Elizabeth Banks Talks about ‘The LEGO Movie’

Elizabeth Banks provides the voice of Wyldstyle, a smart, resourceful, and inventive ‘MasterBuilder’ who can kick other LEGOs’ butts and look stylish while doing so, in Warner Bros Pictures’ The LEGO Movie. The action comedy finds Wyldstyle and her fellow MasterBuilders battling to save their world from Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), an evil overlord who does not approve of people using their

imaginations to create anything outside of what is described in instruction manuals.  The MasterBuilders are led in their fight against Lord Business and his minions by the unlikeliest of heroes, Emmet: a normal, everyday, average guy who doesn’t believe he’s anything special.

In support of the February 7, 2014 release of the PG rated comedy, Warner Bros brought cast members and directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord to LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, CAto talk about creating a LEGO feature film for all audiences. And while at LEGOLAND I had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with the lovely Elizabeth Banks who believes her character Wyldstyle is an amazing heroine that everyone can root for.

Exclusive Interview with Elizabeth Banks

Style-wise, is Wyldstyle the Effie Trinkett of the LEGO world?

[Laughing] “She probably looks like it, yes! She definitely has some great style.  I think she’s really more of a little hipster, wannabe tough gal, tough chick. Her real name’s Lucy and Wyldstyle is the personality

that she’s taken on. I feel like it’s her personality of the week.

One of the things that appealed to me about playing her is that she is a little lost. She’s not sure what her place in the world is. She really wants to be special and isn’t sure what that means or how to do it. One of the great messages of this movie is that just being kind to someone will make you special to that person. There’s ways for you to believe in yourself.”

Was that one of the things that drew you in originally, knowing that the film has such a positive message? Or was it the character or filmmakers?

“This had everything. Phil Lord and Chris Miller are amazing. I have known Chris and Phil for a few years, so I wanted to work with them because they’re so great and so smart and subversive and fun. The fact that they were making this movie I thought was really cool. The movie that they pitched me a year and a half ago is the movie that they came out with. It was really close. In terms of the through-line and what the messages of the movie were going to be and about the idea of the people who build LEGOs based on instructions and make what’s on the box versus the guys who turn the box over and shake it out and make whatever they want. That’s in there, and the notion of the pursuit of perfection not being very interesting, because once you achieve it, then what?”

Exactly.

“And the idea that perfection will always disappoint you because what is it?  That all appealed to me. Then, of course, let’s be honest. Wyldstyle as a character is one of the strongest, most interesting women that I have ever played. She is an action heroine.”

Isn’t it strange to say that about an animated character?

“Yes, it is.  A lot of animated female characters are pretty incredible. I don’t know why it doesn’t translate to live-action.”

Why is that?

“I don’t know. They just don’t make them. It’s not my fault! [Laughing] I’m ready to go. I’m willing to do it. But you know the fact that she’s an action heroine who is kickass and strident and in control and rescues the boys and plays at their level but is also vulnerable and in a bad relationship and falling in love – I thought she was so complex and interesting to me.

All of those layers mattered to Lord and Miller, as well. I’m always so pleased when they really keep the three-dimensionality of a character. That said, I don’t think the movie passes the Bechdel test. Let’s be clear. [Laughing] I don’t think I really speak to any other women in this movie.”

That’s kind of sad.

“It’s kind of sad.”

But it’s nice that she’s well-rounded and that she’s intelligent.

“Totally. She’s the smart one, yes.”

And you were actually able to work with two of your funny co-stars in the booth, Chris Pratt and Will Arnett.  Did that make it much easier for you?

“I thought it was invaluable to the process. It was something that Chris and Phil promised me when I signed on to the movie that, ‘We know it usually works this way but we’re going to strive to get you guys all together.’ They delivered on the promise. I think Chris Pratt and I recorded four sessions together and then Will Arnett was in two of the sessions.  The things that came out of those, especially the early days…  First of all, we wasted so much time just making each other laugh and doing R-rated comedy that was never going to be in The LEGO Movie.”

So there’s a whole other film.

[Laughing] “There’s a whole other movie with these characters that’s really dirty and ridiculous. But we really found the dynamics between these characters and really made the relationships very specific and helped them go write more succinctly what this was and the backstories of these characters.

In the movie, Emmet says, ‘How did you two meet?’ or something. That was an improv. There was no scene where we discussed how Batman and Wyldstyle met in the original script in this film. That all came out of an improv, us getting together and delving into the secrets of Batman.”

