Interview: Elizabeth Banks Talks ‘Man on a Ledge,’ Non-Gender-Specific Roles, and ‘The Hunger Games’

By  · Published on January 30th, 2012

Not a whole lot of negotiators on film look like Elizabeth Banks. They’re usually gruff, jaded, overweight, sloppy, and any other cliche description you can think of. Most of those adjectives don’t much apply to Banks, whose negotiator even uses her looks for the job. However, even though the actress doesn’t come anywhere close to the appearance of a 300-pound 50-something, she still gets to do plenty of things those old men get to do.

She gets to shout, “This is my negotiation,” and without having to be bold and off-putting while doing it. That’s an accomplishment right there. It’s a nice little twist on the genre, and in my brief conversation with Banks, that’s what she seemed to be the most impressed about when it came to Man on a Ledge, the new thriller involving Sam Worthington hanging on a ledge for mysterious reasons…mysterious reasons that were mostly revealed in the trailer.

Here’s what what Elizabeth Banks had to say about no-brainer titles, playing with archetypes, and working with Gary Ross:

When you got the script, were you pretty taken with the title? I don’t think it could be more straight-forward.

[Laughs] You know, I’m always intrigued by things that promise exactly what they are, and then back it up with other things.

You also got Zack and Miri Make a Porno and The 40 Year Old Virgin, which, again, make for pretty straight-forward titles. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah, it’s what makes the marketing a lot easier. “This is what you’re getting, everybody!”

[Laughs] You don’t even need a trailer. Jumping into the film, what I think works about the film is the structure, which is pretty tight.

I agree. It read like a really tight thriller. Two of my favorite movies in this genre are Inside Man and The Italian Job, and, to me, this is a great combo of those two movies. I love things that surprise me and trick me, and I definitely felt like…clearly there’s more going on than a guy on a ledge, and you know that’s going to be the case. You don’t really know what you’re watching until the twist comes, and I love that. As an audience member, I love that. The archetype is pretty well set up, but you don’t see the twist coming.

You even get that classic archetype line, “This is my negotiation!” When you approach an archetype like this, do you try to infuse it with something different, or did you already see it as being different on the page?

[Laughs] One of the things I really liked about this is that gender doesn’t come into play. She’s not girly, doesn’t have a breakdown, and I basically got to play this as a man, which I appreciated. I felt like that was kind of new. I also liked that I got to run around, chase bad guys and do stunts, that really appealed to the tomboy in me. Also, we spent a good amount of energy creating that sense of camaraderie that the NYPD clearly has; it’s sort of a boys’ club that exists there. I just wanted to make sure I actually had something to do and say. I feel like my character’s the smartest one in the room.

I like how you say boys’ club, because a lot of the movie feels like a pissing contest.

[Laughs] Yeah, I know.

There’s even that line Titus Welliver has, the one about Mikey sticking his dick in the wrong door. [Laughs] It’s one of those great, “Who would say something like that?” kind of lines.

[Laughs] I know. I mean, you’d be surprised, the NYPD dish it out to each other.

[Laughs] I’ll be using that line in the future. You mentioned how the role wasn’t gender specific, and usually this character would be a tired, 50-something old guy. Do you see a lot of roles like that, non-gender specific ones?

No. I mean, I mostly just read “wives” and “girlfriends.” Yeah, she’s got a bit of John McClane in her, which is a lot of fun for me.

Is it ever tiring just seeing the girlfriend role?

Yeah, but they get weeded out now a little bit more. By the way, sometimes the girlfriend is a pretty interesting character. [Laughs]

[Laughs] I thought Our Idiot Brother handled women well.

Yeah, I really thought so, too. Each sister was very recognizable, but at the same time there was a lot of nuance and specificity.

When you’re doing a film like this or The Next Three Days, where they are these fairly tight yarns, does it require you to be pretty disciplined with the material?

You know, not really. So much of that is done in editing. I’m really just trying to play authentic character beats, and whatever gets me to that place. In The Next Three Days, I was in jail isolated from my loved ones, so I spent a lot of time sitting in corners and not talking to anyone…so that was not a very fun moviemaking experience. [Laughs] On this I sat around on a rooftop with Edward Burns drinking coffee, it definitely felt like we were cops on a stakeout. We were actually out on the ledge, so that was a true gift, since you don’t have to act that. The sense of adrenaline pumping through you, the sweaty palms, and the nervousness ‐ I definitely felt I had a four percent chance of dying at any moment. [Laughs] In the back of your mind it’s, “Accidents happen, accidents happen!” I had an amazing group of stunt guys I trusted and precautions are taken, but human error and accidents happen, so I was thinking, “Something could go wrong.”

It’s interesting comparing The Next Three Days and Man on a Ledge because both of a lot of their drama takes place off-screen. We don’t see that, but do you fill in those blanks for yourself?

Absolutely. I had a really strong backstory here. I heard an amazing story before we started filming, from a female negotiator, about a fellow police officer who was in a bad custody battle with his wife, and he took his daughter hostage. It was a bad situation and the negotiator ended up getting the daughter out, but then he ended up killing himself. Two years later, the negotiator ended up killing herself. You know, that was the backstory I kept going through in my mind, that she lost a fellow police officer and it wasn’t just anybody. What would bring that much notoriety to someone? You know, I spend a lot of time in New York and I used to live here, so I know what the Post cover looks like everyday. I know if a police negotiator let a police officer die under their watch, of course they would splash their photo on the cover of the newspaper, there would be an investigation, and the whole thing would go sideways.

For the most part, these guys have a pretty great track record. You know, their motto is, “Jumper’s jumper,” meaning if you want to kill yourself, you go to the top of the building and jump off, and you’re not still standing there by the time I put my pants on, head uptown, and have a cup of coffee. [Laughs] If you’re still there by the time the negotiator gets there, you likely want to live and will let your rational mind takeover, unless you’re just crazy. They usually can help someone in that situation, so their track record is pretty good. It is life and death, and I never would want someone’s life in my hands. They’ll also tell you, once you get there and the person does go over, then you really blame yourself.

I know I gotta wrap up, but I gotta say I’m really looking forward to The Hunger Games.


And I actually haven’t read the books, but I’m a big fan of Gary Ross.

Oh yeah, he’s a great moviemaker and a great storyteller.

Yeah, he has a great handle on character. How is he as a collaborator?

So much of it is that. He’s a writer too, so every character matters and it’s about the fun performances he’s trying to get everyone. I mean, Effie Trinket is an amazing character, so we had a great time figuring her out together. I can’t wait for people to see it.

It looks a lot different from Seabiscuit. [Laughs]

Yeah, it’s very different from Seabiscuit, but I think all his movies are different. I’m really impressed by Gary’s taste in everything; he has such great taste.

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Man on a Ledge is now in theaters.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.