The one thing that attracted all of us to this story is that the romance is actually within the friendship.
Benjamin Kasulke’s directorial feature debut, Banana Split, is the latest spin on the coming-of-age, high school romcom yarn. The “womance” unwaveringly champions the friendship-as-true-love dynamic, telling the platonic love story between two unlikely best friends over the course of a summer before one of them heads off to college.
After splitting up with her boyfriend of two years, April (Hannah Marks) is primed for a long and miserable summer. That is, until she finds a kindred spirit in a new girl in town, Clara (Liana Liberato), who it turns out has biting wit to match her own and is sympathetic to her spiraling despondence. Having only known each other for mere hours at a house party when their rapport is solidified, Clara is holding April’s head over the toilet before the night is through. There’s just one problem, though: Clara is April’s ex-boyfriend Nick’s (Dylan Sprouse) new squeeze, a vivacious nemesis April was all geared up to hate. So a ground rule is set between the girls to keep their coupling afloat—never mention Nick, or mention their union to Nick. It sounds like an impossible promise. Supposing that a boy is the catalyst, not for conflict but communion between them, Banana Split ably demonstrates what’s possible when stories aim to bring girls together rather than put them at loggerheads in some silly rivalry game.
And there’s good reason for the authenticity Banana Split exudes and the chemistry shared by its leads. Marks and Liberato, 24, have been close since childhood, and Marks started writing the screenplay (with co-writer Joey Power) in high school to help process a real-life breakup.
Banana Split is available On Digital and On Demand on March 27.
So you and Hannah [Marks] go way back—to the single digit. How did you first meet?
Yeah! We’ve been friends for about 15 years. I met Hannah when I was 8, about to turn 9. We met at the infamous Oakwood Apartments in Burbank—it’s no longer called Oakwood. We had both moved out here [to Los Angeles] to try and start acting, and we became fast friends. We were very much inseparable. As we grew up, Hannah moved out of Oakwood and started high school, and I was still homeschooled and living at Oakwood. So there were a couple of years where we didn’t get to spend as much time together, and we were of course working. We connected through writing. We collaborated on a script as teenagers. She was also writing Banana Split, which was originally called something else. I remember reading a really early draft of this. I would read the Clara part so Hannah could hear it out loud. Getting to work together so many years later felt very full circle.
For those us who are unfamiliar, what’s special about Oakwood?
Oakwood was a complex where you could do short-term leases. A lot of parents and their kids would come out for a couple of months out of the year for pilot season. Pilot season is kind of year-round now, but at the time when there was a small amount of networks, all the kids would come out to try and get their big break. Oakwood was this big hub for all these kids. Hannah and I kind of did the same thing and then we ended up not leaving because we were both working pretty frequently. A few months ended up being a few years.
In your cast interview for Light as a Feather on BUILD, you and Haley Ramm talked about having known each other from audition rooms from way back when as well. That must be a common story for actors who start young in Hollywood.
Oh yeah. There’s really so much to touch on with that. When I first moved out here in 2005, there was such a stigma when it came to young actresses. You’d see it in magazines and hear it from the people around town: All of these actresses are pitted against each other. For a very long time, a lot of my peers and I were all sort of afraid of each other. [laughs] We had never worked together and would only see each other in very competitive environments, so we didn’t know each other really. For years, I was afraid of Haley. I found out later that Haley was afraid of me, too. I would go into auditions and then find out that Haley had booked it. She probably felt the same way about me. But neither of us ever felt that we were mean people. When Haley and I actually became friends, we bonded so much over that: “Oh my god, I was so intimated by you!” That has happened with a lot of my friends who were also young actresses. Especially with social media now, we’re all able to connect to each other and really get to know one another.
Did you get a taste of high school like Hannah?
I was homeschooled throughout high school. I was pulled from school in fourth grade. But I loved it, and it was a choice for me. If my parents could’ve had it their way, they would’ve loved to have kept me in school. I just didn’t want to. I feel like I got more out of my high school experience by being homeschooled because I was also working. I spent my tenth-grade year in Montreal and Brussels. I was studying French with a fluent tutor at the time, and got to study history while getting to see the world. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that at 15 or 16 otherwise. So it was really beneficial and I really enjoyed it.
I never understood the stigma around homeschooling. With what’s going on in the world, it has now become a standard. Love it or hate it, it’s our new reality.
Yeah, absolutely. And I speak to a lot of my friends who weren’t homeschooled and they’re so grateful that they weren’t. I think it truly depends on how your kid feels and what the parents think their kids will get the most out of. It just happened to work well for me.
Was Clara written with you in mind?
