She stars in this month’s Walk of Shame, but Elizabeth Banks is also (deep breath) a producer, a blogger, a mother of two, and soon, a major-movie director. Glamour‘s Cindi Leive hit her up for career-success secrets!
The first time I met Elizabeth Banks, she had barbecue sauce all over her face and was making a pass at Paul Rudd. (Don’t judge! It was on the set of her first major film, Wet Hot American Summer. And since then? Well:wow. She’s played some fabulously out-there women, including Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games and ambitious TV anchor Avery Jessup on 30 Rock. She’s produced movies, including the 2012 girl-tastic hit Pitch Perfect, through Brownstone Productions, the company she founded with her husband, Max Handelman. (She appeared in Pitch Perfect too and is directing the sequel.) And the 40-year-old balances all that with raising two kids—Felix, three, and Magnus, one and a half—and managing her popular website, elizabethbanks.com. I sat down with the mogul herself to get her best words of wisdom on killing it careerwise.
Cindi Leive: We met in 2000. That’s a lot of hairstyles ago.
Elizabeth Banks: My hair has not changed one bit! [Laughs.]
CL: But I want to start with college. You went to the University of Pennsylvania, and you were the first person in your family to graduate. You got a master’s but decided to go into acting? How did that happen?
EB: I thought I was going to be Diane Sawyer, to go into broadcast journalism. I didn’t know any actors who supported themselves—they all lived in the East Village in apartments with 12 other people who were all waiters! That wasn’t the life I wanted for myself. But I’m grateful I stuck with it. My first paid [acting] job was a reenactment on America’s Most Wanted. I got hit by a car—we shot the sequence where they showed me being hit, and the next frame was of a mannequin in the same clothes, flying through the air. It was so low-rent! But someone had paid me, and I thought, OK, I can make a living doing this.
CL: How did you decide which roles to take when you were starting out?
EB: Early on, you don’t [get to] make any decisions. But you always have the power to say no. There were some things like, “Don’t you want to be naked in this bathtub in a scene where someone slits your throat?” I did notwant to do that. So when I first started out, I did embrace some nos, and happily so. In the very beginning I also got offered a two-year soap opera contract. I had student loans, and the offer was for more money than I’d ever heard of in my life. I didn’t even have an agent yet! But someone said, “You booked a soap opera [on] day three of being in New York. Let’s see what else you can do.” So I turned it down and called my mom from a pay phone crying, thinking, What have I done? Maybe I’ll never get anything again! I booked a commercial a week later, and it was fine.
CL: I think it’s a very classically female reaction to think, I have to take it because it might be the only chance! Let’s talk about another smart decision you made in your career: starting your production company with your husband. What made you think he would be a good partner—and what made you want to do more than act?
EB: I knew my husband would be good in the industry. We met in college, and we’ve been together for 21 years—it’s the thing I’m most proud of in my life. We were trying to figure out how we could make our lives as flexible as possible and do something we both really enjoyed. We respect each other’s skills, and we’re pretty good with constructive feedback, like, “That meeting didn’t go well. Maybe next time….”
CL: You also run elizabethbanks.com, so you hire people. What do you look for?
EB: Personality. Life is too short to deal with bad chemistry. I also want someone to take responsibility when things go wrong. I find that to be a true test of people. Bad situations are learning experiences, and nothing upsets me more than blame being thrown around. I would just prefer it if you say, “It happened. I’m sorry, and let’s move on.” I love professionalism—in a housekeeper, in a janitor, in a waiter, in a barista. [Laughs.] And I’ve done a lot of those jobs!
CL: Barista, housekeeper, and janitor?
EB: Housekeeper, yes. We called it a chambermaid back in the day, but I did that at a bed-and-breakfast for a couple years. I didn’t have to wear a uniform, thank goodness, but I cleaned up a lot of people’s messes. Their disgusting messes! I did it with a smile on my face because that’s the job I had, and that was it. It’s all a step to somewhere else in life.
CL: I want to talk about your 2014, which has been huge so far! First, The Lego Movie. And now Walk of Shamethis month.
EB: Walk of Shame was a great time. I don’t read a lot of movies where I get to be really funny! I think there’s a lot of talk about how Pitch Perfect or Bridesmaids or The Heat has opened the door for females to be really funny. But I find that in most scripts I read, especially with guys in them, the women are only funny in a couple of ways. They’re either super oversexed, which I’m sort of over, or the wife…[slaps her wrist repeatedly]…you know, the straight woman whose husband won’t grow up. I’m really proud of Pitch Perfect because I think I presented a whole group of women who are really interesting, quirky, and weird. Yes, we had the super-sexy one. But we also presented a whole array of other fun ways to make people laugh.
CL: You came up with someone who ate her twin in the womb! That’s original!
EB: [Laughs.] We had a lot of targets. We made fun of all shapes, sizes, and creeds.
CL: Has the fan mania over some of your other projects surprised you? Between Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect…
EB: It’s a little overwhelming. I avoid crowds of 12-year-old girls. I try not to go to the mall anymore.
CL: Ha! So at Glamour, we love Dos & Don’ts. I want to ask you some workplace Dos & Don’ts. Give me the Elizabeth Banks take on this. Sucking up to the boss—Glamour Do or Don’t?
EB: I think that’s a Do. I mean, if you’re getting coffee, get one for the boss.
CL: Getting drunk at the wrap party—Do or Don’t?
EB:That’s a Don’t.
CL: Really? I thought everyone got drunk at the wrap party!
EB: It’s a Don’t. I learned that lesson long ago. [Laughs.]
CL: Lying about your age to get a job?
EB: I’m a Don’t on that. It catches up with you.
CL: Dating a coworker? Do or a Don’t?
EB: You know, where else are you going to meet somebody? You thought I was going to go the other way with that? I’m totally fine with dating a coworker.
CL: OK! And if your coworker just, hypothetically, happens to be your husband—getting jiggy in the office? Do or Don’t?
EB: Do! Why not? [Laughs.] I mean, as long as no one’s watching! Yeah, that’s a Do. Getting jiggy is a Do at all times.
CL: I’m glad we have left people with this solid professional advice.
EB: The more jiggy you get, the longer you live! You’re a healthier person if you get jiggy more often.
CL: Thank you, Dr. Banks. I like it.
Secrets of the Office Master
It’s all about focus. Banks shares what she sweats—and what she lets slide.
Q: How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
A: I’m at my best with eight, but it’s usually about six. I get a lot of emails from working moms at 11:00 P.M.! We all get in bed with our devices.
Q: What’s your cell phone policy?
A: I don’t bring it to the table. That comes from my grandmother. When I was growing up, if the phone rang during dinner, my grandfather would yell, “Are you gonna answer that?” and she would say, “That phone is for my convenience, not the caller’s.” Isn’t that amazing?
Q: No one does it all. What are you not doing right now?
A: I don’t cook much. And I just had to admit on Twitter that I have never seen Downton Abbey!