Anna Kendrick Says Acting Is 'The Way That I Learn About Other People' The Pitch Perfect star started acting when she was 6. Back then, she says, she likely just did it for the attention. "Then it sort of transformed into something that was really meaningful for me."
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Anna Kendrick Says Acting Is 'The Way That I Learn About Other People'

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Anna Kendrick Says Acting Is 'The Way That I Learn About Other People'

Anna Kendrick Says Acting Is 'The Way That I Learn About Other People'

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest Anna Kendrick starred in "Pitch Perfect," the hit film about a college a cappella group. She's now working on the second sequel. She was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the 2009 film "Up In The Air," which also starred George Clooney. She played Cinderella in the 2014 film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical "Into The Woods." And she co-starred in "Twilight." Her films from this year include "The Accountant," "Trolls" and "The Hollars." Kendrick has been acting since she was a child. And when she was 12, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in the musical "High Society." Now she's written a new memoir called "Scrappy Little Nobody."

Anna Kendrick, welcome to FRESH AIR.

ANNA KENDRICK: Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: I want to start by talking about and playing a song from your first movie, which is also the first movie I saw you in - "Camp," which is a comedy set in a theater camp - a summer camp for theater kids.

KENDRICK: Yes, wow. Deep cuts.

GROSS: And you have an incredible - yeah, you have an incredible star turn in this, in which you get to sing a Stephen Sondheim song from his show "Company," "The Ladies Who Lunch." So before we talk about the song, describe your character in "Camp."

KENDRICK: My character in "Camp" is lonely, isolated, dark. She is in love with the very blond, very popular girl at camp. And she becomes something of a servant to her, really. But that's fine with, Fritzi, my character because she's sort of ambiguously in love with her. And nobody really likes Fritzi, but then she gets the last laugh.

GROSS: Yes, because the girl who she is so smitten with gets a leading role in the show that they're doing.

KENDRICK: Yes.

GROSS: And...

KENDRICK: And I get angry enough after being abused for long enough, I decide that I'm going to poison her with Woolite. Although I think that in the movie we might have used Woolish (ph) or something, you know, like...

GROSS: A generic substitute.

KENDRICK: ...Believe it or not, Woolite didn't want to be associated with kids poisoning each other. And then I steal her role mid-performance.

GROSS: And it's a performance of the Stephen Sondheim song "The Ladies Who Lunch" from "Company." In the original production Elaine Stritch sings this. This is a song written for a cynical, bitter, middle-aged woman who's living in, like, the Upper West Side of Manhattan in a wealthy neighborhood. And you're this, like, kid singing it. And so it's a hysterical - it's a hilarious juxtaposition. But you just sing the heck out of it. And it's such a great performance. I was just really stunned when I saw this. It's...

KENDRICK: Yeah. I think I had that sight gag on my side in a way, that I was 16 at the time, I think. But I looked even younger. So if I leaned into it even a little bit, I think it was automatically pretty funny.

GROSS: It's a great performance and I want to play it for our listeners. But we'll play the setup to it in the scene where she - where the leading lady is singing it and is throwing up in between lines (laughter).

KENDRICK: Yeah.

GROSS: And so you're already dressed for the role...

KENDRICK: And I find the sort of director of sorts and say - and very innocently say, well, you know, I know the show. I could do it.

GROSS: And that's where we'll pick up the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAMP")

DON DIXON: (As Bert Hanley) Fritzi, what in the hell are you doing here?

KENDRICK: (As Fritzi Wagner) Well, I knew you'd be discussing stopping the show and I just thought how disappointed all the kids would be...

DIXON: (As Bert Hanley) You scheming little [expletive].

KENDRICK: (As Fritzi Wagner) Please, I'm a child.

DIXON: (As Bert Hanley) If you think for one...

KENDRICK: (As Fritzi Wagner) Oh, save the speech, rummy. She's [expletive]. I'm ready, and the [expletive] show must go on. So let's get cracking, shall we?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ALANA ALLEN: (As Jill Simmons, singing) I'll drink to that.

KENDRICK: (As Fritzi Wagner, singing) Here's to the girls who just watch. Aren't they the best? When they get depressed, it's a bottle of scotch plus a little jest. Another chance to disapprove, another brilliant singer, another reason not to move, another vodka stinger. (Screaming) I'll drink that. So here's to the girls on the go. Everybody tries. Look into their eyes, and you'll see what they know. Everybody dies. A toast to that invincible bunch, the dinosaurs surviving the crunch. Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch. Everybody rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise.

