once again. “She tends to be good at most things,” says Wilson, who performs a Cirque du Soleil-style number in this spring’s Pitch Perfect 2. “She can achieve something in one day that most people would have to train years for—that’s just Kendrick.”
After all, the actress did earn a Tony nomination at age 12 for her performance as Dinah Lord in Broadway’s Cole Porter musical High Society. An Independent Spirit Award nomination for her film debut in 2003’s Camp came next. Kendrick’s portrayal of Up in the Air’s all-business Natalie earned her an Oscar nomination. And if all of that weren’t enough, her first foray into music, “Cups (Pitch Perfect’s When I’m Gone),” sold more than 3.5 million copies.
Even with all of those accomplishments, 2015 is set to be her biggest year yet. Coming off of the success of her holiday blockbuster Into the Woods, where she portrayed a disillusioned Cinderella, Kendrick stars in this month’s Broadway-to-big-screen adaptation of the musical The Last 5 Years. In May, she reprises her role as Beca in the much-anticipated Pitch Perfect 2. Kendrick has also wrapped three more films with the likes of Bryan Cranston, John Krasinski, and Sam Rockwell, and is currently filming another with Ben Affleck. On the fashion front, she’s also recently been named the new face of Kate Spade New York.
Kendrick points to the tea leaves in her cup, which have formed an upsidedown heart (“Awww!”). The self-described perfectionist—the kind of person who would not be OK just being OK, even as a firsttime trapeze artist—says she’s trying to give in more to her fun side, and to tone down her obsessive-compulsive tendencies (i.e., emailing her mom, whom Kendrick has nicknamed Grammar Nazi, to make sure she’s using a semicolon properly).
Close friend Aubrey Plaza has certainly helped Kendrick loosen up. The two met at a cast party in 2009 before their movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World began shooting in Toronto. “Anna was a shy, pale little thing, but when she opened her mouth I realized she was also a feisty animal, and that we would be friends until the end,” says Plaza. So when the Parks and Recreation star decided to go to Mexico on a whim, she texted Kendrick: “Mexico tomorrow?” “She didn’t ask any questions—she only said, ‘Yes.' So we went to Mexico the next day,” says Plaza. “When we walked down to the beach, Anna was completely covered up: huge sun hat, glasses, and a glamorous, flowing tunic. She is the weirdest combo of impulsive tequila-drinking party girl and 80-year-old senator’s wife from Vermont. She’s really something special. She’s what America does best.”
And if her three million Twitter followers are any indication, America is eating up everything she dishes out. Part of the actress’s appeal is that she appears to have no censor button—something I experienced firsthand before even meeting her via a text apology for running 10 minutes late. Seconds later, another text popped up: “If it makes you feel better, I may piss myself in this cab.”
On social media, Kendrick’s followers can’t get enough of her off-the-cuff commentary like, “If you wear heels on cross-country flights, we probably can’t be friends,” and “Wearing SPF 20 today. The danger is exhilarating.” But hands down, her most talked-about tweet ever: “Ugh—NEVER going to a Ryan Gosling movie in a theater again. Apparently masturbating in the back row is still considered ‘inappropriate.’”
It’s hard to believe AK-47 (as her BFFs call her) used to text friends her tweets before posting them to make sure she wasn’t going too far. “Now, I don’t give a fuck,” she says with a shrug. “Twitter is only 140 characters. There’s really not that much I could reveal, then regret later. Of course, me being me, the tweets I want to take back are the ones that I think could’ve been punchier or more concise.” That said, she hasn’t met Gosling, otherwise she might wish she hadn’t pressed send on that one. “Thank God I’ve never been in a room with him! I don’t feel embarrassed, though,” she clarifies, sitting up taller in the café’s wooden booth. “I’m sure he has a sense of humor. But I’d probably feel like I’d have to address [the tweet], and I’d end up saying something to make it much, much worse.” The way she says it, you get the feeling she’s done that sort of rambling, sinkingin-quicksand small talk many times before.
Though she claims to have no game, on paper Kendrick seems like every guy’s wet dream. According to Plaza, “she loves Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, can rap ‘99 Problems’ from start to finish, scarfs down burgers in six-inch Louboutins, while beating you at Assassin’s Creed. But guys are probably afraid to hit on her because she’s intimidating.”
Kendrick—who split from Scott Pilgrim director Edgar Wright in 2013—once said that no one has tried to pick her up since Up in the Air (which is reportedly around the time she started dating her ex), but she now regrets making that statement. “The more I talk about it, the more it gets repeated. I shouldn’t have said anything.” She begins banging her forehead with the palm of her hand. “So. Stupid!”