And Chris Miller and Phil Lord just let you run with it?

“Yes, they just let us go.”

Is there anything else like that that came out of these sessions that wasn’t in the script that really stands out to you?
 
“Someone might challenge me on this, but I am 99% sure that, ‘See you later, alligator,’ was an improv.  It’s a really sweet, emotional moment in the movie.”

Did you play with LEGOs when you were a kid?  Are LEGOs just a boy thing?

“There’s three girls in my family, but we were raised like boys. We did have LEGOs growing up.  We integrated LEGOs into our other play. My sons do that now. When I was growing up we certainly had Lego, but it was like, ‘Barbie needs a car!’ Or, ‘My Little Pony needs a barn.’ Or a robot to battle a Ninja Turtle or something. We used LEGO in that way. I have a much younger brother and so it was fun to build with him when he was little.”

So you were the type who definitely didn’t go by the instructions?

“In our house, the instructions inevitably disappeared within five minutes of arriving in the home. It was chaos 24/7, four kids, two working parents. The instructions? [Laughing] Who knows where they were?”

Do you find yourself drawn to more family-friendly projects now?

“Not particularly. You mean because I have children? Not particularly. My children are really too little. I really want to be on Sesame Street because I think they’d think it was really cool. I have been trying for two years. I’ve never been able to schedule it. [Laughing] That’s one goal of mine.  But in terms of this movie, certainly I knew it was going to appeal to them. But, again, I did it because I knew it’d be really funny and I knew the character was incredible. I wanted to work with Lord and Miller and Will and Chris.

I’m still just looking at what are great roles and what’s going to challenge me. That’s really what I’m interested the most in right now. What do I feel is really going to challenge me as an actor and as a person?”

You went barefoot and kicked things in the studio?

“I did, yes. It’s really physical work. You really you owe a movie like this a true sense of authenticity. I think people forget we don’t just do the dialogue. We vocalize every action that these characters do. It’s an action movie, so there’s a lot of action! That stuff, it’s funny we always save it for the end because it’s exhausting. It really wrecks your voice. [Laughing] Really wrecks it! A lot of drinking of herbal teas with honey and lemon.”

A character like this, you have to be up pretty ‘up’ most of the time. How do you do that when you’re not necessarily in that mood in the studio? Could you always find her?

“That is why I go barefoot and jump around. I think when you’re sitting in a  chair, your energy dies.  They give us stools to sit on and I never sit on anything.  I always stand and do the work, so we have five, six hours sessions and you’re on your feet, jumping around for five hours. It’s really, really exhausting.”
 
Is it more exhausting than doing a live-action movie?

“You know, it can be because in a live action movie there are a lot of breaks. [Laughing] In an animated movie, you are trying to get through as much of the script as you can when you play a lead role in the movie like I did in The LEGO Movie. You’re on nearly every page of the hundred and something page script and so you’re literally reading over 100 pages over and over and over for five hours.”

That’s not at all easy.

“But it’s fun. You try not to read, you know what I mean? You try to memorize what you’re doing and just be free and just be in the moment with it. That’s why really having the other actors there is great too, because you’re working off their energy improv’ing to really make it feel real and putting the words on the page into your own dialect. That’s really helpful.

There’s a real lack of vanity, which is fantastic. It’s so great! You’re in a dark room, jumping around like a banshee and playing. It’s very freeing.  It’s really like riding a bicycle with no helmet and the wind is blowing in your hair. You feel eight again.”

People say they go into the studio with their pajama bottoms on and T-shirts. Did you do that?

“I didn’t quite go that far. I didn’t really particularly do my hair and makeup. I mostly just wore comfy jeans.”

Is it different doing promotional stuff for an animated movie?

“It’s very surreal because I literally want to say, ‘You know I don’t appear in this movie, right? Everybody understands that they’re not going to see me in the movie, right?’ But at the same time, I’m very proud of the character that I helped to create and bring to life. I think it is important for audiences to feel that connection. We really are trying to reach the audience through these characters, as actors. It’s not like we do it and we don’t pretend we didn’t do it. We take responsibility for what’s gone on.”

This one has a lot of humor that will go over the little kids’ heads. Is there a film you watched – an animated one – when you were a kid that now you check out and you didn’t even realize how much of that was going on?