(APPLAUSE)

GROSS: (Laughter) That's Anna Kendrick in "Camp."

KENDRICK: Oh, my goodness. I haven't heard that in a really long time.

GROSS: How did it sound to you?

KENDRICK: It's interesting that there are couple - I mean, I can't help but sit here and listen to it and think, oh, you're just under it. Oh, OK, OK, you know, worked it out with a little vibrato there. That's fine. But yeah, still - I mean, I know that the performance is intentionally unhinged and I am breaking a martini glass with my bare hands in that scream, so I shouldn't be thinking about the technical vocal aspect too hard.

GROSS: Well, I think it sounds great. Had you seen "Company?" Had you listened to the cast recording with Elaine Stritch?

KENDRICK: I had not seen the full show, but I had done this performance called "My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies" at Carnegie Hall when I was 13. And Elaine Stritch performed "Ladies Who Lunch" at this kind of evening of, you know, famous leading ladies. I was there doing kind of a gimmicky thing where I was this little girl, and they really made me look very young even though I was 13 and I had pigtails and a pink dress, and I was performing with the Kit Kat Girls from "Cabaret." So it was kind of a funny song.

And then, you know, Audra McDonald and Dorothy Loudon and Elaine Stritch all performed some of their most famous songs. So I got to see Elaine do it in rehearsals and in the performance. And she did walk around in just a man's shirt and tights, which, you know, was a dream come true to watch her in action actually doing that.

GROSS: So was it helpful to have seen that when you were performing the song?

KENDRICK: Oh, yeah, absolutely, yeah. And to have seen how unapologetic she was off stage as well, that was very inspirational for that moment in my - in my teen performance of that song. Sorry, sometimes it's - I forget that I did that (laughter).

GROSS: What do you mean unapologetic?

KENDRICK: I don't know, the way she kind of threw herself around and, you know, any room she entered she just announced what it was that she needed. I mean, we - you know, we were doing a performance. It wasn't like we were hanging out at dinner, and she just came in and was like, somebody get me some bread. But she was - I don't know - she just seemed like very comfortable with the fact that she was a living legend. I mean that in the absolute best way.

GROSS: Your first role in community theater was in "Annie." You were one of the orphans, not Annie. But did you want to play Annie? Did you audition to be Annie?

KENDRICK: Oh, I think I knew at first, you know, when I was 6 and auditioned for this community theater production of "Annie" that I was too young to play Annie. But I really believed that deep down every young girl that's into theater at all secretly wants to be Annie. It's like the - it's like the young girl version of "Hamlet." Like, we all want to be Annie.

GROSS: (Laughter) So in this community theater production of "Annie," you got to sing "Hard-Knock Life" with a lot of other people.

KENDRICK: The best.

GROSS: So what was your reaction when Jay-Z sampled it?

KENDRICK: (Laughter) I thought it was so charming and so cool. And I think I held out a little bit of hope that it would make - it would somehow make all theater more cool to my peers at the time. And that didn't exactly work. But if that song ever comes on, I still get excited about it.

GROSS: Did you sing "Tomorrow" for an audition piece when you were a kid?

KENDRICK: Oh, sure. Yeah. I think actually I auditioned for the TV movie that they did, and I definitely would have sang it for that. But I do think that after age 13, it becomes a little embarrassing. You know, you want to be cool or you want to be singing something from "Thoroughly Modern Millie" or whatever the the kind of new, hot show was at that time because you want to prove that you're up on the latest theater trends.

GROSS: So you're very short, and you were always like that.

KENDRICK: (Laughter).

GROSS: You write about this - I mean, and you were always, like, the shortest person...

KENDRICK: Yeah.

GROSS: ...In line at your school.

KENDRICK: Yes.

GROSS: I usually was, too. I was like the first, second or third in my class in terms of shortness.

KENDRICK: Yeah.

GROSS: But you have this really powerful singing voice. You have a really big singing voice. When you auditioned were people always surprised to see the big voice coming out of the little kid?

