Hannah Marks was done waiting for the right scripts to come along, so she started writing them herself. The 26-year-old multi-hyphenate has been acting in movies and television since she was a kid, but swerved behind the camera several years ago, first as a writer and director of short films, and then, as the director and co-writer of After Everything, her feature debut that followed a young couple as they navigated the tricky minefield of young adulthood. The movie, which Marks wrote alongside her frequent collaborator Joey Power, revealed her knack for creating quippy, modern romantic comedies, the kind that tend to do well at SXSW.
Proving After Everything was no fluke, Marks already has two more movies in the can, both of which feature her in some combination of producer, star, director, and co-writer. First up is Banana Split (released on VOD last Friday), a film that flips rom-com tropes inside-out. What begins as a story of girl (Marks) loses guy (Dylan Sprouse) to other girl (Liana Liberato), evolves into an unexpected story of friendship between girl and girl. Marks, who wrote a version of the script nearly a decade ago, based the story on her experience in high school, but took it in new directions as the years went by. The result is a teen movie that functions as a contemporary exploration of female friendship, displaying a wisdom beyond its years.
Next year, Marks will release Mark, Mary, & Some Other People, which she wrote and directed. The movie is described as a “comedy about a young couple who are exploring an open relationship,” and continues Marks’s career trajectory as a Nora Ephron for the Instagram generation. One of that film’s stars, the actor and director Gillian Jacobs, recently reconnected with Marks—who also star together in the upcoming comedy I Used To Go Here— to talk about wearing multiple hats in the movie business, taking control of your career, and the importance of following through.
GILLIAN JACOBS: Should we start with how we met?
HANNAH MARKS: I would love to hear you describe it.
JACOBS: We were both cast in a film called I Used To Go Here, and our characters are antagonists, but I couldn’t help but love you in real life.
MARKS: That’s how I feel. I think your character maybe hates my character more than mine hates yours, if that makes sense.
JACOBS: Fair enough.
MARKS: It’s a great movie and I’m stoked to be in it, but I’m so glad I got a friendship with you out of it.
JACOBS: I wholeheartedly agree. I feel like when I was little and doing plays, I thought everyone was going to be my best friend forever and ever, and then I kept getting my heart broken, so that as an adult I’m like, “Whatever, I’ll probably never keep in touch with any of these people or see them ever again.” But then you have an experience like that and you’re like “Oh no, we’re actually going to be friends.”
MARKS: We got home and went to dinner right away, which was so nice because people are always like “Oh, let’s get dinner,” and then it never happens. I feel like every time we’ve made plans it’s actually happened. You’re one of the few non-flakey people.
JACOBS: I’ve been so impressed with you, getting to know you and learning all of your multi-hyphenate skills. I feel like I’m aspiring to be Hannah Marks and you’re doing it all. You’re more than 10 years younger than me.
MARKS: Thank you. I’m sorry if I’m chewing. I’m eating a feta wrap.
JACOBS: I just scarfed one down before we got on the phone. Tell me about the journey of making Banana Split.
MARKS: It was a long one because it’s the first thing I ever wrote. It started as a teenager, because it was just my outlet for talking about first love and high school and friendships, and I feel like first love is such a ripe first subject for a screenplay. And so it started a long time ago, and then it took a long time for me to get anyone to read it because I was just another young actress with a script, which, there’s a million of us.
JACOBS: Did you ever think about directing the film?
MARKS: My writing partner and I talked about it for a while, but at the time we hadn’t directed anything, so it was hard to get people to say yes, which I totally understand. That’s a lot of responsibility to give me at a young age. And one of my really good friends ended up directing it, so it was just better that way, because he brought an outside perspective to it.
JACOBS: What I loved about the movie is that you really tell a story about falling in love with a friend, and you don’t really get many stories about that. How important have those types of friendships been in your life?
MARKS: So important. Even the girl who plays Clara in the movie is one of my lifelong best friends. I met her when I was 11 and she was nine. So the fact that we got to tell a story about friendship as real friends was so important, because that chemistry was already there, and it also just made the experience of making the movie really on-theme. But this isn’t the first draft I wrote. It wasn’t as focused around the female friendship because I was still in the middle of my high school relationship at the time, so all I could see was my love story. And then as time passed it evolved into being more about the girls, which I think was the right thing.
JACOBS: Do you feel like now that you’ve got a couple of scripts and a couple of films under your belt, you can look back and see themes that run through your work?
MARKS: Definitely. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I really like temporary love stories. Just because a love doesn’t last forever, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t impactful. And so I find it fascinating when they’re stories about a very quick love. I also love stories that aren’t traditional, and are a fun opportunity to subvert rom-com tropes. You just were in my last one.
JACOBS: Beautiful transition that I was going to make myself. What should we say about your upcoming film?
MARKS: I will say it’s about an open relationship, and it’s definitely a comedy.
JACOBS: Yes, and I forced my way into it.
MARKS: You did not! I will say, for the record, Gillian is the best onscreen gynecologist ever. I don’t know if you knew this, but those scenes were word-for-word my own experiences in a gynecologist’s office.
JACOBS: You did tell me that. Are you processing painful experiences through your work?
MARKS: As with everything I’ve done, it’s pulling from real life in some way, and then over the years it gets fictionalized, because the reality of this business is it takes a long time to get something made. And thank god, because it allows you the time away from it to add fictional elements, so you’re not just telling your life story over and over again.
