Love and Learn
Anna Kendrick can tell a good tale about the rocky road to love. And she can laugh about it. She brings those talents — and much more — to her roles as star and executive producer of HBO Max’s refreshingly relatable Love Life.
Sit back and let Anna Kendrick share one of her many dating disasters.
"I was out with a guy and he gave me a poem that he wrote himself," she recalls. "And he burned the edges of the paper like you do when you're in school, so it looked, like, old-timey. But even though it was only our second date, I didn't know it was a red flag or cringe-y!
"I talked myself into thinking it was harmless and ignored it."
Last year, the self-deprecating actress regaled a small group with that same anecdote. But instead of laughing it off, her audience incorporated the live-and-learn mistake into Kendrick's new series, the aptly titled Love Life, now streaming on HBO Max, the WarnerMedia direct-to-consumer subscription platform.
"I unloaded my entire relationship history to the writers because I have recently been a young woman on these exact journeys," she says. "It was really interesting to see the details getting sliced and diced into the show. They're peppered enough so that nobody looks too much like anybody I've dated!"
The refreshingly relatable anthology follows the quest for love over the course of 10 episodes. The first season centers on Kendrick's Darby, who starts off a frazzled 20-something running a "historically significant butts" tour in New York City. Her first serious dating adventure is a mess of laughs, inside jokes and drama.
"It's about romance, but there's so much more to explore because there's joy and heartbreak in all of her relationships," says Kendrick, adding that some episodes will focus on Darby's dynamic with her best friend, Sara (Zoë Chao).
Love Life was created by Sam Boyd, who set out to write a funny, character-driven relationship series. He tapped out the pilot episode and sent it to Paul Feig in hopes that the famed comedy director (Bridesmaids, Freaks and Geeks) would sign on as a producer.
"He wrote me back the nicest email I've ever gotten in my life, and that includes my wife and my mother," Boyd says. "It was such a dream."
Feig himself is more effusive: "I absolutely fell in love. The voice was so great and unique, and I loved the idea how each of the pieces of your past come together when you're with the person you ultimately end up with."
Kendrick, meanwhile, had just finished a slew of projects that included the Disney+ Christmas comedy Noelle, the sci-fi thriller Stowaway and voice work on Trolls World Tour. She was leafing through one too many "tortured" scripts at her L.A. home when she came across Boyd's pilot.
Though the Oscar and Tony nominee had never done a small-screen series, the script spoke to her. "It had such a steady hand and didn't feel sweaty or contrived," she says. "I like a strong, confident voice, even if the material is off-the-wall."
The screenplay for her 2012 smash Pitch Perfect, she adds, was a prime example. Love Life also offered a bonus in that she had already worked with Feig on 2018's sharp-as-a-dagger comedy, A Simple Favor.
"I harassed Paul to get myself attached to it," she jokes. From Feig's perspective, "I knew this project was just too perfect for her. She's just so good. And you can see the full range of what she can do in the show."
Kendrick signed on as an executive producer as well — and with Feig working in England for his film Last Christmas, it was up to Boyd and Kendrick to pitch the series together to Sarah Aubrey, HBO Max's head of original content. It received a full-season deal, becoming one of HBO Max's first orders.
"Sam took the lead in the pitch, and I was there to be, like, 'I'm super- pumped and it's going to be great! Trust me!'" she exclaims.
"But I wanted to be a producer because I wanted to be involved. I have very strong feelings about whether a guy would make me feel a certain way. I can be opinionated, and it felt nice to know that I had a seat at the table."
For inspiration, Kendrick and Boyd looked to some of the rom-com greats, from You've Got Mail (her personal favorite) to When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall and Love, Actually. All of the above elicit warm-and-fuzzies thanks to both heightened and tiny romantic gestures.
"Yes, there will be times after the breakup when Darby is not doing great," she says, "and it's tough because that's life. But we did want to have those big, profound moments, too, even if the relationship doesn't work out because, frankly, I've been there."
She even hesitates when asked if it's fair to describe Love Life as a rom-com: "That term draws images of things that are too pretty and polished. Maybe we're a romantic dramedy, if that's the worst name you've ever heard."
Still, the episodic nature of Darby's arc works to their benefit, Boyd says. "When you think about the creative structure of television, you realize you have the freedom to tell 10 short stories of a person's experience," he explains.
He also notes that the medium allows for more slice-of-life scenes, à la Girls and Atlanta: "I think the romantic comedy genre has gotten bogged down in the high concept and the contrived. It's like, look, that person is a ghost! Or one was writing an article about the other the whole time!
"We can still find humor and poignancy in what we do every day."
And by the end of the season, there's actual growth. When Kendrick returned to New York City a few months ago to film a few cutaway scenes for the eighth episode, "There was a change," she says. "I was like, 'Whoa, Darby would never put up with this!'
"It wasn't the nervous and awkward Darby we meet in episode one. It's really interesting to see how much this character goes through."
So does Darby's love life end happily? "The annoying answer is that you'll have to watch to find out," Kendrick teases, but adds that "there are interesting ways to play with the format for season two [in terms of] Darby's involvement."
But Boyd assures: "I think it's the right ending, and it's satisfying. I'm excited for people to see it."
As for Kendrick, she's been lying low at home until the coronavirus pandemic subsides. She's already authored a book, the 2016 memoir Scrappy Little Nobody , but hasn't been inclined to do other writing while hunkering down.
"That book was so hard," she says. "If this quarantine has taught me anything, it's that self-motivating is based on a goal. So, you know, first I'll try to brush my teeth by 10 a.m., then I'll write that script." As long as it's not a poem.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2020
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