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Little Miss Happy

Anna Kendrick on her role in Trolls, happiness and her brilliant career

Anna Kendrick’s Poppy epitomizes 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 (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.

Who is Poppy? Is there any of you in Poppy?

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. She is unapologetically girly, but also so tough.

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 (Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn) embraced that idea.

One of my favourite 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.

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.

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 flavour, 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 Colours 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.

Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick attend a photocall to promote the film Trolls at the London Eye, in London, Britain, September 29, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Any favorite scene or musical number?

I think the scene where I sing the The Sound Of Silence (the Simon & Garfunkel classic) might be my favourite. 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.

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 mum.  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.

What’s next?

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.

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.

movieCelebritiesMusicAnna KendrickJustin Timberlake