Aside from her chops as both a dramatic and comedic actress, Elizabeth Banks made her directorial debut in Pitch Perfect 2. Her production company was also behind both films and is, she says, “hard at work developing Pitch Perfect 3.” While the role of Effie in The Hunger Games series catapulted Banks into super-fame territory, her well-loved guest spot as Sal on Modern Family earned her a 2015 Emmy nom, something the actress says she had “zero expectation” of getting.
“I’ve been friends with Jesse Tyler Ferguson for a very long time, probably over 15 years,” Banks says, explaining how she became involved with Modern Family at its very beginning. “We were at a birthday party in Palm Springs and I knew he had booked a pilot–the Modern Family pilot. I was hanging out with Jason Winer who directed the pilot of Modern Family and we were joking around and drinking and it sort of came up like, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if you were their fun drinking friend on the show?’ We talked about it back then and a few weeks later Jason Winer said, ‘I wrote it. It’s in the script. You want to come do it?’ The show hadn’t even premiered yet.”
The role of Sal turned out to be both fun and powerful. “I have so much fun doing it,” Banks says. “I really loved when Sal got married–I thought that show was a really great statement about gay marriage. At the time, it was not legal federally and we had screwed up in California and we hadn’t passed gay marriage here. I think it was a real opportunity to just talk about marriage and Mitch and Cam and what marriage is. You know, to let Sal–who’s crazy and married the guy after knowing him for a minute–she’s able to go get married and Mitch and Cam, who are in a committed relationship and raising a child, are not able to get married. I thought it was a really great episode.”
Despite the serious underlying theme of the episode, one of Banks’ favorite lines came out of it, she says. “At a certain point, Jesse jumped on Eric (Stonestreet)’s back and I just improv-ed, like, ‘Oh, that answers that question.’ That was probably my favorite moment that I’ve ever had as Sal. The whole crew fell out.”
There’s also the fact that fans constantly point out the physical similarities between Banks and her Modern Family co-star Julie Bowen–is that a source of hilarity on set? “Yeah,” Banks says, “I don’t want to deny that we’re both petite blondes who are around the same age and moms. So it’s slightly undeniable. It’s sort of one of those like, ‘You all look alike.’ Well we don’t really though, do we?”
Banks modestly places the emphasis on her character’s development as a reason for her nomination, saying, “I think partially I got nominated because it was a turning point for Sal. It was a little bit of Sal’s redemption in this show. It was all about, ‘Is she a little bit reformed, or is she still a party girl with a baby on her hip?’ I think it was fun to assume that she was still a party girl with a baby on her hip and then realize that babies change you. I’m a mother of two kids and it’s really hard. I thought it was really fun to say on TV as a woman and a mother that motherhood is hard. I don’t think they say that enough.”
Motherhood is, Banks says, “completely life changing–you’re exhausted all the time. To me, it’s really about the first three years. I mean I’m really deep in it. I have a 4-year-old and an almos 3-year-old. I’m really tired and I work really hard and also a good chunk of your brain just goes towards them and what are they doing and are they safe. You know, you sort of give up that little part of your brain for a long time.”
Banks has previously referred to a feeling of being “always the bridesmaid” in film. Does she feel a sort of insidious sexism in Hollywood has affected her choices going forward?
“Oh, I think it drove me to direct for sure,” she says. “I definitely was feeling that I was unfulfilled and a little bit bored by the things that were coming across my desk. I mean things like playing Effie (in The Hunger Games) really helped sustain me. She’s so iconic and I love her and people really get to see the movie but I think at a certain point, everything that’s coming across my desk, I’m like, ‘I’m vibrant and vital and interested. I still got my looks.’ I think it’s really just about my peer group. Just watching my peer group get to still have lead roles in movies and know that more and more, those are going to up-and-comers instead of people who are veterans in the industry. I mean I look at Gwyneth Paltrow who has her Oscar and played fifth banana to Iron Man. That to me is a great example of the fate of women in Hollywood. Like what more can you do? I didn’t even date Brad Pitt so what more can I do?”