Arts & Culture

Hannah Marks, who grew up in SLO, lands role in new 'Spider-Man' movie

Hannah Marks will appear opposite Andrew Garfield in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man,’ opening Tuesday, where she plays Missy Kallenback, a high schooler who harbors a secret crush on Garfield's Peter Parker.
Hannah Marks will appear opposite Andrew Garfield in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man,’ opening Tuesday, where she plays Missy Kallenback, a high schooler who harbors a secret crush on Garfield's Peter Parker.

Hannah Marks didn’t get the goth role she auditioned for in “The Amazing Spider-Man.” But the day after she learned of her rejection, she got a call, saying she had landed a different part.

“I was incredibly excited, but I didn’t know what to expect because they were very secretive,” she said. “We weren’t given the script or anything like that ... I didn’t even know who my character was or anything until I showed up on the day of filming.”

When she arrived on set, Marks, who grew up in San Luis Obispo, learned that she had been picked to portray Missy Kallenback, a nerdy high schooler who has a crush on Peter Parker. Having not auditioned for the part, she was a little surprised.

“Since I was kind of nervous for my goth audition, they probably saw that nervous energy and thought I’d be good for the nerd,” said Marks, 19.

The movie — sure to be one of the summer’s blockbusters — opens Tuesday. And while Marks doesn’t play a main character, it’s the biggest project she’s been involved with so far. Still it’s just one of several parts she’s landed since convincing her parents to let her stay in Los Angeles for eight weeks.

“It’s turned into about seven years,” said her mother, Nova Ball, a former actress herself and daughter of the late Ernie Ball, known for his guitar-related products. “I never thought we’d be away this long, but we’re really proud of Hannah’s success.”

As an actress, Ball had small roles in several TV shows, including “Who’s the Boss,” “Jake and the Fat Man,” “The A-Team” and “Knots Landing.” But when she had Marks—her only child— she decided to let go of her acting career.

“I’m very happy not acting,” Ball said with a laugh.

Her clips were enough to inspire her daughter to pursue her own acting career. And when Marks asked her parents if she could give L.A. a shot, they obliged. Prior to that, Marks had mostly acted in productions at the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre. Going to L.A. would enable her to try out for TV and film projects.

Ball accompanied her daughter to L.A. while father Robin Marks stayed at their San Luis Obispo home. While getting auditions was difficult for a 12-year-old with no TV or film experience, she did land parts during those eight weeks.

“I did a horror film that no one saw,” Marks said. “I really only had, like, three auditions.”

But that provided enough motivation to stay longer. When The Tribune interviewed her for a story about young local talent in 2006, Marks had been in L.A. about a year.

“This is the best experience that’s ever happened to me,” said the younger Marks, whose work at that point had entailed portraying two dead girls.

After landing a second horror movie role, she began getting roles on TV shows such as “Numb3rs,” “Criminal Minds” and “Ugly Betty.” Then she got a recurring role on “Weeds” and a regular role on “Necessary Roughness,” a USA Network show that launched its second season this month.

Marks and her parents were headed for the airport during her Tribune interview so she could resume filming that weekly drama.

“It takes place in New York, but it films in Atlanta,” she said. “Actually, a lot of TV shows film in Atlanta, and you’d never know.”

Because of the show — in which she plays the rebellious daughter of a sports therapist—Marks currently stays in Atlanta six months a year.

“I definitely never thought I’d end up here,” she said. “But Atlanta is an amazing city.”

In Los Angeles, Marks lives with her mother and grandmother. Her father — a pilot who performs Web management work for a large corporation — spends about half his time with them and half at their San Luis Obispo home.

“My mom and dad are still a huge part of my life,” she said.

While Ball was familiar with Hollywood, her daughter’s acting career has been much more intense.

“I didn’t have near the success Hannah has,” she said.

As Marks pursued acting, her mother home-schooled her and took her to auditions. Sometimes when they’d watch movies, the two would analyze films like homework. And Ball still helps her daughter memorize her lines.

“I’m happy to support her, though at times, I think, ‘Oh, this is so hard!’ ” Ball said.

Things are changing now that Marks is 19, though. For one thing, she can now handle her own business affairs. While she’s getting more jobs — she plays a young prostitute in the upcoming film “You Can’t Win” with Michael Pitt — she’s also taking online college classes with hopes of eventually going to film school.

Marks, who recently attended the Sundance Institute’s writer’s and director’s lab, said it’s good to have a backup plan.

“You never know how long these things are gonna last,” she said. “And I want to have an education.”

So far, her career doesn’t show signs of fading. Her role in “The Amazing Spider- Man” is not just her first blockbuster — it’s also her first 3-D film.

“It was really cool because on the set, they actually had the monitors where they were watching playback of the scenes, and they would watch it in 3-D,” she said. “I had no idea that they actually did that. I thought that was something they had to do in post-production.”

She looks forward to seeing herself in 3-D for the first time.

“I’m nervous,” she said. “I’ve never seen myself in 3-D—much less without any makeup on.”

In this — Columbia’s reboot of the “Spider-Man” series — Peter Parker is in high school as his superpowers evolve. While Parker is an outcast headed for the sublime, the character Marks plays wears nerdy clothes, glasses and braids, she said. But she was careful not to make the acting look over-determined.

“I tried not to play it over the top,” she said. “Because I realized my outfit made me look nerdy enough. I wanted to seem very convincing so I was very meek and quiet. Most nerdy girls are kind of shy and insecure, which was kind of what I was channeling, which is not hard. As a teenage girl, I can definitely relate to that.”