Anna Kendrick on her love of swearing, Lena Dunham and being weird on social media

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Stylist spends a joyous afternoon with the extremely funny star of Pitch Perfect

Anna Kendrick is you. She worries about the same things you do, overanalyses like you do and makes inappropriate jokes on social media like you do. She swears, is obsessed with Dairy Milk and compares herself to her friends. She likes making people laugh and makes jokes about her neuroses. Anna Kendrick is you. Anna Kendrick is also not you. (Unless you also happen to be a major Hollywood talent, in which case, apologies.)

She is a highly accomplished musical and dramatic actress, who moves effortlessly between improvised indie films and all-singing all-dancing ensemble pieces. However meeting her at a recording studio, where she is working on a song for the Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack in a not very glossy area of Los Angeles, and despite all the accolades and prowess, it’s impossible not to think that she could be you.

She’s dressed down. Not in the way journalists typically describe stars as being dressed down – all cashmere and Tod’s loafers – but Sunday afternoon dressed down (it’s not a Sunday). She’s wearing jeans, a baggy T-shirt and a black hairband round a scraped-back bun. “I don’t normally do interviews when I look this bad,” she apologises, but I also get the impression she isn’t worried.

Born in Portland, Maine to a seemingly typical middle-class family – her mother is an accountant, her father a history teacher, and she has an older brother, Michael – Kendrick started young. Her first major role was as Dinah in the musical High Society age 12, which earned her a Tony Award nomination, and at 18 she moved to Hollywood, where she still lives. She is in a relationship with Ben Richardson, a cinematographer who she met on the set of 2013's Drinking Buddies. As the story always goes, making it in Hollywood wasn’t easy, but she began building her career with roles in Camp and as Jessica in the Twilight franchise. But Up In The Air is what we reference when we talk about a career changer. Her 2009 role as Natalie Keener alongside George Clooney took her overnight from bit part to main event.

And then there was Pitch Perfect: the cult hit that came out of nowhere. It cost around £11million dollars to produce and made £73million worldwide. It’s Mean Girls for the Beyoncé generation. And now it’s back, with Kendrick reprising the role of Beca Mitchell, the cool (ish) girl in the a capella group Barden Bellas. The sequel – directed by Elizabeth Banks – is happily as joyous and female-focused as the first. A recent exclusive Stylist screening of the film – hosted by comedian Sarah Millican and attended by Kendrick – was equally delightful. Anna spoke easily about the song she sings round the house (Ignition by R Kelly), her thoughts on feminism and dreams of being in The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Kendrick is exceptionally hard-working – 15 films in the last three years is testament – and this year stars in Get A Job with Bryan Cranston and The Hollars with John Krasinksi. She knows she needs to take a break soon. But she’s struggling to stop. Sound familiar? She’s just like you…

If you had to describe Pitch Perfect to someone who hasn’t seen it, what would you say? It’s a comedy about dorks taking something that is not serious, very seriously. My favourite thing about the first movie is how the stakes just couldn’t be lower but everyone is losing their minds. It’s the same thing for this one.

The cast were not typical leading ladies, but the film exceeded all expectations. Do you think Hollywood is starting to embrace something new? I hope so. Women who fit that mould are rarely very funny and I think being funny is a result of having to fight for your place in a social group wherever you are in life. If you asked a psychiatrist they might say it’s a defence mechanism, but I think it’s great. Certainly very beautiful women who are very funny exist but they’re a rare breed. Everybody who’s really funny is a little bit broken and that’s OK, I’m all about broken.

Who is the funniest person in your world? Eddie Izzard is my life. I love the way that he views the world, and the way he doesn’t throw away serious issues because it will make people uncomfortable.

Could you do stand-up? F**k no. No, that’s like my nightmare. I’d love to, but the reality of it would be like hell. In an ensemble comedy your wins are shared and so are your failures. When you fail on your own, it just wrecks you. If a film of mine doesn’t do well, there’s a lot of protection for me but to have people go, ‘Nope, we don’t like what you are saying’ must be a real headf**k.

