The actress talks Into the Woods, Meryl Streep and the version of Pitch Perfect that never got made
Anna Kendrick might not strike you as a Disney princess: The 29-year-old actress is known as much for tweeting about things like her post-Oscar hangovers as she is for playing feisty outsiders in Pitch Perfect and Happy Christmas. But Kendrick’s Cinderella in the upcoming film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, out Christmas Day, may surprise you. Kendrick, who was nominated for a Tony for her performance High Society at just 12 years old, will also sing in Pitch Perfect 2 and The Last 5 Years in 2015.
TIME talked to her about singing with Meryl Streep, empowered princesses and how she fought for big changes in the Pitch Perfect script.
TIME: Were you a princess person growing up?
Anna Kendrick: I won’t lie to you: I was a big fan of The Little Mermaid. I would do that thing in the pool, where I would flip my hair back because I wanted to be Ariel. But my older brother didn’t want to have an embarrassing little sister, so he insisted that I be exposed to other things. In retrospect, someone two years older than you is not necessarily qualified to say, “I think you’re old enough to watch Pulp Fiction now” because I definitely was not. He was responsible for making me a weird little kid.
Wait, how old were you when you saw Pulp Fiction?
I was about 11? Maybe some kids are emotionally prepared to deal with Pulp Fiction at 11. I was not. And I think that’s made me the person I am today. I’m not complaining, but I did have nightmares for a little while. It’s all character building.
Obviously the princesses in Into the Woods are very different than your traditional princesses. There seems to be a moment right now with Frozen princesses not waiting for their princes to save them…
And Maleficent as well!
Totally. You’re now among the growing list of princesses who can save themselves. What are your thoughts on that evolution?
Into the Woods has existed for years, but if more people being exposed to it through this movie continues that trend of princesses saving themselves and making their own choices, I think that’s fantastic.
I remember my best friend and I when we were running around the playground, she and I would dream about saving boys from falling off cliffs — not the other way around. But we would whisper these fantasies to each other, as though we weren’t supposed to be daydreaming about being the savior. We were supposed to be daydreaming about being saved. So I’m glad that it’s being represented in film because I think that that instinct exists in girls, and it’s nice to acknowledge that that’s normal.
Pitch Perfect did something similar. The first time I saw it, it reminded me a lot of Bring It On, except it was more about the female friendships than Bring It On was. It felt like progress.
Oh wow. Really? I haven’t seen Bring It On in so long. That would be interesting to revisit.
The big kiss at the end of Bring It On matters more than the competition, right? But in Pitch Perfect, the kiss isn’t the last scene. The big reveal at the end is who won the trophy because that matters more than the romance.
It’s so funny you say that. There was this scene that got deleted anyway, but originally the low point in my character’s journey was supposed to be when I found out this guy I vaguely had a crush on at the radio station had a girlfriend. And I was like, “That sucks.” And I fought so hard so that my low point could be that I didn’t think that I was ever going to get any real responsibility at the radio station. I think that we ended up on a mixed version of the two. The scene got deleted anyway, so it’s a moot point. But yeah. I was like, “That’s garbage!” It can’t just be like, “Oh my crush has a girlfriend. I guess I was wrong about everything.”
Right, I thought initially the movie was going to be a competition between the scummy guy and the good guy, but then it wasn’t, which I think is what makes it unique.
They just realized in the edits very quickly that it was all about the girls and spending more time with the girls. So that was an awesome direction that it ended up taking. And I’m excited we’re revisiting that in Pitch Perfect 2.
You moved from Broadway to L.A. for a pilot that didn’t end up airing. Why stay out in California rather than move back to New York?
Man, the quality of life was just sort of irresistible. When you have no money in New York, you’re living in a shoebox and it’s freezing. When you have no money in L.A., you’re living in a slightly larger shoebox, and you can go outside and feel okay about your life for a minute.
Then your big break was in Up in the Air. You’ve said after that movie, you were offered a lot of business suit type roles, and you turned them down because you didn’t want to get pigeonholed. But you will have been in several big movie musicals before the age of 30. Is there a reason you can keep doing those and not feel the same way?
