Interview: Elizabeth Banks from ’30 Rock’

We had a chance to chat with Elizabeth Banks from 30 Rock. She spoke about what it was like working on the show and what she’s working on next.

Since you spend so much time with Alec on the show, what it is like working with him?

Everyone like wants to know that. I think he’s fantastic. First of all he’s so charming it’s sort of ridiculous. And I think he’s really—he’s working in a zone right now that I think is sort of—for his career is really amazing. I mean, he’s so funny and they’ve really done such a great job with the Jack Donaghy character for him.

And he seems very delighted by Tina and by the scripts. So I think he’s pretty happy there. It’s certainly—they certainly make a big effort to keep him happy there. And I hope I make—I hope he’s happy with me too.

In terms of your own career, you’ve done a lot of recurring roles on this show and Scrubs; do you ever see yourself settling down into a series, or do you like this dynamic of going back and forth between film and TV?

I’m very happy going back and forth right now. I really love playing multiple characters. You know, I’m not quite ready to commit to a single character for multiple years just yet. But that said, you know, I never rule it out; life is long and you just never know. But it won’t be anytime soon.

In the season finale are we going to get to see a hint of Avery’s annual PMS retreat?

You will never—there is no scene that takes place in the fenced in area in the Adirondacks no, unfortunately no. But I imagine that area is very—I’m assuming it sort of comes from The Red Tent, you know, book, the Anita Diamant book which is about how all the women whenever they get their period all have to go sit in the red tent and hang out with each other.

I think that was the inspiration for the idea of the fenced in area. I wish I got to see—I’d love to see what other ladies are there.

How is everything going to come to a head; are you going to have a face-off with Julianne Moore?

I will tell you that Julianne Moore and I do have a scene together. I don’t know if it’s quite the face-off that you’re expecting, but we do have a scene together, so we meet in the finale.

Is there any chance that Avery could come back next year or is this wrapping it up for her?

I would say like with any show and especially this show you just never know year to year what the writers are going to decide they want to do or what direction they want to take things in. So, you know, it’s not quite wrapped up—it’s open-ended at the end of the season as to what’s going to happen.

Okay, open-ended. What was your sort of weigh into this—I don’t even want to call it a caricature because it’s almost too accurate this sort of cable news personality. What would you…

You know, I watch a lot of cable news which I’m sort of—it’s sort of depressing that I watched cable news. But so I’m aware of who all those personalities are. And I really wanted to play it like, you know, like any of those ladies who have those shows.

You know, I love Maria Bartiroma. I thought—it was sort of based on her in my mind a little bit but also all the guys, you know. I love the idea of the countdown. I thought it was very Keith Olbermann so that’s who I was sort of impersonating.

But she’s an amalgam of many, many characters. And contrary to the Page 6 reports she’s not based on any one person.

You have great comedic timing; is it something that you found came natural to you or have you had to hone it in some way?

Well the great thing about comedic timing is you’re typically born with it. I think it’s—but I can be taught. So the best people are born with it and, you know, they hone it after a long time. I think I was born with a little bit of comic timing and the sense of humor. And I have just sort of an openness to laugh.

But you also—the great thing about comedy is that you can, you know, there are rules to comedy that I really enjoy like three is funnier than two is—three is funnier than four, fart jokes are always funny, anytime you make fun of, you know, a man dresses as a woman it’s funny. There’s just like a lot of rules to comedy.

And the amazing thing about 30 Rock is that they break a lot of the rules or they explode them but they also adhere to a lot of them too. So I would say it’s a combination.

Well we recently saw Avery at an event with Jack and they hollered, “Hey Chelsea Handler, look over here.” Was that something that you had a hand in?

Well I’m friendly with the writing staff on this show and they—there was a piece on my Twitter page about Chris Rock referring to me as Chelsea Handler and that was a—it was a call-back to that because then I think Star Magazine or something put a—I’ll tell you what, I get called Chelsea—I get confused with Chelsea Handler often enough that we felt like it was a funny joke to put in the show.

