Elizabeth Banks talks 'Hunger Games' and new film 'Pitch Perfect'
If Elizabeth Banks took a day off in the last year, we’re not aware of it. In the past 12 months, she’s wrapped the first installment of The Hunger Games (love the accent, Effie), shot a movie with the blue guy from Avatar (the Sam Worthington-starring Man on a Ledge), and snuck in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Speaking of which, she also had a baby. Now she’s hiding out in Baton Rouge, where she’s going behind-the-scenes, producing Pitch Perfect*, a big-screen comedy about, of all things, competitive collegiate a cappella groups, along with her husband, producer Max Handelman. The film stars the Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson (otherwise known as Kristen Wiig’s bizarre, tattooed roommate in Bridesmaids). A cappella music? Um, yeah. Banks explains.
*Full disclosure, I wrote the book that Pitch Perfect is based on. More embarrassing: I sang in an a cappella group myself at Cornell.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: A movie about collegiate a cappella? Let’s get this out of the way: Is this a Glee knock-off? How will you respond to those comparisons?
You could compare it to Rock of Ages. You could compare it to Mamma Mia!, because it’s being made by the same studio. Yes, there is some singing and dancing in our movie. But essentially, we’re making a coming of age comedy — a very classic tale.
Nice. Did you have a magical a cappella experience in college? I mean, some people are horrified the first time they see 12 dudes making music without instruments.
Quite the opposite. The big group on our campus then was the Penn Six-5000 [Banks attended the University of Pennsylvania]. I went to one of their shows and I remember watching this guy sing “Rocket Man” better than Elton John, and thinking, This is the most amazing version of “Rocket Man” I’ve ever heard in my life.
Were you an a cappella groupie?
No, I was not a groupie. But I knew the guy vaguely and he was not some studly dude. He attracted a certain type of girl. He had a guitar. He fit a certain mold. But he was not a rock star. And yet, when they were on stage, they acted like rock stars.
Did you want to try out yourself?
I’m afraid of a cappella. I don’t read music and I have a hard time harmonizing. Basically, I’m a melody singer only.
Do you sing karaoke?
Of course. The book of Irene Cara. Anything off the Flashdance soundtrack.
How did this cast come together? You’ve got Rebel Wilson coming off of Bridesmaids, Anna Kendrick was an Oscar nominee for Up in the Air…
We’re definitely catching our actors at such amazing points in their career. I liken it to when I did Wet Hot American Summer. As a young actor, this is the exact type of movie you want to do. It’s like going to camp with a bunch of your friends and making each other laugh and singing and dancing. There’s nothing better than that.
Rebel plays a character called Fat Amy. Did you see every slightly overweight girl in Hollywood for the role?
It’s harder than you would imagine to get young actresses to audition for a role called Fat Amy. But we wanted Rebel from the get-go. And she came in and nailed it. It was a no-brainer. She was one of the very first people we cast.
Has she made you laugh out loud with any improv?
My favorite thing she said is, “She’s the best singer in Tasmania. With teeth.” Like a lot of great quirky people — like Christopher Walken or Robin Williams or Kristen Wiig — she’s a natural clown. I say that with the utmost respect. I’m a huge clown fan.
Let’s talk Hunger Games: Where did you come up with Effie’s voice?
It’s a combination of The Philadelphia Story and Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame.
Rosalind Russell is just amazing. It’s one of my favorite performances ever. I wanted Effie to be really theatrical. I just wanted to make sure she didn’t sound too British. She needed to be a little highfalutin.
Which fans are more intense: A cappella fans or Hunger Games fans?
I would bet there’s a ton of crossover.
Would Effie Trinkett have been in an a cappella group?
Sure. There might be a cappella groups in the Capitol. That’s probably allowed. I think the Capitol wouldn’t find that too threatening.
But not in District 12, right?
They probably do a little barbershop in District 12. They need something to keep their spirits up.
Any chance you’ll go back to 30 Rock?
There’s definitely a chance. I mean, I know essentially what the storyline is. Mary Steenburgen is playing my mom. And that’ll be really fun. And she comes on pretty quickly.
That sounds definite.
They start to deal with it pretty quickly. That I’m there — and they need to get me back. It will be resolved.
You’re producing on Pitch Perfect and are mostly behind the camera. Is it a relief to come to set and not have to go into hair and make-up?
It’s the best.
The local bar in Baton Rouge, the Cove, apparently stays open late for the cast. What goes on there?
I’ve never been.
I don’t believe you.
I’m f—ing exhausted! Every night we go home and I have to do script work. When you’ve been a mom for eight months and you’ve had a couple of those mornings where you drank too many margaritas the night before and you’re trying to deal with your kid in the morning, you quickly realize it’s not worth the late night.
When are you going to direct your own movie?
I have no idea. I have no immediate plans. I directed a porno last night, which was funny.
Yeah, we play this ridiculous porn on the TV in the background of the Treble House [a set piece that the all-male a cappella group in the film call home]. And we came up with a really ridiculous idea. I directed it last night at the Crown Plaza.