Well, you’re right. It occurred to me that maybe doing four musicals was not a great career plan. After doing Pitch Perfect, I didn’t expect to do other musicals, but then I was offered The Last Five Years and Into the Woods, which are two of the greatest pieces of theater that I can think of. So obviously I wasn’t going to be like, “Oh I’m trying to really stay away from musicals right now, so thanks but I’ll pass.” When certain opportunities come along you throw the rules out the window.
Had you seen Into the Woods as a kid? What was your initial reaction to it?
I grew up watching the Bernadette Peters version on VHS. Like so many people before me, I thought that the end of the first act was the end of the show because those are the stories that we know. And I was kind of unnerved by the second half. It made me feel uncomfortable. But that’s what makes it so compelling and beautiful. The second half of the show is where people have to face the consequences of their actions.
That’s definitely true for many of the characters who do bad things. But I felt like Cinderella didn’t do anything wrong. Did you?
I know what you’re saying. It’s a hard question because she’s such a put-upon character. But her mother asks at the grave, “Do you know what you wish? Are you certain what you wish is what you want?” And this happens all the time in real life, where you think you want one thing, but then it turns out you don’t. Getting into that sort of situation has consequences. She doesn’t act especially selfishly, but she also doesn’t want to make more hard choices about how to deal with the real tragedy that’s going on in her world now.
Why do you think Cinderella keeps running away from the prince so much?
Well, this is a character who’s been abused and neglected her whole life, and she is presented with the trappings of love. She doesn’t know what love is. And then it sort of turns out her instincts are correct and this isn’t love. So it’s difficult to leave the world that she knows even if it’s a bad situation. And then later she’s again incredibly brave to leave a better situation because she says, “I deserve better than this.”
Did you always want the Cinderella part?
As a young girl obviously I was very enamored with the Little Red part. And it was a funny transition in my brain to be told I would be auditioning for Cinderella because I think of myself as, like, a screeching 12-year-old more than I think of myself as a kind-hearted ingenue. But I reminded myself that I’m a grownup, and that’s the deal.
What was it like working with Meryl Streep?
I would say that Meryl shares a certain quality with George Clooney [whom Kendrick starred with in Up In the Air], which is that she understands that actors think of her as one of the most intimidating people you can possibly meet or work with, and still she makes you feel comfortable. She has this incredible talent of making you forget how totally intimidating she is. And it’s no easy feat. I really think that it’s something that they’ve thought about and worked on.
So are you taking notes for when you’re further along in your career and trying to put people at ease because you’re such a big deal?
I don’t think I’m going to have to worry about that.
You have done a bunch of movies that have like these super-intense, young fan bases, between Twilight and Pitch Perfect and now Into the Woods.
Yeah, it’s like the opposite of what I expected my life to ever be because I feel like I’m so bad with kids. When they walk up to me and are excited to talk to me, it’s bewildering. I always feel like I’m going to disappoint them. But I haven’t broken any hearts.
I do think I go into this kind of like beauty pageant contestant voice, which is silly because if they liked Pitch Perfect, they know that’s not my character. I was talking to this little girl, and after they left my friend was like, “Are you running for office?” I was trying to say all the right things. But I’m slowly getting better at it.
You are very active on Twitter and say a lot of things that aren’t necessarily PG. Do you ever worry that some angry parent is going to complain?
I know. I guess that was my concern when I first started on Twitter, but I find that the weirder I go, the happier I am, and the happier my followers are. When I think of a silly thing to say and then try to find the PG version, it’s just, like, a waste of everybody’s time. So yes. I worry that a parent is going to get mad. But I don’t know. I mean, I saw Pulp Fiction when I was 11, and I turned out okay. I think my followers can handle it — a couple f-bombs in tweets.
I’ve also heard people describe you as like the ultimate cool girl partially because of your Twitter presence. Do you like that people think you’re approachable or is it overwhelming?
Hell yeah! It’s the first time in my life people have thought I’m cool. I really wish that I had figured that out in high school.
You tweeted that you were jealous of your friend Aubrey Plaza being the voice of Grumpy Cat. If you could voice one character, a cartoon of whatever, who would it be?
Woah. Um. Oh my God I don’t know! Maybe Boba Fett? That would be a hell of a crossover movie.
I think people would see that.