Elizabeth Banks Talks PITCH PERFECT 2 (and 3), WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and THE LEGO MOVIE Sequel

     May 16, 2015

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Now playing in theaters is Elizabeth Banks’ directorial debut, Pitch Perfect 2, and it’s making serious bank at the box office.  As many of you know, the sequel stars Anna KendrickRebel WilsonHailee SteinfeldSkylar Astin, Anna CampBrittany Snow, Alexis KnappEster DeanHana Mae LeeKatey Segal, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Flula Borg and it’s about the Barden Bellas trying to win the World Championships of A Cappella in Copenhagen, Denmark. For more on the film, here are some images, clips, Matt’s review, 25 things to know about the film, and all our previous coverage.

At the Los Angeles press day I landed an exclusive interview with Elizabeth Banks. She talked about filming the sequel in Louisiana, how she wasn’t nervous on the first day of filming, her first cut of the film, deleted scenes, what will be on the Blu-ray, her memorable moment from filming and how it’s related to Hunger Games, if she’s already thinking about Pitch Perfect 3, how involved is she in The LEGO Movie sequel and the LEGO Batman movie spin-off, Wet Hot American Summer on Netflix, and so much more.

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Image via Universal Pictures

COLLIDER: I guess I have to start with the most important question. Between directing this, all the acting you do and personal stuff, do you sleep?

ELIZABETH BANKS: I do. I do sleep. I mean time management is a big factor in my life. I’m a very organized person. You can only do one thing at a time, so that’s the main way I do everything. When I’m with my kids, I’m with my kids. When I’m directing a movie, I’m directing a movie. When I’m making Magic Mike, I’m making Magic Mike. So you just really have to fragment and focus. I put on blinders, pretty much all the time.

This is your first big movie. Going back in time, first day on set, I’m sure you’re scared out of your mind.

BANKS: Not at all.

Not at all?

BANKS: Nope.

Okay. So you wouldn’t want to have any advice from your future self? Was there anything you learned during the shoot that you wish you had known at the beginning?

BANKS: I would say it’s all about – I went into it with my eyes really wide open. I had made the first movie. I was there every day on set, worked really closely with Jason Moore, and we prepped. The first day of shooting I was just so excited to finally be doing it, because you do prep for so long, especially on a musical like this. We had all the girls there in rehearsals for four weeks before we started shooting. So every day while they’re in rehearsals and doing hair and make up and learning their songs and practicing their vocals and working with their vocal coach, and then going into the pre-records…they were busy, I was busy going to locations every day, finding stuff, planning and approving light shows and coming up with video installations. It was just like ‘Oh, thank god we can finally just go to the set and work with the actors and get the raw materials that are gonna make this movie’. So I was really happy the first day. I was not ever really scared of this process at all.

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Image via Universal Pictures

How long was your first cut?

BANKS: It was not that long, actually. It was under three hours.

[Laughs] When you say ‘not that long’, I thought you were going to say like, 2:15.

BANKS: Oh no, no. 2:15 was like the third cut [laughs].

Were there a lot of deleted scenes, or was it more trimming the fat in the scenes?

BANKS: It was both. There are some deleted scenes. They’ll be on the DVD. It was pretty clear. We screened it really early for friends and family, and it came in at 2:20, something like that, and it was so clear. You can see the twenty minutes that need to come out of this movie immediately. It’s always the last ten, twenty minutes. After that, it gets harder to figure out…things that you really love ultimately do have to go. And now that I have time away from it, there’s even more I would cut. It would be even shorter [laughs]. I wish every director had the chance to walk away for two or three months and then come back and watch it and be like, ‘Oh yeah, we don’t need this or that or this,’ because again you get the blinders. I was definitely tickled by things that now still tickle me but are not necessary for the movie. They could have come out.

Did anyone in the friends and family screening actually give you good advice?

BANKS: Yeah, tons of good advice.

Sometimes I’ve heard from directors that they’re worthless because no one will give you an honest thing. They’re all nervous.

BANKS: The thing about laughter…you know, we record them. We don’t make it super obvious that we’re recording them, but you either laugh or you don’t laugh. It’s pretty easy to hear what people are physically responding to versus what’s just flat as a pancake in the room when it comes to jokes. And then after that it was all about story, and just people really helping me just deciding what story needed to stay and go. Some of it I knew going into it, but I owed it to the footage to show it even though I knew some of it was not going to probably make it into the final movie. It was felt extraneous, even to me. And then you just get that confirmed.

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Image via Universal Pictures

When you eventually do a Blu-ray release of this, is it going to be an extended cut where you actually put stuff back in?

BANKS: I don’t think so.

It’s just deleted scenes?

BANKS: All extras, yeah.

Were there any musical numbers, or any stuff like that that got cut?

BANKS: There was one, yeah. Well, let me put it this way, it didn’t get cut. We shot an extra and it will be on the DVD.

And the extra when you were shooting it, did you know ‘Oh, this might not work’?

BANKS: No, we know when were shooting it. It was for ratings. We knew when we were shooting it that we might have to fight with the MPAA over one of the songs, because it’s a PG-13 movie.

I didn’t pick that up. I really thought it was a hard R when I was watching it.

BANKS: [Laughs] Nope. It’s for children!

Is the song that was cut on the soundtrack?

BANKS: No, it’s not on this one. There will be a second soundtrack, I’m sure. There will be bonus tracks.

So what song was it?

BANKS: Well, I actually got in the song that I was worried about, so the extra track is…I don’t think I can say actually, it’s sort of a surprise. I don’t think it’s out yet what it is, so I don’t want to put it out there in the world yet.

