Video/Q&A: Elizabeth Banks of 'People Like Us'

RedEye movie critic, music editor

Even in small roles, Elizabeth Banks often has a major impact on her movies. Consider her memorable, unbridled scene in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” in which she teaches Steve Carell’s character about the, uh, talents of a handheld showerhead, or the fact that the romantic trajectory of “Wet Hot American Summer” results largely from Banks’ character tasting like a burger.

“It’s true,” the 38-year-old actress says with a laugh. “I think that Paul [Rudd]’s character just wanted a little side strange.”

Now, of course, Banks takes up far more screen time, showcasing killer comedy skills (“Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” “30 Rock”) and increasingly evolving dramatic flair (“The Next Three Days,” “The Hunger Games”).

In “People Like Us,” opening Friday, Banks delivers one of the year’s best performances so far as Frankie, a single mom who appreciates the help offered when Sam (Chris Pine) comes into her life. One problem: Frankie doesn’t know that Sam is her half-brother, and he’s arrived to deliver money left behind by their recently deceased father.

At the Peninsula Hotel, Banks talked about finding out you have a sibling, her fixation on Channing Tatum’s abs and the rumored “Wet Hot” prequel.

It seems like you’re very excited for “Magic Mike,” which I love because so many people would be like, “It’s opening on the same day as my movie; I can’t say anything about it.”
[Laughs.] I’m just excited for Channing Tatum’s abs. I’m always excited for his abs. I think he’s funny as heck. I think he’s a really fun actor. I’ve been loving watching his evolution as a leading man.

I asked readers what I should ask you today, and @ItsJustJill55 wanted to know what your husband thought of “the hot and heavy on stage” with the “Magic Mike” cast during your MTV Movie Awards acceptance speech.
[Laughs.] The hot and heavy? I love that they think we got so hot and heavy. He’s used to my shenanigans, A. B. It was all in good fun. And C. He was much more concerned that when they panned away to the shot of him, it was not him. It was actually my agent. So he never got on television, which I think was a relief to him in a big way.

Tell me about the challenge of your “People Like Us” role. Frankie has so much going on internally, and you’re playing someone who gradually grows attracted to her brother, who she doesn’t know is her brother.
[Laughs.] Yes, we walk that fine line, don’t we? We really do. It’s an emotional roller-coaster, this movie. I knew when I read it that there would be some really tough days. What I loved about the movie, what really drew me into this film, other than that I really recognized Frankie—I play a struggling single mom in this film who really just has the weight of the world on her shoulders and is just trying to figure it out. And I think that’s really relatable to a lot of people. I definitely related to it. But also that at the end of the day everybody wants to know that their daddy loved them. This is a movie about the damage that gets inflicted on all of us when we’re kids. And how your past does not have to determine your future. If you forgive, if you recognize that people do that best that they can in the circumstances they are given, you can have relief. You can move on.

It was spun off of writer-director Alex Kurtzman’s story of meeting a sibling he didn’t know he had. I asked Alex and Chris Pine if they had heard of any real situations of people who had met someone they didn’t know was their sibling, or started dating someone and found out, “Oh no, we’re fifth cousins,” and they hadn’t. Have you?
[Laughs.] I have a friend who was adopted and it turns out, this is completely random, she had another sister that was also adopted, same parents, but they never knew each other. They were a couple years apart, obviously. They went to high school together their entire lives and knew each other and did not know they were sisters, until one of them when she was 19 went and found her biological mom and the biological mom said, “You have other siblings and they were also adopted by these families.” And she was like, “I know this one.”

So what happened?
They met the mom and they were friends for a really long time actually.

Better than finding out your boyfriend is your brother.
Yes. That’s a much better story. It’s a much easier thing to swallow.

I’m excited about the possible “Wet Hot American Summer” prequel. Has there been any news on that?
I can tell you certain things. Because I have had conversations about it. It exists. It’s real, people. It’s not like Bigfoot. It’s real.

Bigfoot’s not real?
No, Bigfoot is real. You just don’t get to see him. I’ve actually seen something that gives me evidence that this is real. I have no idea if it’ll ever come together, but it takes place on the New Year’s Eve just prior to the summer at camp.

What should we learn about your character Lindsay’s past in this movie?
I’d like to know why she got so slutty. I think that would be really fun to find out. It’s always fun to find out about someone’s super-slutty past.

You have a great laugh. What makes you laugh the hardest?
My kid makes me laugh really hard. He’s very funny without trying. Anybody who doesn’t try to be funny and is makes me laugh.

What’s something he did recently that amused you?
He likes to spin right now. He’s doing a lot of spinning, but when he comes out of the spin he has no control of where he’s going. He literally runs head-first into walls.

