Kat Dennings Looks Back at Her 10 Biggest Roles, From 'Dollface' to 'Thor'
The actress recalls following a Marvel employee to audition in a top-secret second location, meeting her best friend and more memories from her two-decade career.
Kat Dennings returns to the small screen Nov. 15 with Hulu’s Dollface, a fantastical comedy about a woman who reconnects with her girlfriends after being dumped. But taking on a new TV role just two years after wrapping long-running CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls was a major decision for the actress, who has moved between film and television throughout her career.
The former favorite sarcastic movie teen of the late 2000s — The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and The House Bunny, to name a few of the titles she starred in — has been working professionally for nearly 20 years, since before the Pennsylvania native and her family moved from the Philadelphia suburbs to Los Angeles as a teen. The 33-year-old actress takes The Hollywood Reporter through 10 pivotal roles in her career, from her first small-screen appearance to her return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
1. Sex and the City (2000)
Dennings’ first big professional gig was a 2000 episode of Sex and the City, “Hot Child in the City,” in which she played a spoiled, rich client of Samantha’s.
“I had just turned, I think 14, or 13, and my family didn’t have cable so I had no idea what the show was. My mom had no idea what it was. It was obviously really inappropriate for me at that age. And the fantastic Michael Patrick King was the person who hired me on that show when I was kid, and he also hired me on 2 Broke Girls when I was an adult. So he’s kind of my fairy godfather of acting. He would be delighted by me saying that.”
2. Raising Dad (2001)
Shortly after the SATC role, Dennings starred alongside Bob Saget in the comedian’s next sitcom about a widowed father raising his daughters, a 15-year-old played by Dennings and a preteen played by future Oscar winner Brie Larson.
“We still lived in Pennsylvania, so they flew me out with my mom and we did the pilot and then we went home,” she said. When the series got picked up, “we came out and shot the season. And I remember having an amazing time. Brie Larson played my little sister, obviously an incredible Oscar-winning actress who was just this sweet little noodle at that time. And I met one of my best friends in the world, who was the background actor on that show in the high school. Her name is Rodene [Jones], and she’s still my best friend to this day. She had blue cornrows that were, like, down to her ass, and I was like, ‘Who’s that? Hello? We’re friends. Hello.’ She’s amazing.”
3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Dennings finally moved to Los Angeles with her family when she was 16, and a few years later booked her first major film roles. First, the Hilary Duff drama Raise Your Voice, which Dennings jokingly referred to as a “classic of its type” (but earnestly praised it, calling it “a really lucky, lucky break to be cast in that”). And second, The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
“I went to a few auditions for renowned casting director Allison Jones, she does all those movies that are amazing. And I somehow got that role, and I just loved it. It was such an interesting process. It was such a cool film to be in. Seth Rogen, I want to say it was one of his first things after Freaks and Geeks. It was everybody’s first, like, big thing, and it was just amazing to be part of it. I have the buzz about things that I just love. I love making movies, and I just want to keep doing it. I really bonded with Catherine Keener. She played my mom in that film. I just remember her being so kind and so nice to work with and just such a pro and such a great actress. I’m sure she gave me great advice that I can’t remember.”
4. ER (2005)
While her film career was taking off, Dennings recurred during the 12th season of ER as a teenager who dated Shane West’s second-year resident Dr. Ray Barnett — until he discovered she was underage. (Later, he helped rescue her from her abusive father.)
“One of our actors in Dollface is Goran Visnjic, an absolute lovely person who was a regular on ER for a long time. And we were all sitting there realizing that we’d been on ER at the same time. It’s one of those shows that everybody has been on it in one way or another. At the time Bend It Like Beckham was my favorite movie, and I was so excited to be on the same show as Parminder Nagra. I remember how cool it was that you go to the Warner Bros. lot and you go in a building and there’s just a whole hospital in it. It was a really surreal experience because it just went on forever. There were [so many] hallways.”
5. The House Bunny (2008)
In 2008, Dennings continued her run as film’s go-to feisty teen, with roles in two comedies. The first was Anna Faris vehicle The House Bunny, in which Faris played, former Playboy bunny Shelley who became the house mother for a sorority full of socially awkward girls.
“I had the flu during that audition. I was so sick and I was so upset that I was sick because I really wanted to get that role — but I did. That started a whole superstition that if I’m sick for an audition, I’m going to get it — which is bullshit, but it was something that I developed after that. House Bunny was this funny movie and Anna Faris, obviously an absolute dream boat, produced that. Really smart girl; really a fantastic actress.”
6. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)
That same year, Dennings played one half of a teenage would-be couple (alongside Michael Cera) who spend a wild night in New York City trying to find the location of their favorite band’s secret show.
