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April 11, 2013

Elizabeth Banks: A Player Is Born


Photo Credit: Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton

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For a scene in Pitch Perfect where the boys in an a cappella group are all sitting in a hot tub, it was her idea to play a porno in the background (a fake movie that she directed herself). According to Moore, Banks appeared in the film (after both Kristen Wiig and Amy Poehler passed on the role) in part because she was already on set and wouldn't have to spring for anyone's airfare. But the decision had an unexpected upside. While improvising with a castmate, Banks realized where the film could benefit from some jolts of humor and punched up the storyline accordingly.

Banks runs Brownstone with her husband, Max Handelman, with whom she has two children under the age of 2. "It's all about managing people," says Banks of producing. "You know, women in Hollywood, we don't get action franchises and superheroes. The rom-coms that made Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and Reese Witherspoon stars are out of favor right now— nobody is making them. In this business, if you are an ambitious person, you don't wait for people to hand you opportunities. You have to make a way for yourself."

Banks has little patience for waiting around. When she's on location, she brings her family and sets up an office locally. ("Producing never stops. It's 24/7," she says.) "I think she has a deep appreciation for everything she's been able to do as a performer, but I don't think it's come so easily that she takes it for granted," adds McG. "She doesn't have this expectation, 'Roles are coming to me! I'll be the most beautiful woman in the room forever!' She's just not spoiled. And that work ethic makes her a formidable producer."

Incredibly, she also squeezes in time for social media: Banks has cultivated more than a million Twitter followers (more than Lena Dunham), and even oversees her own blog, which she updates regularly. Ask her how she manages it all and Banks is to the point: "First of all, I have a home office. I have two kids, and it means I get to put them down for their naps and be the person they wake up to," she declares. "When I'm actressing, which is my day job, and which I'm doing right now, I leave the house at 4:30 in the morning five days a week and I get home at 6, and hope to get two hours with them before they go to bed. So I'm slightly miserable about that."

Such is the unforgiving pace of an Ivy-educated, type A actress—she graduated magna cum laude with a communications degree from the University of Pennsylvania—who runs her life with the ruthless economy of a white-shoe CEO. In this way, and because of her disarming candor, I can't help but think she'd have aced her husband's old job as an investment banker for Salomon Smith Barney. (They met as undergraduates at Penn.) He ultimately quit to follow Banks to Los Angeles, where he enrolled at UCLA's business school. "We realized very quickly that if we were going to have a life together, he could not go back to 9 to 5 with two weeks of vacation," she explains.

In 2007, the couple set up Brownstone and two years later released their first movie, Surrogates, a sci-fi thriller based on a graphic novel and starring Bruce Willis. The movie bombed, but Banks learned an important lesson about producing. "It was not ultimately the movie that Max and I envisioned. The number one thing we learned on that movie in regards to Pitch Perfect was to retain as much creative control over your partners as possible."

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