I read you want to celebrate his 15th birthday by skydiving.
We were just talking about this this morning actually. I was saying, I feel like skydiving, or all those things, you should wait until you’re around 70. So [when he’s] 15, I’ll [need to] be a little older.

So you’ve never done it?
I’ve never done it. I would have done it before he was born. Now it’s completely irresponsible. You just can’t do it as a mom. But I feel like if I get through raising him and I’m like 70 and I jump out of an airplane, it will be great, and if I go, I had a good life. So that’s a great way to go out at 70. [Laughs.]

How much does that attitude impact risks you will or won’t take on the job? When I saw Tom Cruise at the top of the Burj Khalifa in “Mission Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” I was like, “Wow, how nice of his family to be OK with that.”
[Laughs.] I did a movie called “Man on a Ledge” and we were on wires 24 stories above the pavement in New York on a ledge that was like 17 inches. Running through your mind is like, “Human error happens. Wires break. Crap happens.” So there always is that small percentage. Safety first. You could get hit by a bus, don’t forget. [Knocks on table.] Let’s not get hit by buses. You know, driving your car is more dangerous on a daily basis than anything I do in a movie.

How many people work on your website?
Not many.

You do so much, and it’s all so great.
You know, I’ve got apps. I’m mobile. [Laughs.] I was just literally tweaking something right now about my “Leno” appearance last night. I’m going to put something up about that. It’s important to me that all of the content be authentic. We try and be clear when it’s not something from me, but most of it comes from me. I really love the outreach to the fans. I like writing. As an artist it’s another outlet for me. That’s why it’s so important for me to do the job.

What’s an interaction with a fan from that outreach that you remember and appreciated?
Actually in real life I very recently was standing in line at a coffee shop [in L.A.] and someone turned around and said, “I really enjoy you. Can I buy you your coffee?” I thought that was the sweetest thing. I said, “Keep your money. Don’t buy me my coffee. You made my day anyway.”

On Chicago: “This is my third time being here. One of the times I was here I was in this hotel. And the other time I got to visit friends and ride a bike all along the shore. It was great.”
What she’d do with unlimited time here: “The museums, I think. I don’t remember what that area is called with the cool mirror ball. [Me: Millennium Park.] Thank you. Millennium Park. I’d spend a lot of time just hanging out there.”
Something people will be excited for in “The Hunger Games” sequel “Catching Fire”: “We go on tour and we tour the districts. So you’re going to get a glimpse of some of the other districts. I think that’s going to be really eye-opening and fun. I think the capital really comes to life in this one.”
If it’s better to maintain the same director throughout a franchise or change it up. [Francis Lawrence takes over for Gary Ross on “Catching Fire.”]: “I don’t know if anything’s better than the other. I think every franchise is different. I think I’m a big fan of fresh eyes on anything. So we have some great fresh eyes coming in, which is going to be really fun. And you have to remember we still have the same producing team. We still have the same actors. There’s going to be a lot of consistency in the movies no matter what. I think it’s always fun to bring in some fresh blood.”
Her response to the notion of running for office on a ticket with Alec Baldwin: “Oh. Jeez. No. Is he electable? [Laughs.] He lived in the ‘80s! I feel like anyone who lived in the ‘80s has got some serious skeletons in their dancehall closet. … I guess never say never to anything, but it’s not anything I’m working toward.”
A favorite Paul Rudd story after working with him five times: “Gosh. [Laughs.] I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t want to out him in any way. He likes to take ridiculous photos on his iPhone with his finger over your face that looks like his buttocks are sitting on your head. And he has a vast collection of these photos. Of many, many, many people. I have one posted on my website, so you can go find it if you want to. But imagine that with like everyone. ‘Cause he’s done it to everyone he’s ever met.”
An iconic memory from “30 Rock”: “I spent a day recently hanging out with not only Alec Baldwin but Ted Danson who was there to hang out with Mary Steenburgen who plays my mom on the show. That’s a pretty great day, just hanging out with icons of America television. [Laughs.] I’m going to cherish that fondly.”
Something else she’d like to do: “I’d love to be in a musical, and I’d love to do anything by Oscar Wilde … It’s just always really fun to sing and dance. It requires all of your talents to come together.”
Guilty pleasure movie: “The original ‘Weekend at Bernie’s.’ I’ve never even seen the second one. Why bother? The first one’s amazing. [Laughs.] The guy’s dead, they drag him around. I mean, come on. I just think it’s completely outrageous. [Laughs.] The whole premise of it makes me laugh just even thinking about it. [Laughs.]”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U @mattpais


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