Elizabeth Banks is about to have a movie-star moment. She’s just come from the world premiere of Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno at the Toronto Film Festival, arriving at the Four Seasons in a sleek Prada dress with an SUV-size entourage in tow. The maitre d’ at the hotel’s chic lounge has swiftly grouped a collection of tables in one corner for her crew. Just as Banks settles in, a stranger approaches with that unmistakable look of omigod-I’m-about-to-talk-to-a-celebrity anticipation. He leans over and asks, ”Excuse me, are you Chelsea Handler?” Whoops. Banks smiles, apparently loving that she’s been mistaken for the E! host. ”I am so Chelsea Handler,” she says. The Handler fan is delighted. ”Are you here promoting a film?” he asks earnestly. Banks doesn’t miss a beat: ”No, I’m just here promoting myself.” The fan grins, satisfied, and moves along with a starry story to tell his friends.
Three weeks later, Banks laughs about the surreal exchange as she dives into a plate of french fries at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. As of now, the actress is best known as the sex-crazed bookstore clerk in The 40 Year-Old Virgin and as Zach Braff’s baby-mama on Scrubs. ”I’m constantly getting, ‘You’re somebody, aren’t you?”’ she says. ”And the fact of the matter is, I’m not quite somebody yet.” But over the next few weeks, the 34-year-old will finally have her chance to show audiences who she really is. Actually, she’ll have three chances.
First up, Banks slips on First Lady Laura Bush’s brown hair and inscrutable smile in director Oliver Stone’s presidential biopic W. (in theaters). Two weeks from now, she’ll drop F-bombs and roll around with Seth Rogen in Zack and Miri. And the following weekend, she’ll play Paul Rudd’s put-upon lawyer/girlfriend in the bromantic comedy Role Models. You could scarcely ask for more different films, and at first it seems like Banks relishes the stark contrast. ”I feel very lucky that Hollywood hasn’t figured out how to pigeonhole me yet,” she says. But then she drifts off, lost in thought for a moment. ”At the same time,” she sighs, ”there is an argument to be made for branding myself.” So which Elizabeth Banks will it be, the serious dramatic actress or the silly comedic one? Is it too much to ask to be both?
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