I’ve never met Anna Kendrick. I don’t know what she wants out of life. Maybe she’s content with what she’s doing now. But as a pop culture consumer and general appreciator of her output, I want more.
My proposal: next time a late-night talk show host departs, Anna Kendrick should (at least be in talks to) replace him. (Or her…but Samantha Bee just started this year and has been killing it on TBS. Leave her bee.)
This proposal is far-fetched and unlikely for several reasons. None of the late-night hosts appear close to the end of their respective tenures. Kendrick is a Movie Star settled somewhere between the A- and B-lists, and to the best of my knowledge, she’s never expressed interest in a full-time, nightly gig. And, most unfortunately, television networks, presently and historically, don’t have a great history, or much of a history at all, of hiring women for such positions.
But a man can dream. First, the merits. Kendrick has been on a massive charm offensive across late-night this week, as she tends to do whenever she’s in a new movie. There was this fizzy chat with Seth Meyers on Tuesday night, during which she describes Aubrey Plaza as “legitimately unhinged” and tells a delightful story about a Craigslist prank she executed years ago.
Then last night, she joined burgeoning Late-Night Phenom James Corden for a dazzling array of romantic duets, across multiple sets and with exuberant stage business.
This run of old-school showmanship isn’t a new thing for Kendrick. In March, she and Stephen Colbert broke out into (what seemed like) a spontaneous bit of musical theater homage.
Around the release of Pitch Perfect 2, she and Corden restaged a popular setup from the film franchise.
Kendrick even managed to charm David Letterman, who is not easily charmed.
In short, Kendrick has almost everything that a successful late-night talk show host needs to stay afloat in the particular climate of the 2016 TV landscape. She can sing. She’s naturally funny and quick-witted. She has a charming, popular social media presence and a wide-ranging built-in fanbase. She can talk to people. She’s adept at generating viral moments. She has lots of famous friends. (I’m not the first person with this idea, either: Esquire editors suggested it two years ago.)
What the 1998 Tony nominee (for her performance in High Society at the tender age of 13) doesn’t have, at this moment, is the kind of consistently impressive movie career a woman of that talent deserves. After getting an Oscar nomination for 2007’s Up in the Air, she’s largely steered clear of prestige fare, opting instead for the low-budget mumblecore of Joe Weisberg, the popular a cappella antics of Pitch Perfect, a few wildly underperforming comedies (Life After Beth, Get a Job) and a smattering of middling musicals. The jury’s still out on this month’s Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and this September’s drama The Accountant, but it’s clear that she’s a distinctly supporting presence in both. Oh, and Trolls. Don’t forget Trolls.
I’m reluctant to shame anyone in Hollywood, particularly actresses, for the quality of their projects. A variety of factors, many of which don’t get much press attention, factor into a performer’s choices, and it’s important to remember that actors, even highly-paid celebrities like Kendrick, are working for a living, and sometimes make choices that prioritize their personal preferences over fulfilling the demands of a public narrative. Kendrick might very well be happy with the ability to choose some fun, low-commitment projects in between dutifully flexing her pipes for the Pitch Perfect sequels. Who am I to tell her differently?
But if the problem is that Kendrick isn’t getting opportunities worthy of her talent, there’s work to be done. Has anyone asked her whether she’d like to host a late-night show when such openings have been available? Do casting agents remember that she’s an Oscar winner with a wildly successful movie franchise, or do they continue to think of her as the sidekick from the Twilight movies who sings a lot? Given a meaty role in a prestige TV miniseries circuit or the lead in a movie comedy built around her, Kendrick has proven several times over that she’d be a valuable player.
It’s possible that industry scuttlebutt about her frosty relationship with Pitch Perfect 2 director Elizabeth Banks, who recently bowed out of directing the third installment amid rumors of discord on set, has kept her from the chance to take her talents wider. And acting on TV doesn’t seem to be on Kendrick’s wishlist just yet. But her willingness to make a big splash in her late-night appearances suggests a lane for her, should she choose to pursue it. Though there isn’t one now, there ought to be a place in late-night for a smart, talented woman with singing chops who’s comfortable being silly and making fun of herself. As Letterman himself recently pointed out, any executive who says he (it’s usually a he) can’t find any qualified women to host a late-night show is deluded. Kendrick represents an easy opportunity to puncture that delusion — and entertain in the process.