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December 20th, 2014

Elizabeth Banks Interview, Man on a Ledge

Elizabeth Banks proves once again that she’s at the top of her game as the highly versatile actress moves effortlessly from comedy to drama in the suspense thriller, “Man on a Ledge,” opening this Friday. Ex-cop Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, stands on the ledge of a Manhattan building, threatening to kill himself. When he demands that controversial NYPD negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) be called to the scene, she suspects the situation isn’t exactly what it appears to be. His predicament offers both of them an unexpected chance at redemption.

MoviesOnline sat down with Banks to talk about her new action thriller and what it was like to play a completely different kind of role. She told us what attracted her to the gender-neutral part and what she discovered when she researched the character, how much she enjoyed doing all her own stunts and wire work, and why she was excited to work with Sam Worthington and Ed Burns. She also revealed details about her upcoming projects including the highly anticipated “The Hunger Games” and “Tink,” her live action take on Tinker Bell in which she’s set to star.

Q: Did you really get out on the 22nd floor ledge or were you on the 8-foot ledge?

EB: Nope. I was on the 22nd floor of the ledge, and also the 8-foot ledge, of course. One of the fun things about this film was everyone’s commitment to shooting it for real. It was one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I liked the idea of running around with a gun chasing bad guys and doing my own stunt work and wire work. I like to say I don’t have a fear of heights. I have a fear of human error. I’m very concerned about stupidity. Luckily, we had a great team of stunt guys working with us, but you still check the harness about fifteen times before you go out. I’m waiting for a bird to fly into my head or my coat to get caught in the window or just anything to go wrong. You have all that adrenaline pumping the whole time. Stunt 101 is “don’t let the adrenaline run the stunt.” You need to control it. I definitely threw myself in certain positions a little too enthusiastically where I was like “Whoa! That was close! I don’t know what I was thinking just then?” But it was me and I did it.

Q: Did you do all of your own stunts?

EB: I never want to take away from a great stunt person, but I don’t remember a stuntwoman so I think it’s me. I’m sure it’s me pretty much the whole time. I know they had someone there, because they had doubles of my clothes, so there definitely was someone around in case we needed them. But no, I did everything.

Q: This is such a different role than I’ve seen you in before. Was this a case of you looking for something to show that you could do it or was it a case of somebody thinking of you outside the box?

EB: I’m not actually sure how they came to me. I read the script and I thought it was a really tight thriller. I like this type of movie generally. It reminded me of the Spike Lee movie, “Inside Man,” which I really liked. I also liked “Italian Job.” I like these kinds of movies. I read it and thought it was really tight, and then I said so, and everyone went “Oh, you like it? Okay.” And then, I think somebody on the other side said “Oh yeah, we like her too.” And then, I was on a Skype call with Asger (director Asger Leth) and a week later I was in New York. I got the job on Skype. Welcome to the 21st century!

Q: One of the things those movies have in common with this is they’re thrillers and they have character development which unfortunately is absent in about 90 percent of all thrillers we see. Any thoughts on that?

