AFTER MAKING HER BROADWAY DEBUT AT A MERE 12 YEARS OLD IN THE MUSICAL HIGH SOCIETY (AND NABBING A TONY NOMINATION ALONG WITH IT), THE MULTI-TALENTED MEGA STAR HAS LED A FASCINATING CAREER, FLEXING HER VOCAL CORDS IN A RANGE OF MUSICAL BLOCKBUSTERS ALONGSIDE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED INDIE HITS, HIGH TICKET DRAMAS, AND TEEN JUGGERNAUTS. THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, SHE’S REUNITING WITH JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE IN THE CANDY-COLORED FANTASYLAND IN TROLLS BAND TOGETHER
BY AMANDA McCoy
In Hollywood, it’s not uncommon for high-profile stars to dip their toes in different entertainment industries, often leaning on their name recognition to nab A, big producer interest, and B, guaranteed visibility via a built-in fanbase (even if the reviews aren’t always positive; see David Hasselhoff’s 2006 album Jump In My Car as an example). But even though many singers have found success on the screen, most celebrities are still known primarily for a singular talent: the ability to act or belt out tunes. Anna Kendrick’s stardom, however, is a special kind of alchemy that encompasses both, spanning both Tony and Oscar nominations. Though she began her career on the Broadway stage and has since led the cast in a suite of dizzyingly successful musical blockbusters (the Pitch Perfect trilogy collected more than $350 million at the box office), her non-singing roles have received just as much if not more acclaim. She can play the part of a starry-eyed singing troll just as well as a strait-laced corporate ladder climber in 2009’s Up in the Air (for which she landed an Oscar bid).
Kendrick was born in Portland, Maine, to an accountant and a history school teacher. She was on the stage by age six, performing with her local community theater. “I can’t now say what it was that originally drew me to performing because it’s very possible that at six it was just that I wanted people to be looking at me and paying attention to me,” she told NPR in 2016. “Then it sort of transformed into something that was really meaningful for me. It became the way I learn about myself and the way I learn about other people.” A mere six years later, she made her grand debut on the world’s biggest stage in the Broadway musical High Society as the precocious Dinah Lord and became the third youngest person to nab a Tony nomination (she lost the trophy to Broadway queen Audra McDonald, the most awarded performer in Tony’s 76-year history).
The summer before her senior year in high school, she was cast in her first feature film, the nonunion musical comedy Camp (2003), based on writer/director Todd Graff’s real-life experiences at the famous children’s theater camp Stagedoor Manor in the Catskills. Besides a supporting role in the made-for-TV flick The Mayor the same year, she wouldn’t show up on the screen again for another four years until she was cast as Ginny in the indie sleeper hit Rocket Science. The film was far from a blockbuster smash, but it would prove pivotal to Kendrick’s career, garnering the attention of two powerhouse directors, Edgar Wright and Jason Reitman, who each sought her out for career-making roles in 2009’s Up in the Air (opposite George Clooney) and 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. (Around the same time, she was cast as Kristen Stewart’s friend Jessica Stanley in the teen cult franchise Twilight.) “She’s so witty and smart and sharp, and I needed a girl who could go toe to toe with George Clooney, and she was the one,” Reitman told MTV of his decision to cast Kendrick as Natalie in Up in the Air. Kendrick later joked that when news of her Oscar nomination for the role surfaced, she was still too broke to afford new shoes.
From there, Kendrick’s career took off, her IMDb crowded with credits that include films 50/50, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and crime drama End of Watch, plus a few small screen appearances in Family Guy and The Company You Keep. In 2012, she signed on for another fame-coming role in Pitch Perfect. In the film, her rendition of “Cups,” a cover of the Carter family’s “When I’m Gone,” became an internet sensation. (Fun fact: it was actually Kendrick’s audition song, and the producers were so enamored with it, that they put it in the film.) The film, lauded for its rockstar comedic cast and mastery of a cappella, went on to produce a pair of highly successful sequels.
Kendrick has also become Twitter famous, but not for the disheveled political rants or cultural soapboxes many celebrities feel obliged to share. With refreshing candor, she’s churned out several self-deprecating gems like, “Oh god. I just realized I’m stuck with me my whole life,” and “Ghosting: because I’d rather look like an asshole than let you slowly find out that I suck.” She put her hilarious self-abasement in long form with the 2016 release of her autobiography, Scrappy Little Nobody. “Even though what you experience online every day traffics in outrage, in easily digestible thoughts, people do want to experience complicated stories,” she told Vogue on her inspiration to write the book.
That same year, Trolls hit theaters, the nostalgia-drenched animated jukebox comedy that dazzled adults and youngsters in equal measure and had everyone crooning “I will get back up again,” (even if badly off-pitch). In the film, Kendrick plays Poppy, the ever-optimistic, pink-haired princess of a troll troupe in hiding. Though it was released at the start of the pandemic, the follow-up Trolls World Tour still managed to garner digital success, enough for Universal Pictures to greenlight a third installment: Trolls Band Together.
While some actors lament highly commercial, bubblegum characters (even though these roles are often income machines), Kendrick remains enamored with her syrupy alter ego. “Every time I get an email saying, ‘Oh, they’re gonna need you to come in for another recording session to do more Poppy,’ I’m like, ‘That’s the best news I’ve got all day!’” She told Shonda Land. “I feel like I always leave every session happier than when I came in. Justin [Timberlake] and I have talked about this, how it feels so lovely to be such an unabashed fan of a movie that you’re in.”