Plucky Trolls, Happiness and her Brilliant Career: A Conversation with Anna Kendrick for the Release of TROLLS
From DreamWorks Animation, TROLLS is a funny and irreverent musical adventure, starring Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake. Kendrick is the voice of Poppy, the feisty and fearless leader of the Trolls, who are naturally cheerful and optimistic. They love to sing and dance, and they have rainbow-colored hair. Timberlake voices Branch, a gray and fearful troll. He is convinced that the Trolls’ mortal enemies, the Bergens, will track them down in their forest Utopia and capture them. The Bergens are miserable monsters and they are only happy when they eat Trolls.
The gifted comedian Russell Brand joins the cast as the voice of Creek, a wise, Zen-like, but rather arrogant, yogi Troll, who is captured by the Bergens, along with a group of Poppy’s best friends. They await a terrible fate. Unless Poppy and Branch can save them, they will be devoured.
The upbeat and exciting 3D film, from the creators of the SHREK movies, was directed by Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn. Timberlake is the executive music producer.
Anna Kendrick stars opposite Justin Timberlake in TROLLS, a highly entertaining, upbeat and smart musical adventure from DreamWorks Animation. Kendrick is the voice of Poppy, the feisty, funny and fearless leader of the Trolls, who are naturally happy … all the time! Distinguished by their long, colorful hair, the Trolls are optimists who love to sing and dance. On the contrary, Timberlake is the voice of Branch, a gray, reclusive and fearful Troll. Unlike the others, he is cautious and pessimistic, terrified of the Bergens, who want to capture the Trolls and eat them. The 3D film, from the creators of the SHREK movies, was directed by Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn. Timberlake is the executive music producer.
Anna Kendrick’s Poppy epitomises the world of the Trolls. She is intrinsically upbeat and celebrates life. Pink and pretty with pink hair, Poppy, like all the trolls, wears a special watch that lights up on the hour, reminding her to hug. Together with her father, King Peppy, she and the other Trolls live in a Utopian world of friendship, celebration, rainbows and cupcakes. It’s a happy state of affairs. But one Troll doesn’t share Poppy and her friends’ optimism. Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) is perpetually sad and gloomy. He hides himself away because he’s worried that the Trolls are about to be captured by their sworn enemies, The Bergens, comically miserable monsters who are convinced that they can only be happy with a Troll in their stomach, essentially getting a taste of joy by osmosis!
The Bergens, ruled by Prince Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), hold a feast day called Trollstice when they devour Trolls they have captured. Sure enough, Branch’s fears come true. Hearing the Trolls dancing and singing, a Bergen track the Trolls down and kidnaps a group of Poppy’s pals. The fearless Poppy sets off to save her friends and Branch reluctantly joins her. We follow the pair on their funny and thrilling journey to Bergen Town on a mission to rescue the Trolls. When they arrive, there are surprises in store.
From the DreamWorks Animation team responsible for the SHREK hits, TROLLS has a similar irreverence and is equally hilarious. The film was inspired by the quirky cute/ugly dolls with brightly colored hair that were originally invented by a Danish woodcutter in 1959 and have been popular globally since the 70s. Visually, the world of the Trolls is stunning and original, with a distinct hand-made look, which mirrors Poppy’s passion for scrapbooking. Justin Timberlake is in charge of the upbeat music and the film is full of classics and original songs he wrote for the film, including ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’ (a number one hit). Also starring in the film are James Corden, Gwen Stefani, Zooey Deschanel and Russell Brand. ….
Anna Kendrick started performing professionally as a child; she starred in a Broadway production of HIGH SOCIETY and was nominated for a Tony Award when she was just 12. She made her film debut in CAMP, going on to star in the highly praised ROCKET SCIENCE, which led to an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress. The gifted actress earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, for her role in UP IN THE AIR. She took the lead in the massively popular musical films, PITCH PERFECT and PITCH PERFECT 2, which became the highest grossing musical film of all time. Kendrick’s credits include 50/50, END OF WATCH, DRINKING BUDDIES, THE LAST FIVE YEARS, CAKE and INTO THE WOODS. Kendrick also appeared in the TWILIGHT SAGA blockbusters. Recently she starred in MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES.
Kendrick’s upcoming films include THE ACCOUNTANT, TABLE 19, THE HOLLARS and PITCH PERFECT 3. The multi-talented actress has just written a collection of humorous, autobiographical essays entitled, ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’. Looking radiant, dressed in a black and white Jonathan Simkhai outfit, with Opening Ceremony sandals, Anna Kendrick sat down for the following interview at DreamWorks Animation Studios in Southern California.
What led to your involvement in the film?
To be honest, I probably would have done anything that DreamWorks had asked me to do. But they explained the film and it sounded great. They told me about Poppy, using a lot of visual references, and after a while I was waiting for them to stop talking so that I could say ‘yes!’
Who is Poppy?