Speaking of Twitter, it’s a big part of promotion for TV shows and movies. And you’re an active participant on Twitter; why is that so important for you?

I just like having a direct connection to my fans. That’s why I think Twitter is so, you know, to me the power of Twitter is that. And the great thing about Twitter which the other social networks don’t have is there’s no expectation of returning anyone’s Tweet to me.

So I actually read most of—most the people who Tweet to me I actually read their Tweets. But, you know, I’m a busy person and I don’t have the time or the inclination to respond to everybody.

And the great thing about Twitter is that there’s no expectation to respond whereas, you know, if you’re on Facebook and it’s like why don’t you friend me you bitch. And I’m like great I don’t really want to be called a bitch on Facebook so I’m not going to do that anymore.

You’ve done both movies and TV; is there something you enjoy from one more than the other?

Well they’re totally different things. The main difference between television and movies is that when you make a movie you know the beginning, middle and end of your character’s arc; you always know where you’re going, you know how the story ends.

When you make a TV show they could decide tomorrow that I, you know, get hit by a car or I have a brother or, you know, I’m a lesbian, like, you just have no idea what they’re going to throw at you.

So the main thing about TV versus film is that you have to be—you have to create characters that could be open to anything at any moment because, you know, it’s—the consistency of the character is really important. It’s important that the writers write a consistent character, that you play a consistent character but that you also feel like this character could go in any direction at any time.

You’ve been a pretty lucky girl. You’ve been paired along with some pretty studly dudes: Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin. Who are you paying off?

I don’t know; I just have good karma, I guess, because I’m definitely living all to of ladies’ dreams, that true. And I’m happy to do it because they’re all great guys.

What is it like coming into a show that has such a specific sensibility as 30 Rock , and how you try and get into the groove with the regulars?

You bring up a good point which is that 30 Rock has a rhythm that is unlike most typical sitcoms. And it really is all about sort of falling into that rhythm. I mean, the pacing on that show is—I think (Alice) referred to it cheetah pace. And I would say that’s true.

You know, they don’t pause for any jokes, there’s no like ba-da-bump punch line it’s very much, you know, blink and you miss it on that show. And it’s, you know, I happen to have that sensibility. I think the writers knew that when they were writing the material. And it was a very easy transition for me. But you really do have to be aware of the rhythm of the show and how to fall into it properly.

If you were to ever consider doing a show of your own, have you ever given any thought to what kind of…?
I really haven’t. I really have not given it any thought at all. I would love for someone to figure out some amazing character that I could play like for the rest of my life like Betty White. But, you know, that’s—it’s not in my near future.

Have you gotten any feedback from any cable news anchors or any TV news people in general about how your character is going?

You know, Jake Tapper who is the ABC White House correspondent is—I’m friendly with him. And my husband (unintelligible) and then he Tweeted to me after the first episode aired that CNBC was—that Fox was probably already calling to try and steal me from CNBC because I had done such a good job on the—on my countdown show—on the first show.

He was very funny, he was like, “You really nailed it; I’m sure Fox is trying to figure out how to steal you from CNBC right now.”

That’s funny. And putting aside the fact that you play one of these ladies who do you think Jack should choose? Which woman would go—would he do better with?

Well, I mean, Avery’s ego will definitely say you should choose Avery but probably only so that then Avery can then dump him, you know what I mean. Like she’d really want to be chosen just so that she can have this—the glory of then dumping him.

I think he’s probably playing with fire with Julianne’s character. I think he’s right in saying she’s a fiery red-headed Irish lady from Boston. I know those ladies and they are tough—tough cookies. So we’ll see. We’re both touch cookies I will say that. And I think he should do whatever’s best for him.

Let’s put it this way, I think I—no matter who he chooses I don’t know that he’s going to—if this is going to be the be-all end-all for his love life.

Were you a big fan of 30 Rock before you got on there?

I was. I’m a huge Tina Fey fan. And I have a few friends on the writing staff. I think they’re all amazing. And, yeah, I was a huge fan of the show, of course.

