For knowing that her best role is herself.
"Oh, I love this guy," Anna Kendrick says, as a bichon frise greets her hand with its tongue. "Hi, pal! You're a good guy!" The 28-year-old actress is sitting on a bench in a Hollywood Hills dog park, where a half-dozen or so of California's chicest hounds are frolicking in a grassy meadow, enjoying a lazy morning on the last day before spring. Off to Kendrick's right, a galumphing golden retriever chases down a slobbery tennis ball. "I want to steal that fucking dog," she says.
The pooch-loving Kendrick doesn't own a dog right now; having six movies coming out over the next 18 months puts a bit of a crimp in pet ownership. (The closest she's come recently was a Jack Russell terrier that belonged to an ex, but she lost him in the breakup, which seems to bum her out more than the breakup itself.) Occasionally she'll get lucky and dog-sit for friends, but today she's here to get her fix vicariously: "Just creeping," she says. Before long, a yappy-looking mutt scampers over to the bench, lifts his leg, and, before Kendrick can stop him, marks his territory all over her Kate Spade purse. "No!" she says, shooing him away. "Cheeky!" It's hard to imagine Angelina Jolie or Gwyneth Paltrow ever "just creeping," much less letting their bags be despoiled by an overfriendly Chihuahua. But Kendrick—who broke out in 2008's Twilight, did an Oscar-nominated turn opposite George Clooney in Up in the Air, and rose to genuine stardom with 2012's Pitch Perfect—is part of a new breed of actresses who somehow manage to seem eminently approachable while also remaining heroes to their legions of fans. (See also: Jennifer Lawrence, Lena Dunham, and, to some extent, Emma Stone.) Kendrick's reach is particularly vast: She counts 1.3 million followers on Instagram and 2.2 million on Twitter, all of whom tune in to hear her say whatever's on her mind, the more inappropriate the better. Her hit single, "Cups (When I'm Gone)," from the Pitch Perfect soundtrack, shot to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to 120 million viral-video watchers. An increasing number of brands want to tap into her four-quadrant appeal to help push their products; and—oh, right—she'll appear in three films this year, including Disney's take on the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, in which she stars as Cinderella alongside Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep.
And yet, Kendrick says, "Not only is strategy not my strong suit, it doesn't even enter into my thought process." She doesn't have a business manager or even an assistant; recently, when she went to buy a new, used Prius—which she only assented to after her 2002 Prius died on her—she brought along her BFF Aubrey Plaza, of NBC's Parks and Recreation and the forthcoming zombie rom-com Life After Beth, which Kendrick has a cameo in.
"I'm a terrible negotiator," Kendrick says. "The guy was doing all the cliché car-salesman things, playing hardball and going to talk to his manager, and all I could say was, 'Why are you being so mean? Stop it!' " Fortunately, Plaza—who's known for her biting sarcasm and droll demeanor (says Kendrick: "I envy her. I think people would be thrilled to pieces if she threw a drink in their face")—came prepared to live up to her rep. Their good cop/bad cop routine worked, and after a bit of back-and-forth, Kendrick drove off the lot at Toyota of Glendale with a preowned Prius for exactly what she wanted to pay. "We did it," she says with a grin.
Each of the actresses in Kendrick's loose cohort has forged a connection with her fans in her own distinct way. Lawrence does it by charming talk-show audiences with embarrassing anecdotes and navigating awards-show red carpets like they're filled with marbles wrapped in banana peels. Dunham does it with her brilliantly honest HBO show, Girls, and her liberty with her body. And Kendrick does it via the Internet.
"Sometimes when I try to make jokes or have a sense of humor in interviews, it doesn't go over very well," she says. "But Twitter made my life easier in this way that I didn't expect. It would have taken probably 10 times as long for people to accept my voice and my sense of humor if I didn't have Twitter."
The evolution of Kendrick's Twitter feed is a study in how the medium itself has evolved. When she started using the platform in July of 2009, she tweeted mainly about TV appearances, impostor accounts, and requests for tech help. (Even Kendrick seemed to recognize the problem: "Tweets thus far are RIVETING, no?") But in December 2011 she took a six-month hiatus, and then, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, unveiled her current Twitter voice fully formed: self-effacing, bawdy, whip-smart, and occasionally drunk. Herewith, a few of our favorites:
She basically treats the medium as a stand-up comic might, with a dozen or so drafts-in-progress on her phone at any given time. ("They're mostly jokes that made sense at 2 a.m.," she says.)
