Elizabeth Banks | Interview
As her new movie People Like Us explores family dynamics, the actress discusses her own.
Elizabeth Banks is furiously texting. She looks up with a smile and apologizes, explaining she doesn’t like being offline. (The texts concern Pitch Perfect, the fall musical-comedy movie Banks is producing: “It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything.”) Just after a photo shoot in a Chicago hotel room, the actress sports immaculately curled Hollywood hair and a short black dress that accentuates her small frame. Her duds and ’do are slightly less fetching in People Like Us, the new film by Alex Kurtzman (cowriter of Transformers and Star Trek). Chris Pine plays a slick salesman who goes home to his recently widowed mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) and discovers he has a half sibling: a single-mom bartender played by Banks.
What’d you think of People Like Us?
I cried at the end. I’m proud of Alex. It’s always a feat when you get onto the screen what you read in the script. It really is.
A recent review—
—said you and Chris Pine make the most of “the big-time emoting opportunities” you don’t typically get in your comedy and action roles, respectively.
Well, it’s a drama, so [Laughs] it would’ve been highly inappropriate for me to be making jokes.
But was that an appeal for you—drama as opposed to your usual comedies?
It was. I loved this character. She has a lot of layers. This movie ultimately is all about grief. The opening of the film is our father dies, and we spend the rest of the movie mourning that loss and coming to terms with it. I think everybody wants to know that their daddy loved them at the end of the day.
Four years ago you said you wanted more control over your career and that meant becoming a movie star, and “to become a movie star as a girl almost always means being in romantic comedies.” Does this small character drama signal you now have more control over your career?
Control comes in different ways. Female movie stars, they’re all romantic-comedy heroines for the most part, but then Angelina Jolie is a movie star ’cause she’s fuckin’ totally believable as an action heroine. And then there are people that have more control because they’re Oscar nominated every year. Um, I don’t have any of those things. [Laughs] So I’m still battling for more and more control. But I have [The Hunger Games’ ] Effie Trinket under my belt, which is a help. It was a step in the right direction.
Who’s the best blond in this film?
Well, Michelle’s the best-looking one, for sure. There’s a lot of good-looking people in this movie. I was actually very concerned when we first started making this movie. I said, “Alex, this movie has gotta be relatable to people.” Like, I don’t know who relates to having Michelle Pfeiffer as their mom and, like, Olivia Wilde is their girlfriend, like cry me a fuckin’ river for Chris Pine, who’s also gorgeous.
You’re leaving yourself off that list.
[Laughs] Yes, but even I was like, we gotta go gritty. I can’t have good hair.
The film deals with familial secrets and lies—not just withheld truths, but coming to discover who one’s parents were as people. Did that theme resonate with you?
Yeah. I love my parents. We all get along great. But my parents were not perfect, and there was damage, and we had blowups. Bad shit goes down in families. It just is what it is. And I recognized pretty early on, and I’m really grateful that I did, that they did the best they could under the circumstances. I have a young son right now and I’m, you know, 38? I always forget how old I am—probably purposefully. I’m 38 years old. My mother had four kids by this age. And I think about driving on the highway with my kid screaming in the backseat and me not being able to get to him and just be like, “It’s okay, buddy,” and I think about my mom having four of us in the backseat. Jesus Christ, it’s a miracle that she didn’t murder all of us! It tests everything about you, being a parent.
You’ve talked about how you had Felix via gestational surrogacy. Did you feel you needed to share your story to inform people?
It really honestly was as simple as one day I didn’t have a baby and I was never pregnant and then the next day I had a baby, and I thought, Well, I should probably tell people where this baby came from. [Laughs] I also think there’s a real culture of shame around infertility, and if my story made any woman feel less shameful, then that’s good by me.
You’re in a long-term marriage in Hollywood, which is a rare thing—
—as you know. Yet you’re cast as characters, like in People Like Us, who aren’t exactly noted for their stable relationships.
[Laughs] That’s right. Stable marriages are not that interesting onscreen. Movies are about conflict, and people trying to get laid is always funny. It’s something everybody can relate to, whereas just a happy marriage—who cares? Good for you.