When they were pitching the movie to me, I was told that Poppy is the happiest of all the Trolls, and the Trolls are already pretty happy. Poppy is love and joy and happiness. She thinks there’s good in everyone and wants everything to be rainbows and parties and cupcakes all the time. Poppy has a lot of pep and spark. We discussed the fact that, in real life, I am not really as relentlessly happy as Poppy and I said I would like to add some layers to her personality, as well as some mischief. The directors embraced that idea. So even though Poppy is the happiest Troll in the land, she has all these other wonderful qualities. One of my favorite things about her is her optimism, which annoys Branch, Justin Timberlake’s character. I was surprised by how much the directors encouraged me to be a little feisty and mischievous, but that was great because being relentlessly happy can be annoying in a character.
She is a strong character isn’t she?
Even though Poppy is tiny and pink and wants to throw parties, she’s a leader and she wants to be a good leader. She’s tough, she’s sassy and she is loyal. Her father, Peppy, has been the king of the Trolls for her whole life. She knows that one day, that will be her job, ruling the Trolls, and she takes the responsibility very seriously. So when a Bergen comes and kidnaps her friends, she is the one who is willing to go and save them, risking life and limb. She definitely has a can-do attitude and is out to prove herself. I think that because she’s happy all the time, you might think that she’s not that bright and you might assume that she’s soft, but she’s not soft at all, she’s actually hard as nails.
Can you talk about her appearance? Is there any of you in Poppy?
She is pink and her head is wider than her body, and yet I do think they’ve captured some of my expressions. It is really uncanny what the animators do with these characters. My biggest concern was whether or not Poppy would have a jeweled belly button because the Trolls with the jewels were my favourites when I owned them as a child. They said that she didn’t, but that she did have glitter freckles, so that was okay. I okayed that! I loved her pink body and pink hair. She is unapologetically girly, but also so tough.
What do you think of the Trolls’ hair, their distinguishing physical characteristic?
Their hair has a life of its own. The Trolls can hide stuff in their hair, use it to pick stuff up, and they can fight with it. It makes you wonder why your own hair is not really useful (laughs). I spend so much time on my hair, but it just sits there on top of my head, not helping me to fight giant spiders or anything. At one point, Poppy is free falling and she uses her hair to walk very gracefully down to the ground, by turning it into a flight of stairs. The Trolls can use their hair for whatever they want.
Can you discuss the idyllic world of the Trolls?
They are very happy, and they hug at regular intervals. Their little watches go off to remind them that it’s “hug time.” The world they live in is so sweet. When I saw the footage, I wanted to go and play in this felt covered, hand-made world. The animators have created something so beautiful. I had a feeling that I hadn’t had since I was a kid when I watched films I loved like HOOK (1991). TROLLS is like one of those movies I remember as a child when I just wanted it all to be real. I wanted to go and visit that world.
What is Poppy’s relationship with Branch like?
Branch is voiced by the wonderful and hilarious Justin Timberlake, the only Troll in all of ‘Trollville’ or, ‘Trolldom,’ who is kind of cranky and grumpy. But Poppy loves everything and everyone, so she loves Branch regardless, and I think that annoys Branch even more. He wants to hide in a panic room, which he’s created. But he ends up helping Poppy on her mission to save her friends from The Bergens, who have kidnapped a bunch of Poppy’s favorite friends and plan to eat them. Branch and Poppy need to go to Bergen Town and find a way to rescue the Trolls. They are polar opposites, but they rely on each other throughout this journey.
Who exactly are The Bergens and why do they eat Trolls?
The Bergens are wonderfully ugly and gloomy. They think that the only way to be happy is to get happiness from somewhere else other than themselves. So they eat Trolls. They don’t think that they have what it takes inside them to be happy, and that’s so sad. Poppy and Branch go to Bergen Town to rescue their friends, but then Poppy decides to try to teach the Bergens that they can be happy themselves at any time. She thinks everyone deserves to be happy, even the Bergens. So she wants to go back and tell them that happiness is inside them.
How interesting was it for you to be acting and singing in the film?
It is a dream to do animation and comedy and music in one film. The music is so much fun. There is a lot of throwback music, and I think Justin has tried to incorporate that sound into the new songs. There is almost like a disco flavor, but there are also beautiful ballads and original songs. Musically, there is an embarrassment of riches. It was great singing covers of classics like ‘The Sound Of Silence’, ‘True Colors’ and ‘Move Your Feet’ … Or our version, ‘Move Your Hair’. It does feel a bit like I’m singing in the shower and getting paid for it.
What was it like working with Justin on the music?
I didn’t know Justin before this film and it’s been amazing working with him. It was intimidating at first, but at the same time, completely wonderful. I was definitely nervous about working on the music with him because it’s his forte. But he is an exemplary co- worker and he is very good at making it all feel manageable and making everyone feel comfortable. He has added so much to the vocals too. He acted as the vocal producer for every session and it was great having him to shepherd those performances. For example, I was doing a certain riff at the beginning of the song ‘Get Back Up Again’, and he said: ‘You should save that riff until the end of the song so that it builds.’ He gave me notes that I would not think about. I just don’t think about vocal performances in that kind of technical way, so it was really helpful having him there. He has a passion and practicality, which made for the best kind of working relationship.
