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Q&A: Elizabeth Banks Lets Her Inner Tomboy Loose For 'Man on a Ledge'

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We've always loved Elizabeth Banks, but we didn't realize how much until we really pondered her resume. From cult favorites "Wet Hot American Summer" and "The Baxter" to "30 Rock" (and, naturally, her upcoming role in "The Hunger Games"), Banks' projects occupy a shockingly large percentage of our Top 10 Things Ever To Appear on a Screen.

Yes, that's a real list.

Banks' latest role continues her modus operandi of affable informality — you sorta feel like you know the NYPD psychologist talking Sam Worthington down in action thriller "Man on a Ledge." It's that same candor that makes Banks so easy to interview; we heard the best and worst of her "Ledge" preparation ... and got the answers to a few "Hunger Games" questions we were duty-bound to ask.

What was it about "Man on a Ledge" that appealed to you? The action? The cast? The chance to play someone unambiguously kind before tackling a shady character like Effie Trinket in "The Hunger Games?"
[laughs] Um, no, you know what? I had no idea about "Hunger Games" when I was making this. I was mostly drawn to the fact that I get to run around with a gun and chase bad guys and do stunts. It really appealed to the tomboy in me. I've never really been in an action movie in this kind of capacity.

I felt like I could bring something to this character, Lydia Mercer. When I read her, what excited me, was I felt that it was not gender specific. I felt like if it was a dude, you'd be fine too. I love that they added the tension of it being a woman.

She's not some woman in a man's world, apologizing or with a chip on her shoulder. There was just none of that in this film. And she’s like the smartest one in the room, which is always fun.

Elizabeth Banks and Sam Worthington in "Man on a Ledge"
Summit

She's not very popular in the department at the moment — it certainly makes more sense if you factor sexism into her reputation.
Yeah, I think it is a real aspect. I got to speak to a really amazing woman, a negotiator, who was a great resource to me. She's not that old, she's a mom, she's got long hair and she wore a cute Banana Republic suit. She was girly and she wore heels, but she talked about the women on the force, how they deal with it, and how it ... just is what it is and they have to give as good as they get — and they definitely get, you know?

There's an immense sense of camaraderie on the NYPD, as there should be, and I wanted to make sure that was clear — and that I was kind of on the outside.

Let's rewind to your action movie comment. "Man on a Ledge" is basically three movies that converge — and for the most part you were in a quiet police drama, while Jamie Bell was swinging upside down.
Yeah, I'm, like, in a play. It's such a great challenge as an actor. I'm essentially standing in a window the entire time, and you have to make that exciting and interesting and different every minute, because otherwise it's just a completely one-note situation.

[It was fun] to talk a little bit to the negotiators, too, about their bag of tricks. I asked, "Would you realistically flirt with someone?" She said you’d do anything to save their life, whatever you think will get them to engage with you and do what you need them to do.

I was told time is always on your side. So the longer the negotiation goes on, the more likely it is that you can resolve it or it can be resolved physically, like they can go get the guy. So you always kind of wanna draw them out and in this film everyone is so intent on ending the negotiation. So, my character knows that that’s wrong. She just comes in here, and none of this feels right to her, from the get-go.

And what's great is, when you speak to real negotiators, they read [the script] and they go, "Oh yeah, this guy is not a jumper. If he wanted to jump, he would have already jumped, because jumpers jump.  They don't wait for you to put your pants on, take a shower, get in a taxi, get your coffee and come to the window. If they're still standing there they probably have some rational mind that can be helped."

You clearly took your research very seriously.
I heard a horrible story, an effective story, about a negotiator. A fellow police officer sort of had a breakdown and his wife was leaving him, there was a divorce custody battle happening and he took his daughter hostage. These are police officers, so they know he had guns. And the negotiator went in and he did give the daughter up, but then he killed himself. The negotiator, two years later, was so distraught over it for so long, that she then took her own life as well.

I felt a responsibility to ... the negotiators, to the NYPD, to just present a strong and as smart and as capable person as I could on screen.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games"
Lionsgate

That is a horrible story, and a horrible place to make this transition, but we're running out of time. Can we talk about "The Hunger Games" for a minute?
[Laughs] Sure.

Your character, Effie Trinket, is in some ways the instrument of Katniss and Peeta's possible deaths. Her hands pull their names at the Hunger Games' reaping. Were you able to find something to like about her?
She is an absolutely fascinating character. There's so much tension built into her. She's essentially a puppet of the regime. Effie's entire life is given to her at the hands of this totalitarian regime. So she's one of the lucky ones, in that she's in the privileged class, but at the same time, that all can be taken away from her at any moment.

When she comes across this uncontrollable tribute, whose actions reflect on Effie, it creates a lot of tension for Effie.

[Laughs] Effie wants Katniss Everdeen to win the games because that would reflect really well on her. But she does not need a revolutionary on her hands.

How did you flesh her out? Who is movie-Effie?
She is very theatrical and she's outrageous. She's like your old weird great aunt who says all the wrong things at the dinner table, and who's very judgmental and really obsessed with etiquette. She's very much a throwback as a woman. She's pre-feminist, but at the same time she wants things done a certain way. So when things are unraveling around her, she becomes very unraveled. It's going to be a very fun arc to play.

Is that based on anyone?
Auntie Mame — specifically Rosalind Russell's Auntie Mame.

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