By Michela Smith
“Time is always your friend in a negotiation,” stresses Elizabeth Banks, Hollywood darling and NYPD negotiator in the upcoming Man on a Ledge, a thriller that explores the psychological warfare needed to prevent suicide jumps. “The longer a negotiation gets drawn out, the more likely it is that the person will come inside or that you’re going to be able to physically exhaust them and take them down.”
Banks certainly knows how time can weigh on the will to make a daring leap. At an enviously questionable 37, Banks has contended with a decade of formulaic supporting roles. Yet, in that same decade, innumerable actors and actresses have succumbed to time, “coming inside” from inhospitable and unforgivable stratosphere of show business, surrendering to physical exhaustion.
Banks’ plunge of perseverance has proved fruitful. Triumphantly securing her place as both as a film and television superstar, she has also proved her acting range in a spectrum of leading roles such as in W., The Next Three Days, and 30 Rock. In Man on a Ledge, Banks reflects this liberation in playing, for the first time, an independent woman: “working class” NYPD detective Lydia Mercer who is called to coax the suicidal Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) off of a ledge of Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hotel.
“I really liked the idea of not playing someone’s wife or girlfriend,” Banks explains during our conversation at Boston’s Liberty Hotel last Friday, referring to the myriad of arm candy she’s played in films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Definitely, Maybe. While Banks’ Lydia Mercer in Man on a Ledge “parties hard” and is hardened by the misogyny and emotionally tumultuous nature of her profession, Banks wanted to create a character who was “a woman…very feminine…because I think [being tough] is just clichéd.”
Banks’ consideration to explore the dynamic depth of her character is indication of Banks’ dramatic depth too. To this same end, Banks extensively researched the nuances of suicide negotiation, conversing with real-life NYPD negotiators to hear their “amazing stories” and various industry strategies.
“‘Jumpers always jump,’ that’s [negotiators’] motto. If you want to off yourself, you go to the top of the building and you jump off,” Banks said. “If [negotiators] actually get into a situation where they’re talking to someone, they have a pretty high success rate. So, little moments like that are built into the movie because of research. When [my character] first walks into the room, [I know that Sam Worthington] is not particularly suicidal, because if he was, he already would’ve jumped…and so I take my time going to the window, I ask questions…there is no rush.”
Banks’ devotion to authenticity was likely influenced by Man on a Ledge’s commitment to realism (yes, they actually filmed on a ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel). Yet, her decade of supporting masters like the “super committed” Ed Harris in Man on a Ledge, comedy heroes Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in several films, and the “so pro” Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock, have fine tuned Banks’ observation skills, vital to an actress, and clearly paid dividends, exemplified in Banks’ 2011 Golden Globe nomination for 30 Rock.
It’s no wonder that Banks’ intrigue in her Man on a Ledge character, Lydia Mercer, came in “her curiosity and her hunger to figure out what’s going on, her need to know the truth of the situation.” Elizabeth Banks herself has proved, now that she’s on top of, or on a ledge, so to speak – of that same insatiable desire to absorb all that the Hollywood stratospheric spectrum offers. And if her upcoming role as the “Marie Antoinette meets Kabuki” Effie in The Hunger Games is any indication, Banks’ panoramic catalogue will only continue to diversify.
It is said that time slows when one plunges from the skies. If only to see the trajectory of Elizabeth Banks, let’s hope time creeps by.
Man on a Ledge opens tomorrow, January 27, 2012.