• Image about Elizabeth Mitchell
The versatile Banks in The Hunger Games with ­Jennifer Lawrence
Murray Close

Don’t let her winsome laugh deceive you. Elizabeth Banks is a star to be reckoned with, in front of — and behind — the camera.

Before she was Effie Trinket in the current blockbuster film The Hunger Games, before she was Laura Bush in W. or Betty Brant in the three Spider-Man films, and even before she was Banks (as close friends call her), the actress known as Elizabeth Banks was Elizabeth Mitchell from Brown Street in working-class Pittsfield, Mass.

Growing up, young Elizabeth didn’t particularly care for her address. “My girlfriend — who also lived on Brown Street — and I told people we lived at 10300 Brownstone Drive,” she says. “Because rich people had five numbers in their address and we had only three, and Brownstone Drive sounded much fancier than Brown Street.”

As it turns out, Banks now has five numbers in her address. She entered Hollywood, laughing, a decade ago as the giggly bank teller in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. Since then, the classically trained actress has repeatedly demonstrated sizable comedic and dramatic talents, and, after The Hunger Games and her upcoming roles in What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Movie 43, both out this spring, she will undoubtedly cement her status as a leading lady. Not comfortable to just coast along though, the 38-year-old star is also fostering her talents as a budding director and producer. She and husband Max Handelman recently launched their own production company together, but its name, clearly, is all Banks: Brownstone Productions.

It’s a production day (read: off-camera day), so Banks is dressed casually in a gray sweater and scarf as she sits down to a late lunch at Beausoleil Restaurant & Bar, a cozy bistro in Baton Rouge, La. For two months, she has been on location in the Louisiana capital to oversee Brownstone’s production of Pitch Perfect. Adapted from Mickey Rapkin’s nonfiction book, the comedy explores the world of competitive college a cappella groups. Filming wraps in two days, and farewell tweets have been flying furiously among the 20-something cast members, particularly top-billers Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Brittany Snow (Hairspray) and Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids).

“I’ve been crying a lot this last week, out of pride and joy,” Banks says. “We have all these amazing young people who are at the start of their careers. It is so fun to watch them blossom and commit. They have to sing and dance, and they all have to act and be funny. It is a lot of pressure. They’ve overdelivered. I’m like a proud mom, a super-proud mom.”

Not to mention a super-busy working mom. Pitch Perfect is Banks’ first production since her son, Felix, arrived in March 2011. While her young Pitch Perfect cast has often continued their revelry into happy hour and beyond, Banks’ focus is now on sleep and Felix time. “It’s interesting to see how I’ve evolved, and how much I don’t miss it,” she says.

What she does miss is time to cozy up with some books and a season’s worth of Breaking Bad. But that will have to wait until … well, until further notice, especially now that the highly anticipated film adaptation of The Hunger Games has finally hit theaters. Suzanne Collins’ novel has introduced 16 million readers (and counting) to the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, where the country’s 12 districts must each select one boy and one girl as “tributes” to compete in an annual televised death match. Banks plays Effie Trinket, a bubbly and seemingly oblivious pink-coiffed chaperone who selects the two teenage tributes from District 12 — Katniss and Peeta, the main characters — and escorts them to the Capitol for the “happy Hunger Games.”