The actress-turned-producer describes her latest project, the feature film Pitch Perfect.
Actress-producer Elizabeth Banks
Tavis: Pleased to welcome Elizabeth Banks to this program. “The Hunger Games” and “30 Rock” star serves as both actress and producer on her latest project, a new comedy called “Pitch Perfect.” The film opened today in select cities with more coming onboard next week. Here now some scenes from “Pitch Perfect.”
Tavis: So a good trailer to me is a trailer that you see and you pretty much get what the story line’s all about [laugh]. That’s a very good trailer.
Elizabeth Banks: Thank you, yeah.
Tavis: I think I get it.
Banks: Well, we were going for making you laugh.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah.
Banks: It’s a very funny, funny movie. It’s essentially about this group of misfit girls to sort of overcome and triumph, of course, a very classic tale in a new setting, I think, the world of a cappella.
Tavis: You know, one of the things I thought – I love a cappella, by the way, so I’m anxious to see this.
Banks: Oh, good.
Tavis: But one of the things I thought when I saw this is that there’s something about – maybe it’s just me, but I was in a conversation about this not long ago about the fact that there’s something in the ether, there’s something in Americana right now that is being driven so much by competition.
Competition’s always been a product of, you know, American lifestyle. I get that. But it’s like everything now is a competition. I mean, it works, obviously, for ratings and for TV shows, etc., but what’s driving this competition thing in the story lines?
Banks: Wow, what a good question. I mean, look, competition has built-in drama [laugh]. You don’t have to look too far. People like to win in life. I think it goes back to the parent who goes, “Does your four-year-old read? Well, my four-year-old reads” and the little baseball team.
I mean, I’m someone who grew up believing in not everybody gets a trophy. It’s okay to lose. Losing teaches you something. Having to try and going through the trials and tribulations to actually overcome, to get there to win, to triumph, that’s what makes life interesting.
I mean, I think we’re all trying to win in a way and then we’re all trying to lead sort of happy, healthy, fun, interesting lives. That takes a lot of work, doesn’t it, Tavis?
Tavis: What you said a moment ago, I’m fascinated by what you said. I’m always fascinated about the back stories to anybody’s life, but particularly when they go back into their youth.
So when you said that you were raised in an environment and raised in such a way where you came to value what it meant to not always come in first, I’m dying to know more about what you meant by that.
Banks: Well, I just mean – you know, I played sports my whole life and then I broke my leg sliding into third base actually playing softball. After I broke my leg, I had to do something else because I was used to sort of that sense of team. I was not always on a winning team, but I loved that sense of like we’re all here to accomplish a goal together.
So I got into theater because it’s the same sense of team, right? We’re gonna put on a show and we’re gonna entertain some folks and we’ve got to get it ready by Thursday at 8 or we’re gonna fail. Afterwards, everybody’s so excited and we did it and people clapped.
So it’s the same sense of team and I think, in life, you got to build a team. You need a good team around you all the time. It’s all about your collaborators and I think about that now as an actress and a producer. Who am I gonna surround myself with?
Failing, first of all, helped me with my sense of humor. You can’t take these things too seriously [laugh]. You know, you got to play it off, you got to let it roll off your back.
I just love the sense of team that it takes to win. Obviously, it’s more fun to win, but I grew up still getting ice cream even if we lost.
Tavis: That’s cool. That didn’t happen for me [laugh]. That did not happen for me.
Banks: We didn’t get the trophy, but we got the, well, let’s all go for ice cream.
Tavis: That’s not a part of my narrative. So you mentioned, of course, the acting and the producing. On this project, you’re a producer. How did that happen for you? I mean, it’s not uncommon to see actors who want to become producers, but you’re actually doing this, so how did it happen for you?
Banks: Partially, it came out of – two things it came out of. Partially, it came out of my desire to work with my husband. My husband was an investment banker. He went to business school. When we were getting married nine years ago, I was sort of just starting my acting career and traveling constantly. I literally was never home.
Even to this day, I spend a good half of a year away from my home. So I was trying to figure out how are we gonna get married and have a life together if you have a nine-to-five job with two weeks’ vacation and I’m never here? It just wasn’t gonna work.
He’s a very creative person and he has a real sort of eye for good stories. He found “Pitch Perfect.” This movie was a book proposal that came across his desk and he thought this would be a great story.
