Why Elizabeth Banks is fast becoming Hollywood’s next mogul
According to 2017 statistics by Women in Hollywood, women accounted for a mere 16% of all directors, writers and producers in the 100 top-grossing films of the year. Female sole protagonists accounted for only 24%, only 37% were major characters and women made up only 34% of all speaking characters. These numbers paint a disheartening picture of gender transformation in entertainment, but Elizabeth Banks finds this kind of information strangely encouraging.
‘It told me that I was not the problem,’ she says. She first noticed the marked difference between the sexes’ earning potential in Hollywood when she compared her own trajectory with her castmates’ from 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer, Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper.
‘I’d be like, what’s going on? One of them is a Marvel superhero now and I can’t get a small role in an indie,’ she said. ‘There’s a lot of material starring men between the ages of 20 and 50. There is not that amount of material for all of us actresses. It was a great epiphany.’
It was time to come up with a plan B.
‘Honestly, if I could just act, I’d do that,’ she told The Hollywood Reporter. ‘The problem is that life was getting a little mundane and I wasn’t feeling challenged by those jobs for a while. If you want to fight being bored in this business as a woman, especially as a woman who’s been around for a minute, you have to figure it out on your own.’
Elizabeth decided to do just that. She and her husband of 15 years, Max Handelman, started their own production company, Brownstone Productions, partly as a way to spend more time together.
‘I wanted to have a partnership with my husband,’ she says. ‘We’ve been together for 25 years, and as an actor in this business, you travel so much. I couldn’t imagine a life with somebody who had a 9-to-5 job with two weeks of vacation. I just thought, “I don’t know how we’ll stay married!”’
The first film they developed was
I wanted to have a partnership with my husband. I couldn’t imagine a life with somebody who had a 9-to-5 job with two weeks of vacation. I just thought, “I don’t know how we’ll stay married.”
Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis, back in 2009. Then along came Pitch Perfect, based on GQ Magazine senior editor Mickey Rapkin’s book. Elizabeth remembered the avid a cappella groups from her days at Penn University and thought it had comedic potential.
The movie turned out to be a smash hit, catapulting Rebel Wilson to fame and cementing relative newcomer Anna Kendrick’s star status. Elizabeth also went on to direct the sequel – which raked in even more at the box office than the original.
Max, says Elizabeth, is a ‘bloodhound for wonderful material’, and the couple work very well together.
‘We jump-started a homegrown franchise, which is rare in the business. I feel very proud of having accomplished that with him.’
According to her good friend and co-star Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth was born to lead.
‘There’s such an assertive quality to her; I mean that in the greatest possible way,’ says Melissa. ‘She’s like some old studio exec from 1942 – her in a suit and cigar would make perfect sense. [My husband] Ben always calls her The Mogul.’
Banks, who refers to herself as an ‘amateur goofball’ on social media, has also recently taken on the role of comic mentor. Through her digital media company, Whohaha, she partnered with YouTube to help give female comedians and comedy content creators a leg up. The platform offers women creative consultation and mentorship to develop their skills.
‘It’s a comedy site that promotes, highlights, spotlights, and cultivates funny women. I wanted to put to rest the ridiculous statement that women are not… it’s not worth even saying,’ she says.
Another title she wears with pride is ‘badass’. Elizabeth has a few mugs with the word emblazoned on them – a sly nod to the celebrity chat series she hosts on Whohaha called ‘Ask a Badass’. To the question, ‘On a scale of 1 to Elizabeth Banks, how badass are you?’, Jennifer Lawrence replied: ‘I’m like a Level 1, maybe 2. I’ve heard you on the phone. You’re. Like. A real badass.’ Elizabeth will also be directing the upcoming reboot of Charlie’s Angels – and reportedly playing the role of Bosley – Charlie and his squad’s go-between. The movie, set for release in June 2019, is rumoured to have an all-star cast of Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Lupita Nyong’o. (That bit is unconfirmed, but we’re excited at the prospect!)
At the moment, Elizabeth is back in cinemas with a new movie, The Happytime Murders. It’s based on Jim Henson’s muppets from the ’70s children TV show Sesame Street – but this isn’t the kind of thing you want to watch with the kids. It’s a raunchy, R-rated comedy and will have you in tears of laughter. Someone is killing the puppets cast and two detectives – Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and muppet Phil, voiced by Bill Barretta – must work together to solve the murders. Elizabeth Banks plays Phil’s former ‘fling’, a sexy burlesque dancer.
Beyond her career, Elizabeth is also a dedicated mom to two boys: Felix (7) and Magnus (5). After struggling to conceive, Elizabeth and Max turned to gestational surrogacy. Elizabeth says that motherhood has helped her tune out the unimportant things in life.
‘I think having kids has given me so much clarity about how I want to spend my time,’ she says. She describes her parenting style as easygoing; she doesn’t put too much pressure on herself to be a perfect parent and is a firm believer in ‘it takes a village’ – especially as a working mom.
‘Be open to any help,’ she told Parenting magazine. ‘Many moms feel they have to be supermoms while historically we’ve always had a village to pitch in. I think it’s really important to know when to ask for help.’
On the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival.
Elizabeth and her husband of 15 years, Max Handelman. They’ve been together for 25 years.