Elizabeth Banks started out as that recognizable woman in the background, easily notable in Steven Spielberg's CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and in the small role of Betty Brant in Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN trilogy of films. SEABISCUIT, a memorable turn in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, SLITHER, INVINCIBLE all DEFINITELY, MAYBE helped generate further exposure for her on her way to landing her first leading role as the titular porn star out of the necessity in Kevin Smith's ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO.
From there, she played First Lady Laura bush in Oliver Stone's biopic of George W. Bush W. and the romantic interest in the Paul Rudd-Seann William Scott comedy ROLE MODELS before a couple of roles in the thrillers THE NEXT THREE DAYS and MAN ON A LEDGE. Earlier this year, she appeared as Effie Trinket in the first chapter of THE HUNGER GAMES adaptations and as the pregnant Wendy in WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING. Toss in a couple of recurring roles on SCRUBS and 30 ROCK, and it's hard to have not caught Elizabeth Banks in something you've seen somewhere, with her dramatic skills and knack for comedy playing into her chameleon-like ability to take on just about any role.
A couple of weeks ago, Banks was in town to talk about her new film PEOPLE LIKE US, which marks the directorial debut of Alex Kurtzman (yes, that Alex Kurtzman of STAR TREK and TRANSFORMERS fame, who co-wrote this film with longtime collaborator Bob Orci). I happened to catch her right after the season finale of HBO's GAME OF THRONES and right before the season finale of AMC's MAD MEN, so the timing of those events are reflected in our conversation, as she's a big fan of both. So I was able to discuss with her the state of things in Westeros before we talking about her PEOPLE LIKE US experience and some bad news concerning FRANK OR FRANCIS. Enjoy...
Elizabeth Banks - (Yawn) Forgive me.
The Infamous Billy The Kidd - It’s okay, it’s early.
Elizabeth Banks - It’s so early. I flew in from L.A. so it’s even super early.
The Kidd - You came in last night though, right?
Elizabeth Banks - Yeah. But that didn’t help much. All that means is I woke up in the middle of the night to start working today.
The Kidd - I heard you are a huge Sunday night TV fan.
Elizabeth Banks - I am. Well, this...
The Kidd - ...this block.
Elizabeth Banks - Block, yeah, that’s right. Well, it’s over now. I’m dying!
The Kidd - Well we have one more episode of Mad Men, but...
Elizabeth Banks - But otherwise it’s over! But BREAKING BAD is coming back...
The Kidd - I saw you were a huge GAME OF THRONES fan.
Elizabeth Banks - Like, beyond. But I have not read all of [A Song Of] Fire and Ice though.
The Kidd - You’re just going on the show then.
Elizabeth Banks - Yeah, I am a “just the show” fan. It’s amazing.
The Kidd - Well I think... I feel like you should read the books, but now I’m just so tied in to the show
Elizabeth Banks - Yeah, but apparently, the books are very closely...
The Kidd - Well they deviate, I think a little bit, but for the most part... Now that you’re into the show, you don’t want to ruin it by reading...
Elizabeth Banks - Reading ahead. Yes, that’s right, I don’t want to read ahead.
The Kidd - Who do you think is going to capture the Iron Throne?
Elizabeth Banks - God, I really don’t know. I mean, this is the thing... people already know this, don’t they?
The Kidd - No, because he’s still...
Elizabeth Banks - He’s still writing?
The Kidd - I think there’s only five books.
Elizabeth Banks - There’s five books, and there’s one left, right?
The Kidd - I think there’s supposed to be... six or seven, and it’s kind of in this...
Elizabeth Banks - Well look... I recently... I wanted to make a shirt that said “Mother of Dragons,” so I’m a huge Mother of Dragons fan. So I think Daenerys could... Anybody who had dragons has a real shot. Especially since they showed, this year, the melted castle walls, right? So you know these dragons can wreak havoc. So that’s going to be really intriguing to me. And I’ve heard... there’s some friends of mine who work on the show, that she’s getting the army together. Like they’re gonna have a big... a big...
