10 Producers to Watch

Actress Elizabeth Banks and her husband Max Handelman didn’t get into producing to create better roles for the “40-Year-Old Virgin” star, but in a strange way, that’s exactly what happened.

According to Handelman, a former investment banker who spent his 20s working for Solomon Smith Barney and News Corp., “It was very important at the outset to establish our credibility as producers who could find material that is commercial and viable.”

Take “Surrogates,” a big-budget sci-fi thriller that stars Bruce Willis and opens Sept. 25 via Disney. Handelman (an admitted “comicbook nerd”) admired the graphic novel, so the couple started by courting its creator, Robert Venditti, who had always imagined Bruce Willis in the lead.

Then they pitched it to Mandeville’s Todd Lieberman, an old college friend from their days at the U. of Pennsylvania 17 years earlier (“Max started dating Elizabeth orientation week of our sophomore year,” Lieberman recalls).

Willis then bowed out of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam project “Pinkville” to “make our movie,” says Banks. “And Oliver subsequently had to make ‘W.’ in which I played Laura Bush, so I inadvertently created one of my favorite roles for myself.”

Since launching their Brownstone Prods. shingle two years ago, the couple have set up at least four more projects, including competitive a cappella comedy “Pitch Perfect” and “Expedition 6,” the true story of three astronauts stranded aboard the International Space Station, both at Universal. They are also developing “America’s Most Hated Woman,” about atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair who lobbied against prayer in public schools, for Lifetime.

Only DreamWorks’ “Forever 21,” a “Working Girl”-style comedy with an ageism twist, is intended as a star vehicle for Banks, who sees producing as an extension of her craft: “I’m a trained storyteller. As an actor, we’re the last person to board the train that is a movie, but as a producer, I get to be there with the seed and watch it grow.”

P.O.V.

AGES: Banks: 35; Handelman: 36

HOME BASE: Los Angeles

INSPIRED BY: “We were impacted early on by Kennedy/ Marshall (who made “Seabiscuit” with Banks) as a husband-wife team who seem really grounded and are very respected,” Handelman says.

WEB: chooseyoursurrogate.com

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