Elizabeth Banks moves effortlessly between comedies and dramas, taking part in such diverse movies as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Seabiscuit, Fred Claus, Invincible, Zach and Miri Make a Porno and Catch Me If You Can.
In The Next Three Days, an action thriller, Banks portrays Lara Brennan the loving wife of John (Russell Crowe) and the devoted mother of Luke (Ty Simpkins). The family’s world comes apart when Lara is arrested for a murder she insists she didn’t commit.
Incarcerated for three years at the Allegheny County Jail, when her final appeal is rejected by the court, Lara becomes suicidal, leading John, a school teacher, to devise a plan to break her out of prison.
Can you tell us a little about Lara?
Lara’s ambitious, and she’s balancing work and motherhood and trying to maintain this really great relationship with the love of her life. When she gets torn away from him, they’re both devastated, but they deal with it in two totally different ways.
This movie isn’t really about whether she’s guilty or innocent; it’s about what can be proven in a court of law and whether that matters to somebody who loves you and believes in you no matter what.
How does the couple’s child Luke factor into the story?
Having a little boy for me made the stakes for the movie so much higher. It’s not just a love story, it’s a story about a man who has a motherless child and needs to figure out how he’s going to get his son’s mother back.
I walked a really fine line emotionally and psychologically while I was doing this. I felt like one of the goals of my character was to get to the point where I could say to John on one of his visits, ‘You need to find another mother for our son.’
Would I be able to actually give up that role and say that out loud, knowing that it’s the best thing for him as I can’t mother him in prison, or do I need to fight to be mothering him so that when he’s older he knows I’ve tried the whole time.
I really feel like she gets to the point where she can push them away, it’s her coping mechanism, she resigned herself, this is my fate. And the minute she’s ready to say that, John’s like, ‘I’m going to break you out.’
What was it like working with Russell Crowe and writer/director Paul Haggis?
They are two of the best and I couldn’t wait to get on set and be challenged by them. It’s not a stretch to say that Russell is one of his generation’s best actors. It’s a little intimidating when you first show up and then you get over it. He’s just so gorgeous and so charming.
You shot this in a working prison. Did you bond with any inmates, what was your experience like?
I wouldn’t say I bonded with any inmates. My character is incarcerated at the Alleghany County Jail, where we actually shot the movie, so of course it was really helpful in terms of getting into character. I got to sit with the inmates, I got to be locked in the cell.
I lasted about two minutes before I was like, ‘Get me the hell out of here.’ They don’t have bars on their doors, it’s all heavy steel doors and a little window, so you feel not just incarcerated, but institutionalized. You really feel like you’re going to get a lobotomy in about five minutes. It was very easy to imagine the isolation of being there and the depression.
It was not a fun place to be.
What was the scariest day for you in the shoot?
The scariest day for me was driving with Russell through a tunnel. It was me and Russell in this SUV with the camera and the sound director in the car with us.
It was two lanes, walls on both sides, it’s a curving tunnel and he hits 50 miles an hour, and he goes, ‘Take the wheel,’ I thought, ‘We’re all going to die.’ That was the tenses day for me, because I really thought I was going to ram this car into a wall and kill all of us. But it worked out.
I was very scared through all the driving sequences.