When I saw Brit Marling’s movies in Sundance, I thought she was going to be the next big star. I’m still pulling for Molly Dunsworth, but Marling has a head start. She co-wrote and starred in Another Earth, which Fox Searchlight immediately bought, and Sound of My Voice. She also played the “lesbian” Britta kissed on “Community.”
Sound went to SXSW too, which is where I got to meet Marling. That’s the one where she plays the cult leader Maggie who says she’s from the future. Another Earth is the one where a mirror planet earth appears in the sky, and she gets distracted by it and causes an accident, then has a relationship with the survivor of that accident. Zal Batmanglij directed Sound of My Voice and Mike Cahill directed Another Earth, but they’re all buds.
Well, Searchlight finally committed to Sound of My Voice too, so you’re all about to experience the magnitude of the Brit Marling double feature. First meet her here, as I did, in her first interview off the plane in Austin.
Q: I saw Another Earth and then I saw you had another film at Sundance, so I went to Sound of My Voice.
BM: That’s so cool. That’s very cool that you came to both. That really means a lot to us because not many people have seen both.
Q: Playing someone with the ultimate charisma to lead a group, how do you manifest that?
BM: Ooh, that’s such a good question. I watched a lot of documentaries of cult leaders. A lot of cult leaders are ex-actors or failed preachers, which is interesting. But I think nothing really prepared me for when we were on set shooting the day that there’s the group apple eating scene. I didn’t realize how intense it was going to be to have to hold everybody’s focus. It was a very difficult moment, and in that moment, you really have to become the cult leader and after 20 takes of the same thing, still hold everybody’s attention, hold the other actors’ attention because they were getting bored. They’d been shooting for six hours, the camera’s not on them, how do you still keep the energy up? I was like wow, this is what a cult leader has to be able to do, hold people’s attention and still have a gravitas. That was very hard. I don’t know that I achieved that, but I tried.
Q: For Another Earth, did you have to strip all that away?
BM: You know, Another Earth we shot first. Way first. That was obviously a really different character, a really different story. Rhoda as a character is much more internal. She’s going through this experience and suffering and she’s also not interacting with that many other people at the beginning of the film. Everything’s on the inside. You’re not getting to externalize a lot of what you’re feeling and that was a very different experience.
Q: Can I call it that you are the next big star?
BM: [Laughs] Uh, I don’t know. I don’t feel that way. I would just love for us to get to make the next movies we want to make and to keep learning as an actor. I feel I have so much to learn. I’m excited to learn all of it and as a writer as well. We have all kinds of stories that we want to tell, and if it maybe becomes slightly easier to get them made, that’d be great but otherwise I’m not anticipating.
Q: When did you book “Community?”
BM: That’s funny. A friend of Zal’s we invited to an early screening of Sound of My Voice. Not many people saw Sound of My Voice because it was finished so quickly. Literally a couple days after Sundance had already started is when the movie was finally finished. There was one screening of a rough cut right as we were submitting to Sundance and a friend of Zal’s came who’s a screenwriter on “Community” and she saw the cut and was like, “You should come read for something I’m writing for ‘Community.’” So I came in and read for it. Karey Dornetto’s the writer. She’s incredibly talented, it was a really funny episode, I had a great time doing it.
Q: Do you get that guy fascination with two girls kissing?
BM: You know, nobody has actually brought that up yet. This is the first time we’re talking about it. I haven’t actually seen the episode yet myself so I’m curious.
Q: You didn’t DVR your own episode?
BM: I don’t have a TV. I think as a general rule I don’t know about watching myself too much. It’s different when we’re in the editing room together and I have a writer or producer hat on. You can sort of get outside of yourself and see what the story needs in order to become better. But if I’m watching “Community” and my role in that is just as an actor, you can very easily get stuck in the surface of things and then find yourself later on worried. You just become maybe too self aware which can be dangerous for trying to escape yourself. So I don’t know how many things I watch.
Q: Were you always planning to act even if you weren’t writing your own scripts?
BM: Yeah, I wanted to be an actor and Zal wanted to direct and Mike wanted to direct. I think we realized right away, Zal and I realized right away, the most expedient path to getting to do the things we wanted to do was to learn to become good writers and good storytellers. That’s what there’s a real lack of. There’s always a need for a great story, if you can come up with that.
Q: If I don’t like your next film, can we still be friends?
BM: Absolutely. We’d probably be better friends if you don’t like the next film we make. I mean, that’s part of it. Not everybody loves every actor. Some of the actors that I think are the most amazing actors, other people say, “I hate that person.” The same with films, the same with paintings, the same with music. That’s what creating something is. It’s supposed to create a debate, create a conversation. So we’re just happy to be conversation starters. It doesn’t have to be that everybody likes everything.
Q: Who are those actors you just stand by and love their work?
Q: Another Earth could have been as ambiguous as Sound of My Voice but you gave it a nice conclusion. Was it difficult to construct a definitive ending to that story?
BM: No, you know what happened with that story? The thing that came first was the idea of duplicate earths and everybody who’s here is also there, the idea for everyone confronting themselves as a metaphor for a lot of things. I think we backtracked from that larger idea into what is the person who needs to confront himself or herself the most? Then came the idea of a story of forgiveness, that the person who most needs to encounter themselves is someone who cannot let go of something or cannot let themselves off the hook for something. I had an experience growing up where a girl in my neighborhood who was very beautiful and very ambitious and a beautiful singer and was kind of this golden girl, was driving home from a party one night and caused an accident. The woman driving the other car was paralyzed and her son in the car was killed. I remember being haunted by this girl. It was never that the community didn’t forgive her or that her family didn’t forgive her. It was that she couldn’t forgive herself. I wondered about her years later. Did she ever rise as a phoenix from these ashes of her life? I don’t know. I have no idea what happened to her.
Q: Do you think she’s on Facebook now?
BM: I don’t know. I’m not on Facebook. I don’t know. I don’t think I would want to. I don’t think that I would want to know. Maybe I would.
Q: The mystery is more inspiring.
BM: Yeah. I’m interested to know the kind of stories that we’ll tell in a couple years from now when we ourselves know more about where we’re going and where our peers are going and what happens to our parents. The more you live, the more you actually have to say or reflect on.