The A-List Interview: Elizabeth Banks
Before strutting her stuff in the rom-com Walk of Shame, in theaters next spring, Elizabeth Banks returns as outrageously stylish District 12 escort Effie Trinket in November’s Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second installment of the dystopian sci-fi adventure series. We caught up with the 39-year-old Emmy nominee to discuss her most important role as a vocal gay ally on Twitter.
The Advocate: When did you become aware of your gay following?
Elizabeth Banks: Right now. [Laughs] I would hope they’ve always enjoyed me, because I’ve always enjoyed them.
If a gay fan approaches you, which of your projects are they most likely to mention?
It’s usually whatever’s on TV at the time, like 30 Rock or Scrubs, but Zack and Miri Make a Porno seems to have a big gay following. That probably has to do with those great gay characters played by Brandon Routh and Justin Long.
I’d probably ask what it was like to hang out topless on a yacht with Madonna in Swept Away.
It was pretty great. I recall at one point she was tossing pieces of prosciutto at my bare chest to see if they would stick.
You’ve appeared on Modern Family as Sal, Mitchell and Cameron’s party-girl pal. Do you have a Mitch and Cam?
Oh, I have a few gay couples in my life, including Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his amazing partner Justin, actually. Those two get me into a little trouble every once in a while. Jesse is a very good old friend of mine, which is how I wound up on Modern Family in the first place. We try to do dinner and have wine together as much as we can.
I imagine you’re popular in a gay bar.
Well, I try to be very drunk and very funny. That wins in all bars.
How did you and Jesse become friends?
We met about 12 years ago on a movie called Ordinary Sinner, an extremely low-budget indie. What’s funny is that [in it] Jesse played a homophobic religious fanatic. He really had to bring out his acting chops for that one.
I’ll try to track it down.
Oh, it’s not worth seeing.
Considering how hard viewers are pushing for Mitch and Cam to tie the knot, it’s ironic that your character had a wedding on Modern Family.
Well, that episode was really meant to tell fans that these guys will get married when gays can get married in California, but right now they don’t have that option. Everybody wants Mitchell and Cameron to be able to get married.
You’ve been a strong supporter of marriage equality on Twitter. You also tweeted support of Jason Collins and shared Macklemore’s “Same Love” video. Why is it important to let people know where you stand on gay issues?
It’s a human rights issue. It’s shameful that we don’t have equal rights for our gay citizens in America. We should all be vocal about what we believe.
Are you hoping to change minds?
Honestly, I am hoping to influence young people, and Twitter’s a great way to encourage them to lend their voice to the conversation. Any time you can show young people that you support gay friends and that there are gay people in the world who are lovely, happy, singing, and in love, it opens their minds. I grew up in a very small town, but it happened to be in western Massachusetts, where there were a lot of gay people. I remember my aunt going to a gay wedding when I was 11, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I have a gay cousin who came out to my parents before he came out to his own. So I benefited from having a very open, supportive family, and I want to pass that on.
Have you received any backlash from conservative followers?
Haters gonna hate, but what can you do? One of the graces I’ve gotten with age is that I no longer need everyone to like me. You can’t please everyone.
You’ve starred in a number of notable LGBT-inclusive films, such as Wet Hot American Summer, Heights, and Our Idiot Brother. Are you conscious of that consistent queer appeal?
For sure, looking back, I see that. And I’ve also been lucky to work with a lot of wonderful gay artists — writers, directors, actors. Even a lot of my episodes of 30 Rock were either directed or written by gay men. That appeal in my career has been complementary of my own life.
One of your earliest gigs was a 2001 episode of Law & Order: SVU, in which your character was married to a gay-for-pay porn star.
Yeah, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar. I loved that character. He just wanted to go to Vegas and be in a gangbang so he could get on The Howard Stern Show.
In Heights you played a woman who discovers that her fiancé, played by James Marsden, is gay. Did she basically ignore all the clues because he looked like James Marsden?
They were also together for a really long time, since they were really young, so yeah, there was a lot of deep denial there.
Have you ever unwittingly dated a gay man?
I haven’t. Unfortunately, my entire adult life I’ve been with my now-husband, who I’m 99% sure is not gay.
You produced Pitch Perfect, which was loosely based on a book by gay writer Mickey Rapkin. Along with gay director Jason Moore, you really seemed to nurture the story’s queer sensibility. Did you have the gay audience in mind while filming?
Oh, absolutely. We knew that young girls and gay men were our target audience. But, again, it’s the same sensibility that I share with my gay friends and the gay audience. We were making Pitch Perfect to make ourselves laugh; we figured that if we thought it was funny, the girls and gays would think it’s funny.
The movie featured a lesbian character, Cynthia-Rose, played by Ester Dean. Do you foresee more gay characters in the sequel?
Hmm. What can I say about the sequel? Well, there’s a huge outpouring of support for Beca and Chloe — Anna Kendrick’s and Brittany Snow’s characters — to get together, but I can tell you right now that they will not be lesbians in the sequel.
Have you ever played a lesbian?
I don’t think I have — although Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games might be gay. My vision of the Capitol is pansexual like ancient Rome, where everybody’s doing everybody.
Any chance she’s a drag queen?
I’ve actually thought about that. I think Suzanne Collins created the character to be nurturing and mothering in her own way, so she’s probably a woman. But I definitely saw a lot of drag Effies last Halloween in West Hollywood!
Are Effie’s wigs and outfits in Catching Fire even more outrageous than in the first film?
They really are. We relied a lot on Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen for the costuming, so there’s some amazing, handmade, one-of-a-kind couture. I feel so honored to have worn these pieces of art.
Effie's serving Nicki Minaj meets Frenchy from Grease in Catching Fire promo photos.
There’s some of that, true, but she changes quite a bit and has a more varied palette this time around. You haven’t seen her more fabulous stuff yet.
What advice would you give a guy who wanted to dress up as Elizabeth Banks for Halloween?
Just look really tired and maybe stick a baby on your hip. That should do it. I’m an exhausted mom with two very young children, so I’m not very fabulous right now. But Halloween is one of my favorite holidays; I’m a pagan at heart.
If you were to play a lesbian, which actress would you want cast as your love interest?
Angelina Jolie is always super-hot and Christina Hendricks is pretty ridiculous, but I think I would have a lot of fun with Emma Stone.
You shared memorable same-sex kisses with Marisa Ryan in Wet Hot American Summer and with Alicia Witt in the web series Wainy Days. Did you see those characters as bisexual?
With Marisa in Wet Hot American Summer, that kiss wasn’t scripted. It was the second-to-last day of filming, and the director, my good friend David Wain, came up to us and said, “Let’s do one for the crew.” So that kiss was really just a fun and ridiculous gift for all the dudes on the crew. In Wainy Days, which is also from David Wain, my character made out with everybody, so she was probably bisexual.
Did you find kissing a woman onscreen any different from kissing a guy?
It’s a little softer. It is nice not to have to worry about razor burn.
Were those your first girl kisses?
No, they were not. [Laughs] I’ve definitely made out with a few girls in my time.