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Capone joins the cult of actor-writer Brit Marling to discuss SOUND OF MY VOICE!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

Brit Marling is a fascinating person. Not only a beauty but an intellectual who has co-written and starred in two of Sundance 2011's most talked about film (one might almost call them companion pieces), ANOTHER EATH, which was released last year, and SOUND OF MY VOICE, which has begun expanding throughout the country this week. Both film are thought-provoking works cloaked in science fiction with very few of the standard-issue sci-fi trappings of today.

Since her big splash at last year's Sundance, Marling has gone on to star in ARBITRAGE (opposite Richard Gere, Tim Roth, and Susan Sarandon), which premiered earlier this year at Sundance; THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (directed by Robert Redford and co-starring Redford, Sarandon, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Shia LaBeouf, Nick Notle, Chris Cooper, and Stanley Tucci; whew!); and co-wrote and starred a second film, THE WEST, with SOUND OF MY VOICE director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij, with Alexander Skarsgard, Julia Ormond, Patricia Clarkson, and Ellen Page.

And Marling and I talk a bit about all of those other films, but on this day, we were together to discuss SOUND OF MY VOICE, about a pair of documentary filmmakers attempt to secretly examine a cult surround Maggie, a fragile, sickly woman who claims to be from the future and has a sizable following surround and protecting her. I was fortunate enough last year to have a remarkable conversation with Marling about ANOTHER EARTH, so the opportunity to get together again with her and really pick through the ideas within VOICE was too good to pass up. Please enjoy my talk with one of my favorite people to chat with, Brit Marling…

Capone: Hey Brit, how are you?

Brit Marling: Hey Steve. How have you been?

Capone: Good. How have you been? Well, you’ve been very busy since the last time we spoke. I know that much.

Brit Marling: [laughs] Yeah, but how have I really been? Let me think of like the honest answer. Things have been pretty great actually. Zal [Batmangli] and I got to make THE EAST, which was too much fun. We finished that in December and we’ve been editing, and that’s a nice part of the experience too. It’s good. I’m feeling lucky and fortunate these days.

Capone: I’ve noticed you’ve done some other acting work. Not that THE EAST doesn’t have a pretty impressive cast, but you’re working with Robert Redford and some other people. That’s got to be pretty great.

Brit Marling: It really was. It was kind of amazing, because obviously we all owe Robert so much for the Sundance experience, and so it was kind of amazing and profoundly beautiful to find myself in a position to be a part of the story he was telling. And of course The Weather Undeground is such a fascinating group of people, and it is a particularly prescient time I think to be talking about it. The experience on set with him was amazing. I really feel like I learned a tremendous amount from him as a director, you know?

Capone: I know there so many great actors in that movie. Who specifically were you working with in terms of acting? Or were you working with everybody?

Brit Marling: Most of my scenes were with Shia LaBeouf for the most part and then Brendan Gleeson. It’s odd. That part of moviemaking always seems funny to me, when you come in as an actor, you have such a limited experience of who you are interacting with. There’s this whole other world being shot that you have no access to until you see it at the premiere. That part of it always still blows my mind.

Capone: You’ve done a couple of movies now where you are not in any way in charge of any of the creative process beyond acting. Are you like bursting ready to offer up your ideas?

Brit Marling: No, are you kidding me? [laughs] It’s so delightful to come in and out, come to set, do your work as an actor, and leave. Where the money to do the sound mix comes from is not on you, you know? I think one of the things that’s very compelling about the profession of acting is that you get to spend some time walking in someone else’s point of view or dreamscape, and when you are writing, even when you’re writing with a partner, it’s a shared and familiar dreamscape or point of view that you’re in. So it’s a pretty amazing thing to work as an actor in someone else’s world, because you’re like a tourist for a while in a foreign land, and I love that feeling. It gets you outside of yourself, which I think we all get bored of the way we see the world.

Capone: Right. It’s strange to think that it’s been over a year since I saw SOUND OF MY VOICE, and I remember so much of it so vividly, so forgive me. I’m working from memory here with some of these questions.

Brit Marling: That’s totally okay.

Capone: One thing I do remember though in seeing this in such close proximity to ANOTHER EARTH, and in both cases I remember dividing my thoughts on the movies into “Here’s the story of the film” and then “Here’s what the film is about.” To me, they’re not always the same thing. What do you want people to actually take away from SOUND OF MY VOICE?

Brit Marling: That’s such a nice thing to say. I hope it’s true. I think in this film, at the time that we were writing it and making it, we were really wrestling with the idea of meaning and a sense of a tribe or community, and I think that’s why cults are so appealing. We had all moved out to L.A.; we were very much on our own. When you’re in the beginning of writing and trying to make these movies, you’re filled with doubt, “Can you do it?” “Do you even have something to say that’s worth entering the conversation?”

