Book review: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

(cover image courtesy scappylittlenobody.com)
(cover image courtesy scrappylittlenobody.com)

 

We’ve all heard a celebrity say at one time or another that they are just like us – they have to pay bills, look after the kids, run errands, and deal with getting stuck in traffic.

But, of course we all know that their lives are nothing like ours, buffered by way more money than we’ll see in a lifetime, an army of people to cater to their every need, and options not available to those of us without personal assistants, wardrobe departments and 24/7 nannies.

As Anna Kendrick makes clear though in her delightfully honest book Scrappy Little Nobody, which documents her childhood acting career rise to fame, and less than stellar attempts to act like a fully-functioning adult, it’s not quite that straightforward.

For a start, there’s a vast gulf between perceptions (ours) and reality (how celebrity life really is). While all we see on big glossy awards nights are people stepping out of limousines with grace, poise, and a small nation’s GDP of jewelry around their neck, many actors like Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Into the Woods) would rather be home in their pajamas, feet up, watching reality TV with a big bowl of popcorn to their side.

That’s not to say that she begrudges the trapping of fame but it’s not the be-all and end-all for most acting celebs, not when you have to contort yourself at weird angles to stop from creasing your dress or have to stand around the back of a stage for ages waiting for the commercial break that will allow you to return to your seat.

“I’m trying to have fun. I get to wear fancy clothes and I get to have my hair and makeup done, and being a little brat about it is is stupid. I also have to wear fancy clothes and have my hair and makeup done. And anything in the world that you have to do can become tiresome. If you had to play with a puppy every day—okay, that’s not a good example; that would always be fun. But someone poking your eye with a makeup brush is not as fun as a puppy; you’ll just have to take my word for it.” (P. 142)

In other words, we see one thing, people like Anna Kendrick, who is as down to earth as you could want and well aware she lives a rarefied existence (one she never wants to take for granted or become too accustomed to), experience quite another.

What is refreshing about Kendrick’s tell-it-like-it-is book is that she doesn’t mince words about the realities of climbing your way to the top and then staying there, basic humanity intact, nor does she take it all very seriously. That’s not to say she isn’t the consummate professional when she needs to be but she’s careful to draw a line between her witty, funny, accomplished public persona and the insecure, recluse-wannabe that exists away from the bright lights and acclaim.

She is gloriously candid, with wit, wisdom, and deliciously self-deprecating remarks in abundance, about all the sacrifices she had to make to get the kinds of acting gigs needed to get her foot in Hollywood’s door.

But these stories, which includes 7 hour bus rides each way, often in the same day to attend auditions in New York from her home in Portland, Maine, are not presented in some sort of martyr’s vein; rather she simply depicts them as the business of following your dream, the price of going where your heart leads.

She is winningly real about it all, happy to pull back the curtain to reveal as business where being “nice” is less about not being mean, and more about not being difficult, which is the greatest sin an actor can commit. Or where you spend hours and hours standing around looking like you’re having fun when the reality is it’s as much work as anything else. (Kendrick is clear though that while the hours they put in might suggest they’re trying to cure cancer, the reality is, as well know and she gleefully admits, that is not happening.)

 

 

What sets Kendrick’s book apart from many celebrity tomes is her willingness to bat away all the expectations that come her way. Like all of us, she often feels like a fraud, like the less ideal version of herself that isn’t as together, thoughtful or wonderful as she’d like to be.

Lest you think it’s some line spun to keep the PR hacks happy – “Tell ’em you’re just very normal; the public love that kind of stuff – it honestly comes across as very real and incredibly authentic.

You get the feeling that while she is enormously grateful for all the success that’s come her way, and the opportunities it gives her to workaholically practise the craft she has loved since she was a child, she is also not so removed from who she is – she goes to great lengths to stay grounded, heading back to Maine whenever her crazy schedule allows – that it erases her basic, neuroses-plagued humanity.

And that’s probably the best thing about this highly-entertaining, winningly-insightful book.

Kendrick happily admits as just about every opportunity that she’d rather stay home and see no one than grace parties and press junkets without number, that she lives like a would-be hoarder rather than a living, breathing Vogue Living supplement, and that she way more socially awkward than her public presence might suggest.

“There are plenty of places where I am correctly treated like I ain’t shit. My personal favorite is my hometown. While I was in the middle of writing this, I went home to see my parents. I turned off the phone, stopped checking my email … Being around my family and the place I grew up reminded me of my fear that I was getting too comfortable, that I was letting myself atrophy.” (P. 269)

Where she can Kendrick tries to push back on the expectations and demands made of her.

Not in some nasty way – this is Anna Kendrick we’re talking about here, who despite a slew of self-deprecating, amusingly self-critical remarks which fill this book and give it a real sense of earthy fun, is probably way nicer and more fun she gives herself credit for. But she is sane enough to know that there is a yawning gulf between the person she projects to talk show hosts, fans and yes even readers of this book, and the real Anna Kendrick who wishes she had her collective shit together way more than she actually does.

It’s this willingness to call her career and her life for what it is, rather than what the publicity machine, which eschews flaws of any kind and values only Photoshop-glossy perfectionism, that makes this book so wonderfully relatable and a pleasure to read.

True, Kendrick is not one of us in many of the ways that we would measure likeness, but in so many other ways she is exactly like us, riven with self-doubt, pressures to measure to impossible expectations and exhausted by the business of being her, and it’s the way she draws the line between the two parts of her life that makes Scrappy Little Nobody such a charmingly reassuring book to read.

(And make sure you make use of the Bonus Reading Group Guide at the end which delightfully skewers the kind of pretentious questions that litter these sorts of Q&A starters; it’s yet more evidence that while she may look the part because she has to, that deep down she’s as bemused and horrified by life as the rest of us.)

 

 

 

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