Yo Aca-Adrian! Elizabeth Banks Says 'Rocky IV' Inspired The New 'Pitch Perfect'

Yo Aca-Adrian! Elizabeth Banks Says 'Rocky IV' Inspired The New 'Pitch Perfect'

6:58pm May 15, 2015
Anna Kendrick and her compatriots in the Barden Bellas are back for a second installment of a cappella excitement in Pitch Perfect 2. It's also Elizabeth Banks' first major movie as a director.
Anna Kendrick and her compatriots in the Barden Bellas are back for a second installment of a cappella excitement in Pitch Perfect 2. It's also Elizabeth Banks' first major movie as a director.
Universal Studios
  • Anna Kendrick and her compatriots in the Barden Bellas are back for a second installment of a cappella excitement in Pitch Perfect 2. It's also Elizabeth Banks' first major movie as a director.

    Anna Kendrick and her compatriots in the Barden Bellas are back for a second installment of a cappella excitement in Pitch Perfect 2. It's also Elizabeth Banks' first major movie as a director.

    Universal Studios

  • Elizabeth Banks directed Pitch Perfect 2, and she also returns as impolitic a cappella judge Gail Abernathy-McKadden.

    Elizabeth Banks directed Pitch Perfect 2, and she also returns as impolitic a cappella judge Gail Abernathy-McKadden.

    Universal Pictures

You'd recognize actress Elizabeth Banks if you saw her — blonde, attractive, funny — whether she's playing an exhausted pregnant woman in What to Expect When You're Expecting, or an inappropriate a cappella judge in the 2012 movie Pitch Perfect.

Now she's taking on a different role: Directing Pitch Perfect 2. It's a tall order since the first one was such a surprise hit — it cost only $17 million to make, but earned more than $100 million worldwide.

And much like the first film's success, singing heroines the Barden Bellas are fresh off a victory, though theirs was onstage at a college championship, rather than at the box office. So to raise the stakes, Banks took the big fish out of their small pond and dropped them in an ocean. In Pitch Perfect 2, the ladies are competing in the world championships.

Banks tells NPR's Audie Cornish she thinks these films are just like sports movies. "In the first film, especially, it was really structured like The Bad News Bears," she says. "It's a group of misfits who have to come together, who practice, who have competitions, they have to keep winning in order to keep going — so very much like a sports movie."


Interview Highlights

On her particular inspiration for this movie

Our model was Rocky IV. Because we spent a lot of time talking about Ivan Drago — we have a new competitor, a German group called Das Sound Machine, and we wanted Das Sound Machine to sort of be like our Ivan Drago, and the Bellas are our Rocky ... I think they look villainous but weirdly sexy.

On the tribal nature of a cappella

I think it's a good metaphor for life, generally — you know, all of these voices have to work together in harmony to be its best, and I think that's something that on an almost subconscious level people are responding to with these films. This particular type of music, I think, really requires all the part, and that dovetails really nicely with our teamwork themes.

On moving into directing

I started thinking about it probably maybe five years ago. You know, I directed plays in college, and it's something that I've sort of always put in the back of my mind ... and I started just sort of seeking out small opportunities. So one of the first things I did was direct a short film for the Farrelly brothers. And I did it by essentially guilting them into letting me direct it. I said, you don't have any women writers, directors, nobody. And I knew that they sort of trusted me in a weird way ... so I had been working towards this moment, towards the moment of directing a big feature.

On why more actresses don't move into directing

It's really the time commitment — and if you're going to direct a movie, you know, I think that's why Ben Affleck always stars in his movies. I mean, that would be my theory — I don't chat to him about it! But, you know, I think if you're going to take that amount of time to direct, you don't want to just leave your acting career on the side. That's what brought us to the dance, that's what we all love to do.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You'd recognize actress Elizabeth Banks if you saw her - blonde, attractive, very funny - whether it's playing an exhausted pregnant woman in "What To Expect When You're Expecting..."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING")

ELIZABETH BANKS: (As Wendy) I have no control over my body or my emotions. Gar-bear, I'm sorry. All I want to do is punch you in the face.

CORNISH: ...Or an inappropriate a cappella judge in the 2012 movie, "Pitch Perfect."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT")

BANKS: (As Gail) Nothing makes a woman feel more like a girl than a man who sings like a boy.

CORNISH: Now she's taking on a different role, directing "Pitch Perfect 2."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As The Barden Bellas, singing) Who run the world? Girls. Who run the world? Girls. Girls. Hey, bring it on, baby.

CORNISH: It's a tall order because the first one was a major surprise hit. It only cost $17 million to make but earned more than a hundred million worldwide. And much like the first film's success, the singing heroines of The Barden Bellas are coming into this film after winning the big college championship. So to raise the stakes, Banks says she took the big fish out of the small pond and into an ocean. In "Pitch Perfect 2," the ladies are competing in the world championships. Bank says she thinks these films are just like sports movies.

BANKS: In the first film, especially, it was really structured, like "The Bad News Bears." You know, it's a group of misfits who have to come together, who practice, who have competitions. They have to keep winning in order to keep going, and - so very much like a sports movie. And in this film, our model was "Rocky IV" (laughter).

CORNISH: Four - wait. Four specifically (laughter).

BANKS: Yeah, because we spent a lot of time talking about Ivan Drago. We have a new competitor, a German group called Da Sound Machine, and we wanted Da Sound Machine to sort of be like our Ivan Drago and the Bellas are our Rocky.

CORNISH: Right, and like Drago, they are very - I don't know, Aryan? Like they're very tall.

BANKS: They're very disciplined. They're very disciplined. They're very serious.

