Elizabeth Banks on Directing ‘Charlie’s Angels’, Those Cameos, and How It Connects to the Other Movies

     November 15, 2019

Writer/director Elizabeth Banks is continuing the Charlie’s Angels franchise with the next generation of fearless private investigators who work for the international Townsend Agency. The world’s smartest, bravest, and most highly trained women all over the globe make up the teams of Angels who are guided by multiple Bosleys, as they take on the toughest security and investigative jobs worldwide. The film stars Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Banks, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo and Patrick Stewart.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Elizabeth Banks (who is also a producer and a Bosley, herself) talked about why she felt the need to wear so many hats on the production, the ideas that she wanted to weave into the franchise, setting up the possibility for sequels, Easter eggs, the cameo she was most excited about and the one she wished she could have had, becoming a Bosley, and how the action worked to the advantage of the women. Banks also talked about the upcoming HBO Max half-hour comedy series DC Super Hero High (which she’s executive producing about a group of students experiencing the fun and drama of adolescence at a boarding school for gifted kids that will someday become legendary DC superheroes), her FX on Hulu series Mrs. America (about the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment movement during the 1970s), and her thoughts on streaming content.

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Image via Columbia Pictures

Collider: Thank you for making such a delightfully fun and bad-ass movie.

ELIZABETH BANKS: Thank you for seeing it.

You’re not just rebooting the Charlie’s Angels franchise with this, but you decided to direct write, produce, and star in it. At any point, did you worry about or regret taking on all of those things at once, or did it feel like that was the ideal way to make it the way you wanted to make it?

BANKS: It’s more the latter. There was some necessity, born out of the fact that I was there on the ground and sometimes it’s just easier to get things done when you do them yourself. It streamlined a lot of the process for me, and it streamlined the thematics for me. This really was about the collaboration I had, with the whole team – the crew and the cast. At a certain point, you want a clarity of vision, across the whole thing, and that came down to me. It’s my vision, so I had to own it.

When you signed on to direct, you also signed on to write. Were there other versions of the script that you worked from, or did you start over from scratch? How did you approach that side of it?

BANKS: There were many writers. The script developed, over three years. We went through multiple drafts. I will tell you that there were two main ideas, that were there, from the beginning. One was that I wanted to build the team, over the course of the movie. I did not want to start the movie with three angels on a couch saying, “Good morning, Charlie!” I knew that there was a more modern way to tell the story, and that we needed to reintroduce Charlie’s Angels to the audience, so I wanted to put a character in the audience’s POV, which is Elena’s character, to meet the Angels, meet the Townsend Agency, and get to understand what this is. So, that was always part of it. And then, the other thing that was always a part of it was that I wanted the plot to revolve around the twist that it revolves around, which is that there’s a threat from within, as well as the without. Also, that there would be technology. Everything in our world, right now, revolves around technology meeting our future needs, as a human race, so I wanted to try to figure out what that storyline would be.

It’s a brilliant idea to make this more of an origin story for these Angels because that also really perfectly sets up the possibility of more films. Was that something that you had also thought about, as far as possibly continuing this story?

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Image via Sony Pictures

BANKS: Honestly, I always think about that. I have no idea if there will ever be a sequel. I could not predict that, at this moment in time. But what I will tell you is that building a world that you hope is bigger than the one movie you’ve made should be a part of making your movie. For me, that’s the fun of it. Even with Pitch Perfect, it’s so about this singing group, but it’s also about the larger world that they live in. With this, it’s the same. At the end of this movie, I want you to feel like, “Wait, there’s so much more to see, and you only showed me the hour and a half story of these three girls and how they met this guy.” This isn’t the definitive Charlie’s Angels story. There could be many Charlie’s Angels stories. So, as you plot and plan, when you’re making movies as a producer, writer and director, you wanna build out the world, as much as possible. Those are the Easter eggs that fans recognize.

And by making this a continuation and not just a reboot, and tying it into the previous incarnations, it allows you to have those Easter eggs organically there.

BANKS: Yeah. I just said, “If we make this movie be the continuation, we can take everything that’s ever happened as our baseline reality. There was a guy named Charles Townsend, and in 1976, he plucked three women out of the police academy and made them into private detectives. And then, he grew this business, over the last 40 years.” And now, I’ve got a character in this movie who “opened the European offices.” We built that out, and we just kept building and building and building. So, if you watched the movies with Drew [Barrymore], Cameron [Diaz] and Lucy Liu, you were watching those three Angels, in the year 2000, in California, doing that job. But even in those old movies, they travelled. There was a scene in Mongolia.

There’s some really fun cameos in this film. Was there one cameo that you were most excited to get, and is there anybody that you really wanted, but just couldn’t work out getting them into the movie?

