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Asha Banks

In conversation with 1883, Asha Banks discusses her time filming A Good Girl's Guide To Murder, her upcoming role in Amazon's My Fault: London, her music career, and more.

In A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder, rising actress Asha Banks is showing the world she’s leading lady material.

When Asha Banks looks back at the past 20 years of her life, there isn’t a time that she can remember where she wasn’t acting. Most of her career so far has been in theatre — performing everything from Les Misérables to Spring Awakening a few years ago — and a few on-screen roles in films like The Magic Flute. It’s her latest project — A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder — though that will inevitably become her breakout role.

The six-part BBC murder mystery is a direct adaptation from Holly Jackson’s bestselling (and fan favourite) novels of the same name. Banks plays Cara Ward, best friend to Pip, played by past 1883 cover star Emma Myers, and who acts as a shoulder for Pip to lean on as she investigates a murder that took place in their town years prior. When chatting with Banks, it’s obvious why Cara appealed to her: there is a direct through line that connects them. Both are funny, witty, and eloquent, but also have a steadfast determination to do what’s right. And for Asha Banks, leaning into projects that excite her feels right.

In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Kelsey Barnes, Asha Banks discusses her time filming the show, her upcoming role in Amazon’s My Fault: London, her music career, and more.

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You started acting at the age of 7 which means you’ve been acting for much more than half your life! ​​That must be really crazy to reckon with. 

I talk about this with my mum sometimes and it’s crazy because I can actually say I cannot remember my life before acting. As far as I can remember, I’ve always been doing it. 

What have you learned about yourself through acting?

Yeah, absolutely I’ve learned a lot about myself through acting. I feel incredibly lucky to have been acting since I was so little and to have had such a wonderful experience doing it. Acting has instilled resilience and strength in me that I’m so grateful for. I always loved doing it and I feel lucky that, after talking to my friends who aren’t certain what they want to do, I found acting so young. Most people aren’t certain what they want to do and that is so normal, but [with acting] I’ve always known I want to do it. That’s the outlook I’ve had since I was little. I’ve learned a lot about myself through my characters, too. That’s the fun part about starting a new job and getting to discover a whole new person because somebody thinks part of that lives within you so you’re ready to be cast in it. A character like Cara Ward I found so many similarities and embodying a character allows you to explore different perspectives on life. You put yourself into the character and, in turn, they become a part of you.

I think it’s interesting because when you’re a child that is acting, you go into it with a sense of freedom and play. There’s usually little to no training. Has your concept of acting changed since then, or do you still see it as a playground?

I don’t think I’ve ever felt like it was a job. As a kid, most of the acting I did was theatre, which does feel like playing around. You’re put on a stage, it’s all in real-time, and you have the best few hours ever before going home. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I don’t think my mindset has changed. Whether I’m doing a show or filming, it’s just the most fun ever, and I feel so lucky to be doing it all the time.

Touching on the difference between theatre and TV, I know you’re getting more into on-screen work. With theatre, the performances are larger than life because you’re trying to fill out a theatre, whereas with TV, the acting is more contained. Was it difficult for you to switch between the two, or was it seamless?

No, it was definitely challenging at first. My history is in theatre, and that’s all I knew as a child. My acting style was larger than life because that was what I was used to. When I started auditioning for film and TV, I found it hard to adjust.

You had to rein it in a little, make it more compact.

Exactly. I remember casting directors and directors constantly telling me to make it smaller, make it smaller. I struggled with that at first, but eventually, I managed to adapt. Interestingly, after working on film and TV, I noticed the opposite challenge when returning to theatre. I had to be more physical and expressive again. It’s all about flexing different muscles. When I’m doing theatre, I’m fully in that realm, and switching requires some adjustment. But it’s cool to be able to do both.

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When you look back, was there a specific children’s fairytale or film that made you really want to step into the world of acting and make-believe?

Oh my gosh, what did I love when I was a kid? I mean, any Disney movie was just glorious because so many of them involved singing as well. I love musicals because they’re my whole history, and I’ve always loved them. Disney movies were a big influence. This is such a random one, but I loved Ratatouille. I think Ratatouille is wonderful. I’m trying to think of other things I loved as a kid. I mean, all kinds of musicals. I remember watching Annie on TV, and then a few years later, I was in a touring production of Annie. It was the most surreal thing ever because you see things on screen and think, “I want to do that.” And then when it actually happens, it’s just mind-blowing, especially when I was so young.

Were you familiar with A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder book before getting the part?

I’d heard so much about it. I hadn’t read the books, but loads of my friends had spoken about them. As soon as I got the email about the part, I recognized the name immediately. I remember searching online and seeing the book cover and thinking, “Oh, I’ve seen that a million times.” The book is just so recognizable. Since getting the part, I’ve mentioned it to my friends in passing, and many of them were excited and said they loved the books. They thought the series was the best ever. Obviously, as soon as I got the part, I read the books, and I just fell in love with them even more. I finally understood what everyone was so enthusiastic about.

What was it about Cara that resonated with you?

I think she’s just really funny. I remember reading scripts and relating with her because she’s such a real girl. Everything she says is what I would say in those situations. She just feels so familiar to me. I think, because of that, the scripts came naturally and the scenes felt fun and I was able to play with them because if the language was true. I remember reading the book after getting the part and it just made so much sense because of the way Holly has written Cara. She is just the coolest character ever and I feel so lucky to be able to be the person that brings her to life. She’s really fun, smart, and witty. Her relationship with Pip is so beautiful and not dissimilar to a lot of friendships that I have in my life, which is another way she felt so true and real to me.

