Local St Albans actress and singer Asha Banks is one to watch, as Mark Kebble discovers when finding out about her busy 2021
When I was 17, all I had achieved were some GCSEs – but you have had so much success on stage and screen already. How do you feel about your career right now?
Thank you – 2021 has been busy so far! I am so excited at the moment because I am working a lot, so I know how lucky that makes me. So many people in the industry have had such a hard time over the past 18 months because of the pandemic, especially in the theatre world, so I am counting my blessings.
This industry is full of ups and downs though and you do have to be able to cope with both. I am very happy right now, but it can be a rollercoaster of emotions and recently I did have a huge disappointment as I went through the whole audition process and was then put on pencil for six weeks for a life-changing part, playing the lead in a Netflix series. It was a nail-biting few weeks, and when I eventually found out the other actress got the part I was devastated for a few days. But I am good at picking myself up and moving on to the next thing, and you do have to be very resilient as an actor.
You mention Netflix, you are actually away filming a series as we speak. What can you tell us about it?
Not a lot at the moment I’m afraid! I can’t say what it is, but I can say that it’s a really popular show and I’m very proud to be a part of it.
How is filming going, and are you still working around COVID-19 restrictions?
Filming is going really well. I have been away from home for over a month now and so I have got used to hotel life! We are all being tested for Covid regularly and following lots of Covid procedures.
Do you miss home in St Albans when you’re away filming?
I miss my mum and dad, my dog and all my friends. And working away does remind me of how lovely St Albans is, as a place to live. But I am working with some really lovely actors and we’ve got very close now so I’m really having fun working with them all.
Have you been in the area all your life?
Yes, my parents moved here when my mum was pregnant with me, so I have been here all my life.
What do you love about St Albans?
I love how close it is to London! I have been travelling to and from London several times a week since I was eight-years-old and got the part of young Eponine in Les Miserables in the West End, and so the fact that it’s so easy to get into London has been really important to me and my family. I also attended the MX Masterclass academy in London every Sunday when I was younger – it’s run by Michael Xavier the actor and singer – so I was even in London at weekends!
I also love the fact that we have so much beautiful countryside around here and green space. I also love the feel of St Albans city centre with its Tudor buildings and roman ruins. It has its own personality and its history is fascinating.
If you had to pick your 3 favourite places in the area, where would they be?
That’s a tough one! I live very close to Verulamium Park which is just stunning and has been a big part of my life. I adore sushi so I love Sushi Mania. And finally I love the Odyssey, it’s an amazing place and the decor is incredible!
Moving back to your acting, earlier this year you wrapped on The Magic Flute. What can we expect from that?
I am so excited about this movie! It’s a live action film produced by Roland Emmerich and Flute Films and is a modern re-telling of the famous Mozart opera. It follows a 17-year-old boy, Tim (played by the incredible Jack Wolfe) as he goes to study at a prestigious music school in Austria, where he stumbles across a secret passageway that takes him into the magical world of The Magic Flute. I play Princess Pamina, who he meets in this world, and we get to sing opera together, which was amazing! Pamina is a feisty, brave princess and I loved playing her. The film also stars Iwan Rheon from Game of Thrones who, as well as being a brilliant actor, is also an amazing singer. And there are also some world famous opera stars in the movie, and the Oscar winning actor F.Murray Abraham, so I had to pinch myself a lot on set.
And I also got to work with some other young actors like Amir Wilson of His Dark Materials fame – and Amir was in the musical The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole with me in 2017 at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, so it was great to catch up with him. Also people like Elliot Courtier and the Irish actress and model Niamh McCormack. I can’t wait for people to see how brilliant they all are in this movie. The music is beautiful too – this film will sound as good as it looks.
What was filming in Germany like?
It was really exciting, but a bit scary because we went out to Munich in January when the whole of the UK – and a lot of Europe – was in lockdown. Jack, Iwan and I became very close friends because we spent so much time together, so that was the upside for me of all the restaurants and shops being closed in Munich. The whole cast and crew were lovely and it was an exhilarating time for me because it was my first experience of a film set. Every single day was a huge learning curve and I honestly don’t think I could have worked with more nurturing and supportive people: the director Flo [Florian Sigl] and the producers and film crew members were all really cool people and very understanding. I’m very lucky to have had Flo as my first director – it was amazing to watch his vision come to life and it was an incredible experience I’ll never forget.
Do you feel more pressure being the female lead?
I thought I would feel tremendous pressure playing a lead part in a movie – especially because I actually had six months of learning to sing classically in London before the filming started too, with coaching from Sam Kenyon – who is amazing when it comes to singing training. But when I got there everyone made me feel very relaxed about it and so I didn’t feel the pressure at all and just enjoyed every second.
Then later this year you will be starring in Spring Awakening, which heads to London. Are you looking forward to a live stage experience?
I cannot wait to get back on a London stage! I’ve been a stage performer for more than half of my life now and there is really no other feeling like it in the world. Spring Awakening is my favourite musical soundtrack of all time – it is genius! So I am still in shock that I am going to be in this production, and at the Almeida, and directed by Rupert Goold. Rupert has such a high reputation in the industry as a stage director, and the movie he directed, Judy, also won an Oscar for its lead actress Renee Zellweger, so he is smashing it in film now too, so again this is a pinch-me moment.
I used to work just around the corner from the Almeida Theatre and did so much work with them. Have you performed there before, or seen anything on stage?
Did you?! What a cool place to work. Yes I have performed there before actually. I was in the play 1984 there in 2014 when I was 10-years-old for a few months until it transferred to the Playhouse Theatre by Charing Cross, and it was one of the happiest experiences of my life. The Almeida puts on work of an incredibly high standard and I honestly can’t believe I’m going back to work there on my favourite musical. If you like musicals and you haven’t seen Spring Awakening yet (or even if you have) you are in for a mega treat. Also the cast is unreal – I’m excited for them to announce it.
How does singing fit into your career right now?
I’m really passionate about singing as well as acting, and I love writing songs and playing the guitar – which I do almost every day. I’ve always sung from when I was tiny, but when I was about eight my mum arranged for me to have guitar lessons in our local pub – Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans – with the pub manager, Martin, who is also a brilliant guitarist. I loved it and my guitar playing really helps me with the song-writing process. I am so busy with my acting at the moment, but I really do want to progress my music as well if I possibly can. The dream is to play my own stuff at live gigs and festivals I guess.
You performed at Glastonbury when you were just 15. What kind of experience was that like?
As you can imagine it was an incredible experience. I was in a band – Angels N’ Bandits – at the time, who are still together and a great band. And we played the Field of Avalon café and the atmosphere was insane!
I believe you will be heading into a studio soon to record some of your own original tracks. How exciting is that?
Yes I am. I’m going to be working with a producer who recently had a number one hit and is so experienced and it’s really exciting. I’ve written a lot of songs over the lockdowns, so the difficulty will be choosing which ones to lay down.
This all sounds like a bit of a whirlwind right now. Where do you see yourself in a few years’ time?
If I can be continuing to do what I am doing right now I’ll be happy. I’m actually still at college as I’m only 17, so I think when I leave next year I’ll be able to fit even more in! I’d love to be in more big TV shows – I’d love a costume drama – and I’d adore to be in a big musical movie. My dream parts on the stage would be Eponine in Les Mis and also Jenna in the musical Waitress. So my ideal future career is to do more stage work as well as film and TV acting and to also put some of my music out there. That’s the plan!
Asha Banks is currently studying at the Elstree Screen Academy. Tickets for Spring Awakening go on sale in September from the Almeida website, almeida.co.uk, and The Magic Flute is set to come out in 2022