This piece originally appeared in print in So It Goes, Issue 4, Autumn 2014.
Having burst onto the scene with not one but two attention-grabbing performances at Sundance in 2011, Brit Marling has lit up cinema screens ever since. Accomplished and thought-provoking roles in recent films The East (2013) and I Origins (2014) followed a turn of similar intensity opposite Tim Roth and Richard Gere in 2012’s Arbitrage. Two of her earliest films Another Earth and Sound of My Voice marked Marling out as an acting talent to watch; on closer inspection of the credits, however, it’s clear that her gifts are not limited to those in front of the camera. Having co-written both films and with more scripts to come, we have a new creative factotum in our midst.
Lewis Carpenter : How important is the audience in the filmmaking process?
Brit Marling : It’s seeing an audience for the first time which is exciting. You work really hard on something, put a piece of yourself into it, but you don’t really know what it is. No one really does. Even when it gets into a festival, which is some sign that you must have done something right, you aren’t quite sure what it is until an audience sees it for the first time. I think it defines what the work is. With painting or photography or a piece of music it seems that you can define the work privately but with a film I don’t think you can tell what kind of film you have made until later with a viewing public. You have to be democratic about it. One or two people in an audience can’t carry the swell of the whole feeling. A movie has to reach a certain tipping point with an audience where everyone surrenders to it.
LC : How do you see the differences between working on a film as an actor and as a writer?
BM: I have usually been very involved in writing and producing as well as during the edit. When you shoot the film, you can go to the editing room and make the film based on what you have – it can end up being a different movie to the one you wrote or the one you imagined. With the co-writing relationships I’ve been in, it has been a case of looking and thinking OK, this scene that we loved so much in the script, is it worth being in the final edit? How do we let it go and deal with the reality? You paint with the colours you actually have in the room. How do you make it a painting? I think when you watch early cuts of the film you always watch it from a writer’s perspective. I don’t even evaluate myself in it. You look and figure out how to make it better. It is very different to when you come in and watch as an actor. You are watching a thing that you went and gave a piece of yourself to, something that is much closer to a final cut of a film. You’re just accepting what you are seeing, which is really different to coming in with your tool kit and seeing how you can make it better. In some ways it’s a relief when you’re acting.
LC : In an age of mass communication how do you most often ‘read’?
BM : On Sunday I still love the feeling of having The New York Times. What I find in the paper copy is very different to what I find online. It is a weird horizontal search. Everything goes outwards; you can be on one thing and then end up on another site and then another. There is no depth to it. When I get the papers and am sitting reading them on Sunday morning at breakfast, I dive into things I wouldn’t necessarily have dived into and find things that I wouldn’t have online. I do try and participate in things like Instagram and Twitter, but I wouldn’t say they come naturally to me. I don’t know if that’s a function of there being a cut off point with when you were born. Even friends of mine who were born three years after me have a completely different relationship with technology.
LC : Can you talk a little bit about the archaeology of Another Earth?
BM : We wanted to take what is often so beautiful about art-house and European cinema – nuanced portrayals of the complexities of human relationships – and mix that miniature anthropology with a sense of the breadth and awe with which really great science fiction re- imagines the world. There was this idea of what if you were confronted by yourself. The doppelgänger. What would happen if I walked into a room and I sat down and I was also there? How would I react? Would I love them? Would we be the same? If you finally met yourself would you unburden yourself of that thing you had been carrying? Would you let go and realise you did OK? The best you could?
LC : Given the oft-remarked on lack of believable female roles, do you feel a duty to try and make things change by the parts you take and the characters you write?
BM : We have a superficial society now where everywhere there are depictions of how you’re supposed to look and how you’re supposed to be. There is so much fear of aging and fear of no longer being a sex object. It makes you want to be a part of fighting for the other side of things and play a part in telling positive stories about women. That doesn’t mean there aren’t also women who are complicated, broken, sad or immoral, who could be villains. It is about them being more layered. Women are not just there to ask the right questions at the right time.
LC : Do you think there is a transformative power that cinema as an art form can hold and not just in the field of gender politics?
BM : Cinema is so intense because it actually transports you. You leave one time and space and go somewhere else. You are walking into different landscapes. You can come back from the cinema changed. Your perspective may actually be different. Have you ever gone to the cinema with someone you’ve been dating and watched a portrayal of love that it is so true and beautiful that you realise you and the person you are with will never be like that together? That what you’re watching is something true, what love should look like, something to aspire to.
Words: Lewis Carpenter
Photography: James Wright
Photographer’s Assistant: Cori McCullough
Producer: Lewis Carpenter
Stylist: Liz McClean @ Brydges Mackinney
Stylist’s Assistants: Ethan Benjamin Cowley and Zarina Humayun
Hair: Lani Reeves @ Something Artists
Make-up: Darlene Jacobs @ Starworks
Manicurist: Whitney Gibson @ Nailing Hollywood
Special thanks to Leica Los Angeles