Capone travels to Earth 2 to talk with ANOTHER EARTH star/co-writer Brit Marling!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I'm terrible at predicting which newcomers (actors or directors) are going to end up becoming major players years down the road. For example, in the case of writer and actor Brit Marling, when I first saw her on the killer second season of "Community" as Page, Britta's "lesbian friend" who turned out not to be a lesbian, I don't think I would have guessed that she was already an accomplished co-writer of two films that have changed the way I look at modern science fiction films: SOUND OF MY VOICE and the recently released ANOTHER EARTH, both of which have been getting great word of mouth since they premiered at Sundance in January.
Marling and her co-writer on ANOTHER EARTH, Mike Cahill (who also directed the film) and her SOUND OF MY VOICE co-writer and director Zal Batmanglij have reconfigured the way science fiction unfolds, more as a human drama than one in which special effects and explosions rule the day. If she ever had a hand in an alien-invasion film, she'd likely want to focus on the psychological effects of said invasion on human rather than emphasize the takeover.
The three highly creative and intelligent filmmakers come across (in a good way) as a bohemian triumvirate, always incredibly open and encouraging, even toward visiting journalists who might have their own theories about their films. As an actor, Marling's style comes across as very natural, but not in a quirky, forced way. In ANOTHER EARTH, there's a great pain that rises to the surface that overshadows her beauty. In SOUND OF MY VOICE, her performance is more threatening and cruel, but that almost makes her more attractive (that might say more about me than her). If I had a better radar for these things, I'd be tempted to guarantee you that Marling will be a much bigger deal as both an actor and writer in five years.
The night before our interview, Marling and Cahill joined me for a posting-screening Q&A of ANOTHER EARTH to an beyond-appreciative audience in Chicago. In person, Marling is a keen listener, even after months of taking her films on the road at festivals and events such as ours. It's kind of refreshing. Obviously, I had a great time talking to her and Cahill. Please enjoy Brit Marling…
Capone: So forgive me if we cover some of the same stuff we covered last night.
Brit Marling: We can talk about anything you want.
Capone: Okay. The first half of this year has been a discovery for me of your work. Talk about where you came from. You said you were born in Chicago, but how did you somehow manage to just sort of spring these two films on us all at once?
BM: Hmm, I’m not sure. I’ll answer that and try to be concise. I guess what really happened was when I was a kid I remember realizing pretty early on, and this maybe sounds bizarre, that if you could figure out what you loved to do early, then you could begin practicing it and then you would become pretty good at it by the time you were like 18 or 19. And I kept looking for the thing that I loved and I would try anything. It was like, “I’ll try dance. I’ll try figure skating, whatever.” I realized when I first started doing theater as a kid in high school and middle school that I really loved that more than anything else. It was so challenging, and I could never quite fully wrap myself around it. It was endlessly inspiring to me, but I didn’t know how you would go about doing that in the real world. I didn’t know any artists. I didn’t know any actors who made a living that way. I didn’t have any examples of people like that
The other thing I felt is I had been doing quite a bit of theater and as I was graduating I was thinking about going to drama school, and a lot of my friends were doing that, and I felt like I was really thin as a person. I hadn’t had enough experience. I had been doing so many things in theater that I hadn’t studied philosophy or I hadn’t studied political science, and it seemed like in order to have anything to bring to these plays or these stories that you have to have some knowledge of everything else, so that was maybe as important. And I went to Georgetown [University] and ended up getting a broad liberal arts degree. I ended up majoring in economics and then things went a totally different direction .
Capone: Speaking of a thin living, something that is not all taxing your artistic inclinations at all.
BM: It was, totally. It was weird, because I was double majoring in economics and studio arts, so I would spend half the time making short films and acting. I met Mike and Zal there, and then we started making short films. And then the other half of the time, I would spend in the library doing these econometric regressions and I guess in my brain it was split. It was like, “This is what you do that you love, but this is how you make a living,” and I could not connect the two. So I went to work at an investment bank over a summer and I think that that experience put in a really sharp reality for me. I just all of a sudden got it.
