As a kid, Kat Dennings wasn’t allowed to watch television. You could say her parents’ plan backfired.
The 22-year-old actress, who plays the swoony, semi-sarcastic half of the couple in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” remembers being fixated on Marilyn Monroe and movies from the moment she could talk.
“My parents don’t really know how that happened,” Dennings says, but they encouraged her anyway.
At age 10, she took one acting class and failed miserably. The teacher gave her a Chiclets gum commercial to read. “The guy stops me and tells me I’m horrible and I’m never going to be an actress and I should quit immediately,” she remembers.
Not to be discouraged, Dennings stuck with the profession, learning her craft on the job, landing small roles in TV and movies throughout her teens. Then came “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” with a whole new challenge: “That movie is about 80% to 90% improv. There’s barely any script left in there,” says the actress, who played Steve Carell’s teenage stepdaughter-to-be, determined to lose her virginity well before 40.
After being impressed with her audition, director Judd Apatow helped coach Dennings during shooting, throwing out alternate lines to mix things up on-set.
The experience served her well on “Nick and Norah.”
“We filmed that right in the thick of the writers strike, so Lorene (Scafaria) couldn’t actually do rewrites on it. She couldn’t even be on set, so we basically had no choice but to ad lib when something wasn’t working,” Dennings explains.
“The House Bunny” unfolded closer to script, allowing Dennings to learn from longtime friend Anna Faris, who appears in nearly every scene and had to memorize pages of dialogue and still manage to maintain a Playboy-caliber physique.
Dennings, whose own beauty resembles a younger Kate Winslet, is impressed but not intimidated by all the young blonde starlets she encounters at auditions.
“I’m really nearsighted, which has served me well,” she says. “I’ve never dyed my hair, never fixed my teeth or gotten a tan. I’m really comfortable with myself.”
Though Dennings has been able to adapt her own wry persona to Norah and other roles, she’s eager to try new things. Robert Rodriguez put her through the visual effects gantlet for kid-friendly “Shorts” (“It’s going to be super-
bananas!” she says), and “Defendor” puts her in a character well beyond her comfort zone.
“I play a crack-addicted prostitute, and I know nothing about any of those things,” she says, “so that’s going to be a challenge.”
An actor should always: “Listen. I can watch a movie and go, ‘Oh, my god, that person is acting.’ If you just listen to what the other person is saying, your response will always be genuine.”
Lucky break: “‘Nick and Norah.’ I’m not your typical girl who would get a lead girl role, but Pete Sollett and Michael Cera wanted me to get it, and it worked out.”
Favorite film character: “Probably Phil Connors from ‘Groundhog Day.’ Bill Murray’s one of my favorite actors. I think I’ve watched that movie over 300 times and could watch it another 300 times … today.”