So it was like a dream come true I guess?

You know, in terms of doing television if you’re going to do a guest star on a show you pretty much want it to be on the show that wins all the Emmys. So that really was all — it just came down to that. You know, I get offered shows and it really is like this is the cream of the crop so why not.

Do you really get offered a lot of guest spots? What’s the criteria besides—is that really the criteria, a good show or is it just something that you—you tell me what the criteria is in doing a show?

The criteria for me is the character amazing, you know, am I actually getting to score (comedically) on the show or am I just there to support everybody else. And, you know, I don’t want to go do TV and then be bored by what I’m doing on TV. So it’s just people who write something really exciting, you know.

Bill Lawrence on Scrubs always wrote me really fun, funny exciting stuff to do. I always felt like I was part of that ensemble. I feel the same way on 30 Rock; I feel very much a part of the ensemble when I’m there making the show. So it’s really just looking for that sense of belonging.

The Next Three Days with Russell Crowe, have you finished that?

Yes we finished it. It comes out November 18, I’m very, very excited. It’s a great movie.
Can you tell me a little bit about it; what you do as a character?
Yeah, I play a woman who is accused of murder. I go to prison and my husband, Russell Crowe, breaks me out and we go on the run.

Wow. That sounds fun.

Yeah , we had a lot of fun shooting that.

What is the best thing about playing off of Alec Baldwin?

Oh, you know, he’s a—well he’s a really easy laugh which is kind of great. He—if he—I really enjoy making him laugh. And I feel it’s my duty on set to make him laugh. So if I can get him laughing I feel like I’ve scored that day. So that’s part of it. Also he always tells me how gorgeous I look, and I will take that compliment every day of the week.

You were doing a lot of production work I noticed; how did you get involved in the producing side of things with films?

I got involved with producing partially because there’s just a lack of interesting things for women to do in Hollywood. And, you know, I’m a sort of Type A personality who likes a little control in my life. So it’s probably just gaining back a little control over what I’m doing in my daily life here in good old Hollywood, USA.

You seem to have more films in the production pipeline than perhaps a lot of other actresses. And I just think it’s a real credit to your personality and your efforts. I wanted to ask you also about directing. You directed part of a feature film coming out sometime this year, I think. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Yeah, I directed—the (unintelligible) brothers are exec producing a movie that’s going to come out in the fall that’s a series of short—comedic shorts that are put together into an overall movie sort of like New York, I Love You/Paris, je t’aime for comedy. They were inspired by Kentucky Fried Movie.

And they brought together writers and directors from all over. And, you know, they had offered me—they offered me a short to act in and they said here’s all the great people that are writing and directing them and it was all men. There was not a single woman on the list.

And so I called—I’m friendly with the, you know, everybody that was sort of involved. And I just called and I said, hey, I’ll definitely act in one for you, I think that’s great. I’d love to be a part of it but I’d really love to direct one as well. And I’m happy to pitch you some things and see if we can come with up something. I knew I could find something that they’d like.

And sure enough we did. And we shot it, you know, yeah, it’s been a couple months now…

And who in the cast did you direct and what is the story basically about?

It’s a coming of age story starring Chloe Moretz, Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays Hit-Girl in the current Kick Ass along with Chris Mintz-Plasse, Mr. McLovin, and Jimmy Bennett. So I directed some kids—actually it was just pretty great.

Besides Alec Baldwin was there anyone else on the show you enjoyed working with?

Oh, I mean, I really—it’s the nicest group of people working in TV. I mean, I really couldn’t have been made more welcome there. The cast and crew are incredible. I mean, I felt very lucky because I’ve actually made movies with a lot of people on the crew. So when I got there the first day it was a lot of hugs all around because I knew the DP and I knew the sound guys and I knew some of the PAs and it was just—it was great; it was a very welcoming set.

Well that sounds like a really good atmosphere to be in then.