When you’re young, you feel like you are going to live forever and time just stretches out, and you’ve got all of this time. Then suddenly, it was like something about working at the bank and being in that cubicle, I just felt time closing in and I thought, “Oh my gosh, there actually isn’t that much time, and there’s so little of it that it’s so precious that everyday has to be that you are doing the thing that you love.” I had a total break with everything, like I didn’t want to go back to studying economics. I didn’t even want to go back to school. I had to figure out what I really wanted to do, and Mike and I moved to Cuba and made a documentary and then we came back to L.A. together, and I knew I wanted to act, and I started to audition for things and just didn’t know how to get in. I didn’t know how to enter the movie business.
Capone: So you started writing films for yourself with these roles for women that were substantive.
BM: Yeah, I mean, there are great parts that are written for women, but it’s just there are few of them. There aren’t that many of them and they're obviously so many talented actresses, so there’s no way that you are going to get to do that when you are like in your early 20s and you’re not even SAG; you have nothing on your resume. Who in the world is going to cast you? Forget that, and people kept saying, “You should just do these films,” and I really just couldn’t do it. Like every time it came really close to like doing one of those, I just couldn’t. I was like “Oh my gosh, how could I?”
Capone: Do you remember one in particular you got offered and turned down?
BM: Yeah, I don’t remember the name of it or anything, but I remember it was like a horror movie sort of thing, in which someone is coming back from the dead and chasing people through the woods and the zombie that wont die and blood and guts. [laughs] It seemed like to do those things, it would be hard to come back from, and the guys’ parts in those things are always better, because they are driving the action and they are acting with agency and they're usually are not half-naked having limbs cut off, you know? The female parts, in particular, it’s pretty hard to find something I could justify.
So I was like “I’m sorry, there’s no way I can do this. I don’t see any other way to begin,” like I hadn’t been doing commercials since I was two. So I was like, “Maybe the only way to do this is to try to start writing things.” Mike and Zal were both at a place where they were wanting to make their first fiction features, and so they were wanting to write too and they are incredibly talented artists and directors, and I just got so lucky that I met both of them at Georgetown and that we've been collaborating together for so long. That’s as difficult as like a band coming together to make music; that’s very rare when that happens and there’s a real synergy between people.
Capone: Was it pure coincidence that both of the films that came out of this time in your life happened to be these very low-tech science fiction films, or was that something that you were all interested in attempting?
BM: I think all three of us, because we spent so much time together in college making films and we lived together in L.A. and we were writing together, I think the movies that interested us and moved us and the discussions that we were having with each other were creating our own world. We were in our own summer camp of sorts. It was just like the films that we would talk about and the ones that moved us were usually high-concept ideas, but married to something with more substantive.
The film that I’ve watched over and other again that I love is TWELVE MONKEYS. I love that movie. I love the short that it was based on, LE JETÉE. It has so much feeling in it and it’s using a sci-fi premise, but it’s getting at something emotional that we all feel. In that moment at the end in the airport when a childhood version of himself is watching his older self be gunned down and he’s watching himself die as a kid, that is a science-fiction premise, and yet there’s something emotionally true that is revealed in that moment about what it means to be human. I don’t know if it is getting at in childhood, the first time we come at mortality or understand that we will die, but it’s using science fiction to push out emotional extremes things that we feel in just our everyday lives, and I love that about science fiction.
Capone: The best science fiction does have either commentary built into it, or in the case of your films, something about the human condition. That’s what sort of excites me about your approach to it is that it’s so low budget that you almost are forced to focus on those things, because there’s not an effects budget per say, but as a result you get this wonderful relationship of these two really damaged people who I guess were destined to find each other at some point. There have been some really interesting films this year that have had a romance at the core in a science fiction backdrop, like THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU or SOURCE CODE, but you have to dig through the science fiction to get to it. Your film is the exact opposite, you have to dig through the relationship material to find the science fiction.