Based on her type-A personality, one might think Kendrick would have an image of her Mr. Perfect in mind—or at least a catalog of preferred characteristics—but quite the contrary: “That’s like making a list of the kind of clothes you want to have in 20 years, when you have no way of actually knowing what that will be. It seems like the most arbitrary thing, to create a list of qualities that you want in somebody, when there are infinite variations of a human personality.” She does know, however, that she no longer wants to waste her time chasing after guys who just aren’t that into her. “The great torture from my teen years into my mid-20s was trying to get attention from guys who were not interested in me—like, at all,” she reveals. “So I’m happy that now my type is a nice guy who likes me back.”
She also loves to laugh, but a man “who can’t stop joking is kind of a turnoff,” says Kendrick. “It makes me think, ‘Can you actually go more than 10 minutes without making a joke? Have you developed a personality beyond smartass party banter? Would you be making sarcastic remarks during sex?’”
As a teen, Kendrick was convinced her classmates were whispering, “God, that Anna probably hasn’t gotten her period yet.” And they would have been right. “I was a very late bloomer,” she says, sinking back in her seat. “I was the smallest in my class, always telling myself, ‘I’m never getting boobs!’” Young Anna read every teen magazine she could get her hands on, hoping one might reveal the secret to speeding up the cleavagegrowing process—but they never did. “I remember being comforted by hearing that guys like small boobs and big boobs. They like any boobs!” recalls Kendrick. “At the time I was like, ‘That is excellent news!’”
Originally from Portland, Maine, Kendrick— the daughter of an accountant mother and a history teacher father, who divorced when she was 15—started going into New York City at age 10 for auditions. By 12, she and her older brother, Michael (then 14), were taking the bus into the city by themselves. “I’m sure that I was like Mr. fucking Magoo wandering around in potentially unsafe situations, just totally oblivious and loving it,” she says. “When you’re that age, just the idea of being in New York is really cool. To be honest, even now when I meet adults who grew up in New York or Los Angeles or London, I’m like, ‘You must be the coolest person alive.’ I have deep-rooted intimidation issues with people who grew up in big cities. And I’m a grown-ass woman.”
Make that a grown-ass woman who feels humbled by fellow celebrities as well—even her peers. Girls’ Jemima Kirke recently gave Kendrick a shout-out on Twitter. Her reaction? Excited, but overwhelmed. “I’ve never met Jemima, and I hope to never meet her because she’s so cool, and for one moment she thought that I was cool, and I don’t want to blow it,” she says in one long, drawn-out breath. “But I hope I don’t ever get the feeling that I’m the cool girl. I think self-doubt is healthy. It pushes you, and humbles you, and I would really hate to be one of the three people in the fucking universe who are actually well-rounded, because then you can’t relate to anybody else’s inner shit.” She swirls the remains of her tea. “You can always take steps to improve what’s going on in your own head, but without an understanding of what it is to be insecure, how would I relate to anybody? Sometimes I meet people who are too confident. I’m like, ‘I don’t even like being around you. You’re boring. Get a neurosis, and then we’ll talk.’”
Perhaps that’s why she tends to be attracted to complex, flawed characters— like Cathy in this month’s The Last 5 Years, which follows a couple falling in and out of love, with the male lead (Jeremy Jordan) telling the story going forward of how they came together, and Kendrick’s character telling it in reverse of how they split. The actress was writer-director Richard LaGravenese’s first choice to play Cathy, whom he describes as “a woman at odds with herself. She loves this man whose career is soaring, but she also doesn’t want to lose herself in his identity. Anna—who is a thoroughbred professional, scary smart, and has an incredible skill set—seemed to really understand Cathy’s struggle.”
Getting back to her musical-theater roots was an invigorating challenge for Kendrick, who says she was on a no-alcohol, no-caffeine diet while filming the movie to protect her voice. She’s very proud of her work opposite Jordan, and what they were able to accomplish in 21 days of shooting on a very limited budget. But the self-deprecating side of her can’t resist qualifying that by saying, “Since [the majority of the movie] is just the two of us, there is a lot of my face, which is terrifying. I don’t know if anybody can handle looking at my face that long!” But if you can get through the 94 minutes of Kendrick’s mug, she says it will be worth it, because “the material is so good. Seeing this story unravel is like giving someone pizza for the first time. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best or worst pizza; it’s still pizza. If we do a good job, it’s awesome pizza. If we screw it up, it’s still fucking pizza—you’ll enjoy it.”
But whom is Kendrick kidding? She’s not the type to make a misstep in her first trapeze class, let alone her career. By the end of our hour-long session, she’s doing backflip dismounts—something the instructor swears no one ever conquers in the first lesson (I definitely didn’t). And yet she’s still talking about what she “could have done better” and how she “could have improved.” Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist.