Also Credited As:Elizabeth Maresal Mitchell
|Actor, Director, Producer, Writer, Camera, Film & Tape|
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Banks was born Elizabeth Mitchell on Feb. 10, 1974, and raised in the picturesque western Massachusetts town of Pittsfield. Growing up, she was an outdoorsy tomboy who loved riding horses and going to baseball games. She had thoughts of becoming an athlete herself until she broke her leg sliding into third base at a softball game. Looking for something else to do after school, she gave the school play a shot and fell in love with performing. She continued to appear in school productions up until her graduation from Pittsfield High School in 1992, at which point she moved to Philadelphia, earning a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1996. Banks continued her dramatic training at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, CA, where she earned a graduate degree and garnered extensive stage credits in productions such as "Hurly Burly," "Bethlehem," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "A Woman of No Importance" and "Uncle Vanya," as well as the Guthrie Theater's production of "Summer & Smoke."
In 1998, Banks moved to New York City and began landing acting jobs, changing her stage name to "Banks" to avoid confusion with another Elizabeth Mitchell who was also beginning to appear on TV screens. The adventurous actress was up for anything, appearing in a low-budget transgender lobotomy feature called "Surrender Dorothy" (1998) as well as roller-skating in a latex nurse's outfit for a Zima commercial. A part-time bartender in real life, Banks scored appearances on "Third Watch" (NBC, 1999-2005) and "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004) and a supporting role in the cult comedy classic "Wet Hot American Summer" (2001) before she was encouraged to move to Hollywood. In 2002, she enjoyed a scene-stealing character cameo as J. Jonah Jameson's suffering secretary Betty Brant in "Spider-Man" (2002), a role director Sam Raimi tailored specifically to her talents. Following a small part as a socialite in Guy Ritchie's ill-received remake "Swept Away" (2002) starring his wife, Madonna, Banks nabbed another small but eye-grabbing characterization in Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can" (2002). In the critically lauded drama, she played a bank teller who is unwittingly instrumental in teaching a young con artist (Leonardo DiCaprio) the tricks of the con artistry trade.
Her new big screen cachet inspired Movieline magazine to dub Banks one of "Young Hollywood's Up-and-Comers." She delivered on that prediction with a small but winning dramatic role as Jeff Bridges' lively, young wife Marcela in the fact-based story of racehorse and folk hero "Seabiscuit" (2003). Banks revived her hilarious performance as Betty Brant in the sequel "Spider-Man 2" (2004) before turning heads for her dramatic work in the indie "Heights" (2005), portraying a New York photographer whose second thoughts about her pending marriage spark new life decisions for her and four others in the span of one night. Shifting gears effectively into high comedy for the unexpected comedy blockbuster "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005), Banks vamped it up for a memorable turn as a sexually charged bookstore clerk who sets her eyes on Steve Carell's intercourse-impaired electronics salesman. The increasingly high-profile actress finally landed her first starring role with the comic horror flick "Slither" (2006), as the dedicated wife a man (Michael Rooker) who happens to be inhabited by an alien being that spreads squirming space slugs throughout a small hunting town, turning the population into a multitude of mindless zombies. It was a memorable breakout that affirmed her persona as an energetic, promising actress with a great flair for comedy.
"Slither" had definitely endeared Banks to male audiences, who now perceived her as the "cool chick" you could have a beer with and take to a horror movie. Her co-starring role in the football film "Invincible" (2006) further cemented that lovable image, with Banks playing opposite Mark Wahlberg as a spunky, sports-loving, supportive girlfriend in the true-to-life tale of improbable NFL player Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg), who becomes a special teams star on the Philadelphia Eagles. Later that year, Banks returned to television in what would become a recurring role on "Scrubs" (NBC, 2001-2010), as an urologist who ends up pregnant after a date with J.D. (Zach Braff) with both of them spending the next season conflicted over the relationship thrust upon them in care of the pregnancy. In addition to her prime time presence in 2007, she also paid a visit to the third installment of "Spider-Man 3" (2007), and had a minor role in the panned holiday picture "Fred Claus" (2007), starring Vince Vaughn. The actress returned to movie screens in early 2008 in the well-received romantic comedy "Definitely, Maybe" (2008), as the dependable college sweetheart of a single dad (Ryan Reynolds) relaying his mating history to his curious preteen daughter (Abigail Breslin). As one of three ex's chronicled via flashback, Banks was singled out by critics, with Entertainment Weekly hailing hers' as a "performance of invigorating complexity."
That year promised to be an official breakout period for Banks, who also appeared in "Meet Dave" and "Role Models," among others. But her biggest role to date was playing First Lady Laura Bush in "W" (2008), Oliver Stone's controversial look at the hapless life and presidency of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin). She then starred in Kevin Smith's raunchy romantic comedy, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" (2008), playing the lifelong roommate of a slacker (Seth Rogen) who find themselves getting buried under a mountain of bills and debt, leading to the idea of making a low-budget porn movie to get out from under. Following a key turn in the horror remake "The Uninvited" (2009), she was featured opposite Russell Crowe in "The Next Three Days" (2010), an Americanized version of the French thriller, "Pour Elle" (2008). She also had a recurring role on "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006- ) as Avery Jessup, the right-leaning TV host of a conservative network who ends up romancing her political and sexual soulmate, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). The fact that Banks could hold her own opposite comedy veterans like Baldwin and Tina Fey spoke volumes of her comedic skills. The role earned Banks Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2011 and 2012. After playing Paul Rudd's career-driven sister in the comedy "Our Idiot Brother" (2011), she landed a choice supporting role in one of the most anticipated movies of 2012, "The Hunger Games," playing the garish Effie Trinket, the woman who escorts kindhearted teen Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) to a government-mandated competition where 24 adolescents fight to the death.
Also in 2012, Banks turned up as one of the many pregnant women in the ensemble dramedy "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and appeared in the surprise hit a cappella-themed comedy "Pitch Perfect," which she co-produced with her husband, Max Handelman. The following year, she returned as the fabulously outfitted Trinket in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (2013), and she also contributed her voice to the highly anticipated animated production "The Lego Movie" (2014), slated to hit theaters early the following year.