Hunger Games fans know her as Effie Trinket in the 2010s, but lately, Elizabeth Banks has making headlines for her work behind the camera. That’s thanks to the box office success of 2023 the horror-comedy she directed and produced, Cocaine Bear, which smashed expectations with a worldwide gross of over $85 million, from a budget of somewhere around $35 million.
“I felt like, after my last couple of movies, people had an expectation of what I was going to do,” Banks told Decider in a Zoom interview. “I really liked surprising people.”[Note: This interview was conducted on June 20, before the SAG-AFTRA strike began. This reporter supports the union in their fight for a fair contract.]
Cocaine Bear was certainly a new kind of genre for Banks, who previously directed the 2019 Charlie’s Angels movie and 2015’s Pitch Perfect 2, both of which she also acted in. In her latest project, The Beanie Bubble — which opened in select theaters last week and began streaming on Apple TV+ today—Banks is back in front of the camera as “Robbie,” a fictional version of Ty Warner’s real-life former business partner. And this time, there are no murderous bears on cocaine.
The Beanie Bubble is based on the 2015 book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonnette, and takes quite a few liberties when it comes to the true story of how Ty Inc. CEO Ty Warner created a short-lived toy collectors’ sensation with those tiny, adorable animals stuffed with plastic pellets. For that reason, screenwriter Kristin Gore—who also co-directed the film with her husband, OK Go guitarist Damian Kulash—changed the names of everyone involved in the story except Warner (played by Zach Galifianakis). Banks’ character, Robbie, is based on Patricia Roche, a former girlfriend of Warner’s who worked closely with the CEO in the very early days of the company, and even ran the Ty Inc. UK business for a while.
“I always want people to feel like we got the essence of the story right,” Banks said of the real people involved in the story. “We are fictionalizing things, so the details are not going to be exact because they just never are.”
Banks spoke to Decider about embodying her character in The Beanie Bubble, working with Galifianakis, and the possibility of a Cocaine Bear 2 after the box-office success of the 2023 horror-comedy she directed.
Decider: This movie is based on a true story, specifically a nonfiction book. How much do you know about the real person your character was based on, Patricia Roche?
Elizabeth Banks: Like the filmmakers, I really just went to the book. But honestly, I stopped reading pretty quickly, because I knew that we were fictionalizing so much of this journey. We were pulling the facts and mixing and matching. I didn’t want to feel beholden to any one version of this woman. I relied mostly on the script—on the character that [co-directors] Kristen [Gore] and Damien [Kulash] created, that we collaborated on together, that I had the hair and the makeup and the clothing for. And then I had this incredible partner in Zach Galifianakis. Getting to go to set every day and create something between the two of us—that was the most exciting part of it for me. You know, it was less about who it was based on, and [more about] what was like right in front of me.
Your ’80s costumes in this are so good. How did you kind of work with the costume designer to find your character, Robbie’s, look?
For me the external things always are the character. I constantly think about: Where do they shop? What do they buy? How much money do they spend on things? This is a single woman who is trying to be powerful, who’s got a partner whose entire ethos is “fake it till you make it,” and who wants to project a sense of power over her employees. So for me, that was what we did. It was all about power dressing—what was going on in the ’80s and early ’90s. The shoulder pads, the tight skirts, keeping it tight, looking hot for Ty… I always have to have a reason why I’m wearing the clothes that I’m wearing as the character. I have to know why the character got up in the morning and decided to put on those clothes. And I felt like Robbie offered me a lot of reasons to wear the clothes that I wore.
I was also obsessed with Zach’s outfit and overall look—I hardly even recognized him.
Yeah, I know. He really disappeared into the Ty Warner character.
You guys have great chemistry in terms of comedy, romance, and antagonism. Tell me about working with him.
We have the best time. I mean, we really brought a real mutual respect to everything from the jump. We got onto some Zooms before we ever met in person, and came at the story from the same angle. I think we were both inspired by the same things and wanted to create something really iconic together. And I loved working with him every minute. It was a great collaboration.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is the moment when you pour pink paint onto the white fur coat Ty gave Robbie. Can you tell me a little bit about filming that scene?
The hardest thing was I think we only had like two or three coats. I had to get it right! The very first take, I remember, was great, but so much paint went off the set and onto like, so many other things that it was not supposed to go on. Then everybody panicked. And so I had to adjust and almost pour it more than drop it, and splatter it everywhere. So getting that physicality right was really fun.
Those were methodically done, those [argument] sequences by Damian and Kristen. They timed it out—they knew the score they wanted to use, they knew what the music was going to be. We really had to tell a lot about the tumultuous relationship that these two passionate people [Ty and Robbie] had. Because you want to understand that this is not a shy woman who’s going to lay down and take it when Ty screws her over. I think those are the scenes that built her up in the audience’s mind into a formidable character. Then when you realize that she doesn’t have the power she thought she did, I think it’s really sympathetic. I think the audience really is on her side when it comes to Ty and their relationship.
I’m curious, because you do come off so well in the movie, if the real Patricia Roche is aware of the film, or has said anything about seeing the film or said anything coming out? Because if it were for me, I’d be thrilled.
Well, I will say I hope that she’s thrilled! I always want people to feel like we got the essence of the story right. We are fictionalizing things, so the details are not going to be exact because they just never are. But is the essence of the story there? I think that she’s very inspiring as a character, Robbie, and I think the real story of what they did with Ty Inc. is very inspiring. It’s an incredible American storyline. Celebrating the workers whose names we don’t know, who are not on the tag, who don’t get the credit—that’s what I thought was so fun about making the movie.
I have to ask: Is anyone talking to you about Cocaine Bear 2? Would you be on board? That ending left room for more.
I mean, I always try to leave it open for more—never expecting anything, but I’m just delighted that people enjoyed the movie as much as they did. I made a movie that I wanted to see with people that I love making things with, and I just love how it turned out. And if I got to make something like that again, I’d be thrilled.
How do you feel about the Cocaine Bear box office success? That was a pretty big deal.
Yeah, of course, again, I’m thrilled. You know, I think I’m just always just trying to break out of boxes. That’s it. I felt like, after my last couple of movies, people had an expectation of what I was going to do. I don’t want people to ever feel like they know what I’m going to do next. I really liked surprising people.