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Image via Universal Pictures

When you were filming this, was there one day that you will always remember, because of a disaster, because of a funny prank, because of a memorable moment?

BANKS: Yeah, the most memorable moment was completely positive though. We went to shoot the finale, we shot it over five nights, it’s a night shoot. We got to the Friday night and we had about three thousand people show up to be in our audience. And I went out on stage to welcome everyone and I don’t know why I randomly did the Hunger Games salute, the three-finger salute, and then the entire audience saluted me. It was totally incredible to just stand there in front of three thousand people, my entire crew. And a light show. I had a spotlight on me.  I have a photo of it on my phone. And then also to see the girls perform for that many people and to feel the love for the first movie. I was so proud and it was really gratifying that we had made something that really moved that many people to show up and spend the night with us. They were there at five in the morning.

That’s nuts. This is in Louisiana?

BANKS: Yeah, in a field in Louisiana.

Baton Rouge, interesting place.

BANKS: I love it.

[Laughs] I didn’t have that reaction when I was there.

BANKS: It’s hot. It’s hot as fuck.

It is. That’s an understatement, by the way.

BANKS: Yeah. It’s really hot there, but I didn’t mind it. They have a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s. You can get through life with those two things.

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Image via Universal

That Whole Foods is new.

BANKS: It’s not that new. It was there for the first movie. The Trader Joe’s is new. Me and my assistant were driving the very first night and we were going on our very first location scout, and we’re driving in on the highway at night, and we both saw the lit up, red Trader Joe’s sign on the highway and we both started screaming like, ‘We’re gonna be okay!’

These are the first world problems of Hollywood: Where’s the Trader Joe’s and where’s the Whole Foods? By the way, I agree.

BANKS: Because living in those places, your main concern honestly is that you’re eating fried food covered in cheese, like Po Boys, the entire time you’re there. So knowing that you can actually help yourself stay healthy over a long shoot where you get no sleep and what you eat really matters. It really mattered that there was a juice bar. You know?

I went to Australia and New Zealand for set visits, and was amazed in New Zealand that it was like going into the ’70s with fried food and MSG. I didn’t understand what society I’d entered. I’m like ‘You think Mad Men is safe, don’t you?’ This is not the right way to live. It was crazy.

BANKS: It’s really hard to stay healthy over the long term of making a movie so that’s why those things matter when you’re trying to keep your health, literally.

After this project, which is obviously gonna play big and people are gonna really dig this thing, what are you thinking about for the future? Is directing something you’re definitely gonna continue with?

BANKS: Yeah, absolutely. I’m actively looking for things to direct again. I had such an amazing experience on this. I really am spoiled. It’s gonna be hard to replicate working with my husband on something that I was involved with from its inception, and I really had a real connection to what I wanted the story to be from the beginning when we were developing the script. We were developing the script without Jason Moore because he was developing Sisters at the same time, so from the beginning it really was all about the vision I had for the movie. So to see it then all kind of happen is pretty amazing.

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Image via Universal Pictures

I believe I saw a quote or someone had mentioned that Rebel [Wilson] was already thinking about Pitch Perfect 3. I’ve seen maybe some tracking on this movie and it’s going to open huge. My question is if the movie’s a hit, is Pitch Perfect 3 something where you’d go ‘I have to do this’?

BANKS: I will say, it would be disingenuous to say that no one’s talking about a Pitch Perfect 3; the possibility of it. We are really focused on getting as many butts in seats for this one. If fans embrace it, we are going to seriously think about what the continuing journey would look like, but we don’t know what that is yet. I guess I really love the story of legacy in this one, I knew I wanted the riff-off to look pretty much exactly what the riff-off looks like in this movie and I knew what the finale looked like, so I had some connection points into the story that really jazzed me up, and I don’t know what the story of the third one is yet. So I can’t say…but I’m excited to delve in and figure it out.

I think that’s why studios pay screenwriters.

BANKS: [Laughs] That’s exactly right.

The Lego Movie was a huge hit to the point where now the chairman of Warner Bros. at Cinemacon was saying there are three major things we’re focused on: DC, Lego, and whatever else. This whole Lego thing, did you have any idea when you were getting involved that it was going to be what it is, and how involved are you in all of these sequels?

BANKS: I was given the overview of the movie with a big book with all the very early ideas for the animation by Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller], the directors. I knew about Will Ferrell and the live-action ending, and I was so moved by that story and the notion of imaginative play that was going on in that movie. I just loved that. I think that’s what really surprised people. Pitch Perfect 2, we just surprised people [laughs], and we have a good sequel, people are like, shocked! [Laughs] What I hear about the next Lego Movie, I’m really excited about. I think it has that level of surprise in it and if they pull it off it’s very exciting. I am doing the next one.

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Image via Warner Bros.

They’re also making the Batman spinoff.

BANKS: I’m not in the Batman spinoff, unless I am and they haven’t told me yet [laughs].

Let’s ask about Wet Hot American Summer with Netflix.

BANKS: It was like getting in a time machine.

Not only that, they put together a fucking insane cast.

BANKS: Yeah. Chris Pine plays my love interest. It’s fantastic.

What can you tease people about the series?

BANKS: It is absurd. I mean, the entire premise is absurd and the execution is completely absurd. The entire time we were there we were like, ‘Can you believe we’re getting away with this?’ That’s the attitude of the whole thing. We are totally getting away with something. I mean we’ll see, maybe no one will respond, but we had a fucking ball making it.

I think people are gonna respond and I love the fact that it’s gonna be on Netflix.

BANKS: Yeah.

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