EB: That was clearly another reason why I was interested in this. I also liked that the role of Lydia Mercer felt gender neutral which I thought was interesting. It didn’t matter that she was a woman. It could have been a guy’s role. I think it added something to it that she’s female, and clearly they want a little romance, of course, always. I mean, you’ve got Sam Worthington on the big screen. You might as well give him a love interest. I think that’s interesting, but I never felt like it was a requirement of her. I felt like there were no apologies made. What I tend to find in these sorts of things is the woman has to be particularly bitchy or cold. She was like Daddy’s girl. In “The Italian Job,” it’s like her father was a master sleuth, and if he’d only had a son, then the son would be here. But instead, it’s Charlize Theron. So I really liked it. It felt very authentic to me. When I met the actual female negotiators in New York City, they were girlie and had long hair. They were moms and they wore cute Banana Republic. They were not apologizing. They understood they were negotiating being women in a man’s world for sure. It is absolutely a brotherhood, but every movie set is the exact same. I’m not unfamiliar with being a woman in a man’s world. So that was compelling to me. And then, she needed a little redemption, and there was that key thing holding her together with Sam’s character. Someone asked me why I don’t just let the guys come in and get him. In the negotiation, from all the research I did, you have nothing but time. Time is on your side. The longer they’re out there, the more likely it is that they’re coming in eventually. Their whole motto was “jumpers jump.” If a guy wants to kill himself, they go to the top of the building and they jump off the building. If they’re still standing there by the time I put my pants on and get in the taxi and go up the elevator, most likely their rational mind has taken over and they want to be helped. Of course, the problem then becomes yours, because if they still jump after you start talking to them, then it’s your fault. You couldn’t help them. I hope I’m never in that situation. She walks into that room knowing this guy is not suicidal. If he were suicidal, he would have already gone over. So something else is already going on. She knows that. And then, he’s very impassioned about his side of the story, and the fact that everybody wants to end it and resolve it so fast, it just doesn’t make any sense to her. I think it’s her own curiosity about the situation, whether she believes him or not. Someone said “When did you decide to trust him?” I don’t know that I ever actually decided to trust him in the movie. I just know that there’s a mystery. Something is happening and I want to know what it is. She is an investigative police officer. Her job is to figure this shit out. Let her do her job.

Q: And she helps us do the same thing.

EB: She’s the surrogate for the audience the whole time.

Q: How was it working with Sam Worthington?

EB: I think he’s a very committed actor. He’s a very instinctual guy. He’s trained and so he’s very interested in scripts and structure and things like that. He’s very physical though, meaning he’s got a deep physicality about how he works. I think one of the fun things about watching him is the ledge was so contained and he’s such a (raises voice) “I want to get off of it!” So you seem him shaking to get the fuck out of there the whole time. That’s his true person. He wants to run free. He’s like a wolf that wants to run free and that ledge was a cage.

Q: You’ve got a very dynamic relationship with Ed Burns. You’ve got some very contentious moments, but then there’s a great shift. How much rehearsal did you two have to establish this?

EB: Ed Burns and I are just in love. That’s all it is. That’s really all it comes down to. We met. We are two peas in a pod. I am highly respectful of the fact that he gets to go home and sleep in the bed with a supermodel. I still don’t understand how he was able to figure that one out, and she’s a multi-millionaire and she’s a do-gooder. It’s really disgusting actually the life that guy’s leading. I don’t know what he did in the other life to deserve this. So I don’t understand. We literally met and it was gangbusters from minute one. Let me put it this way. That role in the script was very throwaway. And then, I found out he was interested in doing the movie, and I went to the director and I basically said I’m going to use him, just so you know. Now that I know it’s him and it’s not just some guy off the street, we can really make something fun out of this. He’s such an authentic New Yorker. He’s from a family of cops. I couldn’t have asked for a better guy to be standing there with. It just happened naturally because we committed to it. We wanted to. I just felt it was really important to give us a sense of history. Frankly, I find the camaraderie of the N.Y.P.D. really interesting and fascinating and I wanted to represent that. I didn’t want to just be in a room and then have a bunch of extras that I gesture to every now and again. I felt there should be some real tension in that room as well because the other guys I talk to are downstairs in the bus. They’re not in the room. They’re on walkies. It’s very hard to create a relationship with a walkie-talkie.

Q: Being dynamic, in terms of going to the director and saying this is what I want to do, seems to mark your career in a way. How does that work?

EB: I just figured out that you don’t get what you don’t ask for a long time ago. And, all they can do is say no. If you know that going in, [that] they might say no, it’s alright.

Q: Your career seems to have morphed the last five or six years as you’ve gone from being a comic to a thriller actress. Is that a conscious decision on your part?

EB: No, I wish there were more comedies. I mean, how many comedies came out last year that were really great? Not many. They’re few and far between.

Q: Is this one of the reasons you and your husband have your own production company so you can try to develop some properties?

