Elizabeth Banks is one of our faves. She’s not only a versatile actress, but also a director, writer and producer. With the current conversation about women in Hollywood, this lady is a fine example of what can happen when you let a woman do her thing.
With the premiere of her movie Love & Mercy on EPIX, the 2015 biopic of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, we’re making Elizabeth our #WCW. Read on for more fun facts about her road to stardom!
Elizabeth was born Elizabeth Mitchell in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to her parents, Mark, a factory worker at General Electric, and Ann, a bank employee, on February 10, 1974. As the eldest of four children, she was very active in sports until she broke her leg playing softball in high school. She went out for the school play and the rest is history.
She’s Got Brains & Beauty
After high school, Elizabeth went on to the University of Pennsylvania where she graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in Communications and a minor in Theater Arts in 1996. She then moved to San Francisco to pursue her M.F.A. in Acting at the esteemed American Conservatory Theater.
Two Elizabeth Mitchells?
After graduation she moved to New York where she performed in plays and a had a few TV appearances. During this time, she changed her name to Elizabeth Banks to avoid any confusion with another actress named Elizabeth Mitchell, who was on ER at the time.
Actress & Producer
Her career really started to take off when she moved to Los Angeles. In just a few short years Elizabeth had appeared in two cult classics, Wet Hot American Summer and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, as well as Seabiscuit, Guy Ritchie’s Swept Away, Spider-Man, and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can to name a few. In the midst of all her success, she married her college sweetheart, Max Handelman, in 2003, and a few years later they decided to start their own production company, Brownstone Productions. Their first venture was the sci-fi-thriller, Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was also attracting attention on the small screen with her recurring guest roles on Scrubs, 30 Rock, and Modern Family. She earned three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, two for her role as Avery Jessup on 30 Rock, and one for her role as Sal on Modern Family. It was on 30 Rock where she met writer, Kay Cannon, who pitched her (no pun intended) the concept for Pitch Perfect. Brownstone Productions was able to secure the rights, Kay wrote the screenplay, and in the Fall of 2012 it became a phenomenon. On top of all that success, the same year Elizabeth played Effie Trinket in the first film in The Hunger Games series and would go on to appear in the next three films as well.
Oh, And Don’t Forget Director!
Elizabeth had another banner year in 2015 with the release of Pitch Perfect 2, where she starred, produced, and directed the film. It did so well that she will perform all of those tasks again for Pitch Perfect 3, which comes out in the Summer of 2017. She said goodbye to Effie in the final installment of The Hunger Games franchise, and reprised her role as Lindsay in Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Finally, Elizabeth earned critical acclaim for role as Melinda Ledbetter in Love & Mercy. This was a breakout role for her, as she’s used to playing over-the-top characters. In Love & Mercy, we get to see Elizabeth portray the quiet, but strong girlfriend and eventual wife of Beach Boys’ creator, Brian Wilson, as she helps rescue him from a toxic psychologist who misdiagnosed his mental illness, abused and overmedicated him for years. As sad as that is, Love & Mercy is a very moving film that is a love letter to the genius of Brian Wilson and a testament to Melinda and Brian’s love.
On February 6, 2016, Elizabeth was honored with a Virtuoso Award by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for her work on Love & Mercy. These awards are given to the year’s standout performers, which included her Love & Mercy co-star Paul Dano, Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl/Ex Machina), Joel Edgerton (Black Mass), O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton), Jacob Tremblay (Room), and Geza Rohrig (Son of Saul).
Since we’re on the topic of female directors, EPIX will be airing The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem, an original series of six short documentaries featuring both women and men in the industry talking about gender inequality in Hollywood. The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem will air on Tuesday, March 15th on EPIX and EPIX.com.