“I’m not so much your typical artiste,” Elizabeth Banks says, and then lets slip an infectious laugh. “I really love what I do, and I feel very gratified by it. And I love creating characters. I think, frankly, my career is more the career of a character actor.”
Not to disagree, but Banks — lithe and blessed with runway-model features — is not your typical character actress. Since her breakout role as Beth, the slightly unhinged sex addict who attempts to seduce Steve Carell’s character in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, she has earned a reputation for playing characters that showcase her ability to be feisty, funny and smart on screen.
“I just wrapped playing Effie Trinket,” Banks says, “and that was heartbreaking for me. She was one of my all-time-favourite characters that I’ve played.” That would be the kooky-yet-effervescent escort to the District 12 tributes in The Hunger Games and its two sequels.
Effie’s various bizarre costumes and multi-coloured hairdos are a long way from the look of Banks’s new film, Walk of Shame. In almost every scene in it, Banks wears a canary-yellow sheath dress with an impossibly high hemline, one her character, Meghan Miles, has borrowed from a friend as being appropriately “slutty” for her evening plans — only to wind up wearing it through a long and eventful next day.
“It was a difficult dress to work in, mostly because there was nowhere to put your microphone,” Banks deadpans. “I loved it. It was very iconic. We went through eight of them.”
The sight of Meghan struggling through an agonising series of ordeals in the virtually Dayglo dress is all but irresistible. Meghan is an ambitious television anchor determined to break out of local television into the big leagues. At the end of a bad day — she is rejected for a possible new position at a major network and discovers that her boyfriend has left her — she hits a nightclub with two girlfriends and ends up in bed with a handsome writer (James Marsden).
Then Meghan learns that the network is reconsidering her and wants her back for an audition the next day — but she is inadvertently locked out of the writer’s Los Angeles apartment in the wee hours of the night. Without her purse or telephone, Meghan begins a dishevelled, epic race back to her office, pinballing from a crack den to a massage parlour to a synagogue, encountering prostitutes, drug lords and cops, among others.
“I loved the Scorsese movie that this is sort of based on, After Hours (1985),” Banks says. “That’s happened to me. I’ve had a night when you get stuck with people you don’t really know or trust, and you just want to go home and the night just keeps going on and on.”
The film is not all laughs and pratfalls, however. For Banks there’s a takeaway lesson. “We all get negativity and rejection thrown at us in our lives,” she says. “I think that part of the message of the movie is, ‘Look, it works out. Get through this one night and then the sun will come up. Tomorrow’s a new day’.”
A magna cum laude graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Banks adds: “As an actor, I remember, getting into the business, you hear ‘no’ a lot. You hear ‘All your dreams don’t come true’ or ‘You need a boob job’. So stay true to yourself and persevere.”
Next up for Banks is Love & Mercy, in which she’ll play Melinda Ledbetter, wife of singer/songwriter Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. She is also scouting locations for Pitch Perfect 2, the sequel to her 2012 hit, which she is directing as well as producing.
“Right now I’m location scouting with a bunch of dudes and a van,” she says. “I can’t wait to get the actors here and make things come alive, have fun, find jokes and find characters. It’s going to be great.”