You’re quite foulmouthed, but you look angelic which is quite a dichotomy. Do you think the two things are connected? Yeah, I guess that’s possible. My whole life I’ve been trying to convince people that they should take me seriously; looking like I was 10 when I was 18 made it more difficult. Using a combination of well-constructed conversation pieces then a handful of curses so that they knew I wasn’t just a precocious 10-year-old is a big part of it.

So you were young when you realised the power of swearing? When I was very young I got into trouble but then I think my parents were so tired of having to hold it in themselves that we just became one of those families that cursed all the time.

So they wouldn’t be upset that you’re swearing today? I think my family would only roll their eyes at an interview if I said something pretentious.

Like what? If I said something about ‘the craft’ my mum would be like, “Oh for f**k’s sake.”

What sort of a child were you? I think a more extreme version of my personality now, so there were even greater swings from being crippled with shyness and then such confidence. I went from thinking I didn’t know what to say to anybody then feeling like I was completely invincible.

Were you aware of those feelings at the time? I remember identifying it pretty young because my mum talked about having the same thing. I think being aware that it is possible to be a really shy person and a confident person made me realise that I was both.

Do you think coming into the industry so young helped with those feelings? I guess. It’s a funny business always thinking about the psychology of different people and of yourself. You’d think I’d be a little more well-adjusted. I said the stupidest thing to my friend the other day: “Do you ever have an epiphany and then forget it?” Then instantly was like, “I’m such an idiot.” But I’d been on this hike and was feeling amazing and was like, ‘Yeah, that’s great, the next time I’m feeling anxiety, I must remember this feeling.’ Then I got home and I was like, ‘Oh no, what was that thing I was thinking about?’

What were you obsessed with growing up? My dad got me into classic films when I was young so that was really lucky and really smart, because it’s easy to feel as an adult that you can’t catch up. I still feel that way all the time because there are so many wonderful films. I think it was cool to have that childhood… what’s the word I’m looking for… that visceral connection with films like Casablanca and The Women. It’s great to be able to have that as a part of your psychology instead of just watching it at 25 and knowing that you’re supposed to see it.

The Women is a film about the lives and loves of a group of women in 1939, did watching a film like that so young teach you anything? That it’s possible for people to be really terrible to each other but also love each other very much. And it’s possible to forgive really terrible things. There’s this idea about how family is sacred and friends are secular and you can’t really push the boundaries of friendship the way you can push the boundaries of family but I think with some really strong female relationships, it’s like family and the same rules apply.

You’re excellent on social media, has it changed how you see yourself? I guess it’s comforting that the weirder I am on social media, the more people respond to it, which makes me feel less alone. That’s awfully deep, but the simple act of saying something silly that you do that you thought nobody else did and having 100 people go, “I do that too”, is a nice feeling.

So it gives you some validation? I guess it’s like releasing pressure off a valve, especially when I’m working. You’re trying to be professional and make a good impression so to be able to say something stupid and honest online is a nice reminder that the world that exists inside your head isn’t completely insane.

You talk about food quite a lot online, are you a foodie? I cannot cook and I’m trying to. I made shepherd’s pie recently, it was OK. It’s a process, right? But I made some raspberry thumbprint cookies that were very good, with no refined sugar, because you know…

Because you live in LA... [Laughs] I’m of an age when you’ve got to take care of yourself. Ooh and I also made spaghetti squash with toasted pine nuts that went down a treat.

Is there stuff that you won’t post online? Just things I don’t think are funny enough. I can’t actually think of an instance where I thought of something funny and then thought, ‘No, that’s too weird.’ My desire to say something funny completely overrides the fear of ridicule.

Are relationships a no-go area? I don’t really have much advice. It’s funny that people ask me because I’m like, “You have no idea if I’m any good at relationships, I could be a nightmare.”

Are you good or bad? [Laughs] I guess you never know do you? Can I just ask, have you picked [the nail varnish] off one of your nails or left one unpainted?

