Elizabeth Banks gets tough, goes ’kabuki’ for movie roles
Audiences will be exposed to a whole new side of Massachusetts native Elizabeth Banks thanks to her gruff turn as a police detective in Man on a Ledge.
As Lydia Mercer, Banks gets to indulge in all the tropes that we’ve come to associate with male movie cops played but he likes of Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson: she wakes up with a brutal hangover, doesn’t seem to care much if the people around her live or die, and she even gets outsmart the rest of the NYPD. Starring Sam Worthington, Ed Harris, and Anthony Mackie, "Man on a Ledge" isn’t short of acting talent; but Banks nonetheless steals the show with her perpetually pissed-off performance.
She sat down with us after a screening of the film, eager to talk about her chance to be a non-gender-specific character and branch out into roles that weren’t just "somebody’s girlfriend." Along the way we were sidetracked talking about her favorite films, the funny moments that come along with working with a first-time director, and the constant confusion that resulted from shooting in the middle of a very lively New York City. And take note, fans of "The Hunger Games" or "30 Rock," as Elizabeth gave us an update on her roles in those two fan-favorite franchises.
A real goody-two-shoes
EDGE: You had a role in "The Next Three Days" which had a similar plot to "Man on a Ledge." Does something about the detective/criminal dynamic interest you?
Elizabeth Banks: Everyone asks me if I’m afraid of heights - but I’m truly afraid of being wrongly imprisoned. I find that, if you’ve ever done jury duty, you know you should not trust the system. I have an irrational fear of the police plucking me out of my home and saying "somebody fingered you; you got picked out of a lineup." Or like an accident happening, and I become a scapegoat. I don’t know. Because I’m a real goody-two-shoes - I don’t cross if there’s a "don’t walk" sign. So I am really interested in this theme.
EDGE: Your character Lydia is pretty tough in this movie, she gets to participate in all the hard-nosed action we normally see male cops pursue. Did that attract you?
Elizabeth Banks: I play a lot of dummies. Beth in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" is just like a good-time party girl. She’s got some loose rocks. But this character, she’s a police detective. So she’s gone through training.... But I also wanted to take the polish off her. She’s a working class girl. And a single girl, she parties hard. She lives the life of a single woman in Manhattan. The strength for me comes from her curiosity, from her need to know what’s going on.
A New York state of mind
EDGE: This is director Asgar Leth’s first film - what do you think it was like for him learning the ropes surrounded by veteran actors like yourself, Anthony Mackie, and Ed Harris?
Elizabeth Banks: I like to tease Asger. The very first thing we shot was my opening scene in the movie when I wake up, in bed. So I get into bed, they roll the camera, they roll the sound, and then Asger is like a kid in a candy store. He’s so excited he’s shooting his first movie, he forgets to call ’action.’ So I’m just laying there, and after a while I have to yell out "what are we doing?!" and the set bursts out laughing and Asger... you know. He got schooled. He was very embarrassed. So there was a lot of him figuring out protocol, which was very interesting.
But everyone was committed to making exactly the movie that you see, honestly. It’s a lot of fun, I love Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez in it, and their characters are so fun. And knowing they were kind of in a ’parallel movie’ it gave us license to keep it light on our side of the set, so they would mesh together. We can’t be in some serious fucking crazy ass drama on our side and over there they’re doing scenes like "I don’t know baby, why don’t you marry me?" and all that sassy shit they’re doing. And Ed Harris is just super committed to this villain, in a great way.
EDGE: "Man on a Ledge" belongs to a long tradition of NYC films that use the city as a character - you even have someone screaming "Attica!" out on the streets at one point. What are some of your favorite New York movies?
Elizabeth Banks: Well, what do you call it? Fuck. Spike Lee’s huge movie. I’m totally blanking.
EDGE: "Do the Right Thing"?
Elizabeth Banks: Yeah. Amazing. "Do the Right Thing" is fucking badass. And then I’m a huge Woody Allen fan. You know, I’ve been lucky; I’ve made a lot of movies in New York. And New York always comes alive as a character in the movie; nobody ever has a trailer and you’re always just hanging out in coffee shops, wandering around, shooting on the street, it’s great.
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Watch the trailer to "Man on a Ledge":
Waking up with a hang-over
EDGE: I honestly loved the scene where we saw you wake up...
Elizabeth Banks: Guys love that scene.
EDGE: It’s a quality scene! But I was honestly curious how what happens in that scene informs your acting, because we see you wake up hung-over, and then you have to incorporate that throughout the rest of your performance.
Elizabeth Banks: Yeah. That’s absolutely right. That’s really what it is. We’ve all - well, you’re young, so maybe not - but I’ve definitely gone to work after the bender, where the alarm goes off, or you hit snooze too many times. Then you miss the train, and it’s like "oh fuck, I’m gonna be late." And you really just don’t want to go to work that day.
And my character REALLY doesn’t want to go to work that day. Like she may never go back to this job, ever. So to get there, and to have to deal with this guy... what kept driving me was that she’s a detective, she wants to know what’s going on, she’s curious. But also, everyone is telling her that she’s wrong - and I just knew she wouldn’t stand for that.
EDGE: That’s worth fighting through a hangover for.
Elizabeth Banks: She gets her coffee. And that was an improv, by the way - no coffee in the script.
About ’30 Rock’
EDGE: How was guest starring on ’30 Rock’? Did you learn a lot working with Alec Baldwin?
Elizabeth Banks: I’ve learned about really great restaurants. I’ve learned about having car service 24/7. No, he’s the best. He’s what you want him to be. Meaning... he’s a total movie star, super husky, and sexy, and old-school, and he’s very funny and such a pro. He’s working really hard, but he makes everything seem really easy.
EDGE: So will we see your character Avery Jessup return, now that Kim Jong-Il has passed?
Elizabeth Banks: I really don’t know.
About ’The Hunger Game’
EDGE: And your next release is "The Hunger Game," where I hear you have a very unusual appearance.
Elizabeth Banks: It’s my eyebrows. I bleached them. It’s almost worse than shaving them. I mean if I shaved them, then I could just paint something on them or something. But when you bleach them you just have bright white eyebrows - it’s really freaky looking. You look like you’re an albino, but only right here [she points to her eyes]. And I kept them for three months, and you can color them in - but they don’t really work. And I have totally white skin. It’s very.... Marie Antoinette meets Kabuki.
EDGE: Did you have input on the look?
Elizabeth Banks: Yeah, of course. It was a true collaboration. The reference from the director was Joel Gray in "Cabaret." You know, the cracked-white, overly made up face... we started there, that was the first picture we all looked at. Then we saw some hair - is it curly? Is it up? That’s where the whole Marie Antoinette thing came in. It’s very... decadence. Madness. She’s a very theatrical character; that was my mantra word - theatrical. It’s futuristic, but recognizable - we didn’t make "The Fifth Element."
Man on a Ledge is currently in theaters. The Hunger Games opens nationwide on March 23, 2012.
Watch the trailer to "The Hunger Games":