When you think evil, galactic space sorceress, actress Elizabeth Banks immediately comes to mind, right? No?
Banks didn't necessarily see it either, but that doesn't mean she wasn't game when the team at Lionsgate came to her with the pitch of playing Rita Repulsa in Power Rangers.
Synonymous with a host of beloved comedies from Wet Hot American Summer to the Pitch Perfect franchise, Banks rarely dips into the world of villains. The closest she's gotten lately was playing District 12 chaperone Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games films, a character more ignorant about the world around her than venial. However, it was Trinket's hyper-stylized costumes that Banks navigated with aplomb that actually suggested her as the right woman to embody Repulsa. Lionsgate and director Dean Israelite had serious plans for a visually impressive makeover for Rita. "I think they knew I would sit through the hair and makeup, which is like a four-hour process," Banks muses with a laugh.
Game to give it a go, Banks is now the woman the teen Power Rangers have to thwart to save Earth and the universe. We talked to Banks about setting the right tone for her Repulsa, her outlandish look and why she likes doing films that play to younger audiences.
I'm going to assume that finding the right tone for the character was key for you?
Elizabeth Banks: Tone is exactly right. With this movie they wanted to update and evolve the franchise. The teenagers in the movie are definitely coming of age. They are very modern and dealing with modern problems. So the filmmakers wanted a Rita who felt modern, edgy and, for lack of a better word, "with it" when it came to tone. There are very real stakes but a sense of play, because that's what people loved from the original series.
Is she as comedic as the television iteration of Rita?
There's an element of humor to her, so she's very unpredictable. She feels very dangerous, but it's all about this unpredictability and wry sense of humor that I think they hoped I would bring to it, and hopefully I did.
That's a fine line to maintain, because she's got to be a real threat for these kids, and the world?
Not just a real threat, but like Effie Trinket, who can be a clown if you want her to be, there are real emotional stakes for the character. Rita is trying to accomplish something that she believes in, and that was the other way to add a sense of reality to it that the show didn't explore as deeply as Dean and the filmmakers wanted to do with this movie.
How did you make her genuinely scary?
Rita is an alien and she's not from our world. With any of these kinds of supervillains, to make them real you have to think what is the worst thing that can happen in the real world? What would that be? Like if an asteroid came and knocked the Earth off its axis and suddenly we're in a nuclear winter. It's that level of thinking. She needs to embody people's fears about life, and a person's purpose in life. I feel that's how you make someone like Rita relatable.
Was there anything you borrowed from the TV version of Rita that fans will clearly recognize in your version of the character?
I know it's always fun to give fans little Easter eggs throughout. We did try to pay attention to what are classic Rita lines you might want to hear, or her attitude, which is really loud. She has a cackle and loves to laugh. There's a wildness to her eyes so I paid attention to it all so I could incorporate little things here and there so that people didn't think I didn't care, which, of course, I do care.
So would you say this film represents a brand new vision of the Power Rangers world?
Well, these five teenagers are based on the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, taking their names and colors. I know there is a lot of homage in everything we did but we also want it to feel very fresh and happening now.
Rita's look is very updated and graphic. How complicated was the costuming?
So many people worked on my costume! Most of the photography out so far is Rita in full Rita mode, but she evolves within this movie as well. She doesn't start out like that. It was really intense. I wear at one point a full body prosthetic from head to toe. The only thing that isn't covered by full silicone is like 12 inches of my chest area and that's it.
Just about all of the live-action iterations of the Power Rangers have typically been very low-fi in execution. 'Cheesy,' in a word. How does the film upgrade the franchise?
We really tried to think about if the Power Rangers were in this moment with all the technology we have now, what would everything look like. It is different from the TV show in the '90s. We can only do so much kitsch before you lose an eight-year-old. My kids want to know everything. Can she fly? How do they drive the Megazord? They want to connect the dots.
You work mostly with the young cast who play the Power Rangers. Were they looking to you for advice, or did you dish out any that's served you well?
I don't actively look to give advice. If someone asks me, I will answer any questions. But the director is there to guide them. I don't take that on as part of the job. All I try to do it show up on time, work hard, work to the camera and be nice to the crew. For me, it's about things I've seen really great actors do my whole life. I want to be like that. One of my first movies was Catch Me If You Can and Tom Hanks was an amazing star to be around so I model myself on people like that.
The cast also includes Bryan Cranston, but did you ever share any screen time with him?
I did not get to work with Bryan, but I am so happy he's in the movie and has a connection to Power Rangers. We want to give you something updated and modern, so he's such an inspired choice.
In the last few years, your resume is really packed with more youth-skewing films from The LEGO Movie to Pitch Perfect and now this franchise. Has parenting impacted the kinds of projects that appeal to you now?
I really like speaking to young people. I like making movies that young people are interested in. I don't want to use the word 'relevant' because I think that word is about the world I live in that is not interested in what a 42-year-old woman has to say, so I don't worry about that. But I do love making things that speak to young people because when you speak to them through storytelling it can change a person's life, and inspire them, and that means a lot to me. When I think about the things I am most interested in right now, I'm not looking at playing mothers and wives or things that aren't as relatable to young people. Maybe it's because I have young children and I see how much film, television and the books they are reading really affect their lives. It feels exciting to be speaking to young people though my work and that's where I am right now.
Power Rangers opens on March 24.