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April 11, 2013

Elizabeth Banks: A Player Is Born

The unfiltered, hard-charging, and ridiculously overscheduled life of actress-producer Elizabeth Banks — what she crams into a single day will blow your mind.

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Photo Credit: Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton

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ELIZABETH BANKS is all business over lunch at Culina, an upscale modern Italian spot at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. We're discussing her company, Brownstone Productions, which produced last year's breakout hit Pitch Perfect, a musical comedy that cost just $17 million and has, to date, raked in $109 million worldwide. The film, written by sitcom writer Kay Cannon (30 RockNew Girl), proved a critical darling and was frequently cited as further proof, post-Bridesmaids, that funny women are finally flexing their clout both on-screen and behind the scenes. Banks, never one to shy away from offering her opinion, nonetheless remains skeptical. "Predicting what content is going to fly is like looking into a crystal ball," she tells me, picking at her Gorgonzola salad. "I try not to say, 'Yeah, Bridesmaids opened the door to make more movies about women.' I mean, did it? I don't know, where are they?"

Banks, 39, is startlingly forthright about her profession in a way that actresses, in particular, tend to be cautioned against. Though her IMDb profile lists some 60 credits—a mix of hits and misses—in person she sounds most like her character on 30 Rock, the no-nonsense, right-leaning cable news pundit Avery Jessup, a role that earned her an Emmy nomination. Like Jessup, Banks is firm, confident, and direct, exuding the brisk efficiency of someone who lives in hour-long blocks of time that are invariably accounted for. Banks always has somewhere to be.

Last year, she costarred in five big-studio movies, including the blockbuster The Hunger Games, and reprised her role as Jessup on 30 Rock. In February, she reappeared on Modern Family as Cam and Mitchell's party-girl bestie, Sal. She's scheduled to shoot six films this year, and is signed on to costar in the third installment of The Hunger Games. She's currently at work on the comedy Walk of Shame, about a news anchor whose bender the night before jeopardizes a long sought-after promotion.

But while acting is Banks' mainstay, it represents only a slice (albeit a sizable one) of her career these days. She also directed one of the funnier shorts in the otherwise lackluster ensemble Movie 43, an exercise that piqued her interest in directing more in the future. ("I think it will happen for me soon.") And as it turns out, Banks, the pragmatic straight shooter, is perfectly suited for the mundane day-to-day grind of producing a movie. To be clear, she is not one of those actors who slaps her name on a project, only to disappear until its glammed-out red-carpet premiere. Though Banks had a small role as an a cappella commentator in Pitch Perfect, most of her work happened behind the scenes, on the set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

It was Banks' responsibility to hire the film's staff: gaffers, location scouts, casting directors, script supervisors, as well as the writer and director. Once production began, she spent three months running the operation from the set. "She's not afraid of getting her hands dirty," says director Jason Moore. "She's an intellectual, witty and down-to-earth, and she has great comedy taste. And as a producer, she understands a lot of what other producers don't—she's been on 60 different film sets as an actress, so she's seen so many different ways things can go right and wrong."

If an actress was taking too long in makeup, he says, she had no qualms checking in to make sure things moved along; if she didn't think an actor or an actress was the right person for the part, she flat out said so. "She's a badass," says Joseph McGinty Nichol (known in Hollywood as McG), the producer-director working with Banks' Brownstone Productions to develop Tink, a live-action comedy based on Tinker Bell. (Guess who's playing the iconic pixie?) "Unpretentious, no bullshit, great taste, and straight to the point."

 


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