I've been a big fan of Elizabeth Banks since Wet Hot American Summer, when she singlehandedly ruined barbecue sauce forever. Since then she's been shifting from comedies like Role Models, to the award-winning drama Seabiscuit, to her recurring role in Sam Raimi's amazing Spider-Man movies. This week, Elizabeth Banks takes on one of her biggest challenges yet playing a New York cop trying to talk Sam Worthington out of suicide in Asger Leth's heist thriller Man on a Ledge. We talked in the early morning – 9:00am is early for me, anyway – to discuss what she learned from real police negotiators, the importance of "bed head," her upcoming directorial debut in Game 43 and why she's dressed like that in the upcoming adaptation of Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games.
CRAVEONLINE: So before we begin, I was doing some research on the Internet, and I have to ask, because if this is true, then it’s the coolest thing ever – were you really in an episode of Finders Keepers?
ELIZABETH BANKS: [Laughs] I am going to break your heart, because no, I was not.
That’s a lie?! Aw…
That’s a lie.
I actually have no idea where it even comes from. I literally have no idea where that came from.
I’m sorry for bringing that up that pain. So, Man on a Ledge.I don’t think I’ve seen you play hostage negotiator before.
No, I never have done that.
Have you even played a cop before?
I never have played a cop, no. One of my favorite things about this film, was one, I get to run around with a gun, chase bad guys, and do stunts and wire work two hundred feet above New York City. And number two, I am nobody’s girlfriend or wife.
Yeah, which is nice. There’s some chemistry, but you don’t even fall for Sam Worthington, really.
Oh yeah. I mean, I flirt with him, for sure.
Oh, so would I…
I worked with some actual negotiators before we started, and I asked them, “Would you flirt with a guy on a ledge?” and they were like, “Heck yeah! If it will save his life! You use every weapon in the arsenal. Whatever you need.” So I got, like, professional permission to do it.
It sounds like a really nerve-wracking job. What else did you learn from people who do actually this [for a living]?
Oh, I learned a lot. I have to say, a lot of my character is very much based on the conversations I had with the negotiators. So much of what they told me, I tried to put into the movie. But their job is really depressing. A few people have asked me, “Do you think you could really talk someone off a ledge?” and I was like, “I really pray I’m never in that situation.” You don’t want that kind of responsibility. [Laughs]
What do you think your tactic would be? Actually, if you flirted with them would be pretty straightforward and effective.
Yeah, you’re going for empathy. “The next hour of your life could be totally different. Look, you’ve already met me, isn’t this better?” It’s all about tomorrow’s another day, the sun’s gonna shine again, and let’s just keep going.
There’s a cute moment when your character is introduced. You’re in bed, you wake up, and you have actual bed-head. Normally when a woman in a movie wakes up, it’s like their stylist must have stayed over and worked on them over the night.
[Laughs] Yeah, I actually wanted it to be even worse looking, but they were like “No, that’s good enough.” I wanted it to be like – do you remember Helen Hunt in Pay it Forward? You probably don’t, why would anyone? That movie was so bad. Helen Hunt has this one great moment in Pay it Forward that I totally wanted to do at the beginning of this movie – but they were like “No, that’s too much” – where her mascara is just everywhere, and she looks like a bad hooker. So I got to have my “bender” look, but it wasn’t so upsetting. I think it tells you everything you need to know about Lydia Mercer: she’s on a bender, life’s not going so great, she does not want to go to work today.
Yeah, I always like that. Like John McClane in Die Hard 3, where he just has this huge headache, and he has to deal with it.
Exactly right. I’m just hung over and I don’t want to be there, and now I’ve got this guy asking for me directly. And also I lost my last “jumper,” and so I’m not feeling very confident about going to work. The great thing for me about this movie is that it’s a redemption story for my character, as much as it is for [Sam’s]. We’re relying on each other to redeem each other. There’s a lot of connection between us, which was great.
It was a really fun movie. The crowd I was with really responded to it and had a blast. I hope it’s going to do really well.
I’m legally required to ask about Hunger Games.
[Laughs] I play Effie Trinket, it comes out March 23rd. What do you want to know?
Well, I haven’t read the book, so can you tell me a little bit about your character and we’ll go from there?
Well, Hunger Games takes place in a future American that has become a totalitarian society. The actual Hunger Games are televised events. It’s basically Survivor, but with Battle Royale. Essentially it’s a fight to the death between these kids. And I play their publicist! [Laughs]
So you’re not trying to talk them off a ledge, you’re actually trying to talk them onto that ledge.
Well, they don’t have a choice, they’re going into the games. I’m trying to make it the best game it can be. I’m trying to put the best face on the whole situation that’s possible. You know, “it’s actually honorable to go into the games,” it’s their duty. The future America is called Panem, and it’s their duty to Panem to go into this game. And of course they don’t want to be there, because they’re going to die, and I’m sort of like “Hey, it’s gonna be great! You’ll be famous!” I have a very weird character, because she’s sort of a puppet for the regime on one side, but on the other side, she’s very much rooting for the kids.
I saw some stills of you in the film and you have a very distinctive look. Is that just the style in the future?
Everything that we did in the movie is based very specifically on the book. We are very faithful to the book. So Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games, came up with all this crazy, kinky stuff for what she wanted everybody to look like, and we put it into the movie. So don’t blame me.
Oh, I’m not complaining. I think it’s hot.
We all sort of collaborated […] Everybody who reads the book has their own image in their mind and interprets it in their own way. So our version of Effie is, it’s like six different people’s interpretations, mixed together and put into this.
I’m really looking forward to seeing it. I keep looking at this book and thinking, “Oh, I should read that, but I’m so busy…”
It will take you five hours to read the whole thing. You will not be able to put it down.
Were you a fan before you signed on to the movie?
Yes, I’m actually a proud fan. I was an early adopter of the books. I read the books long before they were bestsellers. It was given to me by a publishing friend, and so I had checked them out forever ago.
Well I think we’re almost out of time, but I would like to ask what you’ve got coming up that you’re really excited about besides Hunger Games.
I’m really excited about What To Expect When You’re Expecting, which comes out in May. And I’m really excited, because I have my directorial debut on a short film for the Farrelly Brothers’ Movie 43, and I’m because I’m the only female director in the bunch.
That’s so cool! Can you tease the film a bit?
My film is called Middle School Date, and it stars Chloe Grace Moretz.
We’ll just leave the rest of it as a surprise.
Movie 43 is kind of like Kentucky Fried Movie, it’s a collection of fun, funny movies all put together, and it was directed by Brett Ratner, and Peter Farrelly, and me!