KENDRICK: Yeah. That comment - I always got that comment. You have such a big voice which I chose to take as a compliment. And, yeah, it became one of those things that people said to me somewhat constantly. And I did always wonder if I kind of cultivated a big voice intentionally, you know, like a roar, you know, to assert myself in some space in the world.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Anna Kendrick. She has a new memoir that's called "Scrappy Little Nobody" and she, of course, starred in "Up In The Air," "Into The Woods," "Pitch Perfect." We're going to take a short break, and then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Anna Kendrick who starred in the movies "Up In The Air," "Into The Woods," "Pitch Perfect." Now she has a memoir called "Scrappy Little Nobody." Let's pause here to listen to a clip from another one of your films. This was, I think, really your breakout role in "Up In The Air" where you co-starred with George Clooney, and you play somebody in this who works for a company whose job is to help other companies downsize. So, like, it's your job to think of ways to basically fire people (laughter) or lay them off.

KENDRICK: Yeah.

GROSS: And George Clooney has been flying around the country laying off people on behalf of the company because nobody wants to fire the people themselves, so they hire somebody else to do it, and George Clooney is that guy. That's been his job for many years, but you've come up with this way of doing it through long distance conferencing, through like video conferencing.

KENDRICK: Yeah. I know. I like that Natalie's big idea was just to use Skype.

GROSS: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

KENDRICK: I think at the time it kind of worked as, you know, we're pretending that that's a revelation. But, yeah, that is sort of the McGuffin of the movie.

GROSS: Yeah, so you've made a demonstration of this technique to the whole company about how you can lay somebody off through video conferencing. And now you've come to your boss' office to talk with him about it. He's played by Jason Bateman. George Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, is there, too. So you speak first.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UP IN THE AIR")

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) How's everyone taking it?

GEORGE CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) Great. Listen, I admire your zeal, and I think you have some very good ideas, but you know nothing about the realities of my industry. You can set up an iChat, but you don't know how people think.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) Actually I minored in psychology.

JASON BATEMAN: (As Craig Gregory) Nice.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) OK, kiddo. Fire me.

BATEMAN: (As Craig Gregory) Ryan.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) She's going to be doing this on a regular basis. Don't you want to know if she can fire somebody?

BATEMAN: (As Craig Gregory) She's fired Ned.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) My dog can fire Ned. Fire me.

BATEMAN: (As Craig Gregory) You don't need to do this.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) No, it's OK. I got this. Mr. Bingham, I regret to inform you that your position at this company is no longer available.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) Who the hell are you?

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) My name is Ms. Keener. I'm here today to discuss your future.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) My future? The only one who could fire me is Craig Gregory.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) Mr. Gregory hired me to handle this for him.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) Handle what? Handle me? Mr. Gregory hired me. He's the only one who can fire me. You know what? I'm going to go talk to him.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) Mr. Bingham.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) No, no, no. You can't follow me. You're on a computer screen, remember?

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) Ryan.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) All right. Let's try this again. Fire me again.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) I just did.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) Actually, you didn't. Fire me.

BATEMAN: (As Craig Gregory) That's enough. I think we get it.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) Mr. Bingham, I'm here today to inform you that your position is no longer available.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) I'm fired?

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) Yes, you're fired.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) Never say fired.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) You've been let go.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) Why?

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) This is a mythical situation. How could I possibly know why?

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) Why doesn't matter. You never know why.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) It's important not to focus on the why and rather to spend your energy thinking about your future.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) Well, I'm going to spend my energy on suing you unless you give me a good reason why you're firing me.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) Mr. Bingham, the reason is not important.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) So you're firing me without grounds? Now I really have a lawsuit.

BATEMAN: (As Craig Gregory) I get what you're trying to say, Ryan.

KENDRICK: (As Natalie Keener) Don't take this personally, Mr. Bingham.

CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) Personally? This is the most personal situation that you are ever going to enter, so before you try to revolutionize my business, I'd like to know that you actually know my business.

GROSS: OK (laughter).

KENDRICK: He's so gravelly voiced, and I'm so shrill.

GROSS: That's a scene with the Anna Kendrick and George Clooney from the 2009 film "Up In The Air." How did you get the part for this?

