Anna Kendrick is tearing up. Only two months ago, her father passed away following a long battle with liver disease. And now, the Oscar-nominated actress is in the throes of promoting the most personal film of her career — one that required her to revisit the past “emotionally and psychologically abusive” relationship it mirrors, over and over again.
“It’s… kind of tense,” she says, her voice cracking. “But I also think it’s possible that knowing my dad isn’t here to hear it is actually helpful. Is that weird?”
On top of all that, the pint-sized star shot a particularly agonizing episode of Hot Ones one day prior. Yes Bomb, it seems, may have gotten the better of her.
“I feel like I’m on another galaxy right now.”
We’re seated across from each other at a hotel restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. This is my third time interviewing Kendrick, and I’ve never seen her so raw and vulnerable. In her new film, Alice, Darling, directed by Mary Nighy, she plays a woman whose controlling boyfriend, an artist named Simon (Charlie Carrick), has shattered any sense of personhood she once had. She exists in a trance-like state, catering to his wants and needs. When we first meet Alice, she is out for drinks with her girlfriends, Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) and Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku). But he won’t let her enjoy it. She’s bombarded by text messages, and is even pressured to take a sexy picture of herself in the bathroom for him. When Tess and Sophie invite her to a weekend getaway, the distance helps her come to terms with just how toxic her partner really is.
Kendrick, who is 37, was only two months removed from her own traumatic long-term relationship when she received the script for Alice, Darling. She’s described being “curled in a ball” while he was “screaming” at her, and living in fear of a man she’d spent six years of her life with (they’d even frozen embryos). She was also keen to tackle a “more restrained” role, having been drawn to films like The Assistant and Swallow during the early months of the pandemic — stories of stepped-on women regaining their voice. It’s a potent, largely nonverbal turn from Kendrick, who appears in every scene.
Ahead of the film’s Jan. 20 release, exclusively in AMC theaters, Kendrick spoke with Rolling Stone about overcoming an abusive ex and her unique friendship with Aubrey Plaza.
How have you been handling the press tour for Alice, Darling? It’s a unique one in that it compels you to share very personal and difficult stories from your past.
I actually was surprised that I’ve been finding the press much more challenging than making this movie. I figured that out relatively quickly and made some changes. I did one day of junket-style — six minutes each, forty outlets. It feels like I’m trying to go into any conversation open and I had to acknowledge after that first junket day it’s totally understandable if any journalist comes in and they’re not in a place of being super open and meeting me where I’m at.
Is it still a fairly open wound or has it healed a bit?
I think it’ll just be a process. Did you ever get way too high and you start to come down, and you start feeling like, “OK, thank god I’m not high anymore.” But then another hour goes by and you think, “Oh god, I was still so high an hour ago.” It feels like I’m constantly — from a week after the relationship, to two weeks after the relationship, to two years after the relationship — going, “Oh, I bet I’ll look back at this moment in a few years and think I was still so high.” I sometimes feel like I’m in a race to get to some imaginary finish line, and I’m trying hard to remember that that won’t actually help me.
Did the relationship end before the pandemic? Because that introduced a whole different set of factors — being essentially trapped with someone.
It didn’t. It’s weird because when the pandemic first hit, there was an unspoken thing where we were almost relieved that something so terrible was happening that neither of us could possibly think about what was going wrong in our relationship. The first month was actually amazing between us, since this awful thing was happening in the world and we had no choice but to be kind to each other. And then slowly you start to realize that it’s gonna be like this for the foreseeable future, and there begins to be room for your own personal problems that crept back in. There were many months where I would start crying out of nowhere, and he wouldn’t get upset because we could both pretend it was about being trapped inside.
It sounds like he wasn’t being the most supportive or comforting partner when you were sad.
Yeah. I remember rehearsing a scene with Nick Thune on Love Life where he was like, “I know my character is an asshole, but I don’t know why I’m getting so upset if you’re not gonna escalate the fight at all.” And I remember saying to him, “Well, maybe it’s just the fact that I’m crying that’s making you very angry.” And he was like, “That doesn’t make any fucking sense.” I remember thinking, wow, that character is supposed to be such a piece of shit and that doesn’t even make sense to him. That’s really bad.
How did you escape from such a toxic relationship? Was it your friends who helped pull you out of it, like they did in Alice, Darling?
There were so many drops in the bucket. I wish I had a pithy answer for that. Honestly, I think the biggest thing was therapy, Al-Anon, and my safe friendships and relatives. I started to draw boundaries. [Begins tearing up] I said, “We need to cut communication,” because he was leaving town anyway, “and you might need to move out if things aren’t going well.” And that blew it up for him — which isn’t even what I wanted, but I didn’t have the ability to even draw a firm boundary until a good six months of therapy and programming.
Plus, he was cheating. I’m reluctant to use the word “gaslighting” because it’s so overused these days, but this is a pretty incredible level of projection on his part.
