Their insight – that the best roles for women often came in indie films that paid little, were a struggle to get made and sometimes took you away from your family to lackluster locations – made her realize, she said, that she wanted a different route, especially as she and Mr. Handelman were contemplating parenthood. (They now have two boys, ages 5 and 6.) Artistic fulfillment, she felt, shouldn’t have to come at the expense of autonomy. “There just became a moment where I was like, I need more control over all of this,” she said.
“I also like money, and that is O.K.,” she added. She was aiming for a home where her children would not have to share a room. (The other actresses’ counsel: “It’s actually O.K. to want money in the way that your male colleagues want money.”)
The first film Brownstone developed was “Surrogates” (2009), based on a graphic novel and starring Bruce Willis. Then came “Pitch Perfect,” from the book by Mickey Rapkin, which tracked the first all-female a cappella team to make it to an international singing championship. Ms. Banks had encountered the a cappella scene at Penn.
“I remember this guy singing Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ and really moving me,” she said. “Max was like, ‘Do you remember how nerdy but committed the a cappella kids are?’ That a cappella would be a nerd’s greatest outlet just seemed like a really funny idea to us.”
The first film, with a modest budget and a newly famous Anna Kendrick in the lead, was a surprise hit in 2012, and created a star turn for Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. Ms. Banks gave Ms. Wilson a bigger role and a boyfriend in the sequel.
“As an actor, Elizabeth has the unique ability to see the whole movie, not just her own part, which is why it’s not surprising she has turned into such a good director,” said Gary Ross, who directed her in “Seabiscuit” and “The Hunger Games.” Ms. Banks hung around the monitors on set, asking questions, as she prepared to direct, and started out by making a public service announcement for the American Heart Association.
Her other revelation came courtesy of research by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and other institutions, which highlighted how underrepresented women were in front of and behind the camera.
“It told me that I was not the problem,” Ms. Banks said. Her castmates from “Wet Hot American Summer” – Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper — all went on to big careers, but the men scaled quicker. “I’d be like, what’s going on? One of them is a Marvel superhero now and I can’t get a small role in an indie,” she said. Mr. Rudd (Ant Man), a friend, gets “70 percent more at-bats than I do. He has that many more chances to improve his quote.” She also noted that “there’s a lot of material that stars men between the ages of 20 and 50. There is not that amount of material for all of us actresses.”
“It was a great epiphany,” she said.
Reese Witherspoon had a similar awakening recently, and started a production company for female-led projects, finding success with “Gone Girl,” “Wild” and “Big Little Lies.” Ms. Banks is focused more on comedy.
She realized she was funny in college and drama school. “I found it was always riskier and felt more dangerous to land a joke than to start crying,” she said.
Ms. McCarthy, her castmate in the forthcoming puppet film “The Happytime Murders,” recalled a scene in which Ms. Banks plays a live-action character who becomes an adult dancer. She does a pole dance for puppet rabbits and came in with some moves she cribbed off YouTube. “She’s onstage dancing with this carrot peeler, throwing carrot peels on these rabbits,” Ms. McCarthy said, cracking up at the memory. “She’s a such weirdo – lovingly I say that, from one weirdo to another.”
Ms. Banks is also outspoken politically; her office is decorated with photos of her with Hillary Rodham Clinton – she remains a prominent supporter – and one of Ann Richards, whom she called a hero. “She will fight tooth and nail for women’s rights,” Ms. McCarthy said. “She has a lot of integrity. E.B. is someone I would put my money behind in terms of putting her energy and her heart and her brains behind her conviction.”
Ms. Banks has no plans to stop acting, but she’s also not drumming up leading roles for herself: “How many blockbuster movies are being made about women who are in their 40s?” (She counted two in 2017: “Girls Trip” and “A Bad Moms Christmas.”)
“I have made a career out of being splashy in smaller roles anyway,” said Ms. Banks, who’s been nominated for three Emmys, for guest performances on “30 Rock” and “Modern Family.” “It’s sort of my comfort zone.”
In “Pitch Perfect 3,” which was directed by Trish Sie, the Barden Bellas singing group join a U.S.O. tour, inspired by Ms. Banks’s own experience with the organization in 2015. (“I am self-aware enough to know that not everybody who I meet on the U.S.O. tour is going to know who I am. They were like, ‘Yeah, Cher came last month.’”)
Her vision for “Charlie’s Angels” — the cast shortlist reportedly includes Kristen Stewart and Lupita Nyong’o — is of an international crime-fighting syndicate with a feminist bent. In this era, she added, “we don’t have to apologize for kicking a man’s butt.” This one, she’ll act in.
“I am very ambitious for the project,” Ms. Banks said. “I am down for go big or go home.”
She crisscrosses the studio lot on bicycle; the coffee mugs in her office read “Badass” – a reference to WhoHaha and the celebrity chat series she hosts there, “Ask a Badass.” On the show, she asks guests, “Finish this thought: I’m a badass because …” or “On a scale of 1 to Elizabeth Banks, how badass are you?”
“I’m like a Level 1, maybe 2,” was Jennifer Lawrence’s reply. “I’ve heard you on the phone. You’re, like, a real badass.”
Recently, some male filmmaker friends were discussing what makes a good director. “They were like, ‘You have no problem telling people what to do,’” Ms. Banks recalled.
“You guys,” she replied, “thank you so much.”