Elizabeth Banks, Pitch Perfect Power Player

Gaining roles as a crazy, fun blonde has come naturally to energetic actress Elizabeth Banks. It was a girl in a bikini who smooched with Paul Rudd in the 2001 summer camp comedy, “Wet Hot American Summer,” her first big break. She played a naughty cashier alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me If You Can” in 2002 and an even nastier bookseller in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” in 2005. Last year she was a reporter for the television in a tight yellow dress in the burlesque “Walk of Shame”.

Her original comedic roles include “30 Rock”, “Modern Family”, “Role Models”, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”. The 41-year-old magna cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania was a sarcastic commentator on “Pitch Perfect” in 2012 and voiced the spirited character Wyldstyle in last year’s animated hit “The Lego Movie “.

From the start, however, her goal was to show the public – and her industry – that she is much more than a gay girlfriend. With two films coming out next week, she seems to be making her point. In “Pitch Perfect 2,” a returning sequel to the world of college a cappella singing, Ms. Banks reprizes her role of risky announcer, Gail. The film, which she produced, also marks her debut as a feature film director, placing her in an elite club of active actresses who also direct. (Think of Jodie Foster, Angelina Jolie, and Lynn Shelton.)

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket in “The Hunger Games”


Photo:

Lions Gate / Everett Collection

“One of the reasons I started producing and directing was that I felt underutilized by my industry and had more to offer,” says Banks. “Your career has been out of your control for so long. I finally feel like I have just a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, little more control.

She deploys other muscles in “Every Secret Thing,” which also opens on May 15th. In the mini-budget independent film, she puts the comedy aside entirely, playing a small town detective who is haunted by a past discovery as she investigates a kidnapping.

These two films kick off a diverse summer for Ms. Banks. In June, she played a dramatic role alongside John Cusack in Brian Wilson’s biography, “Love & Mercy”, and the following month she played a convention planner in the stripper comedy “Magic Mike XXL”. On July 31, she returns for an eight-episode “Wet Hot American Summer” Netflix reunion. Later in the year, she will reprise her role as the official powder-faced Effie Trinket in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2”.

John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks in scene from “Pitch Perfect 2”


Photo:

Universal Images

Even in its early days, Mrs. Banks said, she was aiming higher than people were ready. She was quite happy when “Wet Hot American Summer” director David Wain picked her for the role of the hot girl, but points out that she had auditioned for the lead role.

“It was a real theme in my life at the time,” she says. “I auditioned for a lot of leading roles and had a lot of directors who said, ‘You’re really interesting, but—. “… With ‘Spider-Man’ they said, ‘You’re too old to play Mary Jane Watson’ – I was 26 at the time – ‘but this is Betty Brant. You can play that instead. . I auditioned for ‘Catch Me If You Can’ to play Amy Adams. They said, “Well, we’re going to give it to Amy Adams, but you can play the bank teller.” C “was kind of the theme of my life for about six years – and it’s still kind of the theme of my life. I really am the bridesmaid, not often the bride.”

Mrs. Banks grew up in a working-class family in Pittsfield, Mass., and ventured to play at the age of 13, when she refused to participate in “Jesus Christ Superstar” after breaking her leg during a softball game. (She portrayed Pontius Pilate in a walking cast.) She studied theater arts at Penn but didn’t consider it a career.

Elizabeth Banks and John Cusack in “Love & Mercy”


Photo:

Roadside attractions

“It wasn’t really until my last year in college that I started doing job interviews, and I envisioned a working life at McKinsey or something, and I was I’m like ‘What am I doing? “, she says. She studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and quickly auditioned for commercials and films.

She launches into production before directing, with her husband, Max Handelman, producer. They hit the jackpot with “Pitch Perfect”, which starred Anna Kendrick and Rebellious wilson. Movies girl camaraderie and cheerful musical numbers made it a crash. With a budget of $ 17 million, “Pitch Perfect” grossed $ 113 million at the global box office and much more in soundtrack and home video sales. When director Jason Moore wasn’t available for the sequel, Ms. Banks, who had directed a segment of the scorching “Movie 43,” stepped in.

Steve Carell and Elizabeth Banks in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”


Photo:

Universal Collection / Everett

“Producing and directing gives you more control over how you spend your time and, as a working mom, that’s important to me,” she says. (Her two sons are 4 and 2 and a half years old.) In addition to directing, she performed all the sung parts, chose the songs, approved the arrangements and supervised the choreography. “I like being the boss. I’m ambitious about it and agree to admit it, ”she said.

His work in “Every Secret Thing”, as well as the independent film “Little Accidents”, which opened in January, shows another side of an actress who trained in theater before making her name in comedy. Ms Banks considers independent roles a luxury. In these projects “there is no money. It’s a terrible business decision, ”she said. “You have to do these movies because you want to do the job. I also felt like I was not being useful creatively. I wanted to take on a creative challenge.

Ms Banks knows that the opportunities to be not so funny and not so glamorous – and not the bankable Elizabeth Banks-type comedy role – don’t often come when the big studios are calling the shots.

“I could have done it in ‘Gone Girl’,” she says. “But no one called me.”

Write to Don Steinberg at [email protected]

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