BM: That’s so cool. Thank you so much.
Capone: We talked about your acting style last night. What I found fascinating is seeing you in two different roles in the same week, you slip in between this sort of very nurturing character into almost a menacing character kind of effortlessly.
BM: It was so fun. No, I loved what you said. I really moved by what you said when you described it as natural, because I think the last thing you want as an actor is to be caught acting. That’s the really embarrassing thing, if somebody can look at you and be like, “She’s acting,” then you haven’t really done your job, because your job is to make people feel that it’s real, that the illusion is real, and yeah the difference between Rhoda [in ANOTHER EARTH] and Maggie [SOUND OF MY VOICE] is pretty shocking, and that was so fun to do.
I remember Mike came on the set of SOUND OF MY VOICE, and we were doing the scene in SOUND OF MY VOICE where Maggie--I don’t know if I should reveal this--but she’s being very cruel to her followers and she’s asking one of them to throw up and she’s getting very vicious, and Mike was there watching the takes with Zal behind the monitor and after the scene was over, Mike said to Zal, “I’ve known Brit for eight or ten years and had no idea she had that kind of a capacity for cruelty in her.” And you don’t even know that you have it. That’s a delicious thing about acting, you get to push your humanness into places that you would not give yourself permission to go in your real life, you know? Into villainy, into cruelty, and then into great compassion and into otherworldly love, and that’s the thing I love the most about acting. It’s almost like you don’t have to choose a life, you get to live several lives in one.
Capone: Have you gotten to the point as an actor when you’ll start thinking about either writing characters for yourself or playing a character that somebody else has written that scares you a little bit? “I’m not sure I can do that, therefore, I must do it.”
BM: Oh, completely. That’s so funny that you should say that, because that’s the thing I always feel every time I take on a role. When you read a story and you are trying to decide whether or not you want to be a part of it, the thing I like to feel is like a sense of nervousness. If it doesn’t make you feel nervous, then you are probably not stretching yourself in some way, like you want to feel, “Uh, I’m really going to have to stretch in some way to find this and to understand the whys behind these emotions or feelings or the reason I’m doing these things in this story.” That’s the most satisfying part of it, for sure.
Capone: The fact that you co-wrote both of these films, can you just talk a little bit about what writing has opened up in you and what your process has become?
BM: I think with writing, in both writing processes, I think we spent a lot of time telling each other the story, trying to crack the story. Earlier on, I think I would open Final Draft or we would go into Final Draft too early. You can’t really find the scenes or find the dialogue until you’ve broken the story, and breaking the story is what takes the longest. You can spend a year trying to break a story and figure out what happens in in that is going to give some sort of release and insight. where the audience is going to be like “Ahh, there you’ve made me feel something or told me something.”
That is a hard thing to find and I think the best way to find that is to just tell each other the story back and forth, over and over again, and then tell it to other people and watch its effect on them and see if it moves them. If at some point you can tell it to a stranger in a coffee shop and you see a thing come over their face where they drop their guard and they're not thinking about how many emails they have to return and what they are late for, they're with you in the present listening and they're moved, then you can open Final Draft and start trying to figure out what the scenes are.
Capone: Where did that idea about conversing with yourself stem from? I know if I ever met a version of myself, I'd probably hate him.
BM: [laughs] I don’t know how I would react either to be honest, I haven’t thought about it from my perspective as much as I have from Rhoda’s, but everybody seems to have thought at some point of the doppelganger, or it is a lot within our culture. It’s been in a lot of TV shows and films, and there’s something there, and I think it’s because one some level we are all a bit preoccupied with other ways in which we could have turned out, like “What if we had taken that job?” or “What if we had quit that job?” or “What if we had divorced that person and followed this person that we thought we loved?”