KENDRICK: I auditioned, good old-fashioned auditioning. Can you believe it? But after I auditioned, I did find out that the director had written the role for me after seeing me in an independent film I did called "Rocket Science" which nobody saw, but a lot of filmmakers saw it. And I ended up getting a lot of work out of that performance, out of that movie, but I still had to audition because it's a movie with George Clooney. And it was a, you know - a great script at a great studio. So I guess every gal in the proverbial town had auditioned, so little did I realize when I auditioned I was - already had the approval of the director. I was sort of trying to prove myself to the studio, essentially, to hire someone who was not famous.

GROSS: In your memoir, you write about how uncomfortable you were in the kind of business attire, the skirted suits that your character has to wear.

KENDRICK: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Why did it make you so uncomfortable?

KENDRICK: I'm going to go into the nitty gritty here a little bit, but to get the suit to look very polished, very sharp - and, you know, sometimes you're pushing it really past where you would need to be in real life. We needed her to look hyper neat and sharp, and so I was wearing Spanx, a foundation garment, at all times. And I was wearing these shirts that got tucked into this tight skirt and to keep the shirts really taut, they sewed in a crotch strap which is a bit of Velcro that goes from the front of the shirt to the back and goes under your - in between your legs. So it felt a little like I was wearing a leotard and some uncomfortable pumps, so it just wasn't the most relaxing wardrobe.

GROSS: That's so interesting because in my experience shirts start to pull out from your pants all the time. But, you know, in movies, everything kind of like stays in place when it's supposed to. But I guess that's because everybody has tricks to make it do it.

KENDRICK: Yeah, yeah, sort of go through more than any sane business person would to just look respectable for the day.

GROSS: (Laughter) Right. If you're just joining us, my guest is Anna Kendrick. She has a new memoir called "Scrappy Little Nobody." Let's hear a scene from "Pitch Perfect" that's a very famous scene that led to a very popular single. For anyone who hasn't seen the movie, it's about an a cappella school singing group. And you play a freshman who is trying to be in this a cappella group, and you're late for the audition.

KENDRICK: (Laughter) Yeah. I'm auditioning to be in the a cappella group while simultaneously acting like I'm too cool to be in the a cappella group. She's a really charming character actually.

GROSS: (Laughter) So you're on stage and a couple of members of the group who are kind of judging the auditions are sitting at the foot of the stage. You take one of their paper cups or plastic cups and start using that as percussion. And you sing this song accompanying yourself on cup.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT")

KENDRICK: (As Beca, singing) I got my ticket for the long way round. Two bottle of whiskey for the way. And I sure would like some sweet company and I'm leaving tomorrow. What do you say? When I'm gone - when I'm gone - you're going to miss me when I'm gone. You're going to miss me by my hair. You're going to miss me everywhere. Oh, I know you're going to miss me when I'm gone.

GROSS: That's Anna Kendrick in a scene from "Pitch Perfect," which was made in 2012. A version of that went on to be a hit single. Were you expecting that?

KENDRICK: Completely (laughter) no. That was one of the great - I imagine that will remain one of the great shocks of my career. It was so lovely and charming and the fact that it just happened, it was so truly organic, was really lovely, too. I remember I was shooting another independent film as this song was climbing in the charts as it were. And I was in New York, and I was sleeping on the floor of a basement of a church in Harlem where we were shooting in between setups and getting a kind of email alert from my agent saying this song keeps, you know - it's now in the top 10 on the Billboard charts.

And I remember thinking all the other artists that are in the top 10 right now who've been going on "Good Morning America" and performing and been promoting their singles and making music videos must be like, what the hell is happening? What is going on? And I was so charmed by that.

GROSS: It's a different kind of singing you do for that song compared to, say, the Broadway singing that you do when you're singing "Company" in the movie "Camp."

KENDRICK: Yeah.

GROSS: The smaller voice. It's just a different style.

KENDRICK: Yeah, yeah. I feel like I have mainly learned - to do anything that I do professionally I've mainly learned by listening and trying things. And I sort of feel like I'm just doing an impression of a Broadway singer when I'm singing something from a musical and I'm doing an impression of a kind of folksy, soulful singer when I'm singing "Cups," and I'm doing an impression of a pop star when I'm singing in, you know, the movie "Trolls." So it feels a little bit like I'm putting on an accent, I guess.

