Good luck trying to categorize Elizabeth Banks. The versatile 40-year-old actress—and soon-to-be director of Pitch Perfect 2—has handily tackled dramas (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games), comedies (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Zack and Miri Make a Porno), and dramedies (W., People Like Us) alike. "I have no brand," Banks says wryly. "It's a bummer—I'll have to work on that." If Banks had to define herself, she'd go with comedian, which explains why she's so jazzed about the quippy, slapstick-y Walk of Shame (in theaters now).
Banks plays Meghan Miles, an ambitious Los Angeles reporter whose one-night stand with a chiseled hottie (James Marsden) ends with her roaming the streets in the wee hours, the only assets to her name the ones she has squeezed into a snug yellow dress. It's a plum part that explores the cultural roles of women and left its leading lady starving for goat cheese, recalling her days as a cocktail waitress, and rooting for more raunch.
DETAILS: You've definitely done your fair share of raunchy comedies in the past, but you've never had the chance to carry one quite like this. Were you waiting for the right part to come along, or were the parts not necessarily there?
ELIZABETH BANKS: I think the trend in comedy lately is that they have not necessarily been there. I mean, they did a couple of House Bunny–type movies, and things like that. But I was really looking and hoping for this kind of physical, comedic opportunity. I'm a physical comedian, and I don't get to show it off very often. I really like the metaphor of this movie—that this 24-hour walk is about this journey of self-discovery that we're all on. I also really love the Martin Scorsese movie After Hours. It's unlike so many other Scorsese movies, and I'm a big sucker for those sort of 24-hours-in-the-life-of kind of movies. A life-changing encounter can happen at any time.
DETAILS: And obviously there's the theme here of a working girl getting a taste of what it's like to be perceived as a different kind of working girl and the complications that those kind of perceptions can have.
ELIZABETH BANKS: What I love about Meghan Miles is that she doesn't accept the labels slung by everyone else. One of the messages of this movie is that you know who you are inside. She's a good girl—she says it straight out, "I'm a good girl." So the notion that she would ever accept that what she did is somehow shameful is something that we play with in the movie. It doesn't matter what everyone says to her throughout this 24-hour period . . . she knows who she is. And there isn't much shame about any of it at all, actually.
DETAILS: Was there anything that was too raunchy that you weren't willing to do or that was cut? Is that being saved for the unrated BluRay?
ELIZABETH BANKS: I hope there's some unrated stuff! I actually think it's not raunchy enough, to be honest with you. I think we left some raunch on the table. But we had a lot of fun. Certainly, as you can tell from my career, I'm not afraid of any of those things. There's some fearlessness, but I would have pushed the envelope even further. But that's not my call.
DETAILS: I wanted to bring up the yellow dress. Meghan's not only on this wild journey, she also sticks out like a sore thumb.
ELIZABETH BANKS: I think the yellow dress was just always the vision of Steve Brill, the writer-director. It was always yellow in every draft of the script that I ever read. I really love it, and I like it better than red. I wouldn't want to be the scarlet woman, or the scarlet letter. It really speaks to Meghan's personality trait that appealed to me, which is this sunny disposition. The other thing we talked about is there are very small comparisons to The Wizard of Oz—you're on a journey, you meet all these characters, they give you the confidence to make the big choice, and you ultimately realize everything you need is inside of you, right? So the yellow dress, to me, was always a little nod to the Yellow Brick Road.
DETAILS: Between this and The Hunger Games' Effie Trinket, you're becoming someone with a reputation for iconic costumes. However, you've also transformed through hair and costuming in past projects, as Laura Bush in W. and Betty Brant in Spider-Man. Do you think Effie will always stand out as the most memorable?
ELIZABETH BANKS: Yeah, I think whenever you're part of a franchise that big, and the role is that iconic, it becomes the most special. She's one who has a Barbie doll. I think once they make a Barbie out of a character, that's really the special one. [Laughs] I don't think there's ever going to be another role for me like Effie. I just said good-bye to it, and I'm devastated over it.
DETAILS: Well, you're tied to a couple of big-name film brands now. You did voice work in The LEGO Movie, which was a huge success and may have kick-started a series.
ELIZABETH BANKS: Every time I went in to record, we wasted so much time making each other laugh, and there was so much inappropriate language that could never have been in our PG movie. Will Arnett had an entire Batman backstory that involved a lot of S&M clubs. I had so much fun making that film. And again, my character, Wyldstyle, is a really kick-ass female heroine who's complex and isn't one-dimensional. That's what's appealed to me most, including with Meghan in Walk of Shame and working on Pitch Perfect 2—just finding ways to explore different roles for women that are more than just wife or girlfriend.
DETAILS: How's it going with directing the Pitch Perfect sequel? That was big news, and it's gotta be a huge step.
ELIZABETH BANKS: It's a huge undertaking. Sometimes I kick myself, and I'm like, "Wow, it's really great," and other times I'm like, "What were you thinking?" It's a big task, and there's a lot of pressure to make a good movie. I'll do my best with the resources that are available, which are many. I have this amazing cast, and I'm so excited to be telling this story with these women.
I asked a lot of specific people for advice, one of whom was [The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay director] Francis Lawrence, who directed a ton of music videos as he was coming up. He has a lot of really interesting, vast experiences with shooting dance numbers and singing and on-camera performance pieces. So he actually gave me some great advice on how to shoot those sequences.
DETAILS: Walk of Shame is a city movie, and one of my favorite films of yours is Heights, which is very New York–centric.
ELIZABETH BANKS: One of the things I really loved about making this film was getting to explore Los Angeles, my hometown. It's so rare to actually shoot a film there. We shot at night, and we really shot about 80 percent of the movie downtown, which is just this burgeoning hipster land with amazing restaurants and bars. We got to really explore all of that while we were doing this movie and see corners of downtown that I wouldn't normally go to.
All through my twenties, I lived in very walkable cities—Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New York. So this whole idea of a walk of shame, whether doing it or being accused of doing it, is something I'm very familiar with. I was a cocktail waitress, so I went home very late—or very early, as the case may be—in my little black cocktail-waitress dress and definitely looked like I'd been out partying all night. I actually loved those walks. I cherish that time. And I love cities as they're waking up. It's an amazing feeling to be out and about at that time of day.
DETAILS: Is there a new place you discovered while shooting in downtown L.A. that you'd recommend?
ELIZABETH BANKS: Church & State has a honey-lavender-goat-cheese spread that, like, made my life on this movie. I didn't eat a lot on this movie, to be honest with you. You've seen the dress now, so you saw what I was up against, and also, I had to be in my underwear next to James Marsden. So I worked out a lot and dieted, so I really treated myself to this honey-lavender goat cheese.
DETAILS: And then you also have the movie Every Secret Thing, which just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
ELIZABETH BANKS: Yeah, my character in that movie is the total opposite of Meghan. Meghan is big and bold and physical and comedic, and Nancy in Every Secret Thing is very quiet, internal, and conflicted. I just really loved the notion of her stillness, which is not my typical state. I'm a very smiley, upbeat, optimistic person, and that's not Nancy. But I relished that—not having to be so extroverted. It was kind of a relief.
—R. Kurt Osenlund is an arts and entertainment writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him at @AddisonDeTwitt.
• • •