While Elizabeth Banks may be too young for a lifetime achievement award, there’s no way she hasn’t been shortlisted. At just 38, Banks has managed to work steadily (if not excessively) in both large studio projects and lesser-known films for more than a decade. What sets Banks apart from other actresses of a similar look or age range is the fact that throughout her career she has largely avoided being typecast. She works steadily—but not predictably—and has managed to establish a following based on both film and television roles.
Banks was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where she was the oldest of four siblings. Banks describes herself as a “go-getter” in her early life, in that she was always doing something. She spent much of her time outdoors involved in sports and considered becoming an athlete until she broke her leg during a softball game and turned her attention to acting to pass the time. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, Banks went on to pursue an MFA at the American Conservatory Theater. Banks spent most of her time on stage perfecting her craft by starring in such productions as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but after graduation, she took a break from the stage, moved to New York, and spent the next year doing commercials. Banks credits much of her success as a comedic actress to that first year of her career because, according to her, commercials are all about comedy. She learned quickly and started getting film roles shortly after.
In 2001, Banks made her first of many appearances opposite Paul Rudd in the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer. For the next few years, she was cast in a number of supporting roles, including Betty Brant in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Lucy in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can (2002), and Marcela Howard in Gary Ross’s Seabiscuit (2003). Banks quickly garnered a reputation for scene-stealing in her supporting roles. Despite limited screen time in the majority of her first films, her featured moments are often some of the most memorable—the most obvious example of this being her infamous bathtub scene in Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005).
The actress interrupted a string of comedies with a performance in the sports drama Invincible (2006), starring Mark Wahlberg, which highlighted her ability to master more serious roles. One key reason for her popularity is the fact that her career has been so balanced. She holds audiences’ attention because she’s never boring in her choices and she proves to audiences that she is truly multi-talented. As a female actor, especially, Banks’s career is evidence in support of the idea that women in Hollywood should not be relegated to playing a certain type, but can be as versatile and even as disparate (see Zack and Miri Make a Porno, followed by her role in W. as Laura Bush, both in 2008) in their choices as their male colleagues.
Banks has become best known for her work in a different medium. On the television series 30 Rock, her portrayal of Avery Jessup, girlfriend and later wife of Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, earned her two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2011 and 2012. More recently in film, her role in The Hunger Games as Effie Trinket earlier this year teamed her once more with director Ross and received a MTV Movie Award, in addition to the love and attention of fans worldwide.
There are many reasons why Elizabeth Banks is loveable. She’s funny, obviously talented, and always manages to come across in interviews as incredibly grounded and relatable. Lucky for fans, she’s also incredibly hard working, so there will be more of her work to enjoy in the future. Most notably, Banks will reprise her role as Effie Trinket for The Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire, to be released in 2013. She will also appear next year in Movie 43, a film composed of short comedy segments, which Banks also co-directed.