"I got into this business to entertain people," says film artist Elizabeth Banks. "I don't do anything for myself. I make movies for people to see them, so any time people enjoy what I do, all the better."
The 38-year old actress-producer was here Sunday to accept the Navigator Award at Maui Film Festival's final night at the Celestial Cinema in Wailea. Her visit came amidst the gala national rollout of her newest film, "People Like Us," that the festival screened following her award presentation.
Along with the way she looks, it's the voice that elevates Banks from being a versatile, very appealing screen actress in a wide variety of roles and adds that hard-to-define quality of being a Movie Star.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
When she's not shaping the voice into accents - from Effie Trinket in this summer's blockbuster "The Hunger Games" to Laura Bush's Texas twang in Oliver Stone's "W" - the voice is brassy and sexy, betraying a hint of Massachusetts where she was born. She punctuates what she says with laughter, which tends to camouflage how smart she is.
Yeah, doing comedy is hard, she acknowledged in an interview before the award ceremony.
"But I'm pretty funny. And making people laugh is very addicting. Once you start down that path, all great comics will tell you, it's why they go to the club every night. Even if they die, they come back, because when they don't die, it's pretty exciting. It's a great feeling."
Even the way she accepted the award produced laughs.
She could use the engraved silver platter to serve fruit, she said - "especially passion fruit, how do you say it, lilikoi?" Or to convince her husband, who doubts her navigational abilities.
Her Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson's Haymitch Abernathy even manage to add a few laughs to the grim, dystopian future of "The Hunger Games."
"Everyone deals with that kind of oppression in different ways," she explained. "Woody's character and mine have been living under that regime for a long time. I think a little comic relief, a lot of sarcasm is all deflection of, like, any real emotions."
That's just the opposite of "People Like Us," in which she stars with Chris Pine and Michelle Pfeiffer.
"It's a beautiful movie. It's a much more subtle story - a family story. I play a struggling, working-class mom who has battled alcohol addiction her whole life, whose father passes away," she said.
"Ultimately it's about mourning, and about how two siblings find each other in their adult lives. I love it. I'm super proud of it. It's very emotional. It's emotional for me to watch it," she said, before breaking into a laugh. "Anyone who has a family, which is all of us, can relate to this film. It was very hard to make, in all the best ways, as any good piece of work is."
As demonstrated in the clip reel preceding the award presentation, Banks' filmography is already long and varied, full of roles that grab audiences' emotions - not always for laughs.
Take Laura Bush, for example: "That role is very simple to me. She is a great wife. She loves her husband, and that was it. I played the best darn wife that I could play. Whether she wanted to be in the White House or not, she was going to support this man that she loved. And I really believe they have a great love story. You have to take the politics out of it and yeah, that's all I'll say about that."
Noting that the success of films such as "The Hunger Games" or "Bridemaids" has sparked another round of talk about women's new power in the film industry, she said, "Every time a girl movie succeeds, there's a debate about whether people want to see girl movies. It's sort of like, well, they succeed, so just make more girl movies."
She's got her own opinion.
"I think it's really the storytelling. If you make a good movie like 'The Hunger Games,' it's a great book, it was a great movie, it was perfectly cast with Jennifer Lawrence. If you do them well, then people want to see good movies - male or female."
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com