CORNISH: Though they're wearing sort of German BDSM gear, I feel like...

BANKS: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ...With a lot of mesh and black leather.

BANKS: Yes, it's a little bit of a fantasy of my costume designer Salvador Perez, Jr., I think. But that's OK 'cause I love them. But you know, we definitely wanted them to be sort of the villains, and I think they look villainous but kind of weirdly sexy, and they're just fun. We had so much fun putting that group together.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) All right, come on in.

CORNISH: And there are 30 musical sequences in this film, I've read, and a lot of fun cameos, especially this scene where the girls are drawn into an underground singing contest by a mysterious millionaire. They go up against several members of the Green Bay Packers football team among others and the German singing team, Das Sound Machine. Here's a clip from that scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Time's up. Go.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Das Sound Machine, singing) This is how we do it. I'm kind of buzzed and it's all because this is how we do it. South Central does it like nobody does. This is how we do it. To all my neighbors, you got much flavor. This is how we do it. Let's...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As The Barden Bellas, singing) Girls, you know you better. Watch out. Some guys, some guys are only about that thing, that thing, that thing,

FLULA BORG: (As Pieter Kramer, singing) That girl is poison. Never trust a big butt and smile. That girl is poison.

CORNISH: And the last voice we heard was German YouTube star, Flula Borg, who I had never heard of and was kind of amazing in this film.

BANKS: I had never heard of him either before we started. We were - had a search on for a great beat boxer, actually. You know, part of what we are doing with these films, both the first film and this film, is educating people about what the heck a cappella even is. And I felt like in the first film, we really did highlight, especially with our audition sequence, sort of how a song gets put together the different parts.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Doom. Doom. Doom. Doom. Doom. Doom. Doom.

BANKS: But we didn't get a chance to really show off some great beat boxing. We have a great beat boxer in the film. His name is Fitz (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (Beatboxing, as Fitz).

BANKS: But on the search for Fitz, we found Flula...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

BORG: (As Pieter Kramer, singing) Paranoia is in bloom. The PR transmissions will resume. They try to...

BANKS: ...Who's an American German and also Birgitte Sorenson who's Danish.

CORNISH: And the scene of the sing-off competition also has the host raising his arms and saying can you dig it, like (laughter)...

BANKS: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ...This style of the '79 film, "The Warriors."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Can you dig it?

BANKS: That's exactly right. Good for you picking that up.

CORNISH: It's my favorite film, OK? So I'm not smart. I don't know about films. It's just that's the one I like. It sort of reminded me of something about a cappella which is that it's tribal.

BANKS: Yeah, very tribal. I think it's a good metaphor for life, generally. It's sort of - you know, all of these voices have to work together in harmony to be its best. And I think that's something that on a almost subconscious level, people are responding to with these films, you know. This particular type of music, I think, really requires all the parts, and that dovetails very nicely with our teamwork.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As The Barden Bellas, singing) I got all I need when I got you and I because I look around me and see sweet life. I'm stuck in the dark, but you're my flashlight. You're getting me, getting me through the night.

CORNISH: You describe these women as having become the kind of big fish in their little pond. And in this film, they're facing graduation and dealing with moving on from college life, like what comes next. When did you start to think about that yourself in terms of kind of moving a little bit from acting to directing?

BANKS: I started thinking about it probably maybe five years ago. You know, I directed plays in college. It's something that I have sort of always put in the back of my mind, and I'm a busy actress, and it's very difficult to sort of find the time honestly to commit to directing. It's a very - it's a big, big job. And, well, I've been working on "Pitch Perfect 2" for over a year of my life, and I started just sort of seeking out small opportunities.

So one of the first things I did was direct a short film for the Farrelly brothers, and I did it by essentially guilting them into letting me direct it. I said, you don't have any women - writers, directors, not nobody - and I knew that they sort of trusted me in a weird way. And they did, and they gave me the opportunity to do that and I developed a script with a female writer and directed a little short film for them that starred Chloe Grace Moretz, the young actress. And so that was my sort of my first taste. I dipped my toe in with that and then looked for other opportunities. I directed a Funny or Die video here, and I directed a couple commercials. Then I directed a pretty successful campaign for the American Heart Association. So I had been working towards this moment - towards the moment of directing a big feature.

CORNISH: Why do you think more women don't make that leap 'cause I see actresses starting production companies?

BANKS: Mhm.

CORNISH: I don't necessarily see them doing what you're doing.

BANKS: Well, most actresses who are starting production companies have pretty great acting careers.

CORNISH: You also - I mean, you've been in more than 70 films.

BANKS: That's true.

CORNISH: Like, you know, it's not a small amount of work you're doing.

BANKS: No, it's not, but I will tell you that when I speak to my fellow actresses about it, you know, so many of them say, like, it is - it's really the time commitment. And if you're going to direct a movie - you know, I think that's why Ben Affleck always stars in his movies. I mean, that would be my theory. I don't chat to him about it.

CORNISH: (Laughter) Yeah.

BANKS: But, you know, I think if you're going to take that amount of time to direct, you don't want to just leave your acting career on the side. That's what brought us to the dance. That's what we all love to do. That's at least my first love, although I did have a lot of fun being the boss. It was very fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As The Barden Bellas, singing) We got the world. We got the world, world, world, world, world, world, world, world, world, world, world, world, world, world, world. It's going down.

CORNISH: Well, thanks so much for talking with us about this film and about directing. Best of luck.

BANKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: That's Elizabeth Banks. She's the director of the new movie, "Pitch Perfect 2."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH PERFECT 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As The Barden Bellas, singing) I'll be the one you won't forget. Woah, oh, oh, oh. Woah, oh, oh, oh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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