Before this, we produced a movie for Disney called “The Surrogates” which was based on a very cool graphic novel that he had read. You know, I thought like he would really succeed in this business venture and he has and we have together and we work really well together. I was never afraid of it.
A lot of people ask me, “How do you work with your husband? I could never work with my husband.” It was never a question that we would do all right together as a team. So it came a little bit out of that.
Then it came out of my desire to tell stories. I feel I’m a trained storyteller. As an actor, I do consider it a craft. You know, I’ve studied it in school, I went to drama school, I have an MFA in acting. I’m stupidly over-educated for what I do.
But it did instill in me a real sense of pride in the craft of acting and in storytelling and sort of holding up a mirror to people and entertaining people and making people laugh and improving peoples’ lives. I wanted to do that at a level where I wasn’t just responsible for the role.
I’m going to shoot “The Hunger Games.” I’m leaving tomorrow to shoot the second one. I play Effie Trinket. She’s an amazing character. I love doing it, but when I go to that set, I am only responsible for playing Effie Trinket to the best of my ability [laugh].
That’s a great job, but it’s very gratifying to be with the project from the seed, you know, from that book proposal across the desk and seeing the project in my mind’s eye, finding the great collaborators, finding the writer to write it, in this case, Kay Cannon who writes on “30 Rock,” finding a great director to direct it, giving the actors jobs.
I work in a business of “no,” so to hear “yes” and to be able to say yes to other people is a great feeling, a really gratifying, amazing feeling, and that’s why I produce.
Tavis: I was going to go there anyway, but since you raised it, I’ll follow you in. What to your mind made “Hunger Games” work so well?
Banks: Did you read the book? I loved the book [laugh].
Tavis: I didn’t see the book.
Banks: Those books captured everything for me. I think that Katniss Everdeen is truly an amazing, modern heroine. She is fighting for survival which is, you know, as old as the ages and fighting for her family. She has an amazing moral compass. She also gets to fall in love. She gets to win and triumph and take an entire nation with her.
I mean, it is an epic, epic story for today’s times in the way that the Greeks were writing epic stories that we’re still talking about, that Shakespeare was writing epic stories that we’re still talking about. I think that Suzanne Collins created one of those amazing heroines that people just felt attached to.
Tavis: I read in preparation for our conversation you have six films?
Banks: In 2012.
Tavis: In 2012? Six.
Banks: Yeah, I’m sorry, America [laugh]. It’s too much of a good thing.
Tavis: How is that possible?
Banks: You know, you don’t make them like that. They come out when they come out.
Tavis: I’ll give you five dollars if you can name all six of them.
Banks: Okay, I can do it by the calendar. “Man on a Ledge,” “The Hunger Games,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” “Pitch Perfect”…
Tavis: Getting tough.
Banks: No, no, “The Details” – is there six? Hang on, there’s one I’m missing in there somewhere. Oh, gosh, I don’t know what the other one is. What is it?
Tavis: You owe me five dollars [laugh].
Banks: [Laugh] I still owe you five dollars. There’s so many, I can’t even name them all. What is it?
Off-screen: “People Like Us.”
Banks: “People Like Us!” Oh, one of my favorites, came out in June.
Tavis: I can tell [laugh].
Banks: It came out in June. Now I know. I’m sorry. I forgot that one, with Chris Pine. It’s a great movie, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Thank you.
Tavis: I’ll take my five dollars after the show, by the way.
Banks: All right. It’s coming to you in quarters.
Tavis: I’ll take it, I’ll take it. In L.A., the meters and at the laundromat. But you really can’t plan that, six films in one year.
Banks: Yeah, you can’t plan on it. I mean, I shot them over a long period of time, all of them. Yeah, they’ve sort of all come out. I mean, look, I’m very grateful. I think they show a lot of range and I’m certainly constantly sort of testing my limits as to what I can do. Six is a lot. It was a big year.
Tavis: I am struck by something you said a moment ago or earlier in this conversation which I do from, again, preparing for our conversation. But you’re about 10 years into this.
That’s a lot of work in a short period of time. It’s a lot of acting work and it is a lot of producing work. So you jumped in feet first into acting and in producing. We’ll come to your family in just a second, the baby and all that.
