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Tag Archives: Elizabeth Banks
With her shimmering blonde hair and elegant demeanor, Elizabeth Banks could have been just another rising starlet — but fortunately, her whip-crack sense of humor and no-nonsense approach meant she became an invaluable addition for directors looking for an actress who could fill out a punchline or a character as well as dress. In “Man on a Ledge,” Banks plays the disgraced hostage negotiator Sam Worthington’s character summons, by name, to the 21st floor of the hotel where he’s high above the city streets. It is, of course, all part of the plan … We spoke with Banks in Los Angeles.
MSN Movies: In this film, your character wakes up, hung-over, in a messy room — and then you have to get up and save the day as one of the NYPD’s best. When you read that and you’re completely embracing the cliché of the hard-living hostage negotiator, how much do you love that?
Elizabeth Banks: I pushed for more. I wanted there to be, like, three guys in the bed. I wanted it to be like real rough. I think it’s just the right touch actually. You want to know that there’s a place to go. You don’t want to show up in the movie and have one note to play. You want to make sure you have an arc. I really felt like that was a great intro to sort of say, “This person is in the dumps. She’s at a low point.” I need to redeem myself over the course of this movie, and that’s what Sam and I have in common of course, as characters, and he knows that. It really gave me sort of a place to go. Also I think they just wanted to see me in like my underwear. I’m pretty sure it was just like, “Let’s put the girl in her underwear.”
While perhaps best-known for his television work on “Parks and Recreation” or the beloved cult hit “Party Down,” Adam Scott has a film resume as impressive as it is … odd. He’s been snacked on in “Piranha 3D,” abandoned by Amy Adams in “Leap Year” and even logged time on the bridge of the Enterprise. (Although, really, ‘Defiant Helm Crewman’ may not be the most significant credit anyone’s gotten out of “Star Trek.”) In “Our Idiot Brother,” Scott plays Jeremy, an aspiring ‘hard’ (science-driven) science-fiction writer who’s neighbors with — and best friend to — Elizabeth Banks’ Miranda even as Paul Rudd’s Ned ruins Miranda’s life. We spoke with Scott in Beverly Hills about “Our Idiot Brother,” how “Party Down” has made him a patron saint for a certain group of professionals in Los Angeles and his sadness over some of his unseen — and seen — acting roles.
Let’s start with the most problematic aspect of the film: No unpublished hard science fiction writer looks like that.
Scott: Really? What do they look like?
I just picture them all as unhappy endomorphs.
Scott: Or they look like the guy who wrote ‘Game of Thrones?’
George R.R. Martin — they all look like him: Vaguely doughy, and septuagenarian. You don’t research anything like that, do you? You’re there to be the neighbor.
Scott: No, I did not.
You didn’t spend three or four weeks immersing yourself in the world of science fiction?
Scott: I did not, although I am a big sci-fi fan. I’m a relative sci-fi fan. I think I know good sci-fi when I see it; I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but I was a big fan of ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ but that was true sci-fi — the recent series.
Did you call Martin Starr (who played a ‘hard’ science-fiction writer alongside Scott on ‘Party Down’) for tips on playing the sci-fi obsessed?
Scott: The hard sci-fi writer? No, but that’s really funny.
As a side note, did ‘Party Down’ make you the patron saint of a certain socioeconomic strata of Los Angeles, the irrational dreamers with day jobs?
Scott: I think they’re all patron saints, as far as I’m concerned. I was in that exact spot for a long, long time, and hats off to everybody that’s just starting out and struggling, like all the people on that show were. It is funny, because at parties when there are caterers — not all the time, because the show’s still pretty small — sometimes caterers do like to talk about ‘Party Down.’ It’s awesome.
And the degree to which it accurately reflected the catering lifestyle?
Scott: Yeah. They’re like, ‘It’s spot-on.’ I never catered, but I know that Rudd did and I know that Dan Etheridge did, and I think Jon Enbom did. Those guys knew what they were talking about when they were writing it.
The scene you had with Mr. Rudd where you’re in the coffee shop and you are sniping and picking other human beings to bits, is that written down, or do you sit down with that and go?
Scott: Oh no, it was written. I think we maybe adlibbed a couple of things there, but that was all written. It’s a terrific script. It was all written down. There wasn’t much adlibbing in this movie at all; it wasn’t necessary.
You went with what was on the page, because what was on the page was really good?
Scott: Yeah, it’s awesome.
Are you somebody who does a lot of line work or prep work? Do you sit with Ms. Banks and go, ‘We’re going to run through the scene to get the timing of it right,’ or is it just showing up and drinking your coffee?