JACOBS: What I really admire about you is that at some point in the fall, you said, “I have the script, I’m just going to make it as a movie this year.” A lot of people say that, but very few of them do it. And then you went ahead and did it. Do you feel like that’s who you’ve always been, or has the madness of this business driven you to the point where you’re like, “I’ve got to take control in the way I can.”
MARKS: I decided I was going to make it when we were in Chicago together filming, because I was so just inspired by what was around me. You get so inspired when you’re around people that you respect. But yeah, I think the business drove me to this way of working, because I spent a lot of time as a frustrated actor waiting for the phone to ring. I found myself getting bitter and jaded as a teenager, and I was just thinking, if I’m feeling this way as a teenager, how am I going to feel when I’m 40 or 50 or 60? I don’t want this to be my whole life.
JACOBS: I’ve felt too like if I have an interest or curiosity in something, I have the opportunity to pursue it, and nobody’s really stopping me except for the limitations I’ve placed on myself.
MARKS: There’s just no excuse to not go make something, because you can use your iPhone. You can do something with no money. I don’t like it when I hear people say that they’re waiting for something because you only have one life.
JACOBS: What kind of pep talks do you give yourself during the day?
MARKS: I don’t really give myself pep talks, but I do a ton of prep the night before and the morning of, so that way if something’s going poorly, I have like eight other ideas in my back pocket to fix it. Hopefully I don’t need to get myself to the pep talk place because I’ve over-prepared.
JACOBS: Did you have a mentor when you wanted to start directing?
MARKS: I don’t feel like I’ve had that yet. Gillian, the position is open.
JACOBS: But you’ve made more features than I have!
MARKS: Can we just take a second to talk about how cool it is that you made this Marvel doc? [Ed note: Jacobs directed the first episode of the upcoming docu-series Marvel 616.] You’re so curious about the world, and things you don’t know about, that you dive in headfirst and explore it completely, and I feel like I’d be really scared to do that about a topic I don’t know much about.
JACOBS: Well, thanks. I’ve done that a couple of times now. I made a documentary about a woman who started working in computers during World War II, and I know nothing about computing, so I had to try and teach myself about computers from the 1940s and ’50s. Maybe I’m less intimidated now to tackle subject matters I know nothing about.
MARKS: Do you feel like that’s made you a better actor? Because I definitely feel like directing has made me a better actor.
JACOBS: Absolutely. It gives you a greater appreciation for the entire process and not just your part in it. Now I come to set when I’m acting and I say, “How can I help you?”
MARKS: Yeah, I noticed how easy you were on the set of the movie we did together. I’m trying to get better about that, because I can be a control freak.
JACOBS: No one sits you down and explains the entire process to you when you’re starting out as an actor. They can kind of try to corral you, just so people know where you are all the time and you don’t wander away or slow down the day. But sometimes it can kind of lead to you feeling disconnected from the end result. I try to figure out what I’m doing that’s actually slowing down the day, because I shifted four inches to the left, and they’re having to relight the shot. So I started asking the camera operators or the prop department or whomever, “What can I do to make this easier?” And then people start to open up. But sometimes there’s this thing where people are told not to be totally candid with the actors on set.
MARKS: Because we’re sensitive little children?
JACOBS: Yeah! I feel like the more curious I am about the whole process, the less frustrated I get, because it’s a lot of waiting around as an actor. But there’s no waiting around as a director, and I think that’s why I like it. Is that something you like as well?
MARKS: If I sit still, I go crazy. I’ve always been the type of actor that hangs out on set when it’s not my scene, because I like to watch and ask questions just like you. I remember doing my first movie and I was 11 years old, and I was sitting by the producer being like, “Now, what’s the budget?” I’m sure that was incredibly annoying. That curiosity is probably what led me to do this now.
JACOBS: I’m sure they were very flattered that you were wanting to know those things. I love that about you. Let’s talk about your work as a producer. How many credits do you have as a producer right now?
MARKS: Maybe four-ish? I don’t really feel like a producer, because when you make small movies, if you’re the director, you’re definitely producing it because it’s such a small project that you’re wearing a million hats. You’re finding the actors, you’re finding the money. It’s weird, because we don’t think of that as producing, but it definitely is.
JACOBS: If you could script your acting career, what sort of projects would you want to be doing next?
MARKS: I would love to work with a writer and director that I really respect and am excited by. I’m not drawn to a particular character, necessarily.
JACOBS: Say some names because their publicist will flag this article and maybe they’ll see it.
JACOBS: I’d like to see you in a Mike Mills movie.
MARKS: Oh my god. How did I not mention Mike Mills and Andrea Arnold? They’re both incredible.
JACOBS: What makes you laugh really hard?
MARKS: My dogs, who are my friends who fart on me all day, so I basically just live in a fart cave. They make me laugh so hard because they have those really flat faces and big eyes, and so everything they do is just funny to me. They are my children. What makes you laugh, Gillian? Other than Richard.
JACOBS: My best friend Richard, who you finally met after many weeks of, for some reason Richard being like, “Who were you just with?” I would say “Hannah,” and then he just started pretending to be incredibly jealous of you. It went on and on for weeks until finally the three of us had dinner.
MARKS: I kept getting videos saying “Who the fuck is Hannah?” It gave me so much joy.