But what do you make of the fact that you have been fortunate, blessed – you tell me – that 9 or 10 years into this, that’s a pretty good track record.
Banks: Thank you, first of all. I came into this for the long run [laugh]. I hope I’m Jessica Tandy, you know. I hope I’m onstage and I fall over at 85 or something with everyone applauding thinking that it was a joke, you know. There she goes again, and I’m just gone. I’ve gone to heaven. I’d like to be doing it for as long as possible. It’s a great job and a great life.
You know, I was given advice very young to find something that you love and just pursue and do it and the money will come. That happened for me and I’m really grateful, but also never satisfied [laugh].
You know, I still think there’s a lot to do, a lot to accomplish. I think there’s a whole range of roles I’d like to play. You know, I’m definitely much more jaded than I was 10 years ago when I came into this business when I thought, oh, I can do anything and it’s gonna be amazing.
Then the realities. It’s called show business and it is a business. Really coming to terms with being a businesswoman, that was interesting. That was fun and interesting in really trying to understand what that means.
By the way, there are great sort of artists, people out there who just act and that’s what they do. I heard an amazing interview recently with Frank Langella who I think is incredible.
Tavis: I love him [laugh].
Banks: He was sort of talking about, you know, the old school, all the guys he came up with, Christopher Walken, Pacino and De Niro and just how nobody confused any of them. They were all singular in what they did and what they brought to the craft and all sort of pursued their own paths.
What he was really talking about, interestingly, and he didn’t quite realize it, I don’t think, was branding, was modern day branding which is now what everybody sort of wants and aspires to, like I do rom-coms or do this.
Christopher Walken? There’s no one else like Christopher Walken, there’s no one else like Frank Langella. I’m going for there’s no one else like Elizabeth Banks [laugh]. I don’t know when I’ll get there, but that’s what I’m going for.
Tavis: So I take that and that’s not unwise in the world that we live today. But what’s your brand statement going to be?
Banks: I can do anything [laugh]. Unfortunately, I would love to be doing more romantic comedies. I’m gonna focus, I think – you know, I love making comedies. They’re really fun. I think it’s what people know me the best for.
But right now, I’m Effie. You know, I’m Effie Trinket. I’m gonna ride that right now and have fun with it.
Tavis: So about the “30 Rock” experience.
Tavis: How much have you enjoyed this?
Banks: Look, I was onset this past year with Elaine Stritch, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Mary Steenburgen, and her husband happened to be hanging out, Ted Danson.
When I was in drama school, if you told me I was gonna go to the set someday and I was gonna hang out with all these icons of film and television, I mean, I would have punched you in the face and said stop, it’s never gonna happen.
That’s an actor’s dream to be able to do that. I’ve had some amazing experiences with, you know, people I could not respect more. I have the utmost respect for everybody that I work with on that show. It’s an amazing show.
Tavis: I want to circle back to this producing thing again because I’m struck by – since you raised the issue of branding. I’m struck and fascinated by the way you think, the way you process. I can tell you and your husband are in this together, obviously.
How important is it these days in this business – not that it was ever unimportant, but how much more important these days to be in charge of, to be in control of how you are branded as opposed to leaving that up to, say, an agent or a publicist?
I mean, I get the sense that you have a very much hands-on role in how you are advancing, how you are being branded, etc., etc.
Banks: I think honestly it’s as important as it needs to be for any individual person. There are people who work a lot harder than me and they have amazing brands. Madonna comes to mind, Jennifer Lopez comes to mind.
There are women who are killing it. I mean, working, working, working. I work really hard, but I also am trying to find balance and I’m trying not to let it be so important that it takes over my whole life, frankly.
Really, that’s what it comes down to. I’m really trying for balance. I’m trying to balance acting work that really invigorates me, you know, with the work that pays the bills and with work that I feel furthers me to keep working.
You know, it’s complicated and nobody has one path. I think it’s as important as you want it to be. I don’t know. If you think of this as a business as I do in a certain way, it’s a double-edged sword. I think of it as a business. It’s show business.
But I do think I’m an artist. My acting gives me my self-worth. It’s what I came here to do. But, you know, it’s complicated. You have to find a balance between those things, I think, to have longevity. That’s what I care about.