You’ve also done different genres like horror, comedy, even animation. Which one do you feel or consider to be the hardest one to do?

Every genre presents different challenges. And, you know, we actors all have our little toolbox that we open up and we pull out whatever tools we need on any given day. They get us through and hopefully entertain people and be honest and truthful in the scene that we’re performing in.

Do you have a friendly competition with Tina or the other specific cast members to out-funny each other?

No it’s all kind of —no, there’s no competition on set it’s just, you know, we just hang out just like friends and hang out. And if something funny comes up we—something funny comes up. I mean, we’re not sitting around trying to make each other laugh.

It’s a very professional place where we, you know, we all work really long hours and it really is just like—they write really great jokes you don’t have to do much to improve on the jokes that they write.

Alec has been so great on SNL in the past, and following the Betty White episode have you given him any advice for this weekend’s go-around?

We have not spoken in a few weeks so no. But I’m very excited to see him on this week’s go-around. Something tells me he’ll close the season on SNL just fine. He’s hosted more times than anyone in history I believe.

You’re one of those people in Hollywood that’s known for being married. But if you weren’t, would you date someone like Jack Donaghy in real life?

In real life? No. I believe in dating someone your own age. That’s just my—I’m really only attracted to people my own age. That’s just how I am. It’s always been my way. I’ve never understood dating sort of outside of your age range.

Even though when, you know, it’s like people say well 30-40 is not really that different. I think there’s a big difference between 30 and 40. And I like to be in a relationship with someone who’s at the same place in their life that I’m at.

So Jack Donaghy would be too old for you then?

Well I would never call Jack Donaghy too old for anybody, because he’s so charming and lovely. You’re not going to beat me into saying that.

Well then there’s no truth to the rumors that put you with Chris Pine recently?

You know, Chris Pine and I are friendly and we did share a car to and from a few events. But we are just friends. And I (unintelligible) because Paul Rudd was also in the car with us that night but no one mentioned that I was in a three-way with Paul and Chris Pine; now that would have been news.

Avery has so many hilarious lines and you absolutely kill the character; it’s great. And how much if any of that is ad libbed?

None of it is ad-libbed. On the first day that I got there I said, “Hey do we ad-lib on this show?” And I was told no, you know, no ad-libbing; it’s all—you know, those writers work very, very hard in that writer’s room for a really long time perfecting those jokes so we just do our best to say them.

And if something fun sort of comes out of it, you know, in the moment it’s not like forbidden but it’s sort of rendered unnecessary.

I know you watch the show, what else are you watching right now?

I’m watching Justified. My buddy Timothy Olyphant in Justified who I think is great. I’m a huge LOST fan, but I have not seen this week’s so I don’t want to hear anything about it. I don’t want to read anything about it; I don’t want to know anything. I am actually two behind, I’m saving them up for myself. So I’m a huge LOSTfan. I’m devastated that the series is ending.

I also watch The Office. And, you know, a few other shows. So, yeah, I’m excited for True Blood and Mad Men to come back.

How do you view the love triangle between Avery, Jack and Nancy? Like what are your thoughts on it?

Well the best thing about it is that I never see Nancy so, I mean, I don’t even know who, you know, Jack has not revealed to me who he’s—his other dalliances are with.

You know, I think Jack and Avery are both grownups and they—there is no, you know, I’m sure Avery feels competitive with this person which is why she sort of put it to Jack that he needed to decide but she’s a big girl and she’ll get over it whatever ends up happening.

Well how do you think that will play out? Do you think they’ll all go their separate ways or will Avery win out over Nancy for Jack’s affections?

Well, see, you’ll have to watch next week because there is a conclusion to that question.

What was it like on set with Matt Damon, Will Forte and Michael Sheen?
You know, it’s pretty great. There were a lot of Oscar nominees on the set that day. I actually did not work with Matt Damon because his schedule—his schedule got a little messed up and he ended up coming in after we had wrapped the season to shoot just with Tina. So we actually worked with this photo double on the days. So I did not meet Matt Damon.

