Elizabeth Banks in ‘W.’ (Lionsgate)
Elizabeth Banks gets along famously with Melinda Ledbetter, the wife of Beach Boys icon Brian Wilson who Banks plays in the biopic Love & Mercy. The actress raved about the model-turned-car saleswoman in an interview with us over the weekend, and on Monday night, the pair hit the dance floor arm-in-arm at a Los Angeles event celebrating the hit indie movie, an unconventional look at Wilson’s musical genius and troubled life costarring Paul Dano and John Cusack.
It’s a very different reception than the one Banks got from the family members of the last real person she played in a movie: former first lady Laura Bush in Oliver Stone’s 2008 presidential drama W.
After starring in the movie opposite Josh Brolin as George W. Bush, Banks spotted the real-life couple’s daughters Jenna and Barbara at an event. “I think we were at a fashion show or something, and I’m like, ‘I’m definitely going over and shaking their hands,” Banks told us. “So I just walked right over and said hello. And I got the, ‘Oh.’ Just cold shoulder. ‘Goodbye.’”
Banks doesn’t blame them. “We made an unauthorized biography of their parents. I totally get it,” she said.
The 41-year-old actress never heard from Laura Bush after the film was released, but said she had met the then First Lady once prior to portraying her, when she was invited to the White House for a screening of the 2003 horse-racing drama Seabiscuit. “I met her and had a conversation with her and my husband,” she said. “And it completely informed my later portrayal.” While some actors prefer not to meet the person they’re portraying, Banks embraces the opportunity: “For an actor, the resource of meeting the person is everything. … It’s an amazing resource to have someone’s essence.
Melinda Ledbetter and Elizabeth Banks (center) at Monday’s 'Love and Mercy’ Event (Photo: Megan Mack)
And it’s clear Banks has treasured the experience of playing Ledbetter. "We had a great thing going, me and her,” she said.
Love & Mercy, directed by longtime producer Brian Pohlad (Wild, 12 Years a Slave), tells the story of Wilson’s life through the depiction of two key moments: the recording of the soon-to-be classic album Pet Sounds in the 1960s and his meeting of Ledbetter, who would help him escape the clutches of manipulative doctor-manager Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) in the 1980s. (Dano plays the singer-songwriter in the younger years, while Cusack plays the older Wilson.)
The story of the famed musician, who has struggled with mental illness for most of his life, has tragic elements, but it’s Wilson and Ledbetter’s happy ending — even if it’s only hinted at in the film — that inspired Banks through an emotionally challenging shoot. “What pulled me through the movie was knowing that they’re still together and married and have five kids and 12 dogs and live in a beautiful house at the top of Mulholland. They won! They did it!”
Watch a clip of Banks talking about playing Laura Bush in ‘W:’