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October 18th, 2017

Elizabeth Banks Interview, Pitch Perfect 2

Elizabeth Banks makes her impressive feature directorial debut in “Pitch Perfect 2” as well as produces and reprises her role as an A Capella judge in the sequel to 2012’s hit musical comedy about the Barden Bellas, the first all-female group to win a national title. In the Bellas latest adventure, the now three-time defending champs struggle to balance the pressures of musical domination with senior angst when a scandal erupts that threatens to derail their last year at Barden. It will take the power of sisterhood to find their voice, redeem their legacy, and do what it takes to remain the world’s top Pitches.

At the film’s recent press day, Banks and producing partners Max Handelman and Paul Brooks revealed what convinced Snoop Dogg, Robin Roberts, and the Green Bay Packers to do cameos, Banks’ gratitude for the work of the cast and crew in making the vision she had for the movie come true, the strategy behind mixing up the selection of classic and contemporary songs, how Hailee Steinfeld was a perfect addition to the cast of such an established group of singers, the love and support the filmmakers experienced from fans worldwide while shooting the finale in Baton Rouge, and the possibility of a “Fat Amy” spinoff.

Check it all out in the interview below:

QUESTION: There are a lot of great cameos in this like Snoop Dogg, Robin Roberts and the Green Bay Packers. How did you attract some of these famous faces to this film?

ELIZABETH BANKS: Well it helps to have a beloved first film. It also sometimes helps if somebody has a child that really likes that film and they want to impress their kid. That always helps, too.

MAX HANDELMAN: Yes. Snoop’s daughter is a gigantic “Pitch Perfect” fan. So, in his words to us, “This will actually make me cool to her.”

BANKS: (Laughs) Even though he’s Snoop Dogg. None of us are cool to our own children.

HANDELMAN: The Green Bay Packers were just huge fans of the first movie and contacted us about being able to do any small little cameo, and we decided to put them in the Riff Off instead. And Robin Roberts was a big fan of the film. We didn’t have to try very hard.

Q: Throughout this whole process of filmmaking, what did you learn about yourself?

BANKS: What did I learn about myself?

PAUL BROOKS: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Stop! Are existential questions allowed?

BANKS: (Laughs) What did you learn about me? It’s much easier to not answer that question, for sure. I need a lot of sleep.

BROOKS: I made a film with Liz years ago as an actress called “Slither,” which I can tell only one person in this room has seen. And by the way, I’m very grateful for that, too. (Laughter)

BANKS: That was the directorial debut of James Gunn who directed “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

BROOKS: But what I did know from that, and I can honestly say this, was that Liz had and has this thing. And this thing means that she can do everything she does. It’s the truth. It’s as simple as that. I had actually offered her films to direct years ago.

BANKS: Paul is a big supporter of me. It’s true.

BROOKS: Huge supporter. I’m terrified of her but a huge supporter. I mean she truthfully did exactly what I thought she’d do, which was make a great film.

Q: Did you think you were a good boss since you were the boss of the set?

BANKS: I went to set every day with a true attitude of gratitude. I really was grateful for the work of the crew and the cast in making the vision that I had for the movie come true. I mean even these two who are my partners in crime fought me on certain things. Like, “I don’t know, this outdoor music festival, it’s probably going to rain every day. We probably shouldn’t do that.” And I was like, “I don’t know, I really think it’s going to look cool.” (Laughs)

BROOKS: But what I should say in our defense is when we committed, we actually committed big time and doubled and trebled the amount of extras.

BANKS: No. Luckily, they dealt with how many porta-potties there were going to be because that was not on my “to do” list for that day.

BROOKS: I think that was our most valuable role in the film, to make sure.

HANDELMAN: Paul has long been a porta-potty expert so he’s a survivor really.

BROOKS: I’m an Englishman. Toilets are me.

BANKS: Yeah. I think just that and lead by example. I tried to be really serious about the work but also leave a lot of room for play. I mean, we are pretending for a living. It should have a sense of playfulness about it.

BROOKS: But also, just to make a filmmaker point, I don’t want to sound too however this sounds, but Liz is pretty rare in the sense that she’s incredibly fucking opinionated.

BANKS: But collaborative.

BROOKS: The great thing is that she does actually want to enter into the discursive process. She does at the end of the day. It’s all about what’s good for the movie. And we three agreed 95 percent of the time. And in the 5 percent, we’d have screaming, shouting, flaying rows. They weren’t. They were just vigorous discussions about this or that and it was always a completely valuable, open discussion. And then, Liz would win and we’d go back to our trailer and sob quietly.

BANKS: It’s very valid. It was hurricane season. We did pray every day that it didn’t rain down on our music festival. At the end, I just had this optimism every day like it’s going to work out because it has to, because we only have 44 days to make the movie and we’ve got to put something in the can.

