Elizabeth Banks was a complete unknown when she was cast as “Lindsay” in the 2001 film Wet Hot American Summer. And she stayed that way for a while after, thanks to the dismal box office performance of David Wain’s camp comedy. But, over time, the movie’s growing cult would help Banks become one of the most in-demand actresses around.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you remember about the Wet Hot audition?
ELIZABETH BANKS: I remember what I wore. I went out to a thrift store and bought one of those old school camp t-shirts that was really tight and I stuffed my bra. It was less bra-stuffing, it was more that I wore a very padded bra, like the early version of the Wonderbra. I auditioned for Marguerite Moreau’s role. And then, when they called me, David said, “I think you’re too hot for that character. So will you play the hot girl instead?”
Maybe Marguerite should have stuffed her bra.
[Laughs] I don’t know. I don’t think it was the bra-stuffing that got me the job.
What did you think of the script?
It was one of the most original things I’d ever read. I was so tickled by everything in it. I just felt like I needed to know these guys.
What do you remember about the shoot? I should point out that I’ve now interviewed a lot of the cast and, if you say it wasn’t a huge party, then I’m not going to believe you.
[Laughs] Oh no, it was definitely a huge party. Well, first of all, I remember meeting AD Miles and Amy Poehler and thinking that they were the two funniest people I’d ever met in my entire life. We’d be standing around in sweat shirts and overcoats because it was so cold, drinking s—ty beers, and they would be doing bits. Non-stop bits. It was like being at your own private, amazing stand-up comedy show. It was like being backstage at UCB every night.
You mentioned the cold weather. You’re actually wearing a bikini in a lot of your scenes. What was that like?
My favorite outfit is the red bikini top that I wear in the opening and that almost didn’t happen because it was so cold that I put on something else, some much-more-covered-up situation. Then we took this van ride out to the middle of the woods and there was this huge bonfire, and it was so hot that I actually remember going back over to the costume designer and saying, “I’ll wear the bikini.” David was very sweet. I think he felt really badly about getting anybody into shorts and stuff.
But you were on the lake for a lot of the movie. It must have been freezing.
Yeah, I did a lot of scenes on the lake. It was very much like, “Okay, we’re going to go out on the lake, it’s 7:30 in the morning, it’s 40 degrees out, you’re going to wear this bikini and then we’re going to get on a boat and drive around, so the wind’s going to be whipping and water’s going to be spraying up on you from this freezing cold lake!” [Laughs] But honestly, I couldn’t complain, because there were people in the water. There were like, water skiers and stuff. So I was not complaining.
You and Rudd do slobber over each other a lot during those sequences — I think that’s the right word to use. What was that like?
Well, we both went into it knowing that we were just going to do the most disgusting kissing that we could imagine. There was nothing romantic about it at all at that point. [Laughs] It was just, “I’m going to eat your face and you do the same and we’ll see what happens.” It was a lot of licking. I was trying to make as many obnoxiously loud noises with my tongue as possible.
David Wain said that the only scene they had any interest in making actually romantic was the one between Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black.
Yeah. And it’s a really beautiful scene in the movie! [Laughs]
Did you hang out with Bradley Cooper much?
Of course. We all hung out. I think he was one of my neighbors. It wasn’t like we were staying at the HoJo down the road. We all stayed in the cabins at the camp. I remember I had to leave set for two days because I had another commitment in New York for real money. I was actually a model at the time and I was going to go shoot a catalog, so I could pay my rent. Because I’m pretty sure we made four dollars on Wet Hot American Summer. So I went back into the city and when I came back, all my stuff was gone out of my room and the lamp was broken. I had no idea what had happened and no one told me what had happened. So I just set up camp somewhere else on a cot. It wasn’t until I saw the movie that I realized my bedroom was turned into the back office of the nurse’s office. There’s a scene where Joe Lo Truglio and Janeane Garofalo go crazy and ruin the nurse’s office and he wrecks the lamp. I was like, “Oh, that’s what happened when I went to New York that day! They took all my stuff and they used my bedroom as a set!”
Have you noticed the cult following of the film growing over the years?
Yeah. The two lines that get quoted to me the most are “You’ve barbecue sauce all over your face” or “You taste like a burger, I don’t like you anymore” and then a line from the 40-Year-Old Virgin, which is Steve Carell saying, “I hope you have a big trunk, ’cause I’m putting my bike in it.” It’s all the college kids. They love it. If I’m walking through an airport, those are the things I hear the most.”
Do you sense that it’s a favorite of the comedy community.
For sure. Seth Rogen told me after I got cast in 40-Year-Old Virgin, that they loved that movie. It’s a great calling card.
David Wain told me that he and Michael Showalter are going to start seriously working on the script for a sequel later this year. Would you be up for that?
Any chance to get that group of people together in a room I will take. But I feel like David has been making versions of sequels of that movie for so long. With Stella and Wainy Days and Role Models, we’re constantly getting together. It’s been such a blessing on my life that I got to be included in that circle of people.
You’re playing Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games. What can you tell us about that?
Um, it’s really great. I’m basically sworn to secrecy. I will say, her hair is pink, you don’t have to worry. We’re not messing with it too much.
You can watch Elizabeth Banks in a couple of clips from Wet Hot American Summer below.