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I love their friendship, and I love that they’ve been best friends since they were four. How did you and Emma flesh out their friendship to prepare for this project? It seems like you need to establish that backstory and rapport. How did you go about doing that?

Emma and I met for the first time when she had just flown in from Florida. She was so jet-lagged, and we met at this chemistry table with some of the other cast members who had already gotten their parts. I remember feeling bad for her because she was so tired and had to meet all these overly enthusiastic British people. But she’s such an angel, so sweet, and we got on instantly. She’s been really helpful with everything, especially with the success of Wednesday. She’s so wise and has been a great sounding board and a safe place to go to.

This is my first big TV project, and it’s daunting, but she’s been incredibly supportive. In terms of our characters, we’re both quite similar to them, so it felt very natural. Our dynamic is quite similar to Pip and Cara’s. We found ourselves doing scenes even when we weren’t filming because we have natural banter between us, just like the characters. When you’re filming with someone for a period of time and you’re with them all the time, you naturally become super close. That’s what happened with us, and the lines between real life and on-screen life blurred, which is how it all worked so well.

Yeah, you posted a TikTok when it was announced that the show would be on Netflix. It showed you and the cast jumping around and having fun. 

I know! We filmed in Bristol, and it was so beautiful, especially in the summer. We all got along really well and hung out all the time. We just continued everything that was happening on screen off screen.

I love that. It seems like, despite the theme of the show being about murder, you guys had fun making it.

Murder mysteries are so fun! They’re one of my favourite things to watch because they’re so gripping, and it’s enjoyable to figure out what’s going on alongside the story. You get to put on the inspector hat yourself and solve the mystery. Even during filming, it was so fun to be part of creating that universe. There are so many little clues and details, like text messages on a laptop, that people will pick up on.

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I know you’re a music lover — did you make any playlists to get into Cara’s mindset?

I love making playlists for my characters; I find it really fun. I also make Pinterest boards because I love that. It’s the teenage girl in me — Spotify and Pinterest. I made a Spotify playlist for Cara and I actually made one for A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder in general, and a lot of the cast became collaborators, adding their own songs. Whenever we hung out, we’d play those songs together. I’d always come into my trailer in the morning and play my Cara playlist to get into the headspace.

I love that! Can you share some of the artists that are on it?

Some of the artists are Gracie Abrams, Holly Humberstone, and Phoebe Bridgers — classics for a girl playlist. I’ve also got some songs by a really cool UK band called FIZZ which Dodie is in, and I have songs with Briston Maroney, Frank Ocean, and The Backseat Lovers. It’s a wide range, but it’s more about the vibe of the songs.

One of my favourite scenes is with Cara and Pip in the car when Pip declares that she doesn’t want anything to change, which is something so many people can resonate with. When you look back at your time when filming, is there a certain scene or memory that you’ll carry with you?

I really love that scene. When I watched the episodes back, I thought it was really sweet because it’s so true. Even though they’ve been best friends since they were four, you still panic a little bit sometimes. There’s another scene I always talk about, maybe in episode four or five, with Cara and Pip in her garden. They’re having another friendship conversation. It was filmed on my last day of filming, and it was one of my first audition scenes, so it felt like such a full-circle moment.

Emma and I were having the best time filming it. It was so funny. I’ve mentioned this before, but there was this moment when we were lying on the blanket, and I looked up just before they started rolling. I saw a dove and, without her glasses on, Emma said, “Look at the pretty dove.” It was actually the ugliest thing I had ever seen in my life. Her saying it so truthfully just sent me off, and I started laughing uncontrollably. I think that take will never be used because we were both shaking with laughter.

I know we can’t talk too much about it yet, but you’re going to be in My Fault: London, which is really exciting. People love the original so much — what can you tell me about the adaptation?

I think it’s really exciting. I feel so lucky to be a part of this new universe. Both projects have passionate fan bases, which is such a fun space to come into. However, it can also be a bit scary because people care so much about the characters. We had the most fun filming, and what makes our film different from the original is that it’s set in London. It’s a love letter to London. It’s the same characters that everyone loves but in a new place, which brings a new flavour to it. I think that was really fun to explore.

Yeah, it’s been really nice to see your career progress in such a way. This is going to be a lead role for you, which must be really exciting.

It’s crazy. I can’t quite believe these two things happened in such a short space of time. It’s been such a whirlwind but so exciting.

I know you’re a singer-songwriter as well, so I want to ask you about that. Songwriting is definitely a different type of vulnerability than acting because it’s coming from you. What has it been like to flex those different muscles as you try to find your sound and voice?

I think it’s great to have different creative outlets. As a creative person, it’s nice to be able to do different things in different ways. Acting isn’t constant; there are gaps and breaks. During those times, I love writing songs and keeping that creativity flowing. It’s been so much fun working with so many cool people, and I’m excited to start releasing music. It’s such a big part of my life that sits underneath everything else until it’s time for it to flourish, and I’m excited for that time to come.

Lastly, if you could manifest something for yourself this year, what would it be?

I think it would be to spend as much time as possible with my family and friends and make memories of them and see different places.

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A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is streaming now on BBC.

Interview Kelsey Barnes
Photography Jemima Marriott
Styling Olga Timofejeva
Talent Asha Banks
Hair Davide Barbieri at A-Frame Agency using Leonor Greyl
Make up Lucy Wearing at A-Frame Agency
Photo Assistant Lee Furnival

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