Scott: No, we’re friends, so I feel like whatever rapport you have as friends, if you do have a rapport, then bring that to it. Hopefully it won’t feel forced or anything when you’re watching it later. We were all friends beforehand, so it felt like we didn’t even really talk about it at all; we just showed up and did it and hoped for the best. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes you would need to be like, ‘Wait a second, we should probably figure this out.’ It’s nice when you’re all close buddies and you can jump in and do it. It’s really fun.
When you were at Sundance and the film was without a distributor, was there a victory lap moment when it got bought by the Weinstein Company?
Scott: I wasn’t there, but I think they were all very pleased.
As you would like to hope they would be.
Scott: Yes, I think they were.
You were gratified knowing, ‘This movie that I’m in is not going into a drawer?’
Scott: Absolutely, because I’ve made a lot of movies that are in a lot of drawers. It’s nice when you know something’s actually going to see the light of day. I never really had any doubt about this one. It always seemed like something that was going to do just fine.
Which movie of yours that’s currently drawered would you most like to see escape?
Scott: There’s a movie I did a few years ago called ‘Passenger Side’ that I really love. It’s on DVD and stuff, but it got theatrical everywhere else except the U.S. through some snafu with whoever bought the DVD rights way ahead of time. I don’t remember what it was, but I think it really deserved theatrical in the U.S. Especially a couple years ago, things were even tougher for the independent market than it is now. It’s a really terrific movie I’m really proud of.
Which of your films that got released would you like to see back in the drawer?
Scott: Maybe ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline.’ It does show on TV every once in a while, and I’m like, ‘Wow.’ I was 20 and it was my first movie job. But there’s no excuse for that acting.
Have the residual checks dried up from ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline?’
Scott: They haven’t dried up, but I think they’ve been reduced down to 43 cents. I do get them.
Every time you buy an orange, that’s some ‘Hellraiser’ money working.
You’re making a film with a lot of effort, but you’re also in New York in the summer for six weeks with a lot of your friends, doing things like moving furniture. Is there a bit of grown-up summer camp going on?
Scott: Yeah. It was super fun. It was so fun. New York in the summer is a blast, and we all are friends. We’re older now, and we all have families and kids and stuff, but yeah, it was super fun. Jesse is a lovely guy and such a good director. ‘The Chateau’ is still one of my favorites from the ’90s. It’s such a great movie. It was a very relaxed, pleasant way to spend the summer.
Have you ever lived in New York? There’s so many urban touches this goes through, like moving furniture and helping your neighbor with the pilot light. You’ve done that?
Scott: No, I’ve never lived there, but I’ve certainly spent a lot of time there. Never lived there. I always planned to, and then it never happened. I started a family here, and we’re never going to move to New York. We go there a lot. I’m going to go there again next spring, and we were just there this past winter — my whole family. We’ll be going there for years and years, I’m sure. It’s so fun. Do you live there?
No, I’m here. The whole thing about moving furniture, that seemed like a very –
Scott: New York thing?
Exactly. Best part of it all for you?
Scott: It was just fun working with friends. I’m really happy I got to work with Jesse; I always wanted to. I’ve known him for years. I think he’s a great filmmaker. I’m just glad he’s back making movies, because he’s so good.
I always wonder, when you’re making comedy, where’s the line between ‘We have to keep this from being as broad and comedic as possible, but also being at least slightly rooted in character?’ For me, the lynchpin scene of this film is the one where Paul Rudd loses it playing charades, where you see the optimism crack and you see there’s actually a real person under all that. Where’s the balance?
Scott: I think a lot of it lies in the script. I think the script really does a lot of that work for us in the sense that we certainly get all the laughs. It’s essentially a story about a family. There’s nothing you could do to sway that tone unless you wildly screw up. They did such a great job that I think we were in good shape from the moment we all read that script.
In your own family, are you the idiot brother? I’m the idiot brother in my family, definitively. Are you the straw that stirs the drink?
Scott: I think I would have been if my career had never gotten any traction. I probably would have been the idiot brother, crashing on my brother and my sister’s couch right now. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Here I am getting interviewed in a hotel room, and I don’t have to crash on anyone’s couch.
Is couch surfing the epitome of man-childhood?
Scott: I still have friends that are couch surfing, and they’re in their 40s.
Did you feel an incredible sigh of relief that you were dying at the end of ‘Piranha 3D?’
Scott: A relief when I found out the character was going to die? I guess. I knew that before I did the movie, so going in I knew I was going to eat it at the end — or get eaten at the end. I loved getting killed; that was super fun.
