Elizabeth Banks on Directing a 'Charlie's Angels' Reboot and Why Hollywood Women Need to Be "Real Woke" (Q&A)

The actress turned director-producer, who will be honored at the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, also discusses the potential of a 'Pitch Perfect 4.'

Elizabeth Banks is having a bit of a Crystal + Lucy Awards deja vu. Women in Film, which is handing her its Excellence in Film accolade, also recognized her eight years ago. "In less than a decade, I went from being the Face of the Future to getting the old-lady-in-the-business award, which maybe says more about our business than Women in Film, of course," she jokes. In addition to being a franchise regular (The Hunger Games, Power Rangers), Banks, 43, has become a prolific producer via Brownstone Productions (her husband, Max Handelman, is a partner). She's added directing to her résumé, too, with Pitch Perfect 2 and next helming a Charlie's Angels reboot for Sony — the details of which she "dreamed about."

You spent many years in front of the camera. What made you want to transition behind it?

It was partly because I wanted to have a partnership with my husband. We've been together for 25 years, and as an actor in this business, you travel so much. I couldn't imagine a life with somebody who had a 9-to-5 job with two weeks of vacation. I just thought, "I don't know how we'll stay married." And he's a bloodhound for wonderful material — he found Pitch Perfect as well as our first movie, Surrogates. We just wanted to work together and tell stories, and now we have a deal at Universal and just finished our third Pitch Perfect movie. We jump-started a homegrown franchise, which is rare in the business. I feel very proud of having accomplished that with him.

And what about directing?

It's something I've always wanted to do. I directed plays in college. I'm very bossy, and I got to a point as an actor where I'd been on 65 or 70 sets. I always find video village. I'm that annoying actor. I never stayed in my trailer. Doing TV and film, it's always been a learning experience. I love now — with a movie like Charlie's Angels — getting to do action and visual effects, and I loved on Pitch Perfect the huge challenge of making a movie musical. I mean, that's no small feat. It's a big job, and I like the constant challenge.

How did you become attached to direct Charlie's Angels?

It was mentioned to me in passing at a meeting at Sony, like, "Hey, we'd love you to do something with Charlie's Angels." I went home and, as a lot of creative people will say, I dreamed about it. It has to stay with you, you have to visualize it, you have to have some seeds of ideas. I felt like I had a take, so I went back in and pitched it, and they really liked it.

How do you decide whether you want to act in or produce a project?

I almost always want to play a role because acting is the cushiest, easiest part of the jobs that I do. I miss acting a lot. I am the byproduct of all of the anecdotal and now accurate information that we have about the number of roles available to women of a certain age. Honestly, if I could just act, I would do that. The problem is that life was getting a little mundane and boring, and I wasn't feeling challenged by those jobs for a while. If you want to fight being bored in this business as a woman, especially as a woman who has been around for a minute, you have to figure it out on your own. There are bright lights here and there, but for the most part I look around and I'm super glad I have directing and producing on my to-do list.

Will there be a Pitch Perfect 4?

I'm terrible at predicting the future. What I can say is that I think the third movie [due out Dec. 22, 2017] is super, super fun, and it delivers on the promise of the characters and the singing and the dancing and the comedy. It's a crowd-pleaser, to be sure. I just can't wait for people to see it at Christmas, and then we'll go from there.

You were initially attached to direct Pitch Perfect 3 but then took a step back. How hard was that decision?

In moviemaking there are so many things that are about timing, and in my mind and in my heart and in my life, with my family and my two small children, there was a set period of time I felt I had to give to direct Pitch Perfect 3, and we just sort of missed the window. This happens; it just happens. There was really nothing [more to it]. I'm very invested in the story and really developed it and am proud that we were able to hand the reins to another woman [Trish Sie] to direct. I like keeping that promise to women in the industry. I think it is a duty, almost, and a responsibility. If you can do it, invite people to the table.

You're also attached to direct the upcoming adaptation of the YA fantasy book Red Queen for Universal. Was that a project you actively sought out?

Yes, I loved the book. I love Victoria [Aveyard], the writer. She's just so clever. And I loved Mare, the lead character. I thought that there was a real amazing potential for world-building in that story. I love seeing strong young women at the heart of storytelling. I'm so excited for Wonder Woman, you can't even imagine.

You're executive producing Lionsgate's White Girl Problems, which Lauren Palmigiano was hired to direct. With the other films you're producing — including Heist and Dirty Rush — are you specifically looking for female directors?

We look for female directors and female writers. We work with a lot of female voices. And we work with guys, too. We're not anti-man. We always keep that list very open and fluid. For me to feel like I'm actually making a difference in our business requires action and not just talking about it. So we're always looking for a great fit for material, but as best we can we approach a lot of women.

You just wrapped Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later for Netflix. What was it like to return to that project after the 2001 original and 2015 prequel?

We're devoted to it because fans love it and because it's a style of comedy that we're really proud of. I remember when we were making the [2001] movie, we wanted to make a classic comedy in the vein of Monty Python — which we all grew up on — and Richard Linklater, who had made Dazed and Confused for us. We wanted to make a classic, and I think Wet Hot in its day was just super ahead of its time. Really no one had seen that kind of super dumb humor before. We really set out to do what we ultimately ended up doing — it just took about 10 years for people to really get it.

With Hollywood relying on reboots and spinoffs, how do you feel being a part of several of them?

So many stories are just classic in nature. They either have a classic scene at their heart or they're about characters we relate to. I feel like The Handmaid's Tale has a direct connection to Greek tragedy and Lysistrata. You can connect all of these things if you wanted to. So, to me, reboots and rehashes and retelling and bringing stuff back — it's all because people love to be wrapped in a warm hug of familiarity with a twist of new. That's what I like, anyway. I want something new and cool and fresh, but I also really love the warm hug of the familiar so that I don't feel like I can't understand what I'm watching. That's why those things work.

What other property do you want to revisit?

I was such a huge fan of everything Whoopi Goldberg did when I was growing up, like Jumping Jack Flash. I loved her Oda Mae character [in Ghost]. Those are the kinds of roles that are super fun to think about doing.

Who are you dying to work with?

I really want to work with Kate McKinnon. I'm looking for things that we can do together.

In this divisive political climate, do you feel a responsibility to tell certain stories?

To borrow a phrase that I know very little about, I think it's important for women to be real "woke" right now in a general sense. And I do feel like young women, in particular, have woken up to the fact that things they took for granted can no longer be taken for granted. You've got to keep fighting for progress.


Three men will be among those honored at the woman-focused Crystal + Lucy Awards, hosted by actress Jessica Williams.

Mira Nair, BMW Dorothy Arzner Directors Award
The Indian-American filmmaker, who helmed Queen of Katwe in 2016, is receiving the directing honor.

Tracee Ellis Ross, Lucy Award for Excellence in Television
The Black-ish star will take home the top TV honor, to follow her comedy actress Golden Globe earlier this year.

Dan Rather, Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award
The host of The Big Interview recently launched media outlet News and Guts to combat fake news.

Zoey Deutch, Max Mara Face of the Future Award
The daughter of Lea Thompson and Howard Deutch has a string of films coming up, including Rebel in the Rye.

Michael Barker & Tom Bernard, Beacon Award
The Sony Pictures Classics execs will receive this new award for their efforts to advance gender equity.

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.