But working—Michael Sheen is a doll. And I love Leslie, I think that’s a great character for him. I love him with Tina. And we are, I mean, Will Forte looks so amazing on the season finale I cannot wait for people to see what he’s dressed as. I took about eight photos of myself with him because I’m just so excited to have evidence that I was there when he was dressed the way he’s going to be dressed next Thursday night.

With your ties to Massachusetts did you have any input regarding Julianne Moore’s character who’s also from Boston?

I did not other than as I was saying—I thought you were going to ask me about the Celtics last night or something. No I—no, Julianne is a phenomenal actress and knows lots of people from Boston and is, you know, is kind of killing it I think.

But, yes, I grew up Catholic in Massachusetts so I’m very—I’m super aware of what she’s pulling off on the show. I think she’s probably not from Boston proper, I think she’s probably from like Norwood or something. But we’ll see.

What are your thoughts on the state of women in film and television both in front of the camera and behind it?

Well I believe that women in film, technically the organization Women in Film, just came out with new statistics. And like most other things in the world, Fortune 500 companies, or the Senate, we make up I believe less than double-digit percentage wise of people behind the camera whether it be produce writers or produce directors and/or producers for that matter. So it’s a sad state of affairs my friends.

You do have a lot of movies coming out, and there’s one we still haven’t talked about. Can you tell us about The Details?

I can. It is—The Details is a—sort of a black comedy I suppose I would call it. It’s a deep movie about myself and Toby McGuire; we play a couple who are having trouble in our marriage. And we sort of approach different people to sort of help us get through our marriage—help or hurt us I suppose get through our marriage.

Including Laura Linney who gives an amazing turn in the movie, Carrie Washington, Ray Liotta, Dennis Haysbert. So it’s a great—really cool ensemble. And, yeah, it focuses really on Toby trying not to mess up his life.

Of all of the stuff that’s listed coming up next do you know what you’re working on next?

I don’t actually. For the first time in a long time I don’t actually know what I’m going to do immediately next. I have some ideas but nothing that I’m willing to talk about on this call today.

Are any of the projects listed on IMDB—there’s six of them—are any of those actual potential projects?

Yeah, for sure. I’d say there’s a lot of potential—honestly I don’t really want—I hate jinxing things. I’m a very—I’m not a very superstitious person, but about work things I am actually superstitious so I don’t really want to say.

Let’s just say if you’re not working on something immediately, how are you going to spend your summer?

I’m almost definitely going to take a job. I just—it just depends which one I’m going to take but I’m almost definitely going to take a job. So we’ll see. That will probably come to light in the next little bit. And if I don’t take a job that will be fabulous because I have not been home for more than eight days in a row since July 4 of last year; I’m more than happy to spend my summer lying around my pool here in lovely Los Angeles.

Your—being on 30 Rock is a great thing for female roles, and you’ve got your production company. Do you think you’re making a dent for female roles?

I’m hoping to. You know, I was saying before I got cut off that my husband and I we really try and only produce movies that we want to see get made. And we don’t focus on sort of female-driven stuff partially because unfortunately that’s a bad business decision.

But I for sure am very interested. I’ve been really focused on trying to direct more and more. I’ve been doing some shorts for (Funnier Guy) and I’ve attached myself to a feature. And, you know, I love to see—I’d love to see that be the next phase of my life in Hollywood. I think it would be…

Would you like to direct a segment of maybe 30 Rock?

Maybe, you know, never say never. I will say though there’s a lot of people that want to direct 30 Rock that are probably on the—they’ve already put their names on the wait list so a long list.

You seemed really excited about The Next Three Days; is that going to be a really big action adventure film for you?

Yeah it is. You know, it’s sort of—it’s like a—it’s a bit of a psychological thriller mixed with an action movie. And Russell’s amazing. It’s based on a French film called Pour Elle, For Her.

And I’m really, really, really thrilled about it. Paul Haggis is amazing; he wrote a great character for me. And I’m really excited for people to see it, yeah.


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