EB: I have a production company because this is the only job I know and this is the only career I have and the only industry I’ve ever worked in and the only contacts I have. It’s like why wouldn’t I produce? I think great ideas can come from anywhere. I love storytelling. I’m a trained storyteller. I believe that’s what actors do. But, as an actor, you come into the process last. Lorenzo (producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura) chose this script and developed it. He chose the writers and he chose the director and he chose me. He’s going to shape ultimately what this product becomes in a way, whereas me playing Lydia Mercer, all I get to do is control that. I don’t even really control that because then they edit the shit out of it. I’ll go “Maybe use this one” and then they just do whatever the fuck they want. As a producer, I really get to tell stories that I care about in a way that I want to. I get to shape them. I get to choose the collaborators. That’s really gratifying as a storyteller. And also, frankly, it’s really fun to create jobs for other people.

Q: Are you looking for comedies in particular because there aren’t many of them?

EB: We just produced a great comedy called “Pitch Perfect” for Universal. It’s a comedy set in the world of competitive collegiate a cappella singing. It stars a bevy of hilarious young talent – Rebel Wilson from “Bridesmaids,” Adam DeVine from “Workaholics,” Anna Kendrick, Anna Camp and Brittany Snow. It’s really funny.

Q: Are you in it?

EB: I am. I play a cameo in it with one of my best friends, John Michael Higgins.

Q: What other projects do you have coming up? Are there any that you’re developing for yourself?

EB: I don’t develop very much for myself in all honesty. We do have a project at Disney called “Tink.” It’s a live action Tinker Bell movie sort of in the vein of “Elf” in which I would play Tinker Bell. It’s about what happens when Tinker Bell gets thrown out of Never Never Land. Where does she go and who does she meet and what kind of adventure does she have?

Q: She doesn’t end up on skid row, does she?

EB: She does not end up on skid row. She doesn’t become a hooker. It’s a Disney film. We’re in the script stage and everybody’s really excited, but who knows if it’s ever going to happen.

Q: These live action fairytales are part of a trend right now, what’s going on?

EB: Yes. I think it’s been tapped. I was listening to NPR this morning and a guy wrote a book on Iago and what happened after he went to prison at the end of Othello. He wrote a book on Iago. So it’s the exact same thing. People will just take these characters because nobody has any other ideas. “Oh Melissant, she’s interesting.” And by the way, she is interesting, and by the way, Tinker Bell is one of the greatest characters of all time. She’s mischievous and snarky and fun and sexy. She’s jealous and vengeful. She’s such a great character.

Q: The body model for her originally is all of those things. She’s now in her seventies. She’s mischievous. She’s still sexy and she’s so proud of it. I just talked to her a couple of years ago for the movie’s anniversary.

EB: Oh that’s wild. I’ll tell you a great story on that was that John Lasseter said to me “Well you know what’s so great, the dress and the whole set is already kissed in. We can’t change it now.” Do you know what I mean? He was like “It’s very sexy!” I don’t know. I’m like “Really? This is for 8-year-old girls.” He’s like, “Well, I mean, that’s what she wears!” I was like “Alright, I guess she’s going to be wearing that dress.”

Q: Is “The Hunger Games” next for you?

EB: It’s the next movie that comes out.

Q: Who do you play in that?

EB: I play Effie Trinket.

Q: When you have those days when you feel like you’re out on a ledge, who talks you off the ledge?

EB: My husband is pretty good about that. My husband knows how I’m feeling about something really before I do. I’ll be really frustrated and yelling at him and he’ll be like “Oh, this is about that other thing.” And I’m like, “No. Uh…actually it is about that.” He really gets that about me.

Q: What did you personally take away from this experience?

EB: I really like action. I really liked running around. I loved being really physical. I’m a big believer in it’s okay if this job is really about entertaining people. I knew when we were making this movie, we were making a pretty entertaining movie. I think it turned out well and I’m really happy with it.

Q: And you did not fall off the ledge.

EB: I did not fall off the ledge. Exactly. Watch out for pigeons. That’s all I have to say.

“Man on a Ledge” opens in theaters on January 27th.




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