Like most women in the public eye, Anna Kendrick has had to get used to people scrutinising her looks. But unlike most celebrities, she turns it into a joke with her trademark wit. “The most common thing I get is, ‘Am I the only one who doesn’t think that Anna Kendrick is pretty?’” she says. “And I’m like, ‘No, you’re not the only one. Arguably, all the boys in my high school agree with you.’”
It’s this mixture of self-deprecating humour and cool confidence that makes Anna such a watchable actress, whether she’s playing the uptight corporate drone in 2009’s Up in the Air (for which she was nominated for an Oscar), the flustered therapist in indie drama 50/50, Kristen Stewart’s sidekick in the Twilight saga, or belting out an a cappella hit in musical comedy Pitch Perfect.
Yet, although she’s acted alongside the likes of Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep and has featured in a prolific 19 films in just the past three years, Kendrick’s public profile has been a slow burner, and she still manages to retain a slightly offbeat, indie air – even while starring in one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters, and the highest-grossing musical comedy of all time, Pitch Perfect 2. But with another four films already in the pipeline, social-media profiles that are growing exponentially, and a book of humorous essays due to be published next year, it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before everyone’s talking about Anna.
A solid foundation
Born in August 1985 to an accountant mother and history-teacher father in Portland, Maine, 30-year-old Anna explains that her hardworking ethic is a product of her middle-class upbringing: “If you grow up middle class, you just always feel like you’ve got to be working, because otherwise you won’t be able to pay the rent,” she says. “I never let myself forget that I can’t just put this down and expect it to be waiting for me when I feel like coming back to it.”
Her ambition started young. Kendrick’s first prominent role was in the Broadway musical High Society when she was just 12 years old – a performance that led to her being nominated for a prestigious Tony award for best featured actress in a musical, making her one of the youngest-ever nominees. She went on to star in a variety of musical and opera productions, before appearing in her debut film, Camp, in 2007. “I sort of marvel at myself,” admits the talented actress and singer. “Maybe at a certain point everybody feels like the person they were when they were younger is a stranger, because I seemed to be much more driven and focused at that age. I had the intention of being on Broadway. I am just very grateful that my parents treated me with respect... and really, really supported me.”
But despite her career success, life wasn’t always a bed of roses for young Anna. Kendrick has described herself as a “late bloomer”, and says that the tricky time she went through in high school has helped her become a better actor. “While I wouldn’t wish being teased on anyone, I think it eventually leads to a kind of solidarity in adult life,” she says. “The few people I know who weren’t picked on in school are people I find I can’t relate to on much more than a surface level. There’s a sensitivity that comes with feeling like an outsider at some point in your life. I’d rather be emotionally tuned into other people than slightly more confident because no one ever made fun of my hair.”
Although confidence can’t be lacking in anyone who’s willing to take part in an a cappella sing-off as she does in the Pitch Perfect musicals, it’s perhaps this high-school experience that has led to her humility despite her resounding success. “I am happy with the way I look, but I have never, never, ever thought of myself as a ‘pretty girl’,” she says. “Honestly. When I read some of these scripts I’m sent and they describe the heroine as ‘incredibly beautiful’, I wonder why they sent it to me.”
Social media sensation
A mixture of steely ambition and vulnerability is part of Anna’s draw, both on screen and as an online persona. Having garnered a following of almost 5 million users on Twitter and 4.3 million on Instagram, her social media presence gives a clear insight into both sides of her character: “‘I’m the best person in the world’ – me after I cook anything at all,” she quips on Twitter, just a few days before posting: “When is that terrified-of-everyone-I-don’t-know feeling going to go away?”.
Her natural quick wit has led to websites like BuzzFeed using her Tweets as a series of motivational posters, while her way with words has led publisher Touchstone to commission her for a series of autobiographical essays. “I’m excited to publish my first book, and because I get uncomfortable when people have high expectations, I’d like to use this opportunity to showcase my ineptitude, pettiness and the frequency with which I embarrass myself,” said Kendrick in statement from Touchstone.
Her sense of humour is what makes her love acting, explains the star. “Even when I read serious scripts, the moments that I connect to are the little glimpses of humour. I feel like that’s the easiest way for me to get inside a character’s head; through what sense of humour they have.”
Relationships and style
There’s going to be tabloid interest in any A-lister’s love life, but Anna has managed to keep hers relatively under wraps. She and her boyfriend, cinematographer Ben Richardson, are rarely seen out together and she has managed to remain discreet about her private life, even while seemingly providing open access to her innermost thoughts on social media. Although engagement rumours have circulated following the couple’s summer holiday to Hawaii, Anna has hinted that she wants to take a small career break next year in order to “maintain relationships”.
The more serious side of Anna’s personality was highlighted in last month’s issue of Variety magazine, where she starred alongside Oprah Winfrey, Gwyneth Paltrow and Salma Hayek as part of its ‘Power of Women’ cover series for her philanthropic work with troubled teens.
Clearly no airheaded A-lister, even her brand endorsements are intelligent – she recently starred in a series of commercials for edgy fashion label Kate Spade New York alongside feminist activist and journalist Gloria Steinem.
The 5ft 2 (1.57m) star may not have model proportions, but her eye for style has made her one to watch for down-to-earth fashion advice: “It’s all about tailoring,” she says. “I never thought that tailoring was something that normal people did, and I wish someone had told me what a difference tailoring makes! The reason that the dress looks better on the 6ft tall model is because it was made to fit her. It doesn’t matter if it’s an expensive dress or if it’s a dress from H&M: If you love it and it doesn’t fit quite right, just go get it tailored. It will change your life.”
And that’s part of what makes Anna so likeable – there’s that assumption that you are one of the normal people, just like her. Even when it comes to the heady world of catwalk shows, she isn’t about to get all crazy over clothes without keeping it real. “I remember going to a fashion show and saying “And it’s OK if I wear nude tights with this?” to the designer, who looked at me like I just killed his dog or something. Fashion is a fantasy, but when you want it to be practical you gotta do what you gotta do.”
In a world where we’re all competing to project an idealised version of ourselves, Anna’s willingness to show her imperfections is refreshing. “I think self-doubt is healthy. It humbles you,” she says. “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’.” We have to admit, we know what she means.
Red carpet style
The secret to looking great, be it casual or on the red carpet, is in the tailoring, insists Anna. It clearly paid off in her gowns at this year’s Golden Globes and Academy Awards, and the premier of Into the Woods.
Whether it’s a gutsy student in Pitch Perfect, an attention-seeking teen in the Twilight series or an uptight exec in Up In The Air, Anna says she connects to her characters through analysing their sense of humour.
Friends, love and life
While Anna is at home mingling with former co-stars such as Alison Brie and Brittany Snow, and boyfriend cinematographer Ben Richardson is also in the industry, she manages to be discreet about her private life and has hinted she wants to take a short career break soon to ‘maintain relationships’.