“Nick and Norah was one of those [projects] that I really, really wanted to get. I loved the role. I felt so connected to it. I had had a couple of auditions with Peter Sollett, the director, who is just heaven. He’s wonderful. And somehow that worked out again. I really lucked out there, and that had to be maybe to this day one of the better experiences of my career. Pete was such an understanding and fantastic director — really sensitive and prepared. I made friends with everybody, and I just had the best time. We all ran around New York on a 44-day night shoot. What you’re really watching is the best autumn of all those kids’ lives. We had the best time, all of us. We were in New York at night, so there were a lot of unplanned things. It was really fun. I haven’t seen it in a while. It’s very hard for me to watch myself, but I would like to.”
7. Thor (2011)
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a vast, expansive world, when Dennings joined superhero movie Thor it was in its infancy — but the same secrecy that surrounds current MCU productions was employed then.
“They did have the same level of secrecy. I didn’t even know what I was auditioning for. They didn’t say what movie it was; they didn’t say what the role was — they didn’t say anything about it. They even give you a fake address to audition at, which I don’t think is giving away any classified information. I went to an address, and then someone picked me up from there. I mean, it sounds actually like — it wasn’t, like, a dark alley. It was like, somewhere where you knew that you weren’t being kidnapped. But a person from Marvel, with the credentials, was like, ‘”Hi, I’m from Marvel. I’m taking you to the real place.’ You were like, ‘Huh?’ And then I had an audition or two. I didn’t know what the role was. Again, I had no idea. I didn’t know if I was a superhero or was a mom. Somehow it ended up happening. I just found my way into the Marvel universe by pure chance, and had the most incredible time. We had a really fun rehearsal process that was long, and I got to sit there while Anthony Hopkins told stories. For some reason they brought me back for the second film, and now I’m going to do another Marvel thingy, many years later. I feel very, very fortunate. It’s an awesome group to work for.”
8. 2 Broke Girls (2011)
More than a decade after her small screen debut, Dennings reunited with SATC creator King, who remembered her all those years later, for a CBS sitcom about two down-on-their-luck twentysomethings who start a cupcake business. At the time, she didn’t consider the time commitment involved in something like that.
“I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know. I really love doing movies. I don’t really know if I would want to play the same character forever.’ And one of my reps was like, ‘Well, you’re not. The odds of this going for a million years are pretty slim, so just do it.’ And well, you know what, again, another fortunate thing to happen. It ended up being a really interesting, really challenging part of my life and something that I certainly can’t watch for a very long time just because of the sheer amount of me in it. Maybe one day, with my children, I will. Or maybe not, actually. I don’t think it’s really appropriate for my imaginary children. I was very lucky that it’s a syndicated sitcom. In this day and age it was a really unlikely thing to happen. And I wanted to do something completely opposite of that for the next TV thing.”
9. Dollface (2019)
That brings Dennings to her current project, the Hulu comedy Dollface, which adds a magical realism touch to typical twentysomething issues.
“I was really interested in doing what I thought was the polar opposite of 2 Broke Girls,” she said. “Dollface is more of a look back into a time in my life that I didn’t really want to revisit — my early twenties and mid-twenties were kind of a mess, and that’s where my character starts out in Dollface. It takes those ‘what it is to be a woman in the world’ themes and adds a magical realism element to it, which I really responded to in the material. It is centered around female friendship, but it is certainly universal. Brenda Song, who plays Madison, is a very close friend in real life. We say that it’s not really about female friendship; it’s about friendship, so I think everybody will see a little bit of themselves in the characters.”
10. WandaVision (2021)
Dollface isn’t Dennings’ only current series — she’ll also appear in the upcoming Disney+ MCU series WandaVision, due in spring 2021, reprising her Thor role.
“It’s a delight, to say the least. In classic Marvel fashion, I haven’t read one word of the script, so I don’t really know what’s going on. But I am absolutely thrilled to be bringing Darcy back. Especially when someone told me originally on the first movie that Darcy was supposed to be a guy with, like, two scenes. It was just someone to be funny for a couple of scenes that turned into a fun and more involved character, I think, because of what happened in rehearsals. I think they saw my and Natalie Portman’s relationship, because we knew each other before, and it was just a serendipitous thing that came out of it.”
Beyond that, she has further aspirations in Hollywood.
“I do love acting and I think it’ll always be my first love, but I do want to start focusing more on writing and developing and hopefully starting to direct,” she said. “I think that would be a goal of mine. Probably not to direct myself — that seems like a nightmare that my subconscious is not equipped for — but I would love to write and direct. It’s kind of the dream.”
Dollface premieres Friday, Nov. 15 on Hulu.