GROSS: My guest is Anna Kendrick. She has a new memoir called "Scrappy Little Nobody." We'll talk more after a break. And Ken Tucker will review a new album by Scott & Charlene's Wedding, which is primarily singer-songwriter-producer Craig Dermody. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Anna Kendrick. She has a new memoir called "Scrappy Little Nobody." She was nominated for a Tony for her role in - for an Oscar, I should say, for her role in "Up In The Air," which also starred George Clooney. She starred in "Pitch Perfect" and is now working on the second sequel. In the 2014 film adaptation of the Sondheim musical "Into The Woods," Kendrick played Cinderella. She also co-starred in "Twilight." When she was 12, she was nominated for a Tony for her performance in the musical "High Society."

Let's get back to your career as a child actor. Early on in community theater, you played one of the daughters in "Gypsy." And "Gypsy" is - has a famous stage mother in it originated by Ethel Merman.

KENDRICK: Yeah.

GROSS: And she's like everybody's worst nightmare of the domineering stage mother...

KENDRICK: Yeah...

GROSS: ...who's having her skit performed.

KENDRICK: ...Special on baby.

GROSS: Yeah. Who's having her kid perform to fulfill her own unfulfilled stage fantasies. It's like the mother who wants the attention and the only way to get it is through her daughters. So did that scare you about how your mother could become or did you see her reflected in other - in the stage mothers of other children who you were working with? Did it scare your mother?

KENDRICK: It never ever scared me because I saw the way my mother and my father reacted to that character. And, you know, in turn reacted to anyone who exhibited any kind of Mama Rose qualities that we encountered in community theater and in auditioning for professional work. Anybody that we saw sort of pushing their child when they - if the child didn't want to be doing it or tried to make themselves the center of attention, they were really horrified by it. So - and really didn't relate to it at all, didn't understand the motivation or the thinking behind, well, if my kid becomes a star, somehow that will fulfill me. So I never thought, oh, this is something that could happen to me because, you know, Mama Rose became kind of shorthand in dealing with other stage parents, that if someone was a bit of a Mama Rose, you know, we felt bad for the kid. And we definitely were not going to spend a lot of time with the parent.

GROSS: You write in your memoir that your idea of normal when you were growing up came mainly from film and TV. Which ones? And what did they lead you to think was normal?

KENDRICK: You know, it's hard because I thought about putting some examples in that introduction where I talk about the idea of normal coming from movies. But, you know, a lot of children's movies are about kind of ragtag groups of kids, and, you know, the underdogs. And so in theory, it's not like kind of "Stepford Wives" really polished version of children on paper, but I do think that even in the stories about the ragtag group and the misfits - there wasn't a lot of the behavior that I felt that I had, you know, kind of - I didn't see a lot of kids in movies with, like, crippling anxiety about going to hell which is something that I dealt with going to church and trying to reconcile, you know, the lake of fire with the kind of loving, you know, friendly New England Christian light God. And so I saw, you know, kids get bullied in movies, you know, the protagonist maybe got bullied, but then she always had the last laugh. And, you know, none of those things really happened to me.

GROSS: What's an example of a movie plot that you tried to enact and once you tried to do it you realized this is ridiculous?

KENDRICK: Oh, "Harriet The Spy" was one. For a while, I thought I would keep a notebook just like "Harriet The Spy," and I would write down things as though I were a detective. And it turns out that in movies, there are a lot more things to write about sort of suspicious behaviors that, you know, a fictional character can create a mystery around. I mean, I realized that part of that might have been because I didn't have "Harriet The Spy's" imagination, but I tried to emulate her behavior nonetheless. And I remember even kind of finding myself using lines and turns of phrase from that movie or even intonation. I would say a different sentence, but I would know that I was using the intonation of a sentence from "Harriet The Spy," and that's not the only movie, but it's the one that I can think of right now.

GROSS: So church really scared you, huh?

KENDRICK: Oh, yeah. It's funny because, you know, as adults you have mastered the art of cognitive dissonance, and you get to go, well, OK, you know, the part where they read from the Old Testament - well, that's not really the God that we believe in. We believe in a loving, forgiving God. And as a child, you hear, you know, passages from the Old Testament and you are absorbing them and terrified of them. So I remember my parents being very shocked when I told them that I was afraid that I was going to go to hell because they thought that they had, you know - we were Episcopalian, and, you know, they thought that they had thus far brought me up in a very, like, friendly religious atmosphere. But they hadn't considered the fact that, of course, I couldn't just block out what I was hearing in the Old Testament.

