Interviewed

07.24.14

Anna Kendrick on ‘Pitch Perfect 2,’ Drunken Horror Stories, and Singin’ Pharrell

The witty and charming actress discussed her new role in the comedy Happy Christmas, the plot of the highly-anticipated sequel Pitch Perfect 2, and much more.

Anna Kendrick is just plain likable. Like Emma Stone, she’s blessed with that intriguing mix of allure and attainability, assuring even the most cynical of moviegoers that she’d make a fun partner-in-crime. She tweets hilarious things about, say, masturbating to a Ryan Gosling film, and wreaks havoc off-screen with her best pal, Aubrey Plaza. She’s also, to continue this downpour of compliments, a very shrewd actress. With the exception of a bloated Twilight sequel or two, her resume is pretty spotless. The motor-mouth debate stud in Rocket Science; the corporate downsizing noob in Up in the Air (which earned her an Oscar nod); the compassionate, green therapist in 50/50; the DJ-cum-a capella dynamo in Pitch Perfect; the list goes on.

It was hard to escape the tiny, 28-year-old Maine native at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where she turned in three very different, very accomplished performances. The most impressive of these is in Happy Christmas, in theaters July 25. Directed by Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies), Kendrick plays Jenny, an emotional train wreck who moves in with her brother (Swanberg), his wife (Melanie Lynskey), and their 2-year-old son (Jude Swanberg, the director’s baby), after getting dumped. When her pal Carson’s (Lena Dunham) not around to contain her, she turns the family’s life upside down with her drunken, self-destructive antics.

With filming on the sequel Pitch Perfect 2 wrapping on Tuesday, and her turn as Cinderella in the movie musical Into the Woods out later this year, it’s looking very likely that Kendrick will continue her hot streak.

Before we get to Happy Christmas, I wanted to ask you about the most important news in the world first, because the fate of humanity may rest in the balance. I know you’re a huge Beyoncé fan. Are you freaked out by these crazy rumors that they’re breaking up?

I just assume that everything is a lie! I’m on the other side of it, so I’ve seen so many things in print where I go, “I was there and that didn’t happen!” so I just assume all of that is a lie. Don’t even lose a minute of sleep over it.

I am very excited for Pitch Perfect 2. I’ve seen the first one on cable way too many times.

I feel like most of my social interactions out in the world consist of parents telling me their kids won’t stop banging on the cup, so I feel like I’m just apologizing to parents most of the time! I feel responsible.

What was it like getting the gang back together for the sequel?

It was weird, and crazy, and fun. All 10 girls were in every single day, so there was a lot of estrogen. It also felt like a lot more pressure because we all knew people were going to see this one, whereas in the first one it was more, “You never know.”

Hailee Steinfeld is new to the Bellas. Did you and the gals initiate her?

The thing is she’s actually 17 years old, so we sort of didn’t know what to do with ourselves since she’s an actual teenager, so we were all, “Tell us what it’s like being an actual teenager.” She was there with her mom and it was so cute. She’s the sweetest girl, too. She says things like “oh my stars” unironically. When little kids come up to me, sometimes I feel like saying, “Don’t you know that I’m a 75-year-old curmudgeon trapped in a girl’s body? Why is this child approaching me? Shouldn’t the parents be like, ‘Get away from her, she’s a monster!’” Now, I’m going to try to channel Hailee when I have interactions with the young people, as they say.

I can remember my roommate telling me the next morning that I was clearly vomiting in our bathroom...”

I’m curious how Pitch Perfect 2 is going to be new and different from the first one, and expand on it rather than be more of the same.

It’s definitely bigger in scale and outside the world of college a capella. We’ve got a new rival and they’re very dark and ominous. It’s very Mighty Ducks 2.

So the bad guys are like the Iceland team, then. 

Yeah! Iceland, but not Iceland.

Did you sneak a line in like, “Eating ice cream with the enemy, huh, Coach?”

Oh man! There were a couple of weird little references that some of the girls and I tried to work in just for our own amusement that I don’t think anybody noticed besides us, so we’ll see if anyone can pick those up. But “eating ice cream with the enemy,” dammit! I’ll never forgive myself for not sneaking that one in. If we do any reshoots, I’m gonna do that.

What’s your character arc like in this one? She went through a big one in the first where she’s very negative about the whole a capella thing, then it wins her over, and then she becomes the de facto leader of the Barden Bellas.

She’s sort of the leader of the group, but she still doesn’t care. I’m making other people do the grunt work. I’m trying to get my life started and actually produce music—to varying degrees of success. Hailee’s character is really the new Beca, because they have to bring in a new character to really take the hero’s journey. I’ve got this B-plot, but I’m around!

Let’s talk Happy Christmas. Jenny in Happy Christmas is very different from anyone you’ve ever played. She’s very self-destructive and pretty unlikable. Did you go “method?” Was there a lot of boozing hell-raising to get into character?

There was a bit of boozing and when we’d shoot the next-day hangover scenes, I’d get a little drunk the night before so that I’d be a little cranky and hungover, but I realized what an old puss I’m turning out to be because I could only do that a couple of times before I was like, “Fuck that, I can’t drink this much.” It was beer or whiskey, usually.

Jake Johnson told me that you’re pretty much done after one beer, though.

