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Elizabeth Banks was drawn to 40-year-old's coming-of-age story in timely 'Call Jane'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Imagine this. It's 1968. You're a happily married mom with a new baby on the way, only to discover the pregnancy threatens your life. And the only way to ensure your survival is to end it. But the only way to do that is to persuade an all-male group of doctors your life should come first, and they don't.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CALL JANE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) This hospital has approved termination of pregnancy once in the past 10 years. Was Mrs. Griffin aware of that?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No, she was not.

ELIZABETH BANKS: (As Joy) I'm here. I'm right here.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) I am comfortable with the data compiled in such cases. Full-term pregnancy resulting in the birth of a healthy child, well within reason for such a patient. Therefore, I vote no to the termination, gentlemen.

BANKS: (As Joy) A healthy baby, that's it, no regard for her mother?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) No.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) No.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) No.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) No.

MARTIN: So what do you do now? That's the premise of "Call Jane," a new feature film based on the real-life underground network called The Janes that provided access to safe abortions in the Chicago area in the years before the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. The film centers on the character we just told you about, a conservative suburban white housewife named Joy, who, over the course of the film, finds herself seeking out an abortion, but also searching for new ideas about who she is and what she believes. Actress Elizabeth Banks, whom you might know from her work in "The Hunger Games" and "Pitch Perfect" and many, many other television and movie shows plays Joy. And she joins us now to tell us more about the film. Elizabeth Banks, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

BANKS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So movies take a long time to make. So the film's release is kind of incredible, coming just months after Roe v. Wade was overturned. And states are moving - some states are moving rapidly to outlaw abortion in most cases, if not all cases. How did this project come about and what attracted you to it?

BANKS: Well, I read the script 3 1/2 years ago. We meant to make the film pre-pandemic. I didn't know anything about the Jane Collective of Chicago, which is sort of the center of the movie. They were a group of women who provided abortion health care to those seeking it before Roe was legal in the state of Illinois, so in the Chicago area. And they provided abortions to nearly 11,000 patients back then. And I thought, wow, this is such an interesting sort of little piece of our history, especially women's history in America. These were revolutionary women, and won't it be wonderful to tell their story and kind of honor them?

And I love this character of Joy because it really felt like she has a coming-of-age story, even though she's 40 years old. This is a woman whose life really doesn't get started until she's faced with this life-or-death decision for her and makes the life-affirming decision to have an abortion so that she can stay alive for her daughter and her husband. And, frankly, because she realizes she has a lot more to do with her life. And I know that's a reason many women have for their choice of having an abortion. And I just thought, all right, great story. And now here we are. And Dobbs - the Dobbs decision has happened, and the movie feels more timely than ever.

MARTIN: In the film, we actually see your character get an abortion. And I just want to play a little bit from that scene, and then I want to ask you about it. Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CALL JANE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) We're going to be giving you a shot into your cervix. Shot's going to sting slightly. Then we'll quickly relax and numb you. OK? Ready?

BANKS: (As Joy) I'm scared.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) I know. I'm very good at what I do.

MARTIN: So we've just played a teeny bit of that, but the scene does go on in kind of real time. And it's not, I would say, explicit, but it is emotionally clear. And it does describe what is happening. And I was just interested in your take on that. What was it like filming that, and why do you think it was important?

BANKS: Well, I think we all have, at least most women I know, have an experience of meeting a doctor who's a little less than kind - his bedside manner is a little less than lovely - when going through something that is pretty intimate and often a little painful, and thinking about, like, how vulnerable women have to be for our health care and how uncaring so many male doctors can be who just don't understand our parts, you know. I'm so grateful that I have - I'm grateful - by the way, I've had lovely male doctors, so this is not anything against them. But there's just a level of discomfort that I was able to pull up pretty easily for that sequence.

Most importantly, though, it normalizes abortion as health care. And I think it shows you - also, it breaks down the mythology that abortion health care, even back then, if it was done well, you know, is not typically life-threatening. I think that's a myth that a lot of people misunderstand. So I think partially, for me, it was just making sure that we presented abortion in its reality, which is 10 minutes later, you're, you know, she was eating spaghetti.

MARTIN: You just told us that the original plan was to make this film before COVID, but I guess it was delayed because of COVID. So you filmed it in the spring of 2021. During the production, kind of it was in the air that Roe might be overturned.

BANKS: Yes.

MARTIN: But then that became a reality, I guess, after you were finished filming. And I just wonder, did that inform the atmosphere in any way in making this film, the fact that this was actually, you know, it started out being history, and then it became news?

BANKS: Well, I think it's important to remember that abortion opponents had created these abortion deserts in huge swaths of America, you know, in the last 10 years. So while we were making the movie, the reality for women in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana was that their access to abortion was such that it was nearly impossible. You know, this required travel. It required desperate measures. It required, you know, phone calls and basically a network of Janes, of modern-day Janes to help them already.

So we knew when we were making the film that we were actually representing a part of America that has existed now for many years. And, of course, with Dobbs, it's created more chaos in this space. It's created more desperate women. And it's created more danger. And I think that was the reminder for me. This pre-Roe, you know, illicit back-alley abortion situation was simply dangerous for women and put women's lives at risk.

And abortion is sort of our society's insurance policy that, for all the sex that we all have that is not intended to make babies - and I don't know about you, but most of the sex I've had in my life was not intended to make babies. And the idea that we are going to force birth and forced pregnancy on people, it's unconscionable to me and feels so un-American. So I just feel like that was the reminder in the movie. It's like you're putting women's lives at risk with these abortion bans. If you want fewer abortions, you should give us sex education and contraception.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, do you have somebody in mind that you hope will see this film? And what are you hoping people will take away from it?

BANKS: You know, I think that there are a lot of women, like Barbara Bush back in the day, who said, you know, I - abortion's not for me, but I don't judge those women who choose it. And that's the woman I want the movie to reach out to, the woman who goes, you know, I'm never going to walk that path. Well, that was the character that I played. And she never thought she would walk this path. But, man, when it came time, when it came her time - and, by the way, it could happen to anyone. That's kind of the message of the movie. Her judgment really had to fall away, didn't it? And I think that's what it's about - walk in someone else's shoes and learn a little bit more about their experience, what they need, and recenter women and women's lives in the conversation. - I'm hoping to talk to those people.

MARTIN: That was actress Elizabeth Banks. She stars in the new movie "Call Jane." It's in theaters now. Elizabeth Banks, thanks so much for talking with us.

BANKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.