Writer-director Elizabeth Banks takes the helm as the next generation of fearless Charlie’s Angels take flight, from a story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn.
It is the third installment in the Charlie’s Angels film series, which is a continuation of the story that began with the television series of the same title by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts and the theatrical films, Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003).
In Banks’ bold vision, Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska are working for the mysterious Charles Townsend, whose security and investigative agency has expanded internationally. With the world’s smartest, bravest, and most highly trained women all over the globe, there are now teams of Angels guided by multiple Bosleys taking on the toughest jobs everywhere.
“There are so few films with multiple female leads out there. I felt like Charlie’s Angels was a way to tell a story involving more than one female lead — three great, powerful women that have agency over their lives, and are the driving force behind the story,” says Elizabeth Banks, who helms the latest iteration of the iconic franchise.
For the actress/co-writer/director/producer and so many women, Charlie’s Angels was a beacon. “These characters were women who worked in a man’s world and had to make their own way. You just hadn’t seen women kicking butt in any genre before – it was revolutionary. They really stood for something.”
“Elizabeth was attracted to the idea of being able to do an action movie,” says producer Max Handelman. “The idea of being able to create a new world of spies and be able to work on that canvas was exciting to her. She also felt at that point, and even more so now, that it’s the right time to be modernizing this global brand—creating a fun film that has a great brand underlying it, but also to be able to talk about women fighting for women and themes of female empowerment and positivity, beyond simply going on to do a comic book movie or comedy.”
Doug Belgrad and Elizabeth Cantillon join Banks and Handelman as producers of the film. Before Belgrad formed his company 2.0 Entertainment as an independent producer, he was President of the Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group.
“I had been at the studio over 20 years, and I was around for the first series of films. I had a young daughter at the time who became a big fan of Charlie’s Angels, watching the movie over and over again, so I knew that Charlie’s Angels was an important aspirational property for women. And I also felt, from conversations with many other female executives, that it was time to reinterpret these great characters for a new generation.”
“Our first choice to do that was Elizabeth Banks,” Belgrad continues. “She had a proven track record as a director and producer, launching the Pitch Perfect franchise in a way that was so entertaining and fresh. From that first meeting with Elizabeth in my office, it was clear that she was the absolute perfect person to bring the new chapter of the story to life.”
“Elizabeth Banks built a franchise for women and girls in Pitch Perfect – it became a destination viewing for girls and women,” says Cantillon. “It seemed organic to apply that to Charlie’s Angels – her voice is the perfect tenor for what the franchise should be now.
“Every generation should have their own Charlie’s Angels,” says Cantillon. “The first round was reflective of that era of women’s liberation and unlocking the potential of women. The second, the earlier films, were a celebration of women and women working together. Liz Banks’ version is building on both of those ideas – women can do anything if given the opportunity, it’s about women supporting women at work. It’s a sisterhood, it’s inclusive, and it’s something that all women dream of – to be part of something – but we don’t see a lot of movies about. Expressing that was important to Elizabeth Banks, and it was important to me.”
As Banks took on helming responsibilities, she also signed on to write the script. To modernize the story, she first went back to the basics. On September 22 1976, Charlie’s Angels aired for the first time on ABC in America. Created by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts and produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, the show followed the crime fighting adventures of three beautiful women working for a private detective agency, The Townsend Agency, headed and bankrolled by a mysterious millionaire, Charlie, whose identity was never revealed.
The first episode was an instant hit, and the show ran for a total of 5 seasons, 110 episodes and gave birth to two major feature films.
“Charlie’s Angels was the beginning of female empowerment on TV,” says Banks. “So, when we started the process of continuing Charlie’s Angels, we wanted to incorporate everything that had come before.”
But relaunching the brand was not so much about reinventing as reinvigorating. The starting point, and this lies at the heart of Banks’ vision for Charlie’s Angels, was to imagine where The Townsend Agency would be now, over 40 years later. In this new era, the company has gone global, activating an international network of Angels and Bosleys—their handlers. “I wanted to answer the question: what had Charles Townsend built over the past forty years?”
“Elizabeth wanted to play the mythology straight,” says Handelman. “The idea being this is the next chapter in the mythology of the Charles Townsend Agency. It’s as much about the Charles Townsend Agency as it is Charlie’s Angels. It’s about extending the story.” This connection to its heritage is an important point.
“Liz took this world that we’ve all gotten familiar with and just expanded it,” says Kristen Stewart, who plays Sabina Wilson, one of the Angels. “She hit fast forward and thought: where would we be circa 2018, ’19? There’s more of us. We’re louder. We are stronger in numbers. And that really goes along with this distinct sense of self that we’re developing in this particular generation. It’s not always the people that are the most assertive or physically strong. It’s genuinely about how you work as individuals together and how you become a formidable unit as a group. We don’t glorify our characters as if they’re heroes, as if you couldn’t be one of them. The whole point is that if you know how to approach something with compassion and intelligence, it’s not about doing a bunch of pushups and pulling a gun on a bad guy. It’s about outsmarting someone and doing it for a good reason, and that will genuinely be what prevails.”
The important thing about this film, says Banks, is how grounded it is. “It’s about real women doing extraordinary things. There are extraordinary women around me every day, and that’s what this movie is about, the everyday heroics of women who trust other women, who believe them and who want them to succeed in life.”
At the same time, the movie is still Charlie’s Angels: It’s action-packed and full of the disguises, levity, and ass-kicking fans have come to know and love. “I wanted to make a movie that didn’t take itself too seriously,” she says. “I think having fun at these movies is the most important aspect of Charlie’s Angels. We want to make sure audiences enjoy themselves the entire time.”
“What Drew Barrymore did, bringing together that incredible cast and McG to make the first movies—she inspires me so much. She’s one of the women that I look to when I think about how I want to conduct my career,” Banks continues. “She just really went for it. And they had so much fun together. You really felt a sense of sisterhood. And even in the original TV show too, that’s what mattered the most to me, the idea that women do it together. There are so many heroes out there, whether it’s Jason Bourne or James Bond, who are very singular, you know: they’ve got it handled. Charlie’s Angels is an opportunity to work together as a team, and I think that is really how women like to work. We’re very collaborative, and so that speaks to me. I love being able to bring all the different skills together, the different women together, put them on a team and then send them off to be successful.”