No, it actually wasn’t. It was loosely based off of a friendship that Hannah had with a girl, who had become friends with her ex-boyfriend. The whole thing was sort of inspired by that real situation. I’m really nothing like Clara at all. [laughs] But as an actor, that’s what made me gravitate towards the role so much, and I’ve obviously been a fan of Hannah since day one so any time she had a new job or wanted to hear something out loud, I was always down to do it.
What did you latch onto about Clara that was most interesting to you?
Clara is an open book. She talks about all of her past sexcapades. [laughs] She’s a free spirit. The blessings of working right next to the writer on a project is that I can always pick their brain about certain things: “Why does she do that? Why does she feel this way?” That was really helpful for me as an actor. We certainly talked a little bit about where Clara came from and why she might’ve moved for a fresh start and a clean slate. That’s where we sort of laid the foundation.
Banana Split is a genius title. You were saying that it was originally called something else?
Oh gosh, it was called so many different things. Banana Split came a year or so before we started filming. One of the titles was April Sandwich. There was one called My Boyfriend and His Girlfriend, which I really loved. All the titles were very clever and very fun.
Social media obviously has a huge role to play in the lives of these characters. Instagram didn’t exist when I was in high school, but it’s not a stretch to imagine how that would’ve greatly colored my experience—you see that in the movie. It can be a slippery slope for actors, too. How has your philosophy on social media changed over the years?
It’s a constant evolution for me. I’m constantly trying to figure out how I’m going to use my platform because you don’t want to rely too much on it or put a lot of my self-worth behind it. Luckily, I started acting before Instagram existed so I know that my work isn’t dependent on how many followers I have. That’s just going to fluctuate forever. I was working before I had followers on Instagram and I’m working after I have followers on Instagram. I’m also in my 20s so that stuff can affect me, for sure. I try my best to be my most authentic self and talk about really honest things. It is definitely a double-edged sword. I’m just trying my best. [laughs]
Banana Split holds up the inseparable friendship as something to aspire to. It’s a different kind of love story.
The one thing that attracted all of us to this story is that the romance is actually within the friendship. It was really important to all of us to make sure that these girls’ friendship was at the forefront of the romcom story. We did talk a lot about that. Luckily, Hannah and I had put in a lot of years of work on our friendship before doing the movie so we had a lot to pull from. I’m pretty sure there are some Easter eggs in the movie that are particular to our specific friendship.
So often when this kind of intense, same-gender friendship is depicted on screen, there’s an air of homophobia around it. This movie does joke about that to a small degree, but it never comes from a place of revulsion, which I appreciate.
Oh yeah, I agree. A lot of that rides on Hannah’s writing. Hannah and [co-writer] Joey Power tried to stick to how real friendships are. It’s such a testament to their writing and storytelling.
This is Benjamin’s [Kasulke] first feature. Do you have definitive moments with directors, either leading up to a shoot or when you’re on set, where you become absolutely confident that you’re in capable hands?
I think it’s pretty evident. I’ve been acting for quite awhile. Luckily, I’ve worked with wonderful directors and really haven’t had a bad experience. Ben has such a peaceful energy around him and I think that is what comes off as confident. You can cross paths with someone who maybe flaunts their feathers a little bit because that’s their way of showing confidence, but it was so obvious with Ben just how peaceful he was. He was just very laid back, always willing to listen, and with a very clear vision of his own. In my opinion, a director should portend that for the whole movie. You should have a director who walks on to set and says good morning to everyone and smiles and laughs and enjoys their experience behind the camera. That’s when you know you’re in really good hands. That’s definitely what Ben did.
You’ve been writing since the Oakwood days—that’s something you do behind the camera. It seems like a most opportune time to throw yourself into that now with social distancing.
Oh yeah. I started writing when I was 15 so it’s been about 10 years now. A lot of it stems from time off. There’s a lot of waiting around in acting. [laughs] It’s the time between scenes or between jobs. I want to tell stories, whether it’s in front of the camera or behind it. It really started as a hobby. I just recently worked with Brianne Tju, who starred in Light as a Feather with me. She and I became work wives and after we wrapped the show, I was like, “I don’t want to stop working with you!” and she was like, “Me neither!” We decided to start writing together. She and I have become writing partners, and we just wrote our first TV show. Hopefully at some point we can get that off the ground. It’s like a wintry version of Sharp Objects. It’s female driven with a dark storyline. So that’s been our little love child for the past six months, and then we decided to start working on a 10-episode season of a show that we’re collaborating with a record label on. We’re trying to merge music and television, and it’s very different from our first project. We’re all over the place! I enjoy writing all types of stuff.