THE EMMY-NOMINATED AND WILDLY PROLIFIC ACTRESS, DIRECTOR, AND PRODUCER (OH, AND DON’T FORGET GAME SHOW HOST) JUGGLES A CIRCUS RING OF HATS WITHOUT BREAKING A SWEAT, INCLUDING HER LATEST ACTING PROJECT THE BEANIE BUBBLE
BY WILL HARRIS
Anyone who thinks they can pigeonhole Elizabeth Banks is in for a surprise: the dynamic, Emmy-nominated actress is never going to let that happen. Not at the rate she’s going, anyway. She’s managed to forge a career that grants her the option to be an actress, a director, a producer, even a game show host. Heck, thanks to her work on What to Expect When You’re Expecting, she’s even got her own page on Discogs.com, although if we’re to be honest, the heavily autotuned version of “The Hormone Song” is probably not going to score her a solo recording contract.
But we digress. Born and raised in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Irene Mitchell changed her last name to Banks when she joined the Screen Actors Guild, owing the fact that Elizabeth Mitchell – probably best known for playing Juliet on Lost– got there first. Banks attended the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, an education she took so seriously that she passed on a role on the NBC soap opera Santa Barbara because it would’ve forced her to quit school. (Plus, she’d already taken out the loans for it, anyway.) As a result, Banks didn’t make her on-camera debut until 1998, appearing in the indie film Surrender Dorothy.
A few TV gigs soon followed, including an episode of Sex and the City (“Politically Erect”), but the film that really put Banks on the map was 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer, where she held her own in a cast of some of the funniest comedians in the business. She also has a decidedly memorable make-out scene with a fellow up-and-comer at the time: Paul Rudd. “We both went into it knowing that we were just going to do the most disgusting kissing that we could imagine,” Banks told EW in 2011. “There was nothing romantic about it at all at that point. It was just, ‘I’m going to eat your face and you do the same and we’ll see what happens.’ It was a lot of licking.
I was trying to make as many obnoxiously loud noises with my tongue as possible.” It’s at this point in her career when Banks quickly turned into an in-demand actress, one who was capable of bouncing between comedy and drama without hesitation. She picked up a recurring role throughout Sam Raimi’s trilogy of Spider-Man films as Betty Brant, worked with Guy Ritchie (Swept Away) and Steven Spielberg (Catch Me If You Can), and picked up her first Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination as part of the cast of the 2003 film Seabiscuit. Fast forward to 2005, and she once again cemented her comedy chops by appearing in Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, this time alongside Steve Carell.
“Here’s my problem: I am a character actor stuck in a leading lady’s body,” Banks told CBS’s Sunday Morning in 2012. “The industry keeps sticking me in the character roles!” Still, the good news about being a character actor is that you’re rarely without work, which is why Banks continued to secure as much work as she could handle, splitting her time between film and TV with impressive results. From 2006-2009, she had a recurring role on Scrubs as Dr. Kim Briggs, eventually giving birth to Dr. Dorian’s child, after which she picked up a recurring role on30 Rock from 2010-2012 as Avery Jessup, where she married Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and had his baby.
“I like to play Avery as though she is Jack Donaghy with boobs,” Banks told The A.V. Club in 2010. “Why they love each other as much as they do is that they agree on pretty much most things when it comes to the issues, how things are done, and ambition, and take-no-nonsense, and all of it. I just think they really enjoy each other.”It was at the tail end of her stint on 30 Rock that Banks began to shift her career focus to include more work behind the scenes. After dabbling in production on the 2009 Bruce Willis film Surrogates, things really took off when she worked on 2012’sPitch Perfect as a producer, a gig which led to Banks making her directorial debut on the second installment of the franchise.
Having been on set throughout the filming of the first movie, the experience wasn’t nearly as daunting for her as one might think. “I went into it with my eyes really wide open,” Banks told Collider in 2015. “The first day of shooting, I was just so excited to finally be doing it, because you do prep for so long. It was just like, ‘Oh, thank God, we can finally just go to the set and work with the actors and get the raw materials that are gonna make this movie. So I was really happy the first day. I was not ever really scared of this process at all.” That absence of fear behind the camera has continued: she also directed the 2019 reboot of Charlie’s Angels and, perhaps more notably, helmed this year’s most buzzed-about film, Cocaine Bear. Ah, but that’s not all.
In fact, it’s not even close to all. We mentioned earlier that she’s also a game show host, having done two seasons of Press Your Luck for ABC, but she also produced the LGBTQ teen rom-com Bottoms and executive-produced the psychological thriller Cat Person. On top of that, she starred in the2022 drama Call Jane, and she’s also starring alongside Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Snook, and Geraldine Viswanathan in the new Apple TV+ comedy/dramae Beanie Bubble, based on Zac Bissonnete’s 2015 booke Great Beanie Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute. “My husband will say, ‘Babe, are you stressed out about blah blah blah?’” she told Variety earlier this year. “And I look at him and I’m like, ‘I think you’re stressed out about it. I’m not that stressed out.’” Whether she’s stressed or not, it’s clear that Elizabeth Banks doesn’t just deserve her success. She’s earned it…and then some.