GROSS: So what were some of the passages that scared you?

KENDRICK: There was - I don't remember much specifically because I stopped going to church around 14, but - and this could be a passage from the New Testament - I don't know - but I remember there being this thing about it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And at that point because we had a house with, you know, my brother and I each had our own room, and we had a garage. I thought well that's us. We're rich, and we need to give everything away otherwise, like, my whole family is going go to hell. And my mom laughed at the notion that we were rich and explained that, you know, everything was going to be fine. But I still couldn't reconcile, but it says right there. So, you know, as a kid, I think you are totally aware of what the Bible is telling you, and you haven't, you know, made the decisions that your parents have made about which pieces you are going to choose to take literally.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Anna Kendrick. She has a new memoir that's called "Scrappy Little Nobody," and she, of course, starred in "Up In The Air," "Into The Woods," "Pitch Perfect." We're going to take a short break and then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Anna Kendrick. She has a new memoir called "Scrappy Little Nobody." Her films include "Up In The Air," "Into The Woods" and "Pitch Perfect." I think it was while you were writing this memoir you came across an old journal from when you were a child.

KENDRICK: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: How old were you when you'd written it, and what was in it?

KENDRICK: The journal that I came across when I was writing was from when I was about 17 to 19, which was - well, actually, I will admit it was - I - it was a little unpleasant to read it. It was interesting, and I'm glad I read it, but it was an unpleasant experience because that period of my life was really marked by uncertainty. And I knew that I was doing what I wanted to be doing. I knew that I wanted to be acting and that meant auditioning.

But those years were nerve-racking because I really wasn't succeeding very often. So it was testing my resolve, I guess, and it was - and I felt embarrassed. That was one of the things that I'd forgotten. I forgot how much I wanted to be able to tell people that I was doing well. And one of the things I wrote about a lot was when the next time I would be visiting my hometown, visiting my parents, and I knew that I would run into people from school and, you know, people from my mom's work and that they would ask me, oh, how's it going? And I wouldn't have anything to tell them, and I felt very embarrassed by that.

GROSS: Well, also you had decided not to go to college, and your parents always...

KENDRICK: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Expected you to go to college. So you're taking a chance. You're moving away from home. You're not going to college. You're staking your future on this career that might not happen for you.

KENDRICK: I remember my grandmother, who I love so much, but she did have this kind of fabulous habit of saying exactly the wrong thing. When I turned 19, you know, around that time and all my friends were entering their sophomore year of college, she said something to me about how I had gone to LA to pursue acting in lieu of college. And, you know, since I hadn't booked anything in what would have been my freshman year of college, she said something to me that was basically like, oh, that's hard knowing that you could have just at least spent a year in college because, like - as though, like, what I had been doing for a year was all for nothing. So in hindsight obviously it would have been better if I'd at least gone to college for a year. And that was really crushing, but she was very - she was really good at saying just the wrong thing.

GROSS: What were you doing for that year when nothing was happening? How did you spend your days when you were just looking to get auditions, hoping it would lead to a role?

KENDRICK: Well, I was auditioning a lot because pilot season, which doesn't last all year, but pilot season, you're doing, like, three auditions a day and getting to these various places around the city and trying to, you know, memorize all your lines and, you know, find the perfect outfit to convince them that you can play the uptight receptionist, or whatever the case may be, takes up a lot of your time. And then once pilot season is over, you still audition but not as much. And I spent a lot of time re-watching the movies in my very small DVD collection because I couldn't afford cable, and I didn't want to spend money on rentals because when you have no income, you know, even the smallest expense seems unnecessary, so I re-watched "Magnolia."

GROSS: Well, that's a good thing (laughter).

KENDRICK: Yeah. "Magnolia."

GROSS: Paul Thomas Anderson.

KENDRICK: Well, some of them are great, and some of them are not great. "Igby Goes Down" was another great one.

GROSS: I like that film.

KENDRICK: "America's Sweethearts" which is not a great film, but I have seen it so many times. I have that film memorized, so it holds a special place in my heart. And I think "You've Got Mail." It was a mix. There were like 20 DVDs, but those are the four I can think of right now. But I - by the end of that, I basically had them all memorized.