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Image via Sony Pictures

BANKS: I would’ve loved Halle Berry to be in the movie. She was making John Wick 3, at the time. And I love Laverne Cox. When I got the green light to make the movie, I basically knew how I wanted the movie to end, and I was always hoping that Laverne would be able to be a part of it.

What was it like to share the Bosley title with the likes of Patrick Stewart and Djimon Hounsou, and to be a part of it, as a larger group?

BANKS: And Michael Strahan, too, don’t forget. The three of us had a great time. Unfortunately, we only really got to shoot, all together, for just a couple of days. That was also an original idea by me. With the expansion of the agency, the only thing that never changed, in the series, was Bosley. That name and that character was played by different men, throughout Charlie’s Angels, but the name never changed. I thought that was an interesting factoid, and that we should play with it. So, even when Bill Murray wasn’t in the second one, and it was Bernie Mac, he was still a Bosley and they said that they were half-brothers, or something. So, I just said, “Let’s make that more meaningful. Let’s own it and make something out of it.”

There’s a lot of action in this film and a lot of cool action sequences. When it came to that, was there anything that you wanted to try, specifically because you hadn’t seen it, or at least hadn’t seen it done in a female-led action film?

BANKS: There was nothing that I wanted to do, for that reason. We had mantras, or I did, when I was coming up with this stuff. I wanted the women to fight smarter not harder. I always wanted to find advantages for them, in being a woman, so obviously, underestimating them is a huge advantage to them. Also, when they come into a room, they’re trying to avoid fighting. Unlike in male action movies, when they come in, guns blazing, there are no guns blazing in this movie. That’s not how women operate. Typically, when a gun’s involved, you’re gonna get shot. It’s very basic training that you want to disarm people, as much as possible. There are all of these really interesting facts that female stunt coordinators told me. For instance, you fight with your feet. Kicks are gonna be way more effective, for a smaller woman on a larger man, than any punches that we’re ever gonna throw, so there’s a lot of kicking in the movie. And elbows are better than hands, so there’s a lot of elbows in the movie. The idea of going into a sequence and trying to avoid fighting means that you come up with a lot of fun strategies that aren’t about fighting. If they have to fight somebody, they’ll do it, but they use a lot of other fun strategies to get through that section of the movie. They have a whole idea about what they think is gonna happen at the race track, and when a wrench is thrown into a situation, they have to improvise, so they go in prepared, but they still don’t really know what’s gonna happen. 

It was cool to hear that you’re going to be doing DC Super Hero High for HBO Max. How did that come about? What excited you about that and made you want to do that series?

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Image via Sony

BANKS: Who doesn’t want to see those characters in high school? I just think it’s gonna be really fun. I think it’s gonna be fun to explore, just all those backstories. To me, that’s a really rich and huge world that we can pull from. We can make it modern, and do new and interesting things, but we can also have nods to everything that’s ever come before, which will be really fun.

And that’s a live-action series, right?

BANKS: Yeah.

You also have Mrs. America, which has a great cast. What made you want to be a part of that project and tell that story?

BANKS: I’m so proud of that series. I haven’t seen any finished product, but man, did I have fun making that. I just love that cast. That cast is remarkable. It’s Tracey Ullman, Margo Martindale, Rose Byrne, Ari Graynor, Melanie Lynskey, Sarah Paulson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and I have not even mentioned Cate Blanchett. Those are all of my favorite actresses, and it’s content that’s really interesting to me. It also speaks to the fact that there’s no one way to be a feminist, but there is one way to ruin feminism, and that’s not to support women. That’s basically what that series is about.

We’ve learned that series will be exclusive to FX on Hulu, as part of their streaming service and, and you’re working with HBO Max. How do you feel about this whole world of streaming? Are you someone watches streaming shows and movies?

BANKS: This is a trend that’s been happening. I don’t think you can be in the business of Hollywood and not be in the business of streaming. We have to acknowledge how people are consuming content right now, but not everything should be streamed. We like content delivered to us in different ways. I loved going to see Downton Abbey in the theater. I watched it over time and loved it, but loved going to see it with the whole movie experience. It was like a warm hug like with old friends. That’s an interesting model to me. Now, I like to watch Schitt’s Creek, back to back to back to back to back, instead of one at a time. That’s just an easily consumable, tight, fun series that I can watch, in that way. That’s two examples of two totally different concepts of how we consume things and why we do.

Since it sounds like you also like to consume things yourself, is there a current TV show that you would love to show up and do a really fun guest spot or guest arc on?

BANKS: If someone writes me an amazing character, I usually show up. There are tons of shows that I really like, but I like them probably because I’m not on them.

Charlie’s Angels opens in theaters on November 15th.

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