It’s July, and 26-year-old Anna Kendrick, along with co-star Olivia Wilde, has just spent two weeks in Michigan filming the indie movie Drinking Buddies, one of many projects she’s been lucky enough to juggle lately. From the time she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance opposite George Clooney in 2009’s Up in the Air, her career has headed in the same direction as the film’s title. She’s played Jessica in all four of the Twilight movies, starred in last year’s dramatic comedy, 50/50, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, and this year appeared in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, alongside Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez, and lent her voice to the animated flick ParaNorman. This fall Kendrick will star in three feature films: End of Watch, a cop drama with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña; the musical comedy Pitch Perfect; and the political thriller The Company You Keep, directed by Robert Redford.
On break from the Buddies set, Kendrick orders a hot dog. It’s called “The Anna Kendrick.” In the recent past, this “mighty hot” dog at Hot Doug’s, a Chicago landmark, has been named after Keira Knightley, Jennifer Garner and Britney Spears. Now it’s Kendrick’s turn.
So far, the Buddies shoot has been unique in that the cast has been doing mainly improv. “You just wake up and go to the set, and the director, Joe Swanberg, tells you what he thinks the scene should be about, and you just try that,” Kendrick says. “That’s not the usual.”
But ever since the Portland, Maine, native discovered acting at the age of 5, her career has been anything but “usual.” The daughter of a history teacher and an accountant, Kendrick yearned early on for a bigger stage and brighter lights—namely Broadway.
She asked her parents if she could start auditioning, and soon they were packing her onto a Greyhound bus for audition trips to New York. Kendrick would shuttle back and forth from Portland every few weekends, showing up to casting calls for musicals like Annie, until finally she was cast in a Broadway production of High Society at age 12.
Petite, with long wavy auburn hair, a sharp nose and a piercing expression, Kendrick succeeded—if not as a leading lady at the time, then as a quirky character actress, becoming the second-youngest ever to be nominated for a Tony. After appearing in a few other Broadway shows, she made her film debut in the 2003 musical comedy Camp. Then, when she was 18 years old, Kendrick moved to Los Angeles to focus on film full time. “The first year in Los Angeles I was like, ‘What am I doing? Is this worth it?’” she says. “I could work as long as I could pay rent.” But despite the challenge of living more than 3,000 miles from her parents, Kendrick kept at it. “I remember working with a girl who told me, ‘Don’t worry about the money—do what you love and the money will be there,’” she recalls. “There’s not really anything you can do to force it.”
The advice was right on target, and Kendrick’s perseverance paid off. Just this spring she bought her first home, in Beachwood Canyon, and is working on redecorating it. And though she’s recently become a household name, Kendrick says her life hasn’t changed that much. In L.A. she’s rarely recognized or dogged by paparazzi, she says. “Here, people are too cool for school, which is fine by me.” She does admit to having a secret advantage in the area of anonymity, though: At just 5-foot-4, she can coast through most crowds unnoticed. “When I go to more touristy areas, it’s a real bonus being the shorty,” she laughs. “I’m friends with Joe Manganiello, and he’s so screwed,” she says of the 6-foot-5 actor. “He sticks out like a sore thumb.”
It’s not just the Hollywood hype Kendrick has been able to steer clear of, but typical Tinseltown trends as well. For starters, she’s not on a diet. Instead, she prefers comfort food with a twist. “My brother just got married, and everyone brought their own version of mac and cheese, like with lobster or bacon,” she recalls. “I love mac and cheese—and any restaurant with fish sticks.” She has little time for exercise, either, though she’s thinking of dabbling in yoga. “Olivia [Wilde] was talking about being a dancer and doing a lot of yoga, so I was like, ‘I have to take a yoga class.’”
Most of Kendrick’s closest relationships are the ones she made outside the business, before she became famous, and that’s just the way she’d like to keep it. “People ask how things are different, but to me they don’t really feel that different,” she says. “Except at my brother’s wedding, when my extended family kept saying they wanted pictures with me—that was strange!”
Not that she hasn’t made new connections and formed new relationships. On set, she and Wilde have become friendly. “It’s interesting traveling so much—you get really close to people you work with,” she says. “I’ve become accustomed to letting people into my life and then letting them go, which I used to think was really sad, but now I think is really beautiful.” It’s like life has various chapters, she explains. “You learn so much from meeting those people.”
In real life, Kendrick says the film character she’s most similar to is Katherine, the neurotic therapist she played in 50/50. “She wants to help and wants to connect with people, and it becomes a bit awkward because she tries too hard,” she says.
Although humor is often part of her screen persona, Kendrick doesn’t necessarily see herself as a comic actress. “It’s not that I’m trying to be funny,” she says. “But when there’s someone on paper who seems melancholy, sometimes when I play the scene it just comes out funny—many characters don’t know they have a comical side.” And her range doesn’t stop there: David Ayer, Kendrick’s director in End of Watch, calls her an incredible dramatic actress as well. “She’s hard-core. I met her when I shot an LCD Soundsystem music video with her. She’s cool, and she’s a stone-cold pro.”
Kendrick plans to keep trying different types of roles, but hesitates to predict where she’ll be in 10 years, let alone 10 weeks. “I’m not thinking, ‘In the fall I need to make this kind of movie,’” she says. “It’s more, ‘I want to make this recipe for Thanksgiving.’ I’m thinking about decorating my house for Christmas, and whipping out my Martha Stewart crafting crap.” What she will admit to, however, is how much she pushes herself, and how long she wants her career to last.
“I want to be sharp and funny at 80,” she says. “I want to be the next Betty White.”