Moviefone sat down with Elizabeth banks to discuss The Hunger Games movie, playing Effie, and her crush on Woody Harrelson.
Had you read the books before getting the part? Banks: I had read all three books pretty early on, before they were best-sellers. A publishing friend had told me about them. I read something in a similar vein, called The Maze Runner, and someone said, well, if you liked The Maze Runner, you’ll like The Hunger Games. So I read it really early on. And I passed it around and told my sisters and friends, “Put aside three days of your life because you’re going to spend every minute trying to finish the book.”
Did you see yourself as Effie? I did, yes. I wanted to play Effie. I think she’s an incredibly complicated, interesting character. She’s someone who’s wildly optimistic in the face of horrible circumstances and I love that dichotomy. She’s so affected by the events of the three books. She’s so close to it and yet is trying to remain apart from it, but she’s being sucked in the entire time.
Her look is so wonderfully over-the-top and you can’t even tell that it’s you: Even your voice is different and it looks like they bleached your eyebrows. Yeah, they bleached my eyebrows. That was the weirdest thing. Suzanne Collins created this world and created this sense of fantasy and the future and we were trying to find something that felt like Effie. That whole look of the Capitol and the accent for the Capitol, we worked really hard to find that. The accent… I didn’t get a lot of help! [Laughs] I tried out a lot of things and [director] Gary [Ross] edited me and said, “No, I don’t think that’s it,” and then I said what about this and then we sort of played with tone and just made it a little more nuanced. It took a while to find it. I’m really happy with how it turned out , though. I wanted something theatrical but not so over-the-top that it felt clownish.
What was your touchstone for the accent? Was there someone in particular that inspired it? Rosalind Russell in “Auntie Mame.” And Katharine Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story.” I didn’t want to sound British, but I wanted to sound a little high-falutin’ and theatrical. She’s a very theatrical person. So that was the word that was emblazoned in my brain: “Theatrical.” It’s what we call, in drama circles, a mid-Atlantic accent. And that was perfected in dramas of the ’40s. So those women and that cadence were my reference point.
And her costumes are also very ’40s. The look is very Christian Dior haute couture from the ’40s. A lot of French haute couture in her outfits, meaning they’re very shapely and fit the female form, but then they have wild embellishments. And they’re all handmade. They’re all really amazing. And everything had a chapeau or some sort of amazing jewelry to go with it. It takes place in the future, but we wanted to recognize that the world essentially came to a stop 75 years before this all starts up again. And that they would then be referencing our actual history. We didn’t want to make something that you don’t recognize. This doesn’t take place on Mars, so we wanted to make sure that everything was still recognizable in some way. It’s not “The Fifth Element.”
Who had more fun wearing a wig, you or Woody? Probably Woody. His, I think, was real hair, which is helpful. Mine was like wearing a giant plastic bag on my head. And then a hat and the high-necked clothes. And it was about 100 degrees every day that we shot. So I was very hot. (Laughs).
Did that add to your portrayal? Yeah, anything like that helps because she’s a character that wants things to be perfect and go a certain way. And she’s very agitated when things are not going how she wants them to. So it definitely helped her agitation.
Did you have fun working with Woody? It really was so much fun. I’m enamored with Woody Harrelson. And I don’t know how much he committed to it but I committed to creating a lot of story [between Effie and Haymitch] out of nothing, frankly. Because there is nothing going on. We don’t really talk to each other. But I was committed to creating a physical relationship onscreen. We’re always sitting next to each other. It’s like we’re a team, but we hate each other.
Like Paul Abdul and Simon Cowell? It’s very classic rom-com. I’d say more like Bogie and Bacall. It’s not so modern as that. It’s more about glances and attitude towards each other. You can see that there’s some respect there but there’s also a lot of disgust.
So it’s one-sided… He’s more disgusted with me, for sure. (Laughs). Elizabeth Banks has a full-on crush on Woody Harrelson. Effie definitely has a crush on Haymitch, but Haymitch does not like Effie. That’s what I’d say is going on.
What’s it’s been like to see Jennifer come into her own with this movie? She’s a fabulous young actress. She has a huge career ahead of her and she’s the real deal. She’s strength personified as Katniss. I think she’s perfectly cast. She’s not a wallflower.
What was your reaction when they cast her? I was ecstatic. First of all, she’s from Kentucky. So she’s of that District 12 sort of world. She grew up on a horse farm and she’s a real girl and knows hardy people. And I love that about her. She’s not some LA child actress.
What do you think the books say about our society? There are a lot of themes. There’s definitely our obsession with reality television, our inoculation to pain and suffering and things like that. But for me, the main message of the books — and I think it’s a great message for young people — was that individuals matter, that you matter. Your actions have a ripple effect and that meek can be meaningful. I think we’re seeing around the world right now that revolutions happen because of a few people. That is the message of democracy, that the one is just as important as the many. I love that this one girl’s actions of kindness and thoughtfulness change the world.