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Hannah Marks Let Her Inner Fangirl Lead The Way

The Turtles All the Way Down director does everything from the heart.

Hannah Marks is working away at her plate of scrambled eggs and bacon at The Conrad Midtown, a convenient location to meet with press but especially for her downtime for the week, which includes tickets to see a “good batch of theater” she can’t get in Los Angeles. She rattles off a few names: There’s Uncle Vanya, An Enemy of the People, “the one with Sarah Paulson,” and Appropriate. But the director is feeling celebratory for more than her stacked Broadway itinerary; in less than 24 hours, her film Turtles All the Way Down begins streaming on Max.

The journey to this day has been years in the making — six, specifically. The 31-year-old began working on the film, an adaptation of the eponymous John Green novel, a year after it hit shelves in 2017. Marks was taken by the story, which follows a teenage girl’s struggles to balance grief, first love, and friendship with her crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder. She knew she had to be involved — and braced herself for interviews to land the director role. “I made lookbooks; I wrote a speech; I made a fake trailer,” she remembers. “I had never interviewed to direct something, so I didn't know how prepared I was supposed to be. I think I overprepared.”

Marks’ sincerity is a throughline across the making of Turtles All the Way Down. She wrote fan letters to secure the soundtrack, which ranges from catnip Billie Eilish and Outkast needle drops to compositions from Passion Pit. She dreamed of casting Succession star J. Smith-Cameron as a pivotal professor… so she once again drafted up a letter of admiration. “It’s been about fandom, really,” she jokes, now sipping her coffee. “I’m a fan that made a movie.” She’s even honest about her Hollywood friendships. When I ask about Kirsten Dunst attending the Turtles All the Way Down premiere party, she doesn’t spew publicist-approved nonsense about the established actor helping her navigate the industry. Instead, something refreshing: “We just like to get together and b*tch, vent, and love.”

“It’s been about fandom, really. I’m a fan that made a movie.”

For every tender moment of teenage crush (and personal growth) euphoria in Turtles All the Way Down, there’s a handful of brutal gut punches. During an emotional spiral, the protagonist Aza is T-boned in a car accident; while recovering at the hospital and paralyzed with fear of contracting C. diff, she drinks hand sanitizer. It was important for both Marks and Green to show a character with OCD who lives a full life, but did Marks get emotional whiplash directing between the two ends of the spectrum? “What I kept reminding myself was that’s how life is. Our happy and sad moments can’t exist without each other,” she says. “We also didn’t want to make a PSA or Homework: The Movie.”

Marks is already at work on her next feature, Razzlekhan, inspired by the 2022 New York Times article about Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan, a Manhattan couple who stole more than $3 billion in cryptocurrency before being caught by the Department of Justice. The film’s name is taken from Morgan’s rapper stage name, under which she brazenly wrote about their crimes. (“One of her lyrics was, ‘Spearfish your password / All your funds transferred,’” Marks tells me, incredulous.) It’ll be her first time adapting a true story, which presents its own challenges of balancing respect for real, living people and providing entertainment. Only time will tell if she’ll write either of them a moving letter.