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'Mockingjay's' Elizabeth Banks is taking care of all kinds of business

'Mockingjay's' Elizabeth Banks is taking care of all kinds of business
Actress Elizabeth Banks at Universal Pictures, Brownstone Productions, on Nov. 19, 2015. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

For Elizabeth Banks, 2015 was business as usual. Sort of.

She appeared in four television shows, acted in four movies (including a soulful, multifaceted turn as Brian Wilson's love in "Love & Mercy"), and made her feature directorial debut with "Pitch Perfect 2," which grossed $287 million worldwide. So how have things changed?

"Well, I get a lot more offers to direct," she says with a cool-chick laugh in her Brownstone Productions offices on the Universal lot. "I have a whole second career now. I'm constantly excited to have to remind people I also know how to act.

"It's more that the breadth of work we get to do here at the production company has expanded. There's more trust now.… The community's saying, 'Oh, they're really serious about what they're doing.'

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"It helps when your movie makes a lot of money too."

Banks is definitely steering this ship and comes across as relaxed and plain-spoken. Her more than 70 acting and seven producing credits have shown her exactly how the business works. In addition to the responsibilities of her company, acting and directing, there's also motherhood, with boys ages 3 and 4. Still, she managed to squeeze in a part in "Magic Mike XXL."

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"It was three days to go and play and really have fun with those guys and a ridiculous character. I needed to leave the head space I was in, go stay by myself in a really nice hotel for three days. It was like a little vacation. After you direct, acting is a total vacation. And I got to hang out with Steven Soderbergh."

This year also saw the release of the final "Hunger Games" movie, "Mockingjay — Part 2."

"The experience was really important to me. I had both my children in the time I was doing Effie" Trinket, the TV personality turned resistance ally, says the actress. "I started my directing career while I was doing Effie. The people were amazing. We created something iconic.

"I feel that girls feel very empowered by these books, by Katniss [Everdeen, the main character].… I love being part of the legacy Suzanne Collins created. It still feels very real and special and important in my life."

Her showcase role, though, came in the Brian Wilson biopic, "Love & Mercy." She plays Melinda Ledbetter, the car saleswoman who would fall in love with one of the most transformative figures in pop music history, the reclusive former leader of the Beach Boys. Banks had the great advantage — and pleasure — of working closely with the real Ledbetter on the film.

"I feel very connected to Melinda and the family.… She was all the keys I needed for the character. She held all the answers. We got on like a house on fire. Then I got very protective about it, I got so passionate about doing it. I just knew it had to be me. I didn't think anyone else could do it."

John Cusack, who played Wilson after his famous retreat from the spotlight, said, "Seeing Elizabeth and Melinda together, boom. They are so similar in their temperaments, but they're dames. They're ladies, but they're also tough and funny and guys' girls in some 'dame' way. After I met Elizabeth and I got close to the Wilsons and Melinda … the casting was great, but Elizabeth got Melinda right. Great actress."

Banks says Ledbetter helped her understand how the couple got started in the first place.

"You meet this guy who has a bodyguard, who seems a little mentally unclear, you find out is mentally ill, under the care of a doctor who is also crazy," she says with a laugh of the infamous Eugene Landy, whose controlling methods of "treating" Wilson were eventually discredited and led to Landy losing his medical license.

Landy, she says, "knew how to threaten people. He did it with [the housekeeper] Gloria: 'I will deport you.' He did it with Brian: 'I will institutionalize you; no one will know where you are.' It was that blatant. And that moment was Melinda realizing how dark it was and how bad a person Landy was. Melinda hated [Landy]. Melinda had been in a lot of bad relationships before she met Brian, had been around a lot of blocks, had a lot of disappointment. What she saw in Brian and Landy was a really bad relationship. I recognized what Melinda recognized: That Brian was feeling worthless, helpless, degraded, by his partner. Someone who's supposed to care for him. I found that very recognizable. I got that.

"I've had moments of feeling worthless or where I'd go, like, 'Can you help me?' and the person I turned to is not only not there for me but taking advantage of me. So there's that."

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