“My Idiot Brother,” directed by Jesse Peretz, is in many ways a hard film to rationalize here at the Sundance film festival. It is a glossy comedy, albeit with a thin layer of surface grime provided by harsh language, brief nudity and other mature circumstances to take a bit of the gleam off. It is about as “independent” as a premature infant on a respirator. It does not introduce new faces and talents, nor does it show us talents we know doing something different. Instead, “My Idiot Brother” assembles a comedy dream team for a story of family and forgiveness, shows us people trying to be good, trying to be more than themselves, and has amazing comedy bits ranging from huge sight gags and ba-doomp-boomp! punchlines, to razor-sharp sentences that boomerang back after they’ve whizzed by and silent expressions that convey volumes. It is a clear heir to the Apatovian comedy trend of emotional journeys along roads pocked with potty-talk potholes, and yet it also has as much heart as, if not more than, the best of Apatow’s work. It may be slender, but it is also a sheer delight.
Ned (Paul Rudd) is an organic farmer in New York; bearded, beatific and blithely stupid, Ned’s gentle nature and sympathy for human suffering earn him a few months in prison when he sells marijuana to a cop. Not an undercover cop; one in uniform. The fact that Rudd can even come close to selling just how free-thinking, and un-thinking, Ned can be, is a high-water-mark of comedic performance. When released, Ned’s support system of girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn), home and dog are all stripped from him, and he crashes with his mom (Shirley Knight) and his three sisters—mom Liz (Emily Mortimer), stressed writer Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and downtown bohemian Natalie (Zooey Deschanel).
You can catch glimpses of “Candide” in “My Idiot Brother”—Ned is a bit of a holy fool, longs to tend to his garden and is as out-of-place in our times as Voltaire’s Candide was in his. While Voltaire, it is true, didn’t get as much comedy mileage out of weed and bisexuality as Peretz and co-screenwriters Evengia Peretz and David Schisgal, it should be said that they do, in fact, have something to say about our times just as the French writer did for his. Ned is thick as an organic plank and given to plastic shoes and other indignities, but he has a kind heart, thinks the best of people, and exists as a hypocrisy-free zone that other people get dragged into. “I live my life … a certain way,” Ned notes, and if others do not, perhaps that says more about them than it does him. The cast is stunningly impressive. Rudd is terrific (having previously worked with Peretz on the ugly-but-funny 2001 film “The Chateau,”), but Banks, Mortimer and Deschanel are all given plenty to make hay with. Knight gets a few scenes that are both sad and funny; Rashida Jones sparks as Deschanel’s girlfriend/lawyer/life partner; Steve Coogan is all pretension, philandering and smarm as Mortimer’s horrible husband; T.J. Miller plays Ned’s unlikely ally in his mission to retrieve his dog, Willie Nelson; Adam Scott is Banks’ neighbor and possibly-more-than-friend.
If “My Idiot Brother” were just funny people being funny, it would be a far lesser film. But it’s about people being people—making mistakes, getting it wrong, trying to put it right. And Rudd’s work as Ned takes a fascinating turn in the one scene where Ned’s blank Zen calm and optimism do crack during a Charades game, resulting in his lashing out at his sisters. (At the time, you think it’s a good scene; after the film, you realize that it’s an essential one.) Fraught with nudity and sex and drugs, it is a decidedly adult film about feeling like you are not quite an adult, no matter what your age. The dialogue is full of backhand compliments and full-force-serve insults, and the ping and pop of it all is as sparkling and harsh and intoxicating as a strong rye-and-ginger.
Playing Ned’s parole officer, Sterling Brown (who is a new face, at least to this writer, and, frankly, deserves much, much more work based solely on this performance) explains to Ned that the State of New York “…encourages you to reflect on the choices that brought you here.” At the time—and with Brown’s delivery—it’s a funny joke. The true pleasure of “My Idiot Brother” is that, in time, it sounds like good advice—not just for Ned, and not just for his immediate family, but for all of us. “My Idiot Brother” may or may not be your idea of what Sundance means, but as American comedies go, it’s a welcome pleasure and a real surprise. [B+]
Sundance starts on the 20th, and as ever, the question is what, specifically, you try to see — because with hundreds of films playing in 10 days, you have to make some difficult decisions on the fly in below-freezing temperatures. With that said, here are 10 films that I specifically have on my radar, because they offer actors, writers or directors I trust, or, more interestingly, because they promise that shock of the strange and new that you go to Sundance for.
“The Guard”: Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson in a globetrotting crime film as an FBI man comes to Ireland to stop a drug ring and runs afoul of the local village copper. In other words, two amazing actors given a chance to let it rip.
