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Man on a Ledge – Elizabeth Banks on heights

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Man on a Ledge - Elizabeth Banks
New York Police Department negotiator Lydia Spencer (Elizabeth Banks) © 2011 Summit Entertainment

Elizabeth Banks has had an eclectic career, moving effortlessly between dramas and comedy, with such movies as Our Idiot Brother, The Next Three Days, Oliver Stone’s W and Zack and Mira Make a Porno.

In March she will be seen as Effie Trinket in the much anticipated The Hunger Games based on the novel by Suzanne Collins.

This Friday her new movie Man on a Ledge opens, in which she plays hard-living New York Police Department negotiator Lydia Mercer, who has been summoned to the Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue to attempt to talk ex-cop Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) from jumping off one of the highest ledges on the building.

During the movie, Banks’ character also ends up out on the ledge, and with all the green screen and CGI available, both she and Worthington did their scenes on the actual ledge way above the streets of New York.

Why was it important for you to really go out on the ledge and not do it with green screen?

Man on a Ledge - Director Asger Leth and Elizabeth Banks
Director Asger Leth and Elizabeth Banks on the set © 2011 Summit Entertainment

The realism was important to Asger Leth, the movie’s director, and I was actually really excited about his commitment to shooting it realistically. I think that audiences are very savvy now and can smell the fakery, and the CGI and the fake backdrop.

How exciting to actually be able to feel that it was real, that we were 200 feet above Madison Avenue in New York City and that we were on a 14 inch, concrete slab. Yes, there were wires, we took safety precautions.

I like to say that I’m not afraid of heights, but I am afraid of human error, I’m afraid of stupidity. Is the harness in right, is the wire hooked up and is a bird going to fly into my head, am I going to trip? What’s going to send me hurling off this building to my death?

I think it’s important that the audience feels the anxiety that we’re feeling up there. And also frankly it’s a great gift to an actor, because we don’t  have to fake any of it, because your heartbeat is racing, your palms are sweaty, the adrenalin has kicked in, your knees are shaking.

All that physical stuff is real because that’s our instinctual response to being in such a dangerous position.

Did you have to overcome any moments of vertigo?

Man on a Ledge - Elizabeth Banks and Sam Worthington
Lydia Spencer (Elizabeth Banks) and Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) © 2011 Summit Entertainment

Sam and I were pretty focused on each other, most of our stuff is right to each other. I found that I acclimated pretty quickly. It’s the moving that did it for me. Going out there and just standing is pretty easy.

Turning around, putting you back to the street, walking, going around the building, anything that involved movement, where your sense of equilibrium is already off, [was difficult].

Vertigo is your body’s instinct to get you to the safer place faster, and to your body’s mind that mean hurling yourself off the building to the ground where your center of gravity should be. (she laughs) So you’re just fighting that instinct to throw yourself off the building.

Can you tell us a little about your character?

Lydia can’t get her own life together let alone save someone else’s life. So, I think the great thing about this film is that it’s a double redemption story. Nick Cassidy really needs to redeem himself in this movie. And the great thing is he gives Lydia an opportunity to redeem herself as well.

Did you talk with any negotiators?

Man on a Ledge - Elizabeth Banks
Lydia Spencer (Elizabeth Banks) © 2011 Summit Entertainment

I requested specifically to meet with a female negotiator, and they found me an amazing woman out on Staten Island. This woman was really remarkable, and what I loved about her was that she was kind of girly.

She was a mom and she was getting divorced, and she was a real person and she didn’t apologize for being a woman, she wasn’t trying to be a man. She didn’t work out or do anything crazy like that. She wore cute Banana Republic clothes when she came to meet me.

But she still had the attitude of a cop, drove the car into the city, parked wherever she wanted. All of Manhattan is their parking lot. I didn’t want Lydia Mercer to be a cliché, a woman in a man’s world with a chip on her shoulder, trying to get respect, overly strong for no apparent reason.

I just felt like I didn’t need to apologize for this, this is my job, and it was great to meet someone who really represented that.

You’ve got The Hunger Games coming up which has a huge readership around the world, where people have certain expectations. Is that hard to put out of your mind?

Man on a Ledge - Jamie Bell and Elizabeth Banks
Joey Cassidy (Jamie Bell) and Lydia Spencer (Elizabeth Banks) © 2011 Summit Entertainment

Here’s how I feel about it. I’m also a fan of The Hunger Games, and I’m a huge fan of Effie, it’s why I wanted to play her.

I was lucky enough to collaborate with an Academy Award nominated director (Gary Ross), an Academy Award hair and make-up team, and an Academy Award nominated costume designer (Judianna Makovsky).

They’re pretty good at their jobs! And they had all read the books and they were all fans. And Suzanne Collins is hanging around going, ‘Yeah, great. I bless this.’

So frankly, if the fans don’t like it, it’s not my fault. Much more talented people than me had a hand in it. I’m just doing the best Effie I can do, based on all this amazing collaboration with these amazing people, including the author herself. Suzanne’s happy, and to me if she’s happy it’s literally all I care about.