Kendrick says she spent her first year and a half on Twitter scared she might offend someone. She used to text friends to ask, "Is this joke okay?" or wait half an hour before posting to make sure it couldn't be taken the wrong way. "I can think of so many things I didn't tweet because they seemed so scandalous," she says. "Like, one time I dropped off some laundry and the dude was kind of flirting with me, and I was going to tweet something like, 'You can either flirt with me or wash my underwear, but you can't do both.' And my friend was like, 'You can't tweet that, that's way too scandalous!' "
Cut to two years later, when Kendrick is writing things like this: "Ugh—NEVER going to a Ryan Gosling movie in a theater again. Apparently masturbating in the back row is still considered 'inappropriate.' "
If you scroll back through Kendrick's online history, a few themes emerge. Dogs. Baked goods. Jet lag and/or hangovers. Sweats, Snuggies, and other comfy clothes. Game of Thrones. She also has a few social media rules she thinks everyone should abide by, about which she is surprisingly passionate. Two Instagram photos a day, max. ("I've got a really itchy unfollow button.") Links, @ and # signs, and quotation marks should be avoided. ("It looks like I'm reading fuckin' code.") Melancholy is okay on Instagram, but not on Twitter. ("Just say something funny.") And above all, never, ever overpromote. "That's one of the things that annoys me most," says Kendrick. "When my entire time line gets filled up with actors being like, 'Check out my short!' or 'I'm on Craig Ferguson!' It's just bad business."
Because of her large, passionate following, Kendrick says, she's been approached by several companies that want to pay her to tweet about their products. "But the reason I have a large following is because I use it wisely," she says. "If I'm doing something with a company and part of the deal is 10 tweets, I'm like, 'Are you out of your mind? That does not help you or me.' I may have had 30,000 retweets on the Ryan Gosling thing, but that doesn't mean you're gonna get 30,000 retweets. You're gonna get maybe 37." If there's something about the concept of a personal brand that Kendrick still finds a little . . . uncool, she's also too smart to pretend it's not important. "I know the idea of a brand is something that I'm supposed to not care about," she says. "But I do think it's a part of my life, and I'm trying to just be in control of it, as opposed to ignoring it."
Which prompts the question: What is the Anna Kendrick brand? In a nutshell, she's the girl who gets to do lots of glamorous stuff, but is supremely stoked about it. Her three most popular Instagram posts provide a nice case study: One is a photo of her scarfing down In-N-Out at Vanity Fair's Oscar party in March, another is of her freaking out while meeting Beyoncé at the Grammys, and the third is of a solid-gold macaroni pendant that Kraft sent her for being a vocal mac-and-cheese fan. What all three have in common: a (ahem) pitch-perfect mix of outsider awkwardness and insider cool. She's the girl at the party other girls wish they could be—and more important, the girl they think they could be.
"When I first moved to L.A.," Kendrick says, "and people were doing all these things that I wasn't able to do yet, it was easier for me to deal with my envy when people were genuinely enthusiastic. When people acted like it was no big deal I was like, 'Fuck you.' So with stuff like meeting Beyoncé, I think people thought it was cool because I was honest about how excited I was."
An important side note here: Although Kendrick also tweets about nerd bait like Lord of the Rings and astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson—and hangs out on Reddit dropping film-geek knowledge under a pseudonymous screen name—she's not the type to proclaim herself a nerd. "Some girls have cultivated this image for themselves like, 'Oh, I'm a gamer,' " she says. "I hate that. These days it feels like saying you're a nerd is just another version of wearing a push-up bra." She shakes her head. "I would have played Magic: The Gathering with my brother if I'd known it would have given me so much sex cred later on."
Kendrick grew up in Portland, Maine, with a banker dad and an accountant mom. "They're both very businessy, which makes it funny that I'm not," she says. "That's the technical term, right? Businessy?" At 6, she appeared in a community-theater production of Annie, and by 10 she was driving to New York with her parents to audition for Broadway. She was nominated for a Tony at 12, and by 17 had moved to L.A. by herself to shoot a pilot called Kid Mayor (she played the mayor's snarky sister). "It was so apparent that it was terrible—after the first episode, they were like, 'You can all go home,' " Kendrick says. "But then, I was just here."