There are so many big choices and little choices that everyday seem to refine one way that you are, and you're losing alternate outcomes of yourself. I think there’s something really terrifying about that, terrifying and curious and I think that’s why this idea of the doppelganger is so in the collective consciousness. So I think with this film, it was like, “Well what if we could make that more visual and literal? What if we could force that conversation?” We're all talking to ourselves all of the time in our heads…
Capone: Yeah, the idea of bringing the internal voice out into the external world.
BM: Yeah, which schizophrenics do sometimes. I was reading this fascinating article about time. I think it’s David Eagleman and this article in The New Yorker, where it was saying that there’s a theory now that schizophrenics are really hearing their internal monologue, but they are hearing it with a time delay. So, inside their minds it feels like someone is talking to them rather than they're just hearing their own internal monologues, and I get that, because I remember once I was sitting next to a woman who was schizophrenic, and she was sort of saying her internal monologue out loud and I remember thinking like, “I’m thinking and feeling a lot of the things that she is, but I’m doing it internally and she’s externalizing it, so who then is actually crazy?” Maybe me for not saying it out loud.
So, I guess the thought behind the movie was like, “What if you could end the loneliness of being human? The profound isolation and loneliness that we all feel in the way that we are trapped in our own internal monologue and our own point of view, and we're desperate to connect with each other and that’s why we make movies.” But we can never fully connect, like not even with the person we love. There are secrets that we keep from everyone. No one knows everything, but you. You know everything, and there’s something unsettling about that, I guess.
Capone: We gave away like a hundred seats to the screening and that was the question I asked: “If you did meet a version of you, what would be the first thing you would say or ask?” A lot of them did say things like, “Did you have any better luck dealing with your father than I did?” or “Did you let that person go when you know that they wanted you to stay?” They were big, life-changing things like that.
BM: Oh my gosh, that is so beautiful. That just moved me so much, and I don’t know why. That’s so funny. What a great idea to ask that of people.
Capone: I wanted people in the audience that would really get the concepts of this film to be the ones in the audience.
BM: That’s why the Q&A was so beautiful, yeah.
Capone: I want to touch on THE SOUND OF MY VOICE. So we know where ANOTHER EARTH started, where did that idea come from? That’s a film that’s just loaded with some great paranoia moments, and you deal with cults and a tiny, tiny bit with time travel. I love that the two lead characters are documentary filmmakers, which is where you came out of. Where did that launch point come from?
BM: So many things I think Zal and I were thinking and feeling at the time. I feel like films sort of brew like storms, there’s a humidity that’s happening and like clouds are rolling in and there are all of these things coming together and you are at some sort of calm center of it trying to figure out what the story is.
Zal and I were both really interested in the idea of cults, because they offer a prescription for living, which seems so appealing. It’s funny, because you actually have this when you are on set making a movie, everyday somebody slips a piece of paper under your door or you get an email that’s like, “Wake up at this time. This is your costume, wear this. Go to set. Do this.” The meaning of your life is this story, that’s the most important thing and then “go to bed at this time,” and so your life is sort of somewhat measured out for you and you're given a sense of higher meaning, which is making the film.
The same is true of a cult like this cult gives everybody a prescription for their life, and there’s a special secret meaning usually that you have access to. The cult leader is promising you like “Look, everybody else’s life is mundane and ordinary, but I have this secret to how things really are, and I’m going to share it with you, because you are special too. All you have to do is wear this and eat this diet and do these things that I tell you, and your life will have the meaning that I will give it.” I don’t know, I think our generation or maybe the world is like in some sort of crisis of meaning, and so the extreme of that is answered by a cult.
Capone: That’s where the Rapture comes from.
BM: [laughs] Totally, yeah. First we have this story of the couple infiltrating the cult, and a lot of things came quickly in the beginning like the idea of them being bound and blindfolded. Zal had come to our writing session one day and had had a dream of being blindfolded and bound in a hospital gown and led down basement stairs, and that infused the thing. Then it was like, “Well, okay well what might be happening in this basement, and who is this cult protecting, and why are they protecting her?” It all just sort of flows from there. It took a while to find Maggie. She was a hard character to write and then to find, because we didn’t want to make a sort of derivative or cult leader that we have seen before. We wanted to come up with something original, and I hope that we did.
