Elizabeth Banks and I are not on a trapeze. This is good. I was a bit worried, because flinging herself through the air is Banks’ favorite workout, and she once persuaded some other idiot journalist to go with her. Anyone who
sees her in this month’s Man on a Ledge, for which she did all her own stunts, knows that (a) Elizabeth Banks is fearless and (b) Elizabeth Banks likes heights. I do not. My motto is, Anything to get the story—with the possible exception of plummeting to my death.
Fortunately for me, this assignment is for Lucky. Which means that instead of hanging off high wires, we’re at a swank New York hotel with beverages in front of us, talking about style and shopping. We’re in my territory now, baby!
Banks doesn’t seem to share my excitement. Frankly, she’s exhausted. Not only has she been posing, primping, dressing and stripping at our cover shoot all day but she’s pretty much been working nonstop for the past year. Best known for stealing scenes in movies and television shows like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and 30 Rock, Banks is about to come out with several new films, which will likely launch her into a whole new level of fame. She jetted in yesterday from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she’s producing Pitch Perfect, a comedy about the world of competitive a cappella singing; before that she was in Charlotte, North Carolina, filming the hugely anticipated Hunger Games; before that, it was Atlanta, for What to Expect When You’re Expecting with Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz. And throughout it all, she’s been taking care of a new baby: In March 2011 she and her husband had a son, Felix, via gestational surrogate (her egg, his sperm, another woman’s uterus). Banks’ Halloween tweet: I totally rocked my “overtired working mom” costume. Complete with spit-up on shirt and a nap. And somehow, I still made it slutty.
“I am the least looked-after I’ve been in quite some time,” Banks says, with a grin. “Normally for photo shoots I get a full wax, some tanning, a facial. But this time I’ve done nothing.”
Of course, Banks’ “nothing” is the average person’s “Holy Mother of God, how does she look that good?” She has a face that seems to have a light permanently shining on it, even though we’re practically in the dark. But her princessy exterior masks a quirky individuality; this woman relishes life’s absurdities. On her Twitter page she calls herself Elizabeth Banks, Amateur Goofball. And in her role as Effie Trinket in next month’s Hunger Games—based on the dystopian young adult trilogy that has a cult following of Twilight proportions—Banks collaborated with the producer and director to ensure that her character would be uniquely hideous. Playing the upbeat mentor to children who battle to the death on live television, she sports shaved eyebrows, cotton-candy hair and a bleached-white face that emphasizes every wrinkle. And then there’s Banks’ special contribution, the voice, which sounds like a demented ’50s schoolmarm: “It’s based on my heroes, Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame and Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story.”
Though she says she grew up in a house where the September Vogue was “like the Bible,” Banks seems considerably happier discussing the books she’s read (“Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food changed my life”) than what she’s wearing (J Brand jeans and a cozy Vince cashmere sweater from Barneys). “I was kind of late to the party,” Banks explains. “I mean, I have always appreciated fashion. But I’m a girl who loves a bargain. I’ll shop at Forever 21 and H&M.” Online she loves Net-a-Porter and the discount-designer site gilt.com. As long as she doesn’t have to pay retail, she says, she’s there.
That’s not to say that she avoids high-end designers. “I love Prada shoes. I cannot get enough of them,” she says. “Or Valentino. I wore gold-studded Valentinos at the shoot today—they were amazing. I’m always impressed by the craftsmanship and beauty of shoes.”
But to shop for anything even remotely outré, she says, she needs enablers. “I have friends who’ll come in the dressing room and be, like, ‘You need to have Helmut Lang leather jeggings!’ ‘Really, I do?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Well, all right then!’ ”
At the moment she’s in the market for a classic white Chanel jacket. Preferably on sale. A girl can dream.
Prada and Chanel were merely names in magazines when she was growing up, the eldest of four, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Her mother worked for a bank, her father for GE (a happy coincidence that Freud would have enjoyed, given her 30 Rock character Avery Jessup’s passion for GE veep Jack Donaghy). She was never really a girly girl. “We played baseball and fixed cars, because that’s what Dad liked to do with us,” she says. Fun was “jamming a stick into a beehive and running.” With a mess of frizzy curls and bad acne, she was not cheerleader-perfect. “I’m so glad those photos from the ’80s haven’t surfaced on the Internet yet!” she says.
Even so, Banks somehow managed to meet her future husband—writer and former investment banking analyst Max Handelman—on her very first day of college. “He looked like Jason Priestley in 90210, and he was wearing a vest with no shirt underneath, a look that was incredibly cool in the fashion world for about 10 minutes,” she says. Today they run their own production company, Brownstone Productions, and work on scripts together. Their latest sale is a TV show called Dave’s Dead: “It’s a buddy comedy,” Banks says. “It’s basically Two and a Half Men but if Charlie Sheen were dead and constantly in a different body.”
She and Handelman were “madly in love” from the outset, she says, “but it took a while for it to evolve into, ‘Oh, I guess maybe we’ll stay together forever.’ You don’t start dating someone at 18 and think, We’re getting married and having babies.”
But that’s exactly what happened. The getting-married part was great; the baby-making part pretty much blew. The 38-year-old actress is very open about using a surrogate to achieve her dream of being a mother.
“It was a womb issue for me. Embryos wouldn’t implant,” she says. Banks is passionate and grateful about her own surrogacy experience. “It’s a big leap, inviting this person into your life to do this amazing, important thing for you. And it’s hard losing that kind of control. But our surrogate is so extraordinary, and she’s still in our lives. She’s like an auntie.”
Banks beams as she flips open her phone to a photo of baby Felix, resplendent in an adorable blue tracksuit. “That’s my little dude,” she murmurs. “I hate being away from him for even 10 seconds.”
When Banks projects a decade or so into
the future, she sees herself spending more time behind the camera, producing and perhaps even directing movies, than in front of it. And as for thrills? “My plan is that when Felix is 15, we’ll go skydiving together,” she says. “I mean, the guy is fierce and fearless, and I’m hoping he stays that way. Because I want to be that mom.” That’s right—not the glamour-puss, movie star, beauty icon mother. She gives me a slightly maniacal sidelong glance. “The one who takes her kid skydiving.”