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When the Farrelly brothers called Elizabeth Banks to ask if she’d star in Movie 43, a 2013 comedy anthology of shorts from various filmmakers, she was startled to find that men made up the entire list of proposed directors. “I said, ‘I want to participate in this, but I think you should have a woman. I will be that woman,’ ” Banks recalls. It’s a story she often cites when encouraging females to pursue their ambitions. Banks, 45, solidified her leap from actress to director two years later when Pitch Perfect 2 debuted to $69.2 million, then the biggest domestic opening for a first-time feature helmer. Up next is her Sony reboot of Charlie’s Angels, which opens Nov. 15 (she also produced, wrote and stars).
On Sept. 25, Banks, now shooting the FX series Mrs. America, will notch another milestone when she becomes the first female filmmaker to receive the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation’s Pioneer of the Year Award, which recognizes industry leaders for their professional and philanthropic work (previous honorees include Cecil B. DeMille, Michael Eisner, Sherry Lansing and Jim Gianopulos). The annual gala — which started in 1947 and is back in the L.A. area after being held for eight years at CinemaCon in Las Vegas — raises funds for the Will Rogers Pioneers Assistance Fund.
Why were you attracted to directing Charlie’s Angels?
As a filmmaker I wanted to tell a story about women working together and expand upon the idea of sisterhood and sorority that was meaningful to me when I was making Pitch Perfect 2. I’m not old enough to have watched the first run of the television show, but my two sisters and I did watch reruns. The three of us getting to pretend we were Charlie’s Angels was so inspirational. It’s a show about women doing a job that very few women had ever done before, which was detective work, whether on television or in real life. They were running around with guns, they were going undercover, they were getting to do something different every day and fighting bad guys. I mean, don’t we all want to do that?
Are you at all worried that Hollywood makes too many reboots?
No, not if you make it fresh, fun and interesting. I don’t think anyone’s mad that Black Panther happened despite the fact that Black Panther was a comic book that already existed. And I don’t think when people see this movie, which is a real continuation of a story that, like I said, just has really great DNA built into it already, my hope is that people, especially new audiences — the last film was 17 years ago — so young women get their own versions of stories all the time anyway. It’s the next generation’s turn to have Angels.
Did the emergence of Time’s Up and #MeToo influence your perspective on Charlie’s Angels?
I will say we did look for corporate malfeasance stories that weren’t hard to find post-#MeToo as touchstones for our plot. One thing that happens in this movie is we have a female employee who is sort of dismissed and not believed by her boss.
What do you like about directing versus acting?
You have a lot more control as a director, and I love that you get the seed of the idea and you get to create these scenes. As an actor, you’re joining a train that has long left the station. But along with all that responsibility and control comes a lot more pressure and a much bigger risk. When something fails, as an actress, it’s rarely the actors’ fault. But if Charlie’s Angels doesn’t work, that’s going to come down on me.
What can studios do better to increase the number of female directors?
We have to have leadership who trust women to do the job. People ask me how I “got” Charlie’s Angels; I didn’t “get” Charlie’s Angels. No filmmakers were trying to do anything with it, probably because most filmmakers are men. I wanted to make a movie about women working together, and if I can do it with the property that Hollywood already knows and loves, that’s going to be a faster green light than me coming up with some random story about girls working together. It totally aligned with what I wanted to do as a filmmaker.
Do you have a studio note that you hate getting as a producer or director?
There are many. Because I have to continue working in this business, I won’t mention any.
You are good friends with James Gunn and starred this summer in Brightburn, which he produced. Have you two discussed a role in Suicide Squad?
No. If there’s a role for me in something, he will usually let me know. We’re very open with each other.
You were a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton. Have you decided who you’re going to support in the 2020 presidential race?
My top two candidates are [Elizabeth] Warren and [Kamala] Harris. I’m really excited about them.
What would you say to Will Rogers about being the first female filmmaker to receive this award?
That it’s about time. Joking aside, it’s a really exciting group of honorees to be joining. I don’t feel quite worthy of it just yet.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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