CLASS OF 96
All Bets are on Banks Acting Career
Its not often that a Penn graduate can wax poetic about working with Madonna. And its pretty rare that a Quaker can cite the decades biggest blockbuster, Spiderman, on her résumé. But if youre Elizabeth Banks C86, you can do both.
If you havent yet heard of Banks, thats about to change. This month shes poised to burst onto the Hollywood scene when she stars opposite Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, and Oscar winner Chris Cooper in the on-screen adaptation of the bestselling Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Set during the Depression, the book and movie tell the story of a champion racehorse and the team behind it. As a confirmation that Banks own career is racing along, she was named the Most Exciting New Face at Movielines Young Hollywood Awards in May.
For those who knew Banks at Penn, her achievements come as no surprise, though her last name, perhaps, does. Known as Liz Mitchell while in college, Banks laughs that she didnt change her name due to vanity or anything nearly as Hollywood as that; rather, there is already an established actress by the name of Elizabeth Mitchell. It just got to be too confusing, she explains. Eventually, I just wrote five names down on a piece of paper and chose one. Banks sounded the best to me.
Raised in sleepy Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Banks dabbled in theater throughout high school, but never gave it much thought until she made her stage debut in Penns Theater Arts production of Tom Sawyer, in which she played Aunt Polly. From there, she thrived in the Universitys drama community, performing in everything from City of Angels to Assassins, all of which culminated at the Edinburgh Theater Festival her senior year.
Banks applied to three drama schools and was accepted to the competitive American Conservatory Theater. Upon graduation she appeared on requisite New York television shows such as Sex in the City and Law and Order, then went bi-coastal in 2000. Once in Los Angeles she frequently caught up with other alumni who were toiling in the entertainment field. Its nice having that connection, she says. Therell always be that camaraderie because of Penn.
In 2001, she made her feature film debut in Wet Hot American Summer, and to promote the movie, she hit the celebrity-packed Sundance Film Festival with the stars of the film, such as Janeane Garofalo. Those guys knew everyone, and in Hollywood, its all about who you know, Banks says. I went to Sundance, and the next thing I knew, I was auditioning for the lead in Spiderman. It was all a little crazy!
Kirsten Dunst landed the part (and Banks was cast instead as the character Betty Brant), but the buzz on Banks had begun. Soon thereafter, she was whisked to the Mediterranean to work with the Ritchies (that would be Madonna and her husband, Guy) on Swept Away, and was then hired by Steven Spielberg to play a smitten bank teller in Catch Me If You Can. I did a few great scenes which arent in the movie, she notes. But shes hardly complaining. Once youve worked with Spielberg, things start to happen. Hes good friends with Kathleen Kennedy, one of the producers of Seabiscuit, so my name was floated in front of her.
Banks isnt sure where acting will take her next. Right now, shes busy working on Spiderman 2, auditioning, and enjoying her new-found stardom. One thing is clear though: with a résumé like this, shes not slowing down anytime soon.
Allison Winn Scotch C95
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© 2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 04/28/03