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Elizabeth Banks On Directing, Playing the Hero in ‘Love & Mercy’ and Concluding ‘The Hunger Games’

Elizabeth Banks On Directing, Playing the Hero in 'Love & Mercy' and Concluding 'The Hunger Games'

Elizabeth Banks is everywhere. Producing, directing and acting. She just completed a stint on the jury at the Venice Film Festival and has been doing a round of press for “Love and Mercy,” the biopic about Beach Boy genius Brian Wilson.  “Love and Mercy” is currently available on Digital HD, Blu-Ray and DVD.

W&H: Just back from Venice, huh? Did you have a good time on the jury?

EB: Oh my gosh, I really did. It was fantastic. It was really fun, educational and exhausting — it was great.

W&H: Not enough women directors in Venice, though.

EB: There were very few. There were very few.

W&H: Well, we’ll get to that in a second, but tell me a little bit about why you decided to be in “Love & Mercy.”

EB: Honestly, I was seduced by the script. I loved Oren Moverman’s writing. I thought it was so ambitious — two different actors, two different time periods, you know, how are they going to tie this thing together? I didn’t know much about Brian Wilson. Obviously I knew the music of the Beach Boys but I didn’t know much about the actual man. It’s a portrait of a truly fractured guy and I just thought it was amazing how the writing and the idea for how to shoot the film really reflected the actual man’s story.

W&H: Whenever songs would come up in the movie I would think “That’s his song?! And that’s his song?!”

EB: I know — you forget how many you know.

W&H: It’s a very different biopic. It has great sadness but also you feel very hopeful at the end. I would imagine that was something you found interesting too?

E: Oh yeah.  The other thing that brought me in was my character, Melinda. She’s incredible — so full of life and energy. And also just seeing [her dream life with Brian Wilson]. They are still together, he’s still alive, they have five kids, they have dogs and they live in a beautiful home. They’ve created a really beautiful life together. We hint that they have a lovely future at the end of the movie but I know they did it [in reality]. They accomplished it. They made a beautiful life together and that’s what sort of helped pull me through the whole process.

W&H: It’s interesting because she’s really the only female character in the movie who has a fleshed out story in a sea of men who are just horrific to Brian Wilson.

EB: Yeah. Well, it’s true. Even his own mother was sort of — I mean, I think everybody was a product of their times. It doesn’t excuse the behavior but it does offer some insight into how things worked and how progress has changed that.

W&H: Melinda is really the hero of the movie.

EB: She is, yeah. She’s the hero of the movie.

W&H: You’ve had a pretty big year. Amazing movies that you’re in but also this huge step up in your producing and especially your directing. Did you ever expect “Pitch Perfect” to be the huge hit it was? What were your expectations going into the process of directing the sequel?

EB: When we were making the first one we were just so under the radar. No expectations — not even low expectations. The script was really funny and there was singing and dancing, and people thought it could be an interesting combination. To have made something that became so beloved the first time around made the pressure to do it again with a second movie very strong. Really, I felt that pressure. I felt the pressure not to dishonor the legacy of the first film, not to mess it up, and also to deliver for the fans — something they could cherish again. I went into it with that attitude: I was a fan of it too. I just made sure that I spent every day making the actors look incredible and be funny, and put together some set pieces that were big and fun and funny and emotional. But it’s a tall order.

W&H: I know but you really delivered big time on this. So much so that there’s going to be a third one. I don’t know if you’re going to be directing that because it looks like you have other things on your plate now. You’ve gotten on this list that everyone says doesn’t exist but totally exists — people who can make commercially successful movies. I would guess — maybe I’m wrong — you have some opportunities in front of you that you might not have had before.

How do you make that next decision to find the right movie for you? There’s this thing that women have about their second movie that they direct. They get very nervous and they don’t necessarily pick quickly enough and then they get more nervous because they don’t want it to flop. People become paralyzed on the sophomore movies if their women because it’s such a high bar. It’s such a high bar because there’s still so few of them.

EB: I think that’s true — that the minute you mess up you might not get another shot. But I’m an actor, so I always have that mentality anyway. Hahaha. As an actor, you go through life thinking “This stop is the last stop,” so you just put your heart and soul into everything and do your best work. To me, it’s all about the work, the work, the work. I like prolific directors. I like people who just work. I’m like a Woody Allen, Steven Soderbergh, Oliver Stone — go for it. Just make movies. Because I think whether it’s your second one, third one, fourth one, fifth one — they’re not all going to work. It’s just true: they are not ever all going to work. I mean, I guess James Cameron’s movies always seem to make money. But I feel like you just can’t be that precious about everything. That’s how I feel. I’m just trying not to be so precious and just tell a fun story.

I do want to work on a larger scale with bigger budgets partially as a way to prove that women can do that, for sure. I definitely feel a bit of a responsibility to do that. But also because those are the stories that are interesting to me right now in my life. I’m really interested in making movies that people see: I’ve made a lot of independent films and it’s really depressing when no one sees them.

W&H: You’re in one of the biggest movies coming out this year – the final Hunger Games movie. Is the fact that it is ending bittersweet?

EB: Very bittersweet. I mean, we’ve had time to process now because we finished shooting so long ago and already put out Part 1. I just saw [the new one.] It was such a reminder of how much I love that entire cast and crew, but I think it concludes in a really satisfying way, and for Effie too. I’m really happy to even see Effie there. It was fun. And of course, it’s really hard to see Phil Hoffman for all of us.

W&H: The “Hunger Games” franchise proves that women can lead big budget projects and people — men and women — will see it. That’s one of the things that I imagine you want to take moving forward with bigger projects with bigger budgets — that females onscreen doesn’t mean it’s only for female audiences. 

EB: Yes. And it’s why I’m also not interested in making movies only with female protagonists. I think it’s ridiculous to think that a female director can’t direct men. That makes no sense to me.

W&H: It makes no sense but it still seems to be one of the reputations that women get stuck with.

EB: It’s a real assumption that everyone’s making about what I want to do next. I don’t know why everyone is assuming that. Of course then I go on and sign on to “Charlie’s Angels” but “Charlie’s Angels” is a big huge awesome action franchise [which women directors aren’t usually associated with,] which is a real plus for me. Believe me — I was seeking out a big action franchise.

W&H: So you wanted to do action next and this was the one that fit for you?

EB: Yeah. It’s all about your take on the material. We’re very early in the development so who knows.

W&H: But you think that will be the next project you direct?

EB: I don’t know.

WH: You’ve said that people put you in a box — that you were a cute blonde actress, that you were funny and had small boobs — so I just feel like that box is a thing that so many women get put in. It may be a different kind of box, but it’s a box. Hollywood especially boxes women in. What advice do you have for women to break out of their own box?

EB: Like I said in that speech about boxes [at the Step Up Inspiration Awards,] I think no one wants to feel like they’re only five things. I had not added director and producer to my box until I did it. I think it’s all about challenging yourself to expand not just other people’s ideas of who you are, but your own idea of who you are. It’s got to come from within.

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