GROSS: Well, I want to close with another song that you sing, and this is from the Stephen Sondheim musical "Into The Woods." This is from the film adaptation which you co-starred in as Cinderella. "Into The Woods" is a series of interconnected fairy tales kind of updated and strangefied (ph) for the show. And you play a Cinderella who is actually trying to flee from the prince instead of wanting to marry him.

KENDRICK: Yeah.

GROSS: And he sets this kind of trap for you as you're running down the stairs of the ball. He sets this...

KENDRICK: Yeah. He sets sticky tar on the stairs so I can't get away.

GROSS: So your golden shoes are kind of trapped in them. And as you're on the stairs like figuring out how to get out of this predicament, you sing this song. Did you get to work with Sondheim?

KENDRICK: I did, actually. I felt really kind of shamefully lucky because that song in the show is in the past tense, and she is telling the audience what just happened to her. And there are a number of songs like that in the show, and it works onstage. But Rob Marshall, the director, was worried about having too many songs that were just characters singing about, hey, here's a thing that just happened off screen. So he decided to place my song on the steps of the palace in present tense and time kind of freezes. And then I have this debate with myself. And because of that, Sondheim was updating the lyrics for me so that they would make sense in the present tense. It wasn't as simple as just you know switching all the verbs to the present tense. So he was changing some of the lyrics, and so up until the day that we recorded, he was coming in and out of the booth, you know, scribbling new lyrics for me to try. So I got to have this kind of very false sense that we were really collaborating on something.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KENDRICK: You know, I was just singing exactly what I was told. But, you know, for a moment I got to live that fantasy.

GROSS: Did he give you notes?

KENDRICK: He told - oh, he gave me a note when we did the workshop for "Into The Woods" a year before we made the movie. And the note was - it was a general note. It was, you know, she talks to birds, and I think, well, I mean - I definitely know that that note was about she's - you are allowed to play her a little kooky. Like, yeah, she has very real wants and needs, and she's got a big heart. And she's very human. But don't be afraid to play her a little eccentric, kooky, you know, she communicates with birds. So kind of giving me permission to lean into that humor which was a really sweet thing.

GROSS: So one more Sondheim question. In the movie "Camp" in the final performance, we see Sondheim in the audience. Was he actually there for part of "Camp?"

KENDRICK: Yes. Which was very exciting. He was in the audience and shooting his cameo, and he was friends with the director of that film, Todd Graff. So Todd showed him some of the dailies that we'd already shot, and Todd showed him me singing "Ladies Who Lunch" which is his song, and Todd told me that his feedback was she has the most perfect teeth I've ever seen. So...

GROSS: (Laughter) What does that mean?

KENDRICK: So it wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it wasn't anything bad, so I'll take it. Good teeth coming from Sondheim.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK. Anna Kendrick, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

KENDRICK: Thank you so much.

GROSS: Anna Kendrick's new memoir is called "Scrappy Little Nobody," and here she is in the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's "Into The Woods."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INTO THE WOODS")

KENDRICK: (As Cinderella, singing) All right. What do you want? Have to make a decision. Why not stay and be caught? Should I give that a thought? What would be his response? But then what if he knew who I am when I know that I'm not what he thinks that he wants? Or then what if I am what a prince would envision? But then how can you know who you are 'til you know what you want which I don't so then which do you pick - where you're safe out of sight and yourself but where everything's wrong? Or where everything's right, but you know that you'll never belong? And whichever you pick do it quick 'cause you're starting to stick to the steps of the palace. It's my first big decision. The choice isn't easy to make. To arrive at a ball is exciting and all. Once you're there though, it's scary. And it's fun to deceive when you know you can leave, but you have to weary. There's a lot that's at stake, but I've stalled long enough 'cause I'm still standing stuck in the stuff on these steps better run along home and avoid the collision. Though, at home they don't care. I'll be better off there where there's nothing to choose, where there's nothing to lose. So I'll pry off my shoes. Wait. They're thinking it through. Things don't have to collide. I know what my decision is which is not to decide. I'll just leave him a clue, for example a shoe. And then see what he'll do. Now it's he and not you who will be stuck with a shoe in a stew in the goo. And I've learned something, too, something I never knew on the steps of the palace.

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