At this point we segue into a long discussion about the joy of picking off your nail polish. I genuinely can’t tell if she’s doing it because she’s truly interested in the state of my hands or keen to deflect the conversation away from romance. Regardless of her intent, Kendrick does seem properly interested in what I have to say, asking me questions about my stay in LA – worrying that I don’t have a car here – and where I live in London. It’s a generous and endearing trait.

You said it’s important to have an outlet for your emotions, are you a worrier? I don’t like having to figure things out on the fly. I’m very Type A and definitely a list-maker although I also lose stuff and I’m totally messy. Having everything where it should be would be my ideal way to live. When I have too many things on my plate I get anxiety over having to do something half-ass.

How does that anxiety manifest itself? I couldn’t fall asleep one night and the next night I woke up at 1.30am like, ‘I cannot believe I’m up again, that is so stupid,’ but I just go over things in my head. 

Is it that classic thing of worrying about the small things, rather than focusing on the important issue? YES! Because I need to be giving my full attention to the film I’m working on, but I’m awake in my hotel room thinking about something else. You wonder, ‘Am I focusing on this one stupid thing because I have a greater anxiety about how well I’m going to do in a film?’ But I can’t control that, so you worry about what you can control.

Do you worry about the world around you at all? You’re going to send me into a tailspin now [laughs]. I feel woefully uninformed about things sometimes, so no. My friend Olivia Wilde’s got her whole conscious thing [Conscious Commerce, an ethical shopping site] and I’m like, ‘What am I? What have I done for anyone lately? Yikes.’ With Lena Dunham it makes me feel so lazy that she can give her focus and creativity to so many different things so wholly. She’s got that Beyoncé drive [laughs].

So you’re a fan of Lena’s? There aren’t enough good things to say about Lena, her book destroyed me. She is this lethal combination of incredibly clever and well-educated. I think that anyone who is brave enough to say something that most people wouldn’t is to be applauded.

Are you a reader? In fits and starts. With 10 girls in the same room filming Pitch Perfect 2 I got through one book – The Things They Carried [by Tim O’Brien]. But on Into The Woods I read about 10 books, because of the logistics.

What’s the last thing you read that really affected you? I read Charles Manson’s biography; it sticks with you. A friend had recommended reading The Psychopath Test [by Jon Ronson] and I was a little nervous about reading it because I thought it would put me in that same state again. It’s one of those feelings that I kind of love but also kind of dread. I remember reading One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going crazy now. My brain chemistry has been destroyed by reading this book.’

Are you in a book group? I tried to start a book group when I first came to LA to keep myself occupied. The cable had been shut off and the internet had been shut off and I was like, ‘OK, I need to find something cheap to fill my days.’ We read A Million Little Pieces [by James Frey] and then that book was so f**ked and there was the whole scandal that followed it [Frey later admitted to having fabricated some of the autobiographical details] so our little book club had a stain on it.

You’ve spent quite a lot of time filming in London, would you ever move here? I find London one of those cities that I’m just too soft to handle unless I had heaps and heaps of money. It’s so spread out. I don’t think I could handle it at this point in my life, it would break me.

What made you pick LA over New York when starting out? When you are a struggling – no, aspiring is a nicer word – actor, the quality of life when you’re on a budget is better in LA. I couldn’t have kept the lights on in New York. LA was a very practical decision!

Can you see yourself staying in LA long term? Whenever I hear about people having babies in New York or LA I’m like, ‘What?’ I’m not thinking of having kids but there is always that sense that someday you’ll go ‘home’, wherever that is.

You’ve worked constantly for the last few years, what’s missing from your CV? It’s hard to take a step back and see if there’s something I should be doing differently. At some point I’ll have to take a good six months off and not make movies.

How does the idea of that feel? Weird. But working for 14 hours a day for months at a time is not sustainable. Not being on a set means you can explore the world and enrich your life. It’d probably be wise to invest in those things.

Would you feel guilty? Yeah, both of my parents worked my whole life so the idea of not working is completely backwards to me.

Pitch Perfect 2 is in cinemas nationwide from May 15

Words: Helen Bownass

Images: Rex Features, Aaron Richter/Corbis outline

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Stylist Team