OK, that was a very specific situation! [Laughs] I had not eaten lunch and we were doing a scene and he got me drunk because we were playing a drinking game and I kept losing, so I drank a whole beer in like 50 seconds on an empty stomach. So yes, I was a little drunk. I’m very small!

But under normal circumstances, you’re not one-and-done, right?

Well, I mean... I don’t really see the shame in that! I’m a very cheap date. 

There’s great sequence early on in Happy Christmas where you are the party guest from hell with Lena Dunham at a house party where you’re drunk and falling all over the place, and she’s dragging you around. What was that like to shoot?

Oh God! Lena is so nice that that scene ended up being two women consistently going, “Am I hurting you? Are you OK?” With guys and stunts, they try to hurt each other as much as possible while maintaining how macho they’re being, and when two women do a stunt together, even if it’s Lena trying to pull me off the bed and me kicking her off, we kept worriedly checking in with each other every take. “Am I pulling you too hard?” “Am I kicking you too hard?” So, I pretty much spent the entire night apologizing.

Do you have a most embarrassing party performance?

So many that I’m probably intentionally blocking them out right now. But there are only a couple of instances I can think of where I’ve really thrown up, and this was back in my old apartment and I can remember my roommate telling me the next morning that I was clearly vomiting in our bathroom, and he felt so bad and kept knocking on the door, and I would respond in the most chipper voice, “Uh-huh? What’s up? I’m fine!” and then he’d go away and hear the most violent, horrible vomiting noises. And then he’d come back and knock again and I’d go, “It’s OK! No big deal!”

Are you a fan of Girls?

Yeah. I’m not caught up on the new season, but what she’s doing is absolutely groundbreaking and wonderful.

Would you be into doing a cameo on the show?

See, this is one of those things though where I can’t say yes or no, because then she’ll say, “Why is Anna fuckin’ trying to get a job by putting my shit on blast?”

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Joe’s baby in Happy Christmas is next-level brilliant. He’s like the Robert De Niro of babies.

He’s so amazing. What was so interesting to me was I don’t have any kids in my life because I’m the youngest in my whole family, so I’ve never babysat for a cousin or anything. I don’t know anything about babies, so he’s the first kid that I’ve ever liked. And when a stranger would come into the room and his parents weren’t around, he’d grab my leg—he was that comfortable with me where he’d hide behind my leg because he trusted me. But when we did scenes together, he’d feel something was changing in my energy, so he’d act weird to me during the scenes—it’s so fantastic and interesting that he’d pick that up. When I ask him for a grape in a scene, he’d been feeding us grapes for like five minutes before we started rolling, but in the scene I ask for a grape and he doesn’t give me one. He’s like, “I don’t know who you fuckin’ are! I don’t trust you.”

I spoke with your Life After Beth co-star and BFF Aubrey Plaza at Sundance, and she said and I quote, “Anna and I have a very dangerous relationship. We are very attracted to each other. We’re also friends. We’re also enemies. It just gets very spicy when we’re around each other, but we just can’t get enough.”

[Laughs] I would say that’s exactly accurate. She’s one of my favorite people currently alive. She’s always working and I’m always working, so I feel like she’s my estranged sister where I don’t talk to her months on end, and I hang out with her when we’re in the same city and we have a blast.

Some on the Internet took umbrage with your comments to Glamour that your appearance has “never been my moneymaker.” There’s naturally a lot of schadenfreude online and people seemed to have twisted that comment around a bit.

It’s really funny. I guess I should’ve known better than to say something like that because everything does get shortened, and it does seem like I’m trying to get people to tell me that I’m pretty. Just walking into a room and announcing, “I feel so ugly today!” so people will tell you, “You’re not! You’re beautiful!” All I was trying to say is I don’t worry about the way that I look or maintaining the way that I look because I don’t think that’s the big reason why I get to do what I do. I certainly wasn’t trying to say something incendiary. But yeah, the people who went, “Ugh, how annoying,” probably forgot about it five seconds later. I think there are people who really enjoy being in a state of outrage, and that’s sort of a bummer.

I’m a big fan of Cam’ron’s “Hey Ma,” so I loved that scene in End of Watch where you and Jake Gyllenhaal start singing it.

Yeah! That just came on the radio; it wasn’t planned. It came on and David Ayer was sitting in the backseat with a camera, and we were driving to shoot a scene in Vegas that didn’t end up in the movie, and the song came on the radio and he just slowly turned his camera on and started filming us singing. Jake and I could feel the camera on us so we were like, “I guess we’re in character now!”

Are there any other songs you feel deserve the movie treatment, or one that you’d really want to sing next in a movie?

“She Wants to Move” by N.E.R.D. That’s a great song.

Kendrick starts singing the tune in Pharrell’s signature falsetto.

That is a great song. You’ve also got Into the Woods coming out Christmastime. Had you always dreamed of playing Cinderella?

That’s the weird thing! It wasn’t even a dream because I’d never looked in the mirror and saw that person. What was so inspiring about Rob [Marshall] was that he trusted my spirit and energy to play that character when I would think somebody who’s more genuine, and more of a Taylor Swift-type person would be who I thought Cinderella was supposed to be. I kept my awkward, nervous, over-intellectualizing everything energy, and he was really open to that. He assembled this unbelievable cast.

Did you get to act with Meryl Streep at all?

Yeah! She sings “Last Midnight” in front of four of us towards the end of the movie, and I thought, “I can’t believe I get to be here to watch this in person. This is the best day of my life.”