“My Idiot Brother”: Paul Rudd may be a multiplex darling, but he made his bones with scruffy indies like “The Shape of Things” and “The Chateau.” Here, Rudd plays a scruffy dolt plunged into the lives of his sisters (Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel).
“On the Ice”: A tale of crime, family and secrets in Alaska, with a cast of relatively unknown actors — all of which makes it sound a lot like the acclaimed “Winter’s Bone” did this time last year.
“Here“: Ben Foster may be part of the upcoming action burger “The Mechanic,” but he’s possibly one of our most talented young actors, and “Here” looks like an ambitious showcase for his talents, as an American engineer drives across Armenia.
“Page One: A Year in the Life of the New York Times”: Exactly the kind of fly-on-the-wall documentary I love, plus the behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt at one of the last venerable outposts of an industry under fire.
“The Woman”: Lucky McKee makes fascinating, terrifying horror films — and this midnight selection promises deep, unsettling terrors.
“Reagan”: The 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration is on the first day of Sundance, and Eugene Jarecki’s doc promises a fascinating look at the president whose long shadow still falls over America.
Some thrillers give us pure action, where the audience is offered the adrenalized pleasure of watching professional cops, soldiers and spies at work as people who are trained to handle trouble tackle it, and we can enjoy the unfolding of the story line as these characters, so unlike us, make sure that good triumphs. Other thrillers offer us a different kind of suspense, where we are offered the nervier prospect of normal people plunged into the thick of circumstance, and we are caught up in the question of if these characters, not unlike us, will not only triumph but, more pressingly, even survive.
Taken from the French film “Pour Elle,” “The Next Three Days” is an example — and a strong example — of the latter, and while it may make the occasional misstep, it represents a steady-handed and modest effort from writer-director Paul Haggis. Haggis’ previous best-known films and scripts have all aspired to varying degrees of nobility and purpose, with varying degrees of success. “Crash,” “In the Valley of Elah,” and even the script for “Million Dollar Baby” are all somewhat failed, in lesser or greater degrees, and watching Haggis simply work the pulses, guts and adrenal glands of the audience is decidedly more pleasant than having him clamber into our laps to appeal to our hearts, minds and souls.
The plot is simple: The loving Brennan family — dad John (Russell Crowe), mom Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and son Luke (Ty Simpkins) — is torn asunder when Lara is arrested and jailed for a murder she claims she didn’t commit. Years pass in the wake of the arrest, the appeals have been exhausted, and John simply cannot face the prospect of his life, and his son’s life, without her presence. And since the law will not put things right, the law must be broken.
Haggis does several things with this plot that work remarkably well. The opening scene, like that of “Let Me In,” represents a flash-forward — not to the end, but, rather, to a point about two-thirds of the way through the plot, so we can enjoy the dread building through the desperate times that lead to the desperate measures. Haggis also creates not one but two ticking-clock deadlines that must be met, juicing the timeline of the final act. And Haggis’ proclivity for revealing information late in the game for maximum dramatic impact — as in “The Valley of Elah,” where cell-phone videos are unscrambled and repaired in the precise order of optimum service to the narrative — is, in this case, a feature and not a bug.
Crowe and Banks are fine. She has everywoman grit under her suburban sheen; he has a beefy bulk that reveals strength in crisis. Brian Dennehy, as Crowe’s father, has, perhaps, 50 words to speak on-screen … and makes a banquet of them. Lennie James, as Pittsburgh’s answer to Inspector Javert, growls doggedly to move things forward. And Liam Neeson, with just one scene as an expert ex-jailbreaker, gets out emotion and exposition with real economy.
“The Next Three Days” is far from perfect. There’s a climactic action scene that strains both narrative and visual belief, where we not only doubt that the character would do what they did, but also where the pixilated, computer-generated clunkiness of it is so distracting in the moment that I had to look down to make sure that I wasn’t holding an Xbox 360 controller. And yet that can’t entirely undermine the simple pleasures of the film: Crowe’s sincere determination as he makes jailbreak into the ultimate Do-It-Yourself project, the creation of the plan, the sudden last-minute alterations as things go awry.
Stéphane Fontaine’s cinematography has the raw, righteous funk of ’70s ordinary-guy thrillers like “Three Days of the Condor” and “The Parallax View,” and Haggis (with one or two exceptions) keeps the film’s modest ambitions within that narrow groove. “The Next Three Days” is a nice change-up from the director — it’s made to inspire edge-of-seat enjoyment in the theater, not standing-ovation adulation at awards shows — and while it’s not exactly a nail-biter for the ages, it’s exactly the kind of meat-and-potatoes thriller designed for you and your dad to enjoy in the stuffing-swollen post-dinner hours of Thanksgiving weekend.