Kendrick spent the next few years auditioning for basically every show on TV: "All the CSIs, all the Law & Orders, definitely House, Psych, I'm sure Rules of Engagement, Bones for sure. The best-case scenario was that I would get on a procedural where I could occasionally be funny and not just do soul-crushing shots of me looking through a microscope," she says. "Basically be the wisecracking so-and-so on whatever version of CSI they did next." But the plan changed in 2009, when she more than held her own against George Clooney in Up in the Air and soon found herself on casting agents' shortlists all over town.
According to Peter Cramer, copresident of production for Universal Pictures, producers auditioned "hundreds" of actors before casting Kendrick in Pitch Perfect—a romantic comedy set in the world of competitive a cappella. "We wanted someone who could handle the comedic stuff, to make sure we separated ourselves from Glee," Cramer says. "Anna had some cachet, she'd been in a lot of great movies already, and she signaled that this wasn't going to be another piece of fluff. The movie had a little edge, and I think that had a lot to do with Anna and the credibility that she brought."
Pitch Perfect went on to gross $113 million worldwide—an eye-popping sum considering its $17 million budget. "It far exceeded what we were hoping for," says Cramer. Mostly this was due to the young-woman demographic; on opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, 81% of the audience was female and 55% under age 25. In February, Universal announced that Kendrick and costar Rebel Wilson were both on board for Pitch Perfect 2, due in May 2015.
But there was another surprise. Kendrick's smash single "Cups (When I'm Gone)," which started as a one-minute snippet in the film, turned into a bona fide pop-radio smash. Kendrick's recording went on to sell 3 million copies, making it, according to Billboard, the 21st-biggest single of the year—beating out songs by Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Jay Z. The song and accompanying video were boosted by the Cup Game, a patty-cake-style routine performed with an empty cup that's been a summer-camp favorite for years, and which Kendrick's performance helped go newly viral, inspiring thousands of fans to upload their own versions—and no doubt practice endlessly to their parents' regret. ("The phrase 'It was cute at first' has been said a lot," Kendrick says with a grin.)
The song's success came slowly and organically, too late to help the movie while it was still in theaters, but just in time to boost home viewing. "The DVD performed like a movie that did twice as well in theaters," says Cramer. Nevertheless, Kendrick says she has no plans to pursue a recording career: "I'm just going to quit while I'm ahead." (Although, with a Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack on the way, don't count on it.) But she does enjoy seeing the looks on kids' faces when they approach her about the Cup Game. "They tell me they can do it—and then desperately look around. Because there's never a cup around. I'm like, 'I believe you, girl!' "
How Anna Kendrick Sparked—and fanned—a phenomenon
British duo Lulu and the Lampshades release a clip in which they sing "When I'm Gone" (an Appalachian folk tune originally recorded by the Carter Family in 1931) while doing the "Cup Game," a percussion routine dating back to the 1980s.
Musician Anna Burden releases a video of herself performing that same routine, which hits Reddit and goes viral.
Anna Kendrick watches Burden's clip and teaches herself the choreography.
Kendrick performs the song for the Pitch Perfect producers, who want proof that each cast member can sing. Impressed, they work it into the film.
Kendrick reprises "Cups" on The Late Show With David Letterman. The next week, Universal Pictures expands the film's release and box-office grosses rise 191%.
Teens flood YouTube with their own "Cup Game" videos, most of them instructional.
February 2, 2013
The Pitch Perfect album passes Les Misérables to reach No. 1 on Billboard's soundtrack charts.
A new music video for the song, helmed by Pitch Perfect director Jason Moore, hits YouTube. To date, it's been watched 115 million times. An extended cut of the song is released by Republic Records.
Universal Pictures green-lights Pitch Perfect 2, which starts shooting this summer and is due in theaters May 15, 2015.
Pitch Perfect begins airing on HBO and goes on to be one of the top on-demand titles of 2013.
The extended "Cups" single peaks at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Radio is now a major driver of its success.
Pitch Perfect becomes the best-selling soundtrack of 2013. By year's end, the film has sold 5 million copies on DVD/Blu-ray.
After a male admirer starts to get a little too close at the dog park, Kendrick makes her way to a quiet café down the hill, where she orders a butternut squash salad and a glass of kombucha. "And now I have to do something quite embarrassing, which is take out my retainer," she says. She slips out her Invisalign and clicks it into a plastic case. "Supergross."
