It’s a hot-as-hades late spring kat Dennings lounges in a Toluca Lake café. Having seen the actress in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, she’s easy to spot. She is striking—Leonardo DiCaprio’s eloquent Kings of New York character Amsterdam Villon would have referred to her as a “prim lookin’ stargazer”—doe-eyed, fair-skinned, full-lipped, and somehow sage-like despite her youth. Dennings greets with a firm shake, even though she’s just observed the reciprocating hand in question perform a perspiration-reducing brow wipe. She has either a bohemian respect for the putridity of the human body or is painfully polite. Not necessarily words you would use to describe the usually sarcastic and rye characters that she is known to portray. Rather, she’s genuinely welcoming, the results of which spill into the kind of girlish, sissified chatter that inspired The Baby-Sitters Club with weekly story lines.
Having just wrapped her latest film, Thor, Dennings admits that she is exhausted, but eagerly describes the experience as if she would be willing to do it all again tomorrow. “I was awestruck,” she gushes. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had.” The film, based on the popular Marvel comic, has already attracted media buzz and is expected to draw a massive following, torturously virginal 15-year-old boys notwithstanding. Thor’s cast also includes the lauded and appropriately Norse Stellan Skarsgård, whom Dennings and Natalie Portman, also a fellow castmate, prompted to teach swear words in Swedish—naturally. Dennings recalls a particularly juicy expletive and with very little prodding she invokes skit bollar (“shit balls” to those south of the Artic Circle).
There is more oohing and ahhing over the cast, working with legendary director Kenneth Branaugh, and more about the swarthy Skarsgård, but Dennings was particularly thrilled to be able to include her brother Geoffrey, with whom she is very close, in her work trip. “It was cool to bring him to set,” she says. “Usually he’s like, ‘Oh, a sex scene with Josh Lucas… I think I’ll stay home.’” She’s referring to another new film called Daydream Nation in which she plays an acerbic teenage girl who simultaneously begins an affair with her teacher (played by Lucas) and a fellow classmate. The town short circuits and calamity ensues.
One can’t really blame her brother for his hesitation, considering her early role in Sex and the City, in which she plays a 13-year-old nymphette. Along with bit roles in CSI, ER, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Dennings’ voluptuous body has lent itself to some pretty salacious characters and she doesn’t apologize for it. Her characters tend to be confident in their skin, smart, teenaged, and very, very spirited… you do the math.
Desiring a break from the usual, albeit very cool and sexy Parker Posey-esque, roles, Dennings made the film Defendor with Woody Harrelson, which she describes as her most challenging part to date. “Sometimes you read a script and you think, ‘I can’t do this,’ and that was one of them,” she says. Dennings herself is a self-described homebody: she has never smoked and barely drinks. Yet, in the film, she plays a crack-smoking 15-year-old runaway hooker named Kat Debrokowitz—the irony of the shared name is not lost on her. Debrokowitz is dark, emotional, and also 20 pounds lighter than Dennings. “I decided to lose the weight on my own,” she explains. “No one asked me to. I did research and it seemed like part of the character.” Still, don’t expect to see Dennings in size 0 jeans—when it comes to body politics and show business, she has very firm ideas and expectations. Personally, she feels comfortable with her hour glass physique, but she also knows that acting is her job and as such may require her to be physically malleable for certain roles. “There is a point when you’re not getting the roles you want,” she lets on. “I realized this is part of my work.”
True to character, she avoids straying into the too serious and makes a joke, “I want an excuse to go nuts and only eat vitamins!” Luckily, she wasn’t saddled with a body-dysmorphia-projecting “show mom” growing up. On the contrary, Dennings was raised in a remote part of Pennsylvania, and home-schooled, meaning her sizeable family of seven has long been very close-knit. In fact, when Dennings moved to Los Angeles, her family came along to support her. She’s even begun writing scripts with Geoffrey. “Where I’m lame, he’s awesome,” she says with a grin, “and where he’s lame, I’m awesome.” They sold their first script and were promptly put onto the Black List 2008, a misleadingly ominous title that means they are up-and-comers to watch.
When the youngest member of the Dennings clan is not in the midst of a salty scene, or writing one, she can just as often be found nose-deep in a novel. “When I’m not working, I’m reading or sleeping,” she says. This sets her off and the remainder of the interview is spent discussing favorite authors and books, Dennings’ being Haruki Murakami and The Phantom Tollbooth. Conversation organically meanders onto the topic of Edgar Allan Poe, which leads to Christopher Walken’s YouTube-able reading of Poe’s The Raven. If you are at all familiar with Dennings’ prolific video blogging, then you’ll know she has quite the crush on Mr. Walken—dreamy and creepy all at once. Who could resist?
So, what’s up next for the budding ingénue? Dennings says she would love to be offered another action role or even a period piece. When asked about the quality of her English accent, she quips in a voice intentionally reminiscent of something between The Count and Mrs. Doubtfire, “Terrible. I sound like James Mason.” So a casting in the remake of The Age of Innocence as stuffy old Countess Olenska might be a long way off, but we can imagine Dennings making ripples as Hollywood royalty in no time at all.