You should get to know Kat Dennings. From her role as a vapid teenager in The 40-Year-Old Virgin to her breakout turn as Michael Cera’s jaded dream girl in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, the soon-to-be-25-year-old actress is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s hottest young commodities.
After growing up in the woods of Bryn Mawr, the homeschooled beauty made her way to Hollywood, where she honed her untrained acting chops on the small screen with bit parts in ER, CSI: and Sex and the City. She soon graduated to film, where her innate cheekiness won over audiences in Virgin, The House Bunny and, of course, Nick and Norah.
Today Dennings is busier than ever, shuffling between an incongruous mix of dark drama, outrageous comedy and even a giant blockbuster. She’s currently delving into the lead role for Renee—its namesake, Renee Yohe, the inspiration behind the nonprofit addiction-and depression-treatment organization To Write Love on Her Arms.
Meanwhile she’s anxiously awaiting this month’s release of Thor, her first foray into big-budget Hollywood, costarring good bud Natalie Portman. She’s even back on the small screen, signing on with UPenn alum Whitney Cummings to star in the comedy pilot Two Broke Girls. Somewhere in between takes, she sat down and talked to Philadelphia Style about eschewing industry norms, her obsession with Twitter and endearing childhood memories of Philly.
Tell us about growing up in Bryn Mawr.
KAT DENNINGS: I grew up in the sticks; we lived on a hill in the woods. I seriously had such an amazing Laura Ingalls Wilder childhood. There were a lot of wood activities, playing with the horses, doing farm-girl stuff. Talking about it makes me sad! I look back and I’m like, Why didn’t I take more pictures?
What do you miss most?
KD: I hope it’s still there, but there’s a place called The Head Nut. I have such fond memories of that place. And I always hung out at Wynnewood Lanes and Flower Mill Park.
Do you ever make it back here?
KD: I still have some family there, and we try to head back for the holidays.
Did you always know that acting was something you wanted to do?
KD: Since I saw my first movie when I was a baby. I really didn’t know what it was, but I knew that whatever movies were, that’s what I wanted to do. We went to an actual theater only once every six months, but we would just check out movies from the library—classics like An American in Paris, Madeline Kahn movies and Steve Martin movies. I was spoiled; I had a great film education.
Do you feel more like a Hollywood insider or outsider?
KD: I’m kind of outside the culture of my job. I don’t really enjoy the schmoozing, the parties—it’s not really my thing. I love the people, but I would just rather get coffee than get all dressed up to go to a restaurant that nobody wants to be at.
You had been in a bunch of movies before you broke out with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. What was the best part of that experience?
KD: It was really a collaborative experience, and it taught me you can speak up and talk, which I couldn’t do before that. And the friendships—it was like camp. It’s like watching home video of you and your friends, only hopefully, it’s not as annoying.
It was just announced that you’re doing a pilot called Two Broke Girls with Whitney Cummings. There seems to be a trend lately of feature-film actors jumping into TV pilots—what made you take this role?
KD: First of all, I’m kind of obsessed with Whitney! But TV? It’s super weird and not something I ever really considered, but [executive producer] Michael Patrick King is the nicest person you could ever meet. I worked on Sex and the City with him when I was 12, and he has been a force in my head ever since. Once I saw it was his show, I was like, Whoa, this might be an interesting, kind of amazing thing to do. I literally read it, thought about it for two seconds, and then said yes.
You’re now playing Renee Yohe, the inspiration behind the charity organization To Write Love on Her Arms. Are you channeling anything in your own life to play her?
KD: Renee is about depression, addiction and suicide prevention, so I go through some dark things. But the message really is about love and what you do with it, if you let people in to help you. I’m notoriously straitlaced; I’ve never had any substance-abuse problems. But we all have been hopeless and sad and lost, and have had tragedy in our lives, and I draw from that.
You’re filming Renee on the heels of Thor, which couldn’t be a bigger departure from what you’ve done. What was it like to work on such a big-budget production?
KD: Oh my God, the difference between what I’m used to and that movie was so incredible, so awe-inspiring in every way. It was a complete 180. Kenneth Branagh directed it, and he is amazing. He is my personal Thor.
What kind of acting haven’t you done?
KD: I really want to do a period piece. Badly. Maybe it’s the corsets. I want to do accents and that kind of stuff.
You’re known for your blogging and your obsession with Twitter. What’s the fascination?
KD: It’s a way for me to see if I can be clever in 140 characters. It’s a writing challenge for my own perverse entertainment.