It's this kind of down-to-earth, pretension-free charm that has endeared Kendrick to Madison Avenue—a budding relationship she's eager to pursue as well. "Lately I've really been trying to get into business with brands I like," she says. "That's the only time when having a business hat on is really fun for me. It doesn't feel like I'm buying a car and I just want it to be over. It feels like playing Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada—being a mover and a shaker and a little badass."
Kendrick's first big campaign was an ad for Newcastle beer. Since winning the Newcastle account in 2012, ad agency Droga5 has created a series of meta-ads that poke fun at beer marketing, artisanal chic, and Newcastle itself. (Example: "From the country that brought you British food comes a delicious beer to wash away the taste of British food.") "Newcastle is kind of stuck between two categories, with the big megabreweries on one side and the craft beers on the other, so our strategy for standing out is to be the honest, no-bullshit beer," says Ted Royer, Droga5's chief creative officer. With Kendrick, the company shot an online video, to be unveiled during Super Bowl week. Its conceit was that the brewer had booked Kendrick for a Super Bowl ad, only to back out when they didn't want to spend the money.
"We knew we wanted to have a sexy female lead, because that's what beer marketing goes for, but we also wanted someone funny enough to acknowledge that she was being used for her sexiness," Royer says. "Not only is Anna hot and very savvy and smart about her image, she also has fun with it."
"I didn't know what she was going to pooh-pooh and what she was going to be game for," says director Randy Krallman. "But she was a total champ. She went full-bore—harder than what's in the final edit. And she was so good that she literally didn't flub a line, ever."
In the run-up to the Super Bowl, the commercial was watched online more than 4 million times. "We don't have the sales figures yet," says Royer, "but brand conversation on social media went up 400%." With more than 600 organic media mentions, the ad also dominated the Super Bowl commercial conversation, even at the expense of actual Super Bowl commercials. "We made so many Top 10 lists, and we didn't even buy an ad," says Royer.
Since then, says Kendrick, she's been trying to be more proactive about pursuing partnerships with brands she favors. "It's really fun to be like, 'Why are we not in business together? Let's do this,' " she says. One of these partnerships is an as-yet-unnamed clothing company she's been in discussions with. "I found myself in the middle of their store in New York, talking about their stuff as though I was in a commercial," Kendrick says. "Like, 'When did their accessories get so cute?' " She laughs. "And I was like, 'Whoa, lightbulb. This makes sense to me. I can do this.' "
She's also smart enough about herself to know what kind of ads she can't do. "I had one offer for, like, an operating system, which, I have no idea. Honestly, when things like that happen, I have to remember that sometimes there's no focus group and no research being done, and it might be as simple as somebody at that company has a daughter who's obsessed with Pitch Perfect." Similarly, she says, "If I'm talking to some sexy fashion house, and they're like, 'We're going for an elegant thing,' it's so easy for me to be like, 'Well, then, Madame, I am not your woman!' Because elegance is not a thing that I aspire to."
And then, of course, there is her day job. Despite occasional forays into popcorn fare (see: the Twilight movies), Kendrick has been remarkably adept at doing only the kind of movies she wants to do. Forget the old adage of "one for them, one for me"; Kendrick's ratio seems closer to "one for them, eight for me." For the upcoming Happy Christmas, in which she costars with Lena Dunham, Kendrick earned $2,000 for a month of work. For last year's Drinking Buddies, she worked for scale. Success has given her the financial leeway to take smaller jobs—but she's also been smart about choosing roles that set her up to be in demand. "The money has always followed the work for me, as opposed to the other way around," she says, "which I feel superlucky about. I never want to be in a position where I have to do a movie I hate to pay the mortgage. Because that's a much, much bigger bummer to me than doing something with a brand."
Of course, playing Cinderella in a big-budget Disney musical, as she'll do this December with Into the Woods, is about as far from working for scale as you can get. But lest you think about floating a comparison between her and Cinderella in real life—the ordinary girl thrust into extraordinary circumstances—think twice. "Oh, boy," she says, rolling her eyes before I can even finish the question. "Oh, brother!"
"Okay, here's the thing, since I've now had to explore that character," Kendrick says. "The actual story, the Brothers Grimm story, is of a girl who is beaten and abused by her family who is supposed to love her... and then gets a shot to maybe meet a dude. So, for me, that's not really the same as just being a normal person. I would say the closest I ever come to feeling like Cinderella is when I'm at an awards show, and people compliment my dress or jewelry. I'm like, 'None of this is mine,' " she laughs. " 'It all goes back in the morning.' "