I think that we became obsessed with the idea of people leaving their roots, the towns they grew up in, their families and moving to the west coast, and it’s this personal Manifest Destiny that seems to be such a part of our culture, and then oddly feeling so alone in that and feeling the alienation of these cities where everybody is in pursuit of their personal ambition, and so the idea of cults was so interesting.

I think people are hungry for a sense of community. Twitter shows us that. It’s like everyone looking to connect, like we want to be close to one another. We want to be seen by people and understood, and I think Maggie’s cult is really about that. I think that’s why Maggie is sort of compelling as this cult leader. She has a way of seeing people quickly and easily and getting at the heart of what makes them tick in the way a really good psychotherapist might after three years of analysis. Do you know what I mean?

Capone: Yeah.

Brit Marling: But Maggie can do it in an instant, and that thing that she’s pushing on is this vulnerable place that you sort of want. You protect, and as an adult you have all of these defense mechanisms built around to protect that place, but you secretly want someone to break through and get at you. I think these are some of the ideas and feelings in it that hopefully translates.

Capone: I think one of the most breathtaking moments of the film is the first time we see your face, and you pull back that veil, not just because it’s you, but because you've got that oxygen tube is in your nose. You’re sending out like two different messages. Here’s this person from the future who’s the center of this cult, and then also “What’s going on with that tube? Why is she sick?” So you’re opening up so many mysteries with that one shot.

Brit Marling: Yeah, yeah.

Capone: By making her ill, she does need that group of followers around her to help her with what she’s trying to do. That’s why I always thought you guys made her sick, because she couldn’t go out and do a lot of these things herself, so she had to have this group of followers do it for her, but why was it important for her to be ill?

Brit Marling: Gosh, I so love what you’re saying. On the one hand, the interpretation can be “Oh, maybe she really is from the future and she needs this blood and these people around her and all of these things, because she really does have a mission, and it isn’t creepy or strange that people are invested in it." And then on the other side, you’re like “Wait, is this just the most elaborate con job ever? That she has thought through the beats of all of this and realized it’s the best way to keep people around her? If she makes herself vulnerable and in need.

It’s funny, because when we were thinking about time travel entering the story--one of the reasons it’s cool to use time travel is as you were saying, you can use it for like a scalpel for getting at some of the big ideas. You can talk about something larger or bigger or the unseen or the unknown using time travel as a metaphor for belief or faith. But by the same token, we also like the idea of time travel as something super practical, and the thought was always like “If there was a time traveler in Los Angeles, where would she be?” For some reason, the Valley seemed right.

The Valley is this odd, ethereal place, but it’s filled with desire and filled with disappointment, which seemed so like Maggie. Then there were practical things like, “Well, okay. If you get jet lag from New York to Paris, what would time travel jet lag be like? That would probably really depress your immune system, so would you need these oxygen tanks?" All of these things came from thinking about the practical way in which a time traveler could come into the world and what that would actually be like and then playing both sides of that coin, which is either “Is this really the truth? Is this possible? Or is this just something that’s been very well thought out by a master charlatan?”

Capone: I think ultimately, as much as one of the big mysteries of the film is whether Maggie actually is a time traveler or not, it doesn’t really matter in the course of this story. I don’t figuring that out one or the other really changes the way you’re going to think about…

Brit Marling: Steve, who are you? Yeah, I so agree! I’m so glad you said that. No one has ever said that! That is the truth. Oh my god.

Capone: Here we go! I’ve read some recent interviews you guys did at Wondercon and I can help but get aggrevated and think, “Why are people focusing on this so much?”

Brit Marling: They’re obsessed with it. They’re obsessed. It’s so funny. But I agree with you. It’s not the point really; it doesn’t matter whether she is or isn’t. What do you think matters about it? I’m so curious. What did you leave with? What did you think did matter? I agree with you that that’s not the part that mattered, but I’m curious…

Capone: I think there’s a message in there about some of the dangers of these communities you’re talking about, and it’s not so much the cult thing. I think there’s something very uniquely Californian about this film, and you've captured the way a lot of people feel coming to California for the first time--they want to connect to something right away, because otherwise they are going to feel very lonely. I feel like that’s one of the big statements here, sometimes there’s a dangerous side to being that desperate for a connection. I also think there's a great message about the nature of faith. But it’s your movie, Brit…

Brit Marling: I really think that you have no idea exactly what you’ve made until you begin to talk with people about it, and it’s funny that you should say it doesn’t really matter whether she is or isn’t a time traveler. I have really been feeling that, but I hadn’t really found the words to say it,

The point of the movie isn’t pinning Maggie down; the point of the movie is that you can’t, that Maggie is like a metaphor for all… I mean, I guess we shouldn’t talk about it… Maybe this isn’t the best thing to talk about in an article, because you don’t want to talk about the ending. I do think that it’s all about faith and the fact that you can’t really have proof, you know?

