Elizabeth Banks has starred opposite many a comedic leading man, including Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Vince Vaughn (Fred Claus), Eddie Murphy (this summer’s Meet Dave), and Seth Rogen (Kevin Smith’s upcoming Zack and Miri Make a Porno). But now she’ll soon get serious with her just-announced role as First Lady Laura Bush in Oliver Stone’s biopic W. And while the amusingly ironic juxtaposition of Zack and Miri Make a Porno with a film about George W. Bush is not lost on Banks, the actress is much more focused on perfecting her interpretation of Mrs. Bush. EW.com spoke to Banks about her involvement in this sure-to-be controversial film.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you research the sitting First Lady?
ELIZABETH BANKS: I’m reading — I have about six books. I have the A&E biography that they did, I have all of her speeches, anything that I could find. I just bought her episode of Charlie Rose. I have a lot on my iPod right now. I’m very interested in getting her voice. I feel like if I get her hair and her voice right, it will go a long way toward creating the character.
Does it make it harder that she’s so visible right now and everyone has an idea of what she’s like?
Look, we’re not making a documentary. I mean, it’s a fictionalization on some level, with elements of reality, because there are so many well-documented moments of their lives that will be in the movie. But I’m never going to be Laura Bush; I can only hope to have her essence, and I hope to do right by her. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the First Lady.
Do you know how you will play her right now, or are you still trying to figure that out?
No, I’m still trying to figure that out. I met Laura Bush once, which was very interesting. Back in 2003, the White House hosted a screening of Seabiscuit, and they were kind enough to invite all of us to the movie, and they hosted a little dinner. My husband and I both chatted with Laura and George. It was really fun and they were very cordial hosts.
Did you get a sense of her at that point?
I did. I have an impression of her that certainly is informing my portrayal.
Do you get a sense from Oliver Stone that this is going to be a polemic that goes after George W. Bush?
Oliver Stone is a dramatist first and foremost, a storyteller — a great storyteller at that — and he wants to portray true human beings.
Now what about your personal politics — are you a Democrat or a Republican?
I’m a registered Democrat.
Do you think it will be at all challenging to keep your political views out of your performance?
No, no. I’m really not looking at it from a political perspective, particularly. I think Laura is very even-keeled and a great supporter of her husband, which as First Lady and his wife is probably the right move. So I will be honoring that. I guess I would say that, overall, that’s my hope — that I honor Laura Bush with my performance.
It’s just very interesting because this is a biopic that’s being done during his term in office.
Yeah, I actually think that [the script is] not a particularly controversial take. I think the controversy is coming out of the fact that we’re making the movie while he’s still in office. But I really think if this movie were made 20 years later, it would stand up. I just think the movie overall will add to the legacy of President Bush. It will become part of the record, I suppose.
That’s got to be kind of daunting to think of it that way
Yes and no. PBS just aired [the Frontline report] Bush’s War and there was [the 2000 campaign documentary] Journeys with George, and there are all kinds of things. You know, I think this will be a small part of that record.
I had been told about an internal positioning statement from the production that says this movie will call into question all that you know about George W. Bush as a president. Does the script defend that? Because what you’ve said is that it’s not really controversial.
Well, that’s my opinion of it. I mean, controversy comes out of opinion — mine is that it’s not very controversial. Let’s put it this way, I’m sleeping well at night.