HANDELMAN: What I would just add to your boss question is, one of the main things that Elizabeth has in all walks of life, but certainly as a director, is she is just a phenomenal natural leader, and that’s one of the main things you want out of a director is a singular vision. I knew that things were going to work very early in the process when we were in the late stages of preproduction and we were location scouting. We were with the whole crew, and she was walking our crew through each scene and explaining to them this is what’s happening here and stuff. I just remember vividly this image of this small, blonde-haired young woman leading a crew of about 98 percent men, many of whom have grizzled beards and are from transpo and third camera operator and all these kind of guys. And they were all just rapt with attention listening to every word she said. There was no kind of questioning of anything. She was the boss. She was the leader. It was very impressive.

BANKS: I’m so glad you think she’s young. (Laughter)

HANDELMAN: You’re my wife. I have to say you’re young.

BANKS: Hey, hey, hey! You were doing so well.

BROOKS: And to that, I want to make one crucial point which is that whilst Liz may be right 95 percent of the time, the crucial 5 percent where she was absolutely wrong, it was that 5 percent split evenly between Max and I to save the movie.

HANDELMAN: Sure. There’s a point to this.

BANKS: That’s it. That made the movie.

BROOKS: In terms of moving the dial, it was the 5 percent.

Q: There’s a lot of musical numbers in this. How was the process to obtain the music rights? Was it easier this time around because the first film was so successful or was it just as hard?

BROOKS: It was kind of the same as last time actually.

HANDELMAN: I would say it was 10 percent easier. It was a little easier. Certainly, because of the visibility and prominence of the film, there was a certain amount of buy in. The music industry as we constantly marvel at is an incredibly arcane, complicated industry that often times makes no sense. So, we’d be like, “We want your song and we’re willing to pay you for it.” And they’re like, “Yeah, sorry, there’s a guy who’s currently living in Estonia and he’s not going to sign off because he’s got the rights to it.”

BANKS: It was complicated.

HANDELMAN: So, there’s always elements of that, but on the whole, we ended up getting virtually every kind of song we wanted to in the end.

Q: I’m curious about the selection of songs. Can you talk about mixing it up and having some of these classics and then also putting in some new, contemporary stuff?

BANKS: It’s all really deliberate. Music is sort of a universal language and not everybody knows Miley Cyrus. So we really wanted to feature as many genres and just fun songs, classics, singalong type songs that we could have in the movie. I think also frankly one of the themes of the film is legacy. The girls are joining a long legacy of singing. And just thematically it makes sense then to put in classics and also to speak to the future with our original song.

Q: How many musical numbers ended up on the cutting room floor?

BANKS: Man, if we shot a musical number, it’s in the movie because those were the big days. In fact, we added a musical number in the tent sequence. That song was an improv by Brittany Snow, and we loved it so much that we had to buy it. We had to pay for that moment. We had to go and get it.

BROOKS: There is one other fresh one on the DVD.

HANDELMAN: It’s one that the Treblemakers perform.

BANKS: There’s an extra one on the DVD that we’re not revealing.

Q: How was it having Hailee Steinfeld join the cast of such an established group of singers? What was that experience like and what did she bring?

BANKS: Well first, she’s a great singer. So that part of it was easy.

HANDELMAN: Which is something not many people know.

BANKS: Yeah, she’s a fantastic singer. She was 17 years old when she joined our cast and we were looking for the perfect little sister. Her journey as an actress perfectly matched her journey as a person. She came into a situation where the relationships were established. The group had these amazing bonds of making the first film. She was the new girl. I kept telling her to just lean into that. The group loved her. I don’t think you can find a person that worked on our movie that doesn’t absolutely adore Hailey Steinfeld. She brought the perfect amount of charm and energy to the group and really served that little sister role perfectly. I’m sure that the girls took her out on adventures that her mother would not approve of.

Q: Elizabeth, as prepared as you were and as intimately as you know this property, what was the surprise along the way in directing, both on a challenging level and also on a joy level?

BANKS: A lot of joy. There was so much joy.

BROOKS: We did have a huge amount of fun, didn’t we?

BANKS: We did. What are the surprises? The craft service was amazing. I mean some of the best I’ve ever had. She baked fresh bread every day and served it with berry compotes. It was pretty good.

BROOKS: There was this amazing black current thing which they don’t get.

BANKS: Well you didn’t get blueberries.

BROOKS: Who eats blueberries?

BANKS: He hates blueberries. He’s so un-American. Literally, he’s un-American.