And Peter’s journey is so interesting that way, like you’re saying it is a bit of a cautionary tale with someone who is like Peter who is so guarded, but beneath that guard like really is desperate to connect and the dangers that that can get you into if you’re not more honest about that. I think he and Lorna have such an interesting fight when Lorna is like “I’ve known you for three years and I’ve not been able to get at some of the things that Maggie got at in a half an hour.” I feel like that’s true of some modern relationships, you know? There are all of these things that we keep from the people we are supposedly closest with about our yearnings.

Capone: That scene with Maggie and Peter, that’s the one scene that I remember just being emotionally drained by and this really is an emotional journey, both for Maggie and for Peter, because there’s such a desperation in Maggie’s mission as well that I think they kind of connect on that level, that they're both a little desperate. Tell me a little bit about the key to playing Maggie as both sort of an authority figure and a physically broken person.

Brit Marling: I was really afraid of playing Maggie. I remember when we finished writing and we split up to do our directing and acting jobs and…[Laughs] I don’t know if I ever really said this to Zal, but I remember going home and feeling to myself, in the loneliness of when you’re preparing your work as an actor, “Oh shit, I don’t’ know that I can pull this off.” And I had moments where I thought, “I want to call Zal and say, I don’t know, this is just too big of a leap.”

But that’s what I love about acting. I like the feeling of being really afraid of a role and then trying to stretch some part of your humanity to encompass that, to stick that person in you. For a long time, I was very worried about Maggie as this charismatic leader and thinking about “How do you managed to hold the attention of a crowd?” and “How do you manage to capture people’s devotion? All of these people surrendering their free will to you and you delighting in that?” Because for me, Brit, that kind of attention makes my skin crawl, like the idea of someone kissing your hand. I can’t even handle birthdays, like the idea of people singing “Happy Birthday” and looking at me while I have a cake with candles, that makes me break out in hives just thinking of it.

It took me a long time to get at the emotional center of a person who loves that attention and wants it, needs it like oxygen to breath. What I finally found beneath that was her intense insecurity and doubt about herself and the deep desire to be loved and then that was interesting, because then you’re not playing at the effect you need to have anymore, which can be dangerous. You’re coming at it from an empathic place about what you actually need or require as a human, which for Maggie is kind of extreme.

Capone: You mentioned THE EAST, which is another film about infiltration, and if you really wanted to make the case, you could even say ANOTHER EARTH is about infiltration, although it’s just infiltrating one man’s life.

Brit Marling: I agree with you. It is an infiltration; she’s in a costume and she’s lying about who she is.

Capone: Yeah, she’s a con artist in the same way that Maggie could be considered one. So tell me a little bit about THE EAST. Other than who's in it, I don’t really know that much about it.

Brit Marling: THE EAST another infiltration story about a girl who’s a very conservative corporate spy who works for a private espionage firm, and she’s hired to go undercover and make herself over as a hippie to infiltrate this group of anarchists who are basically very successfully terrorizing corporations.

Capone: Does this come out of your days working for a corporation? Was it Goldman Sachs?

Brit Marling: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. I don’t know that it came out of that so much as it came out of I think Zal and I were feeling what we are all feeling right now and what Occupy Wall Street gave a little bit of a breath and voice to, this idea that things have gotten out of control, corporations seem to have this odd free reign over the world. When profit is the only thing that matters and even all of these very good people who work for corporations are somehow being asked to remove themselves from their own empathy or their responsibility from things, because no one person is really responsible for something a corporation does, that then leads to a lot of very dangerous things in the world.

The corporation is this odd creature that has the legal rights and abilities of a human being, but then is completely devoid of empathy and compassion. I think documentaries like THE CORPORATION and things like the Occupy Wall Street movement and looking around at the world and wondering, “Is the way that we are living even sustainable for that much longer?” I think all of those feelings came in where that’s the eye of the hurricane that flooded in, you know?

Capone: One of the things that you focus on in SOUND OF MY VOICE and the idea of people forming a community is this idea of rituals, and you have this elaborate handshake that they do. Do you have a ritual even just in your head that helps you just in your daily life? Or one that inspires you to do the best work you can?

Brit Marling: Oh gosh, what a really awesome question. I can think of how Zal and I have our writing rituals--we set aside a four-hour chunk where we know that four hours is about the amount of time that we can work in a focused way and actually get something done. We have rituals in terms like powering down our cel phones and turning off the laptops and the email, getting to a quite space. We usually begin by maybe watching some stuff that we like or sharing stories of things that have happened to us that day, and then we will slowly ease into the work.

With acting, I guess acting has its own rituals too. I always find that before I go to set I have to stretch. It’s actually my body that I have to loosen up and get to relax. Sometimes I dance a lot. Some times in my trailer I’ll put on full-on dance music and just have a dance party by myself [laughs], and that puts me in the zone. The dancing helps, because I think it puts you in a place where you’re just filled with joy in your body, and you feel loose and free and that anything could come up. That sometimes works too.

Capone: Brit, thank you, and I hope our paths cross again soon. It’s great to talk to you again.

Brit Marling: I really hope so too. It’s so great to talk to you always. Thank you. Bye

-- Steve Prokopy
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