Capone: So you gave her a hood.
BM: Yeah and the oxygen.
Capone: Tell me just a little bit about your Sundance experience, because A) getting both films in, and then B) getting them both picked up there, right?
Capone: Tell me about that whole experience. Is that your first time bringing a film to Sundance?
BM: Yeah, that was.
Capone: So the three of you go there, the “three amigos” all show up.
BM: The three amigos show up wide eyed. SOUND OF MY VOICE we had finished two days after the festival started. We were still like finishing the sound and the color, and so we literally drove to Sundance with the tape. Man, there are just no… I still have not figured out how to articulate this experience, because the three of us have been working together, and I wanted to act and I didn’t know how to go about that, and you wonder if you can even do it and they wanted to direct and we were sort of living in our own world attempting to figure out how to do these things. Then all of a sudden it’s like the work is meeting with an audience and not just 15 or 20 of your friends, which is what we maybe thought it would be, but like 1,000 people at Eccles [Theater], and oh my gosh…
Capone: And standing ovations from what I heard.
BM: Yeah, a standing ovation, and then SOUND OF MY VOICE, which screened later at the festival, it’s like people started to find out about that and then there were like lines around the block to get in, and you start reading the things that people are throwing out on Twitter and there in the Q&As, and you're in awe of being a part of something that connected, where all of the things that you were thinking and feeling as we were writing and making them translate, reached an audience, and that exchange is so amazing.
I mean the programmers of Sundance blow my mind that they programmed all of these micro-budget movies and that they got behind them even though there were no known directors, known actors. It was just like, “These are some stories,” and to me I just think they are a fearless group of people and they are doing something that is totally extraordinary there. They're like this haven for filmmakers to try to come up with some stories that are deeply entertaining and have something say and then to share them with the world.
Capone: Brit, thank you so much.
BM: Oh my gosh, thank you so much. We could have gone on for hours.
Capone: I agree. This is the culmination of many months thinking about these films a whole lot.
BM: So few people have seen both of them, so it was just really exciting to talk to you about them.
Capone: Hopefully, we'll see you again when the other one comes through.
BM: That’d be really cool.
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July 31, 2011, 12:43 p.m. CST
Is going to be a big star IMO. Can't wait to see both of those movies. I envy her in a lot of ways, she is much smarter then I ever was especially at a young age.
July 31, 2011, 1:03 p.m. CST
pretty great. I was at the aicn screening and she seemed really grounded. She hasn't given in the evil temptations of hollywood... yet.
July 31, 2011, 1:10 p.m. CST
going to check this out
July 31, 2011, 2:42 p.m. CST
July 31, 2011, 3:05 p.m. CST
Capone: So forgive me if we cover some of the same stuff we covered last night. Brit Marling: We can talk about anything you want. [Both Laugh] What's funny about that?
July 31, 2011, 5:10 p.m. CST
by Rex Carsalot
Just kidding (mostly) - good interview. There were a couple of parts where it was difficult not to imagine her draped across a couch in a fur with cigarette in long stem holder, tossing her head and laughing 1940s style. But I kid - it was a good read.
July 31, 2011, 5:46 p.m. CST
I want to see ANOTHER EARTH and SOUND OF MY VOICE. This girl sounds like she's quite a smart young woman. And she's so cute, so adorable looking!
July 31, 2011, 6:26 p.m. CST
by Fart Magnus
I loved that old show!!! Although I bet Antonio Sabato Jr. now looks like Charlie Callas.
July 31, 2011, 8:41 p.m. CST
by Ryan Kinsel
Nor-Cal , Sacramento area! I recently saw the trailer for this movie and it is so touching I can't wait to see it!
July 31, 2011, 10:07 p.m. CST
by Sir Loin
The Mirror Universe from Star Trek, that's where.
Aug. 1, 2011, 10:32 a.m. CST
She delivers a touching and honest performance in that movie.
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