Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games. (Lionsgate)
Banks had been gunning to star in "The Hunger Games" from the moment it was announced the Suzanne Collins book series was heading to the big screen. An avid fan of the novels — she spent three months on Amazon's waiting list for the third installment, "Mockingjay" — the actress says she constantly checked the trades for updates. To her luck, Gary Ross, her friend who directed her in "Seabiscuit," was hired to helm "The Hunger Games" — and that's when she started her campaign for the role of Effie, the pink-haired chaperone for District 12's tributes Katniss and Peeta (Hutcherson). "When he got the job, I emailed him to say, 'I'd love to be…' and he [cut me off and] said, 'Banksy, I gotta find my Katniss [first].' … I honestly just loved the character [of Effie] and I loved the world, and I was a fan so I wanted to get involved."
[Related: The Cast of 'The Hunger Games': Then and Now]
Once Ross found Lawrence — who beat out Emma Roberts, Hailee Steinfeld, and Abigail Breslin for the coveted lead role of Katniss — Banks was able to secure her spot as Effie. "There was no other role for me to play in the series," she insists. "Effie, I think, is the most fun. I felt very connected to her, and I just knew there was something there for me to do. I was really excited about the idea of a physical transformation, and I just loved her attitude. She represents the Capitol. Not just visually, but also their attitude throughout the whole series."
Banks. (Kevin Winter/Getty)
Effie is notorious in the books for putting a sheen on the deadly Hunger Games, in which 24 young people go in and only one comes out alive. The character is easily the comedic relief in the somber melodrama, which is the perfect role for Banks, who has gotten lots of laughs over the years in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," and on "30 Rock." "The reason [Effie's] funny is because she's putting on an outrageously happy face on these completely somber circumstances," explains the actress. "My only concern was making sure she was not a clown, that everything was real. She has such a different point of view on what's going on here. That's what's fun and funny about her, and kind of grotesque. In her mind, these kids won a lottery ticket to be on the greatest reality show. Yeah, they're going to die, but they're going to die heroes and be glorified by their districts."
Transforming into Effie was not always an enjoyable experience though. It took Banks nearly three hours every day to turn into the eccentrically-dressed character. "I walked around in my wig cap all the time," jokes Banks. "I would get that thing off my head as soon as possible. It was like wearing a plastic bag on your head in 90 degree heat all the time. And my nails were a real problem. They were really cool, but they were problematic. They were full fakes and we had special on/off glue everyday because obviously she has different nails for every outfit."
[Related: 'The Hunger Games' Actor Transformations]
Banks is not only celebrating the release of "The Hunger Games," but also the first birthday of her son, Felix. After struggling with infertility for years, she and her husband, Max Handelman, welcomed their little bundle of joy via a surrogate last March 18. "He's about to walk," gushes Banks. "He's taken four steps, three steps, and then he goes, 'Oh my gosh, what am I doing?' And then he sits down. He freaks out a little bit. He's not quite brave yet to walk, but it's coming. And I'm not wishing for it. I'm like, 'If it takes him three more months, that's fine with me.'"
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