Director Elizabeth Banks on queering Charlie’s Angels and producing LGBTQ-inclusive projects
Elizabeth Banks is here for all your lesbian-energy needs. After starring in Pitch Perfect, which never quite gave a Capella group members Beca and Chloe the full-on queer relationship fans (and even star Anna Kendrick) yearned for, Banks returned for Pitch Perfect 2 as star, producer and director, the musical-comedy’s flirtation with queerness still very much intact.
You could say the same for Banks’ new Charlie’s Angels and its own ranking on the Kinsey Scale, which definitely leans a little gay. Banks wrote, directed and produced the feature under Brownstone Productions, which she co-founded with her husband, Max Handelman. In addition to working behind the camera to launch the fearless trio – portrayed by Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska – into our modern, sexually fluid era, Banks also stars in the spy epic, playing an ex-Angel and one of the film’s multiple Bosleys. Notably, Stewart portrays her secret agent character Sabina Wilson, the first Angel to be depicted as a member of the LGBTQ community, to reflect her real-life queer sexuality.
On a recent morning, Banks called to talk about busting up gender expectations, canceling straight, white, cisgender men and how – yes, kweens – “Kristen’s character is definitely gay in the movie.”
So, Elizabeth, are you seeing the lesbian energy in this film that every other lesbian is seeing?
(Laughs.) I am! Sure, of course.
It was intentional then?
I’ll tell you, this is what it is: We have a very inclusive, open, loving movie set and I get to make movies with multiple women who get to sit around in rooms and touch each other and hold hands, because that’s what women do, right? We just really tried to be as loving and accepting of each other as possible, and if that creates some vibes that people want to interpret, so be it.
After the trailer dropped, this film was dubbed “Charlie’s Gayngels” by some queer fans. Is a part of you upset that that wasn’t the actual title?
(Laughs.) I wish it was just Elizabeth’s Gayngles. I’ll make a new movie that says that.
Was it your intent to remain sexually ambiguous with these characters?
I think ambiguity is kind of modern now. I think the fluidity is very modern right now. Kristen’s character is definitely gay in the movie. I mean, she wanted to be gay in the movie and I’m like, “Yeah.” I made sure we kept that little moment in so that you understand what she was attracted to. And you’re welcome to talk to her about it. She loves to be open about it. I just wanted to make sure that she was able to present a character that she was fully behind.
Was it important to you to cast somebody whose sexuality aligns with that of the character she’s playing?
Yeah. I will say none of them had sexuality written into the script and everybody in the script sort of flirted with everybody (laughs). Everybody could go all ways at all times and we didn’t want to put any limits on anyone. It’s a really great way to investigate your mark.
Speaking of investigating your mark: Pitch Perfect fans were rooting for Beca and Chloe to get together, and that never happened.
Both of them date boys in the movies.
Hey, that means nothing.
Apparently it means nothing. But they do dates boys in the movie. And they do get naked in the shower together, but lots of people get naked in communal showers in college.
That wasn’t my college experience, but please, tell me about yours.
(Laughs.) I definitely was naked in lots of communal showers.
So, back to Sabina: She identifies as gay? Or does she identify as queer, lesbian, bi?
I believe that she refers to herself as queer.
To have a queer lead in a Charlie’s Angels movie, does that feel like a big deal to you? It’s never happened before.
It’s so interesting. I’ll be honest, it feels so natural to me that these characters would live in this way. Again, I feel like it’s the most modern version of Charlie’s Angels and speaks to the audience that’s here for it right now. It was never a big deal, it was not a big deal. We talked about it and it just… happened. It was very natural.
How much of Sabina’s queerness was Kristen’s idea and how much of it was yours?
I wrote that little moment in that script for her to be like, “Ohhh, hello!” to another woman because I wanted it, even though she flirts with guys and then beats them up. It was important for Kristen to present herself as queer in the movie and I was all for it.
Was she responsible for the hair too?
Oh, I definitely wanted her to have that hair. We wanted to play with expectations of Kristen Stewart in the movie, so I told her from the get-go, “I want to open the movie with you in full Barbie regalia. I want you to have the long, blond hair.”
She played Gisele on SNL and we looked at a lot of those photos for reference, like long, long, beautiful hair and bright pink dress. You know, the whole thing. Just super comfortable in her skin, so then when she transformed in the opening scene of the movie, it was like, ha-ha, you thought it was one thing but it’s something totally else. We were presenting something that really had a big turn. It wasn’t like she took off a long, blond wig and then just had shorter blond hair, you know what I mean? (Laughs.) I really wanted there to be a distinction so that you know she’s truly playing a character and the real her is underneath.
Queer Eye style expert Tan France visited the Charlie’s Angels set. Did he approve of everything in that giant closet where the Angels’s wardrobe is housed?
(Laughs.) I wish he was able to consult on the closet! But he was with us after we were done in the closet (laughs). We were in Istanbul together. We had so much fun. I was so grateful that he came. I don’t think he’s ever been to Istanbul, which is a really incredible city. And he loved the film and is a huge supporter of it. He’s just been great.
Are you a Queer Eye groupie now?
Oh, I’ve been a groupie since the original Fab Five, honey. I love the first go ’round. I’m back for round two. I can’t get enough. I have not seen (the special) Tokyo (season) yet. Have you?
No, but I’ve got a box of Kleenex ready to go.
Yeah, exactly. I bawl during every single episode. (Laughs.)
How did you connect with Laverne Cox for her cameo in Charlie’s Angels?
I got to develop two television shows with her and love her and I think she’s an incredible talent, and she blessed Charlie’s Angels. I told her a year-and-a-half ago when I first started, “I have something in mind for you and it will be small at first, but I promise there’s more if you’ll just trust me,” and she was like, “Let’s do it. Anything.” Off we go!
You seem to be strongly suggesting you’re working on another Charlie’s Angels film. Are you thinking of making an even queerer follow-up?
I can’t… I don’t want to… I just want to tell you I always keep her in mind.
It’s been said that you playing a space witch in Power Rangers, Rita Repulsa, is the ultimate queer role. Is that really your queerest role yet?
Oh, she is probably really high on the energy scale, isn’t she? Wow. And also just the costuming. And she was real mad at guys too, by the way (laughs). Yeah, I’m gonna go with Rita, for sure.
You’re gonna go with her over Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games?
I think so, yeah. I think Effie’s kind of asexual, actually. She’s more of a drag queen; she really has an affinity for Haymitch, obviously. I think that’s real. The two of them had a connection but I think in general, yeah. Asexual.
Will LGBTQ characters be among the cast of your HBO show DC Super Hero High?
I don’t want to say too much about that, honestly. But I’m sure self-exploration will be a part of their journeys as they are very young and in high school.
As a producer, how important is LGBTQ inclusivity when it comes to the projects that you oversee?
I think it’s really important. Also, it’s really good business. I’m all about trying to be fresh, and some (people) are like, “You seem to have a lot of female-fronted films and television shows. You have Aidy Bryant on Shrill, Kristen… .”
The fact of the matter is that as a businesswoman, I’m trying to create (in a way) that feels really fresh to people, that feels like you haven’t seen it before, that feels exciting and new and speaks to right now. It just comes down to the fact that a white, male, cisgender perspective is just not fresh. We’ve been looking at ’em for 100 years (laughs). And in media right now, I’m about giving voice to something a little different than that.
As editor of Q Syndicate, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.