The Hunger Games Interview 3: Elizabeth Banks

“I really wanted Effie to have a theatrical feeling to her.”

The Hunger Games is the equally-awaited movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s book of the same name. Directed by Gary ( Pleasantville ) Ross, it’s out in the UK on 23 March.

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its 12 districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which the Tributes must fight with one another until one survivor remains.

Elizabeth Banks, perhaps most well known for starring in The 40-year Old Virgin and The Next Three Days is playing the role of Effie Trinket. Effie’s an escort for the chosen District 12 tributes and has the responsibility of drawing their names and then accompanying them to the Capitol.

How did you get involved in The Hunger Games ?

“I don’t want to give myself too much credit but I was an early adopter of the book series. I read it very soon after it was published, before it became a bestseller, and I was passing it around to my friends. I devoured the first book and I got on the wait list for the second book. I followed it very closely when I heard they were going to make it into a movie. Then I found out that Gary Ross, who is a filmmaker friend of mine, was up for the job, so I essentially called him and asked for the part of Effie. Then he got the job, some months went by and the next thing I knew I was playing Effie. It was really great, it worked out well. It was a great combination of: I loved the book; I had the same take on it as Gary; we had already worked together before; we had a great working relationship; and there was a lot of trust built in there already. So there it was.”

What appealed about the character?

“That even though she was in a position of power, her privileges and her liberty in this world is always at stake as well, just like other every citizen. The great thing that Suzanne Collins did was to present the Capitol with Avoxes and punishment, and you get the sense that although everyone in The Capitol is living the high life and living grandly, there’s still a sense of a military state there. Like the Romans under Caesar, everyone went to the gladiator fight, but could be pulled into the army or made slaves at any time. Effie is very aware of her station in life and knows that she is always in danger and I found that really interesting to play.

“Even her attitude is something that I think is a little bit put on, in order to put the best face on everything that is happening in her life.”

You’ve done a lot of comic acting, like 30 Rock and Scrubs . Did you draw on your comic acting experience for this role?

“I did. I typically try to find something irreverent about every character [laughs]. It’s important to me as an actor to find things that tickle me in anything I’m doing and there were definitely a lot of things about Effie that tickled me. I base a lot of my characterisation of Effie on Rosalind Russell, who I think was a great comedienne and actress, particularly on Auntie M, which is one of my all-time favourite films.”

Are there any other actors who influenced your portrayal of Effie?

“I definitely drew from Rosalind Russell, a little bit from Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story . I really wanted Effie to have a theatrical feeling to her. I wanted her voice to be this throwback to the great movies of the late ’30s and ’40s, and to have a sense of theatricality about her but without being too British or too strident. I didn’t want a Connecticut Buffy or anything.”

How was it working with the rest of the cast – did you have good onscreen connections?

“I loved this whole cast, it was amazing. Lenny Kravitz was fantastic; he personifies elegance which is always exactly how I imagined Cinna would be. I think casting Woody Harrelson was a stroke of brilliance; you really believe that Woody has the physical strength to have won the games. His character, Haymitch, is the only victor from District 12, and you believe that he is mentally and physically capable of doing just that. But he is also the right man to be their mentor. I thought he was cast amazingly well.

“Then we had just an incredible young cast who just threw themselves into this movie. When you’re a young actor this is exactly the type of job you dream of doing; something that is physical and demanding, but also really fun and filled with camaraderie on a daily basis.”

How about the hair and makeup and costumes? Effie has incredible outfits. Did you get a lot of say in what she wore?

“I did. It was an amazing collaboration between some incredible artists. Most of our team is Academy-award nominated. They brought all their talents to bare on this project. Everyone who is a fan of the book and has read the book has their idea of what the world was, whether it was Gary or our production designer. Everyone brought their ideas into the room, then we all collaborated.”

It sounds like your costume helped define the character.

“All of the external things – the voice, the hair, the makeup, the shoes – all of that was essential for creating Effie.”

Did you have a favourite part of filming that you really enjoyed?

“I was really moved by the Reaping. I thought the performances were incredible. It was my third day of filming when Jennifer came in and volunteered for Prim. It was really emotional for everyone on set. It was incredible. It was about 110 degrees; we were all exhausted, trying to keep hydrated, so it was a very challenging day. And through it all came an amazing scene.”

Interview by Olivia Mordsley

Read all of our Hunger Games interviews

Read our The Hunger Games review .