The Kidd - They’re gonna move...
Elizabeth Banks - Well she’s getting ships, so there’s going to be an epic... on the water battles apparently. And that wildfire episode was amazing. It was amazing.
The Kidd - Yes. Especially towards the end, like my theory towards it now is like you have all these people who are backstabbing and positioning, and in the end it’s not gonna matter because she has dragons.
Elizabeth Banks - Yeah, exactly, that’s how I feel. It’s like, none of this is gonna matter, guys. This chick has dragons. And she’s magic, like, real magic, not like Red Fire or whatever her name is.
The Kidd - No, she goes into the fire and comes out and gets what she wants.
Elizabeth Banks - Yeah. Exactly.
The Kidd - Well, I knew you were a giant GAME OF THRONES geek, so I wanted to at least be able to say that I sat down with Elizabeth Banks and geeked out about GAME OF THRONES.
Elizabeth Banks - I mean it’s really disgusting what we’re doing right now.
The Kidd - Let me talk about PEOPLE LIKE US, because...
Elizabeth Banks - Yes. Because that’s why we’re here.
The Kidd - But you’ve worked with all kinds of directors over the course of your career, between Spielberg and Sam Raimi...
Elizabeth Banks - I have an amazing list. Oliver Stone...
The Kidd - ...Apatow, Kevin Smith. This is Alex Kurtzman’s first film as a director. He’s done a lot of writing. How does he kind of rank as a rookie director? I mean, not putting him against Spielberg, obviously, but as his first effort.
Elizabeth Banks - Yeah, well, what’s great... The best directors are just great storytellers, and they have sort of a signature, I think... a real lens that they see the world through. I mean, that’s why I love Oliver Stone, I love Kevin Smith, you know. And Alex, as a writer, is an amazing storyteller. I mean, he’s helped create STAR TREK and TRANSFORMERS and they, he and his writing partner, Bob Orci...They’re amazing. They’re writing some of the biggest, best movies out there right now. And this was something that was really personal to him, and it’s based on something that really happened to him. When he was 30 years old he was at a party and a woman came up to him and said “I”m your sister.” He didn’t know that he had a sister. Yeah, it’s wild. In terms of how he stacked up... I mean, he’s been a storyteller and around the filmmaking business long enough that he was fully confident. He had a great shorthand with everything and with everyone, and he had a real vision for what he wanted to do, and that’s what actors want. We just want to know that you are leading us down a path that is clear to you. Whether it’s clear to me, I don’t even care as much as that I know it’s clear to you. And the best way is that if you can also communicate it to me so I can give you what you need, which was the case here. It isn’t always the case but if you trust people, it’s fine. I had nothing but trust.
The Kidd - I mean, does that work in his favor then, from being a screenwriter, to help I guess construct this story? I mean, he did work on the script as well, but for being a rookie director, as opposed to someone who may just be going in and not really knowing what to expect or trying to piece together their first film, is that experience on the other side...
Elizabeth Banks - It absolutely helps, because you know the other thing that he and his partner do as writers is they write for the visual medium. You have to remember that screenwriting is about turning something into a visual, because it’s meant to be looked at, you know? It’s not meant to be read and imagined in your mind like a book, or staged on a proscenium. They’re very specifically... they write to film. And he did that even though it was a smaller story, that it was character driven. You know, he still... he understood what the pool was going to look like and where the car shots were going to be and what the bar that I worked at was going to look like, and I think that always helps. It just helps that he saw the movie in his mind.
The Kidd - Frankie is a very hard edged woman. Life has kinda dealt her a lot of stuff to deal with, whether it’s the daddy issues, or the...
Elizabeth Banks - Addictions.
The Kidd - ...The addictions. But the one thing that struck me is that she still kind of gets pushed around by her kid. So, did you kinda work on the motivations for, I guess, what would allow this? Because there’s part of it that’s like -
Elizabeth Banks - Okay, you clearly don’t have kids.