I care about the longevity. I think being branded too soon, too early or too tightly, puts you in a box and then that’s not interesting.
Tavis: Would you be happy just doing the producing thing at some point?
Banks: Maybe [laugh].
Tavis: Yeah, but no time soon.
Banks: Probably not. I still love acting. I’m sure I’ll go to the theater when I’m older. There are so many great roles out there for women of a certain age when I get there.
I would love to do a Hedda Gabler and a Lady Macbeth. There are so many great roles in the theater that I would love to do someday. I think I have a lot to offer still right now.
Tavis: So how’s this balancing act working out with the family now that you have?
Banks: You know, constant balancing. I think it takes a village. I think women forget that literally less than, what, a hundred years ago, we didn’t go to work. We raised our families and we did it with our sisters and our grandmothers and our aunts.
I was raised that way. I literally did not have a babysitter that was not related to me, never. You know, I lived on the same street as my grandparents and my aunt and uncle and my other aunt and uncle and all my cousins.
Tavis: Which is where?
Banks: In Pittsfield, Massachusetts. You know, two big families that I come from, Irish Catholic families, and lots of people around. So I had tons of cousins and uncles and aunts and everybody watched everybody.
So I was raised in a village and I think it’s really important to put that village together, whatever that means now. You know, I’m very separated from my family here, but you have to find great people to bring into your kid’s life, to bring into your life. We have lovely people that work for us and help us.
I also think it’s become oddly more difficult for women to ask for help. We’ve sort of been conditioned to do it all and get it all for yourself. I don’t think it’s possible [laugh]. I’ve had to really come to terms with like help me, please help me, I can’t do everything.
Tavis: Did you get a chance to read this summer – speaking of this point, this big debate? Anne-Marie Slaughter from Princeton and the sister with Mark Zuckerberg.
Banks: Yeah, I can’t remember her name either, but the “You Can’t Have it All” article. Is that what you’re referring to?
Tavis: Yeah, yeah.
Banks: Yeah. Look, I think women right now are in a very interesting place in time. We’re getting educations in unprecedented rates, higher education especially, and we’re outside of the home. You know, I think women are finding joy in lots of different places, but it’s unusual.
You know, we have however many thousands of years now of pretty strict roles. You make babies, you feed them, you clothe them, you take care of them. There were times when women hunted and gathered.
I think it’s all sort of coming around, like let’s have an actual partnership, 50-50. Let’s figure out how to like move forward here and do it all together.
Tavis: I think what you and your husband have, though, is not typical, though. It’s a beautiful thing, but I’m not sure how typical it is.
Banks: I don’t know. There are a lot of husband-wife producing teams. Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall come to mind, you know, who work in this business. Look, a great marriage is a great partnership.
It’s a great team, whether that partnership is I go to work and make all the money and you stay home and take care of the home and the family, and we value that equally. I think that’s something that isn’t quite happening. You know, putting a lot of value in home versus work versus, you know.
Look, it’s all driven by money, I guess. The housewife doesn’t make money. She’s certainly adding value to the world, but the society values the moneymakers.
Tavis: So with six projects out now, do you have any idea what the next one is going to be?
Banks: [Laugh] I do.
Tavis: What’s number seven?
Banks: Seven. Gosh, I don’t know what’s gonna come out next on the calendar, but I’ve been doing some voice work. I just started working on an animated Leggo movie, actually.
Tavis: You liking it?
Banks: I’m working with Chris Pratt and Morgan Freeman.
Tavis: Oh, well, he’s the best.
Banks: And Will Arnett, just funny, amazing vocal talents and we’re all hanging out in the studio and just laughing.
Tavis: I’ve never talked to an actor who does not love animation. They all love the voice-overs. They love it.
Banks: It’s really fun to do. Well, it’s anything goes. You can make mistakes ’cause they can fix them and you can re-record. You know, it’s very freeing and really fun and you get to see yourself as a little animated. I’m a little Leggo now. I have a kid, so I can’t wait for him to see that.
Tavis: Elizabeth Banks has a new project out. It’s called “Pitch Perfect” that she produces. Basically, if you go to the movie theater and just close your eyes and just pick anything up on the board, she’s probably in it with six projects out in one year. Good to have you on the program.
Banks: Thank you so much.
Tavis: Glad to have you here.
Banks: Thank you.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.
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