Yeah. I also want to be clear that I don’t think infidelity is abuse. It wasn’t the infidelity, and it wasn’t even the lying, it was the actual gaslighting. There were so many times where I wondered, “Why couldn’t he even lie kindly?” You know what I mean? He could have just done that, which is a fucked-up thing to think, and it wouldn’t have fucked me up so bad.
Because you confronted him about it and he was still trying to spin you with some bullshit.
I remember seeing this video that came out a couple of weeks after I found everything out from Dr. Ramani, a psychologist who’s on YouTube. She was talking about how people can get obsessed with the idea of catching someone who’s gaslighting them, and that they have this delusional fantasy that once they catch them, they’ll confess everything and apologize. I remember feeling defensive watching that video because I was like, “Oh, she’s calling me delusional for thinking that once I had evidence, he would come clean.” But that’s kind of correct. When Keith Raniere gets arrested, he doesn’t just go, “Oh my god! Now that you’re spelling it out for me, I can see that I’m a monster.” He just maintains that he did nothing wrong.
Did your ex play volleyball too?
[Laughs] But he didn’t. Sorry, I was literally just watching Season Two [of The Vow], so it’s clearly still on my mind. There’s something kind of cathartic to me about watching someone like that defend the indefensible, because it weirdly helps me go, “Right, anyone can delude themselves.”
There’s this messed-up dynamic in the film where your character’s boyfriend obsessively demands scantily-clad photos of your character when you’re apart. It seems like his way of exerting control over her and her body.
It’s controlling behavior, but I also believe that for Simon it’s coming from a place of desperation and terror. That thought process is part of why I liked the process of making the movie, and why I like the movie as a whole. Everybody was willing to look at how complicated it is. The second it goes into caricature it becomes easy to distance yourself from it and go, “Oh, this is a bad person doing bad things, and I don’t know anybody like that.” The whole endeavor was about keeping things very grounded.
Is Aubrey Plaza one of the friends you leaned on when your relationship was falling apart? I remember being at Sundance years ago when you both had Life After Beth there and you two seemed like you were thick as thieves. I was at a party with some friends and you two were dancing up a storm. And then you did Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates together.
I was texting with her this week. I think she’s brilliant and we’re both avoidants, so I think it’s hard for two avoidants to maintain a friendship, but I also think that’s why our friendship has endured, in a sense. We can both give each other a ton of space. I do remember talking to her a little bit about what was going on. But even then, I bet if I read through those texts I could see that I was testing the waters about how much I could say before she tells me, “You really have to get out” — which at that time, I’m embarrassed to say, was unacceptable to me. I was always trying to tell people what was going on in a way where they’d give me some magic piece of advice, but not to where they’d give me the truth, which was: “You have to leave.” I just couldn’t hear it.
You were so young when you started out as an actor. How do you feel your career is going?
I remember my mom saying to me several years ago, “Oh, when I was your age I still felt like I was 19.” And I remember thinking, “Oh, I don’t.” I very much feel my age. I’ve lived a lot of life and I’m tired.
Because this year marks 20 years since your first movie performance Camp.
I know! It’s fucking insane. There are times where I feel very much in my decrepit-old-lady era — which is fine! I really feel my age. Also directing was really invigorating. That was the most fun I’ve had in years. My ultimate dream is to be John Lithgow — where everywhere he goes, he just seems happy to be there. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to be hypervigilant, and be perfect, and do people’s jobs for them. But that’s not altruistic; it’s a shitty thing to do. I look at John and he just seems so free. He’s not thinking about the outcome. That was a huge thing for me Alice, Darling. Every project I’ve ever done I want to be getting the immediate praise, and that ended with me trying to make everyone at video village very happy, and to get the gold star on set. It was really scary but really valuable to me on this to do things that I knew meant people would go home and not be thinking, “Man, Anna did a great job today.” I tried to just tell the truth.
As a New Yorker, I feel obliged to ask you about the Desus & Mero split. I’m a big fan of theirs, and I know you’re a friend of the show’s — and Desus’s. How do you feel about it?
I know! I love both of them. I know Desus a little better, but I love both of them so much. I think they’re brilliant. It’s extra heartbreaking when you’re like, “Wait, it’s not as absolutely necessary to both of you to keep doing the show as it is to me? How dare you!” I want them to keep making stuff, but it does feel very sad.
I teach at Columbia and a lot of college kids nowadays are obsessed with Twilighteven though they were too young to watch it at the time.
Has it become a camp?
Maybe they haven’t been properly serviced with YA stuff in a while. Does that whole era feel like a fever dream to you?
Twilight? Very much so. Very, very much so. At that time, I was this satellite figure in those movies. I could still walk down the street totally fine — although some of them did still recognize me from them. I wasn’t playing a character that made people fantasize about vampires. At the time it felt like, “Oh, these people have become the most famous people on planet Earth, and it’s going to stay this way forever.” Then they became the butt of every joke. It’s very funny to me that that’s happening. That’s it very wild.