Feature: Elizabeth Banks on The Uninvited
Fri, 23 Jan 2009 15:19:14
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Every actress loves to play the bad girl. Stepping into the villain's shoes is one of the job's best perks. Elizabeth Banks got her chance as Rachael in Paramount's taut psychological thriller The Uninvited. "I certainly relished playing bad for sure," she says with a wide smile. "I had a blast being evil."
Who wouldn't? Banks completely enveloped herself in the part, giving the supernatural flick a tangible darkness that's both hazy and realistic. In order to become Rachael, she drew from another classic, chilling role, but she injected her own duende. "I based my performance on Rebecca DeMornay's in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. I was really going for an innocent façade. In that film, Rebecca's whole demeanor says, 'What? I'm being really nice.' [Laughs] In The Uninvited, I wanted everything that I said to be double entendre. Anything could be taken two different ways. Depending on the audience member and how he or she initially reacts to me, I can be seen as good or bad."
There's nothing bad about Banks in real life, though. Sitting in the brand new Palomar Hotel in Westwood, she comes off as warm and approachable. Donning a stunning red designer dress and a black sweater, she possesses a timeless fashion sensibility. In many ways, despite being of a newer generation of actresses, Banks has a very classic method.
Her personal acting style allows her to become any role that she takes on—from the sweet lawyer in Role Models to the complex, sly nurse in The Uninvited. She lets the character take over. It works in this particular instance because Rachael throws the Rydell household into tumult when she goes from house nurse to step mom and seemingly brings a heap of supernatural baggage with her.
In order to prepare for the film, the relationships on set were crucial for Banks. "I just naturally clicked with Emily [Browning, who plays Anna Rydell] and Arielle [Kebbel, who plays Alex Rydell]. They're young, and they had a really strong bond when they were making the movie. I thought that was really appropriate, whereas David [Strathairn, who plays Steven Rydell] and I would go have dinners. It worked out that there was still this separation between me and Emily and Arielle that totally fits the movie. I didn't try and not be separated from them. I thought it was very effective for the film."
The film's house also became an entity that each actor built a relationship with. For Banks, the location definitely worked. "We shot almost exclusively at the house. I really enjoy this genre, so I love the idea of scaring people. The house becomes a character. It's this big, rambling house on the water. It was really beautiful because it sits on this cliff overlooking the water on this little inlet. We could walk around through the woods, and there were deer on the island. It really felt like our own little community got made on this property."
That isolated setting also definitely heightened the creepiness factor. "It's just the four of us in this house. We very rarely have anyone else enter our realm," she explains. "The movie is about what happens in that house, what the relationships are, who trusts who, and the power struggle. A lot of it is the struggle for attention from the dad. Who's going to get the most attention?"
A relatable domestic battle for power certainly exists at the film's core. "The movie is definitely about control. It's about self-control and power. Whoever has the control has the power. Certainly, Rachael is very intent on maintaining power in the house. She comes in as a mother figure. Even though she's rejected as a mother figure, she's not going anywhere. She sort of says to Emily's character, 'Well, I'm not going to replace your mother, so we're going to have to be friends because there's no other way to work this out.' The girls reject that as well. Then it's like, 'Where do we go from here?'"
That inner turmoil and confusion ground The Uninvited in reality more than your average horror film. "Rachael's a nurse, and she has this complicated past," states Banks. "I played her as someone who found the best situation she's ever had, and she's not going to let go of it that easily. Rachael has saved David's character on a certain level, since his wife died. There is passion between them, and they're really in love. It might not last forever, but they're going to work at it because it's certainly helping. It's a mutually beneficial situation. It's not one person taking advantage of the other. They're in it together, which makes their relationship all the more difficult for Emily and Arielle's characters because it's two-against-two, in other words."
A rich historical lore also exists around the film's characters, and that attracted Banks. "There's a whole complex back story," she says. "What happens to the girls' mom is really interesting. I always thought an interesting question was whether or not the mom knew that her husband was interested in the nurse while she's dying. I've always imagined that if I was in that situation, I'd be like, 'Babe, go for it. Get it on with the nurse if that'll make you happy because I'm on my way out and I can't help you.' [Laughs] It must be such a complicated situation."
What makes things even more complicated is the fact that none of the main players can truly be trusted—like in any thought-stirring thriller. She continues, "Anna was in the psych ward because she tried to kill herself. There's that question. Why did she try to kill herself? What pushes somebody to that point? That's a question that haunts the movie. What's the reason for that? Lots of people lose their parents, but they don't all try to slit their wrists afterward. There's that question that's not answered. That was a huge motivation for me as Rachael, the helper and a professional in the movie. My character must make sure Anna doesn't hurt herself again. That's something that's nicely confusing. Is Rachael motivated by making sure Anna doesn't hurt herself again or does she want her to hurt herself again? It could be the perfect cover." Once again Banks flashes that bright, but slightly devious grin.
“So much of [the story] can be perceived as being in your mind, which is very Edgar Allan Poe.”
Similar to an Edgar Allan Poe story, there's an intoxicating narrative smog, channeling a gothic aesthetic. When presented with that claim, Banks concurs. "Interesting, I like that. It is very gothic. There are cemeteries and dead children. So much of it can be perceived as being in your mind, which is very Edgar Allan Poe. Is this real or is this in my mind?"
Even though, she spent the fall appearing comedies—Role Models and Zack and Miri Make a Porno—this experience proved important for Banks. "It's a different creative process because the story really does matter. On the set of Role Models, we improv-ed nonstop. Once you're in the scene, you can whatever you want. Whereas in this, because we're unraveling something, you don't want to throw off the audience with too much or too little, so it really is about making sure everything is meaningful. There's a vigilance that's not really required on other sets. This was difficult because the script changed a lot. Regardless of what information was being put out in the scene, we kept it about the relationship between the characters. A lot of actors aren't listeners, it's hard when there's a lot going on and a lot of information flying around that ultimately in a scene you're reacting and listening to your part."
The audience will certainly react and listen to everything Banks' nefarious and delightful character says, especially as the narrative unfolds. "I was very intent on not giving up the secret of the movie. I didn't want to foreshadow anything. I wanted the twist to work for the audience, but also upon reflection, I didn't want the audience to feel cheated. We did really layer in the secret, but they have to watch carefully to find it."
With Banks' new femme fatale at the helm, they'll have no trouble paying extra close attention.