By Angela Dawson
Elizabeth Banks reprises her role as the well-dressed, perfectly coiffed District 12 escort Effie Trinket in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1,” the third installment of the wildly popular “Hunger Games.”
The action-packed fantasy film is based on the first half of the third book in the Suzanne Collins trilogy. (The second and final part is due out next year.) Sadly, in this dark episode, Banks’ bubbly Effie faces the horror of having no colorful wardrobe as she has had in the previous two films.
“War has an effect on everything,” the actress quips during a recent interview.
As she, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and others escape from President Snow’s clutches and head off to the bleak underground headquarters of District 13, she doesn’t have time to pack a suitcase and is therefore stranded with just the clothes on her back, and the standard issue drab gray jumpsuit.
The 40-year-old Pittsfield, Mass., native spoke about making back-to-back films for the “Hunger Games” finale, working with Lawrence, making her feature directorial debut with “Pitch Perfect 2,” playing rock royalty and dyeing her eyebrows white.
Q: You’ve had some incredible outfits and wigs in the first two “Hunger Games” films. How did you feel about your costumes in this one?
Banks: It’s a little more subdued. We went back to, sort of, cleaner lines, if you will. Effie is very chagrined in this movie because she has been whisked to District 13 with nothing but the clothes on her back. She literally just has one outfit, and it’s very depressing. She makes couture wherever she goes so of course, when she gets to District 13, where everybody gets the standard jumpsuit, it’s like being in prison, Effie very much turns her outfit into… we called it “The Project Runway of District 13,” because she can make something fabulous out of anything. In “Mockingjay, Part 2,” we go back to the Capitol for the end of the film and she really gets to dress up again.
Q: Are you heavily made up as in the previous films?
Banks: Not really. It was really scary to go to set every day. We imagine that in the Capitol, people mess with their appearance. But (in District 13), she still has the skin tone that she has. She has no eyebrows. She has weird lips. We basically took stripped her down to her basic, her everyday, wake-up-in-the-morning, look. That was it, because they’re not walking around with makeup cases in District 13. She found some, don’t worry, because she gets to make up Katniss. So, she takes from the stash. It’s a much more subdued Effie than you’ve ever seen before.
Q: Are there some prison scenes in the film that we didn’t read about in the book?
Banks: It very much follows the trajectory of the book. Essentially, I’ve taken the role of Fulvia. She was Plutarch’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) right hand in “Mockingjay.” Rather than introduce another new character, Effie just sort of continues as Effie. I’ve taken the role, essentially, of Fulvia.
Q: Did you actually shave off your eyebrows?
Banks: They’re not shaved. They’re dyed to match my skin. It was so ugly.
Q: How long does that last for?
Banks: Forever! They don’t grow back. I just got them back. It’s been months. I tried to make them brown, but every time I washed my face, the color came out. You don’t have to wash your hair every day, but you do have to wash your face every day. So it was horrible. I’ve been drawing them on for six months.
Q: Was that the biggest sacrifice you’ve made for your profession?
Banks: Yeah. I really hated having white eyebrows. It was not a good look. It really freaked my husband out.
Q: What did your kids think about the no-eyebrow look?
Banks: They didn’t have a big reaction. They’re all about my voice. As long as I sound like me, they’re not that freaked out. That’s the key to it.
Q: Do your Twitter fans ask you anything that surprises you?
Banks: They really love Haymitch and Effie. I don’t search it every day but I bet if I searched it the whole notion of Hayffie—there’s a lot of fan fiction and Hayffie love in the world. I just got a question today: “Are you a Hayffie ‘shipper.’” In other words, do you ‘ship Hayffie? Do you know what “ship” is? It’s the short form of relationship.
Q: Are you relieved that you’ve finished laying Effie?
Banks: No. I love Effie. I miss (playing) her. She’s an amazing character. She had a great journey in this. I loved the relationship she had with Katniss and Haymitch (Harrelson). And just the world that Francis (Lawrence, the director) created and that Suzanne (Collins) created. It was an incredible place to be.
Q: Liam Hemsworth said Jennifer hasn’t changed much after two Oscar nominations? What do you think?
Banks: That’s about right. She’s richer! She’s got more cash. You wouldn’t know. She doesn’t drive a Lamborghini or anything, unless she’s bought a Lamborghini recently. I don’t know. But she’s very down-to-earth, loves her family, really funny, silly. She’s young. She’s great. She has a great work ethic. She shows up every day.
Q: Did you go to all the locations that the other cast members went to: Berlin and Paris?
Banks: No. I didn’t go to Europe. Very luckily, (the filmmakers) were able to wrap me out in America so I could go direct “Pitch Perfect 2,” which I had to start when they were shooting in Berlin and Paris. I was very bummed not to go to Berlin and Paris but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to direct. In the movie, it’ll look like I’m there. Ah, the magic of movies, the magic of green screens.
Q: You filmed “Pitch Perfect 2” in Baton Rouge, La., right?
Banks: Yeah, they were in Berlin and Paris and I was in Baton Rouge.
Q: Was directing harder than you thought it would be?
Banks: I knew it would be really hard, and it was really hard. It’s just managing everything. You make every decision of what goes on screen. I took the job seriously and my crew was incredible and worked hard every day. That’s where so much of the pleasure and gratitude comes from. You sit in a meeting and you imagine that she looks like this and the place looks like this, and you show up and it happens.
Q: Why did you choose to direct this particular project?
Banks: I was looking for a movie to direct. I actually was involved in another script but I was producing this film already. I produced the first one. I was on set every day. I hired the director and the writer for that one, along with my husband. So we already were deep in the development of the movie. It was clear that Jason wouldn’t be able to do the second movie so Universal (Pictures) came to me about it.
Q: Whom did you get advice from?
Banks: A lot of people. I’d just made a movie with Bill Pohlad, a first time director who also is a producer. We made this movie called “Love & Mercy,” the story of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. I play his wife Melinda. They were real rock stars. I made that either right before (“Mockingjay”) or in-between. I don’t remember. I shot Effie for a long time. (She laughs.) At some point, I made another movie where I wasn’t Effie. So I worked with Bill and I worked with Francis. I talked to my other director friends too. I’ve been on 70 sets in my lifetime.
Q: What was the most useful advice you got as a director?
Banks: Francis (Lawrence) was very helpful because he’s directed a lot of music videos. He said, “When you shoot the dance sequences, make sure to include the hips.” That was very good advice, actually.
Q: Do you think it’s important to have more women directors in Hollywood?
Banks: I hope there’s something that can be done. The word “necessary” doesn’t come up in the conversation. In the patriarchy of Hollywood particularly finds it necessary for more women to be directors. But it would be nice to have that perspective in the world and tell big stories from the female perspective. David O. Russell and I once had a great conversation where he told me that the key to making great movies is to write great female characters. And you can see in all of his films the women are incredible. They’re really interesting. They have arcs. They’re not just showpieces. They’re really interesting characters, and I think he’s on to something. I’m used to being the one girl in the movie with five dudes. Look at “Guardians of the Galaxy.” There’s one woman. They cast the new “Star Wars.” There are five dudes. Then, it’s like, “Oh, don’t forget we got to put a couple of girls in there too.” Jennifer Lawrence is the most famous actress in the world and even she gets not one but two male co-stars (in the “Hunger Games” movies).