“I felt that way about Shrek. I was an adult when I saw Shrek and I still thought, ‘How are they getting away with all of this? It’s amazing!’  Yes, I think this is one of those really fun movies where you need to watch it several times to sort of  get everything that’s going on. I feel that way about an episode of 30 Rock. The humor’s working on multiple levels at all times and the jokes are flying so fast. It’s actually a pretty good model for this movie. The jokes are just flying, flying, flying.

Were you able to have any input on her style at all? Did you get any say in how she looks?

[Laughing] “No. She looked like that when I met her.”

And your first reaction was?

“I loved her. I think she looks so cool. First of all, the pink is amazing. I love that she also has blue because she has a lot of feminine energy, but also a lot of masculine energy.  She really is a tomboy. The dark clothes, it’s like she’s trying to be moody and mysterious, but really she just wants to lighten up. Those eye lashes were very cute.”

Who was the worst one to work with in the booth as far as cracking people up and not getting anything done?

“The three of us didn’t get anything done. Will Arnett can go off on 27 tangents in the Batman voice and that’s just unbelievable. He’s the best Batman, I think, of all time. I love like a Michael Keaton Batman like anybody. I’m okay with the Christian Bale Batman. I think his whisper is weird. I’m not down with that whispered voice. It weirds me out. But in terms of does he beat a Val Kilmer? Sure! Or a Clooney Batman? He tops them, definitely tops them. He’s the most interesting Batman, I think, of all the Batmans.”
 
Were they filming you while you were doing your booth work?

“Yes. I think there’s some video of us doing it, yes. A lot of it is just to capture the physicality so the animators can look to it.”

So do you see yourself in Wyldstyle’s movements?

“Yes and no, yes and no. [Laughing] They can only move their arms like that [indicating tiny movements]. They don’t move their hands. It’s pretty interesting. They can’t go like this [twisting and turning].  There’s no head tilt.  If they’re in a tilt, their entire body tilts. It’s really fun.”

It’s a good thing we’re not LEGOs.

“There was sort of a mandate of fidelity to the actual toy. ‘Let’s not tell kids that LEGOs bend a certain way.  Let’s show them that anything they can imagine they can still build.’ The limitations are what make you be more creative.”

Were Phil and Chris showing you parts of the movie as it was going along?

“In the later stages, yes.”

Was it what you imagined? Did those clips look like how you envisioned the film to look?

“No. I will be honest with you I had no idea what Cloud Cuckoo Land was going to look like. I was like, ‘All right, it’s a cloud in the sky. Uni-Kitty is there.’ I didn’t even know what Uni-Kitty looked like. I’d never really seen her until very far into the process. I knew of Benny. I knew what Benny looked like and a few of the others. I thought it was so cool. I want to be at the dance party in Cloud Cuckoo Land.”

Is it a little freaky now to have a Wyldstyle LEGO that people can play with?

“I have many Wyldstyle minifigs. My son plays with it. He calls it ‘Mommy-LEGO,’ which I love. I say, ‘No, no. Her name is Wyldstyle,’ and he goes, ‘Mommy-LEGO.’  I’m like, ‘Sweet! That’s okay with me.'”

That’s too cute. He really understands what you do?

“You know what it is? We have a beautiful book called Bus Stops and in that book the bus stops at a movie set. He’s been reading that book since he was very little. He’s been to the movie set. He really actually he understands that a movie set is a place where mommy goes to work. He doesn’t quite understand what I do when I play different characters. He only ever sees me. Even when I’m Effie dressed up, I thought, “I’m going to scare him. He’s  not going to recognize me.’ Nope, saw right through it.  ‘Hey mom!’ It’s not even a question so I think he just sees me. It’s really fascinating how much they do understand that mommy has a job and she goes to the movie set.”

I’ve got to ask you because I read your website all the time, do you really do that? Is that really you?

“Yes, I just was editing it earlier today.”

How do you have enough time to do so much?
 
“They send me everything and I just approve it.”

And you have a YouTube channel, producing projects, and you’re a mother, it’s amazing you find time to sleep.

“I’m a mom. [Laughing] I need more sleep, definitely.”
 
Is an animated movie something that you’d want to go back to and do again?

“This group of people is amazing to work with. I would work with any of these people in a heartbeat, all incredible, everybody that I worked with including the producing team and just a great group of fun, cool people.”

Have you heard anything about a LEGO sequel?

[Laughing] “Let’s get the first one out! Who knows? You never know. I hope, but even then you don’t know if they’re going to tell the Emmet-Wyldstyle story or not. Who knows, even if they make another LEGO movie.”