The Kidd - I do. I actually have two now, but they’re younger. I have one that’s three and that one is just...
Elizabeth Banks - So you know that you will do anything for your kids.
The Kidd - Yes. But there’s this...
Elizabeth Banks - All they do is push us around! [laughs]
The Kidd - I know, but there’s still kind of this friend over parent behavior sometimes, at least to the way she acts.
Elizabeth Banks - Well, I think, you know, Frankie is a single mom, so she’s walking a really hard line, which is, you want to be... you need to be everything to this kid, and different methods work at different times in kids' lives, and I think Frankie is just figuring out that he’s going through a transformation in his life. He’s 11, or whatever, so he’s pushing the boundaries of his independance and not needing his mommy, you know? He’s not even calling me “Mommy” anymore, you know? So, I think she’s reacting, really, to his transformation, which she knows all too well from growing up, but you always hope that it’s going to go better than it does... I mean I’m praying it goes better than it does, but God, I don’t want to be the parent to a fuckin’ teenager, are you kidding me?
The Kidd - It can only get worse! They start getting their own ideas, they want to do what they want...
Elizabeth Banks - It’s like “What?!” [laughs] And they’re like, on their own half the time, you don’t know what they’re up to, it’s a disaster!
The Kidd - Plus, you know you’ve been a teenager before, and you’re like, "I know what I did!"
Elizabeth Banks - If he’s doing anything that I’m doing, it’s like, massive trouble. So, that’s the thing, and I think Frankie is really seeing herself in him for truly the first time because this is her rebellion is coming through in him, and she’s just trying to figure out what really are the methods that are going to work for parenting this kid. "Do I be his friend? Do I be the hardass? Do I... you know, is it listening? Is it yelling?’" I think she’s just trying to figure it all out, too, for herself.
The Kidd - There’s this really interesting dichotomy with Chris Pine’s character because you both have this father issue, where Frankie wishes she had more time with this father and the guy who actually had more time wishes he had less.
Elizabeth Banks - That’s right.
The Kidd - I want to know kind of, you know... it doesn’t change this fact in the middle that this is not a good father, and I’m kind of wondering the challenges that go on to just kind of make sure that that separation, and that kind of conflict, about viewing this one person through two different prisms, and how that comes together.
Elizabeth Banks - That’s right, yeah. I think, you know, for me the end of this movie is really emotional, partally because, and this is true of my own life, you want to get... the damage gets done, and it just does, and in most families, I think there’s some damage, and because it’s all so fucking personal and everyone knows the buttons and you just know everything or you think you know everything. And so to get to the end of this film and come to the understanding that this man who did this damage, and the mom, too, I mean, Michelle Pfeiffer is no saint in this movie. The damage that was done...you just want to know that they did the best that they could. Like, this was their best effort. And I think if you can, as a person, get to a place of understanding, "Yeah, it didn’t always go great, and they didn’t always say the right thing, and it’s because they’re human and they don’t know what the hell they’re doing half the time, and there it is. They did the best they could in the moment that we had together, and that’s it." Like, you can carry these things with you and you can make your future about your past, but why? And that’s the end of this movie. The end of this movie is, there’s a way forward that doesn’t involve all this damage.
The Kidd - I want to ask you really quickly about FRANK OR FRANCIS, because you’re working with...
Elizabeth Banks - It’s not. I don’t think they’re making it.
The Kidd - It’s not gonna happen?
Elizabeth Banks - I don’t think so.
The Kidd - Because, I mean, Charlie Kaufman has this very interesting...
Elizabeth Banks - Yes. It’s amazing. I want to do it, everyone wants to do it.
The Kidd - Is there a reason why it’s...?
Elizabeth Banks - I think it’s money. I mean I don’t want to speak for that production. All I know is that it’s been pushed, and it’s not on my schedule as of right now.
The Kidd - Okay. Alright, thank you very much.
Elizabeth Banks - Thank you.
PEOPLE LIKE US opens in theatres, this Friday, June 29.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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