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SYFY WIRE Cocaine Bear

Elizabeth Banks reveals her favorite kills, plus which character is the heart of 'Cocaine Bear'

From Alden Ehrenreich's weepy Eddie to Ponytail's awful demise, Elizabeth Banks reveals her Cocaine Bear highlights.

By Tara Bennett
(from left) Stache (Aaron Holliday) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) in Cocaine Bear (2023)

After months of our collective patience, Cocaine Bear has finally unleashed his drug-addled fury upon us and it's as spectacular as expected.

Director Elizabeth Banks delivers unto us '80s cheesiness, abundant blood and gore, scares and perhaps the greatest ambulance chase scene in cinematic history. With so many great setups and outlandish sequences, SYFY WIRE got on the phone with Banks to dive into her specific cinematic inspirations, how her collaboration with WetaFX expanded some of the craziest scenes in the film and which character she considered the linchpin in tying all of the insanity together. 

RELATED: 'Cocaine Bear' kills it at the box office, beating box office projections with $23 million opening weekend

Never Too Much

Cocaine Bear (2023)

Cocaine Bear is R-rated, so you can go wild with the violence. What was your bellwether for "just right" when it came to how much is too much?

I felt like pushing it was like a mantra actually. [Laughs.] Like with Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) shooting Ponytail (Leo Hanna) in the head, the goal, the bar is Pulp Fiction. And the great thing about that moment is not necessarily the gore and all that, it's the surprise. It's the setup and then the casual nature after where it's just like, "Oh, f***, there's a dead person." And the other thing is he didn't need to die, but he's not totally innocent, either. It's not like a perfect angel of a human, so it's kind of okay that they're dead.

And then meeting WetaFX really brought everything together. At the very first meeting I had with those guys, they were really funny and the tests they had for the bear was based on some real bear footage that we could do which just hit the tone. This is not Piranha 3-D and it's not Snakes on a Plane. It was meant to be very fun and there's a ridiculous idea here, but it really happened. 

The Heart of the Movie

Cocaine Bear (2023)

The film's ensemble is crazy talented and each of them have their moment. But if you had to choose one character that was key for you to cast right, who would it be?

My favorite character was Eddie. I just love that the guy's mourning his dead wife and trying to break out from his father [Syd played by Ray Liotta] who is trying to figure out how to be a good father. Eddie is over it and he doesn't want to be in that life anymore, but his best friend Daveed [O'Shea Jackson Jr.] is still his best friend. There's just so much going on for that character that as an actor, I knew that character was so rich. To me, finding Alden (Ehrenreich) — who obviously was Han Solo for (Phil) Lord and (Chris) Miller — all of us were agreeing, can we go to Alden? I just think he's such a wonderful actor who is a little under-appreciated. But hopefully this changes that. He has a little twinkle in his eye. He's mischievous. He's having fun. He's letting the audience in on it. He's not some super serious actor that you're just afraid of him. That's not him. He really, genuinely, got like a big sweetheart inside but also can also showcase a lot. That casting to me meant everything. He was like an emotional anchor in the movie. 

Unexpected Insanity

Cocaine Bear (2023)

How much of the action did you have planned out and how much evolved in the VFX process?

We also did our previs with WetaFX. But I storyboarded, like, 90% of the movie. I love storyboards. I love figuring it out. I'll go around and just take pictures on my iPhone. We'll put together sequences based on all kinds of multimedia. They did some previs based on ideas of things that were written in script. But I would say, "We have blueprints, but I want you to be creative with it too. We don't have to build the house exactly how it's scripted. Let's throw out a bunch of other ideas." And some really great stuff came out of them pitching back to me.

For instance, the tree sequence with Jesse (Tyler Ferguson) before the bear goes up [the tree], I said, "This to me is Jurassic Park, so look at sequences in Jurassic Park and think about like, "Oh, my God, we're gonna see raptors! What are we gonna do?" They literally went to Jurassic Park and there's certain moments, like when the camera pulls back, and Jesse peeks out from behind the tree to be like, "Is the coast clear?" That moment was in the previs. It was not scripted or anything. Because they were like this is the kind of shot that Steven Spielberg put into Jurassic Park. We had to include that moment. It builds all the tension. 

What about the sequence where the bear just sorta hard cuddles Eddie, and then falls on him. How did that develop into what we see in the final cut?

I said that the bear needs to fall in love with Eddie after the bear has laid on Eddie. [Laughs.] The bear does cocaine so now the bear is like, "Woo, hoo, Eddie! I want like hearts in his eyes." I said that the bear is gonna roll over and the snow angel [scene] was in the script. So, we had the bear on its back in the previs. The storyboard artist sent me back, "Wouldn't it be funny if the bear was looking at Eddie upside down so that Eddie is upside down?" I was like, "Oh my God! Draw it and let's see what it looks like." So when I saw Eddie upside down in the storyboards, I said it's definitely gonna have to be in the movie. Great things like that came from the collaboration of everybody being on the same page about the tone and the references and what we were trying to accomplish. And it was a great collaboration across the board. 

Cocaine Bear is exclusively in theaters now. Purchase tickets here!

Looking for more creature-based horror to watch? Peacock has you covered with horrors like Ben, Bigfoot, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and Bad Moon.