HANDELMAN: I would add to that on a somewhat serious note, it’s a little easy to look at what “Pitch Perfect 2” is now, having seen the movie and seen the final product. While we were shooting the film, we knew there was a lot of support and love for the brand and the film, but when we were shooting the finale outdoors in a field in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at night in the dead of summer when it was 90 degrees, with mosquitoes everywhere, on the nights when we had 3,500 extras turn out for free to see the Barden Bellas perform, it was like a rock concert. I think everyone had chills. And no exaggeration, there were people who came from as far away as New Zealand, flew across the country, took buses, all to come and be an extra at the outdoor finale of the Bellas. I think when that happened, it was a genuine surprise. It was like, “Wow!” We thought we were going to have 150 people there.

BANKS: Well we were willing to pay for a few people.

BROOKS: In truth, we pushed hard to get them out there.

BANKS: We did.

BROOKS: We were just surprised how many did actually turn up.

BANKS: And stay all night until 5:00 o’clock in the morning.

BROOKS: I think there were two fascinating things about that week. One, it was absolutely magical. I have to say in my entire however many years doing it, we talked about it. It was a magical week. It just was. And what was fascinating was all these extras came to be extras in a film and literally, after the first set, it was a rock concert.

BANKS: It was just a concert.

BROOKS: It was literally a concert. It was incredible to see.

BANKS: And their energy really I think sustained the girls, the performers.

HANDELMAN: I think they were as surprised as we were.

BANKS: Oh they were. They were thrilled. This was the fifth night. They’d been doing it non-stop. They were sweaty. They were tired. And then, they got out there in front of 3,000 people and they just felt the love and really brought their all.

HANDELMAN: The other joy that I would add was when the Green Bay Packers showed up the evening before the Riff Off started. We’d never met them face to face. They are professional football players who had just come from their off-season training camp. We were confident that they were taking it seriously and that they really wanted to do it, but we had no idea whether they were going to be any good. None. And it was kind of like, “Well, they’re going to be in the movie, so let’s see how this goes.” It turns out, as you’ve seen them in the film, that was really them. We’re not faking that. They were incredible. That was a great joy personally for me.

BANKS: The male crew really loved that, every crew member.

HANDELMAN: I think the female crew probably loved that, too.

BANKS: Oh, we loved it, but that was a given.

HANDELMAN: A tall man with bulging muscles and a pony tail seems to really appeal to the ladies.

BANKS: Sure. He looks like a Viking god.

HANDELMAN: What did someone else call them? They called them the henchmen from “Die Hard.”

BANKS: Yeah. That’s true. The people in Europe who didn’t know who they are were like, “I don’t know. They had a group that was like the henchmen from “Die Hard.” I was like, “Alright, sure.”

HANDELMAN: Same thing.

Q: Keegan-Michael Key is well known for all his improvisation and he’s usually very over the top, but here he plays a guy that is very likeable, funny, but still human and almost fatherly. How was it directing him?

BANKS: He and I had a really great [relationship]. I love him by the way. I’ve met him before and really wanted him. I thought he would just be so right for that role. We have a music producer in real life, Harvey Mason, Jr. We didn’t really mean this, but Keegan is sort of modeled on Harvey Mason, Jr. who produces our soundtrack. The thing about him is we’d had a great phone conversation about what he was going to do. And then, really what happened was, on the day that he showed up, the guy who played Dax, that became like a real relationship. There was sort of a reference to it in the script, but that kid I don’t think he had any lines even. Maybe he had like one line in the script. And then, the two of them were hanging out I think because they were like, “Oh my God, Snoops here!” and freaking out. And that guy, Shawn Petersen, he was just an incredible Dax, and I think that really helped. It just fed the whole relationship. And then, Max actually gave a great note about just being exasperated all the time. And to your point, Keegan can go very big with exasperation. We just said, “No, no, no.” I just told him, “It’s like you’ve been on the set. She’s like some little girl. You don’t even know her name. You don’t really care about her. She’s like, ‘Please look over here.’” And once I said he didn’t know her name, that whole bit about “What’s your name? Reggie?” It was sort of I think in finding Reggie that he found the whole character.

Q: Elizabeth, there’s been a lot of talk about sequels and I wanted to ask you if you’d be interested in directing a “Fat Amy” spinoff?

BANKS: Did you write it? Is it ready to go? (Laughs) You know, we don’t know what the future holds. We’re really focused on putting out “Pitch Perfect 2.” I think that what we found for this film was that it was really important to all of us to find a story that felt very organic and authentic to this group of women and to the world that we created in the first film and really build on that story and the relationships that we established in that movie. And so, we want to put this movie out and let the fans embrace it, then see what the future holds. Our goal will have those intentions in mind – to be authentic and organic.

“Pitch Perfect 2” opens in theaters on May 15th.




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