Any favourite scene or musical number?
I think the scene where I sing the ‘The Sound of Silence’ (the Simon & Garfunkel classic) might be my favorite. I sing it when Branch and Poppy are on their adventure and Branch really objects to Poppy singing. Instead of being quiet, she annoys him and puts on an impromptu, large-scale production of the song with a guitar, and the whole forest joining in. I love that moment because you can see how much pleasure she’s getting out of needling him. I think we fall for her in that moment, because she’s not just sweet and sugary, she has that mischievous side to her too. Whenever Poppy’s being a little mischievous, I really enjoy that.
What is your experience of working with the directors, Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn?
Mike and Walt are so much fun to work with and they were in there with me reading the dialogue [in the sound booth]. It really gave me a sense of what the other performances are going to be like because you don’t always have the luxury of working with your fellow actors in an animated film. You just can’t always get everyone in one room. It got to the point where Mike and Walt were doing impressions of Justin, James Corden, Russell Brand and Zooey Deschanel. Even though they do terrible impressions (laughs), I understood what they were going for, so it was actually really helpful to have them so willing to make fools of themselves!
It is a great voice cast. Are there any particular cast members you were excited about?
One of my favorite people in the world is Christine Baranski who plays Chef. We worked together on INTO THE WOODS (2014), and when I found out that she was going to play [the Bergen] Chef, I was like: ‘Her performance is going to be so funny.’ She’s amazing, and I couldn’t believe she’d never done an animated film before. I was so happy to be in a movie with Christine again, even though we don’t actually interact because we didn’t do any recordings together. But when I see us on screen together it is great. Chef is grumpy and power-hungry and kind of cruel, all these traits that Christine is so good at playing, and they’re so different to how she is in real life.
The film is essentially about happiness; were you a happy child?
I think I was a worrier as a kid and I was definitely feisty, but I guess we are all a little bit happier in childhood (laughs). I have actually been finding more and more that I am the same person I was when I was three and four. I think it’s kind of alarming that some of our personality traits are already developed or present at that age.
Did you know early on that you wanted to sing and perform?
Yes, it’s the only thing that I have wanted to do ever since I can remember. People ask me why I wanted to get into acting and I don’t know. I don’t even remember. There are lots of things I can point to that were early influences, like listening to Bette Midler and loving the movie NEWSIES (1992) and LIFE WITH MIKEY (1993). I was in a local production of ANNIE when I was five and performing was all I could think about from then on. We also saw a local high school production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and I thought that the ‘doo-wop girls’ were the coolest things ever. I came home and I was trying to do the dances with my mom. I remember being like: “When I do it, why doesn’t it look like it does when they do it?’ She explained to me that only when you work really hard at something can you make it look easy, and I thought: ‘Oh boy, I’ve got my work cut out for me.’
You are so talented and your films are so diverse. Do you tend to plot a trajectory or are you more spontaneous in your career?
It is great, but it has been the very opposite of planned. I would say there have been lots of surprises. One of the biggest surprises was PITCH PERFECT (2012). We just didn’t see that film becoming the hit that it became. I didn’t know how many people were going to watch a movie about a bunch of dorks doing a cappella! I think careers are like the stock market (laughs). Sometimes, the more you try to control things the worse it is. Sometimes you just have to take the opportunities that are in front you, and that’s what I’ve done so far.
We are doing PITCH PERFECT 3, and I just finished my book, called ‘Scrappy Little Nobody,’ a series of funny stories. It is supposed to have depth, but I’ve tried to make it really funny. It’s for everybody.
Can you sum up what people can look forward to with Trolls?
TROLLS has an animation style I’ve never seen before. The film is engrossing and it puts a smile on my face. Getting to watch these little creatures just makes me so happy. It is really entertaining and I think the biggest goal was to make something that parents enjoy watching, but also something that children will love and will remember fondly. We want people to leave the theatre feeling joyful. Hopefully, this will be one of those great animated films that kids will watch over and over again.
How fulfilling and happy is life for you right now?
“It’s awesome. Right now I am happy spending time at home. I haven’t been home in about four years because of work. So I want to finally plant some flowers and herbs in my garden. Being at home and seeing my friends is a luxury. And I love being in a clean kitchen! People always ask me if I want to take a vacation, but just being at home with people that you love is a vacation for me. I was reorganising my kitchen this week, and I thought: ‘I shouldn’t be this happy about cleaning my kitchen. I don’t know why this is bringing me so much joy.’ Because I travel so much, my house is my happy place.
DREAMWORKS TROLLS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY™ AND DVD FROM 13TH FEBRUARY, FROM TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT