Now open in a limited, but expanding release is Sundance 2011 award winner 'Another Earth.' Star Brit Marling co-wrote the screenplay with director Mike Cahill and recently took some time to talk with High-Def Digest about her life, her motivations, her influences, her experiences.
Although the name Brit Marling may not ring a bell, with her talent, it will in the very near future. Her face, though, may be recognizable. If you watched the second season of NBC's 'Community,' you know her as Britta's “gay friend” Page.
Luke Hickman – HDD: Since it's hard to find information about you on the internet, can you give a little back story on yourself?
Brit Marling: Yes! I was born in Chicago and grew up in Chicago. I went to school at Georgetown. I studied theater and loved doing plays growing up, but I sort of felt [that since] a lot of friends were going to drama school that I didn't have much experience in the way of all the other things of the world. I thought it was important to study philosophy, to study physics, to study political science - all these things were somehow important to me being an actor. … When I was in Georgetown, I ended up majoring in economics and kind of got sucked into that world, maybe to go onto that career path for a while – and then I met Mike [Cahill] … and we started making short films together, and then documentaries, and then we came out to L.A. and I wanted to act again. I didn't really see the way to enter the system. Hollywood is so – there's a lot of barriers of entry there. As a young unknown actress in your early 20s trying to go out an audition and read for things, it's very hard to read for anything that's substantive material at all. I thought it would be best to start writing in order to do the acting that I was hoping I might one day get to do. Mike wanted to make his first fiction feature, so we decided to write the thing together. That's – sort of – what 'Another Earth' came from. His desire to direct and my desire to act made us both decide to try to be writers.
HDD: Out of your acting, directing, producing, writing, editing, and cinematography experience, do you have any other aspirations?
Brit Marling: (laughs). Oh my gosh, no! Doesn't that sound like too many already?
HDD: No! It's awesome!
Brit Marling: You know, I think it actually has been useful as an actor to spend some time on the other side of the camera because then you understand that world as well. For me, acting is the most overwhelming challenge. I feel like it is such a humbling craft because no matter how much you practice it, it's so easy to go back to zero - like in an instant. If you lie or if you're inauthentic or you're a phony, it wipes away years of effort and work. … You're not telling the truth and people can fell that. Basically, as an actor, you never want to be caught acting. It's a real challenge for me – and I love that challenge. I love the idea of getting you imagination to a place were it's so strong that you believe in a secondary reality and can … walk into, convince yourself that your primary reality … dissolve. I think I'm going to be pretty preoccupied with just trying to get to the bottom of that craft for a very long time. That's sort of where my focus is – for now, anyway.
HDD: With 'Another Earth' being driven by a sci-fi element, are you a fan of sci-fi?
Brit Marling: I loved – I don't know if you … ever read when you were a kid – the book 'A Wrinkle in Time.' It's a great sci-fi kid's book. And I loved films like '12 Monkeys' growing up and the [French] short 'La Jetée' it was based upon. ...I love science fiction. … I think what happens is we're all watching so much film and television, now we can sense so many stories. The audiences have gotten so sophisticated at storytelling that they know the character that is going to die, because that always happens in this genre. Or they know that the boy and the girl are going to get together or they're going to fall apart. Everything is anticipated. We've seen so many of these stories so many times. Science fiction kind of lets you put a fresh lens on it. It lets you, I think, make original juxtapositions and force characters into extreme circumstances – but these circumstances ultimately point at very human truths. Like [in 'Another Earth'] when Rhoda is deciding whether or not to go to space, that's just a more extreme version of choices that we face all the time. … For instance, the ending of '12 Monkeys' where the little boy … watches an older version of himself be assassinated. That moment is technically, as far as we understand physics and mathematics now is, impossible – and yet ... it is getting at some truth of humanity and the loss of innocence and of mortality and immortality – all of these things that we feel very deeply but can't always articulate. That scene gave me more feeling … than a lot of other films that have to play by the rules of how we currently understand the universe. Science fiction – or, reality with a bit of a twist – has always been really interesting to me.
HDD: If 'A Wrinkle in Time' inspired you as a kid, what inspires you now?
Brit Marling: Thing I've been really intrigued by lately are stories of the environment, stories of the natural world. I just saw this great documentary on the Earth Liberation Front called 'If A Tree Falls.' It's a beautifully realized documentary and just really compelling – the place we're in right now where so much of the natural environment seems to be disappearing so quickly. … I think there are a lot of stories to be told there dealing with the natural world and the fight to protect … and preserve it, to not kill everything on this good green Earth (laughs). That's particularly interesting to me right now. But I guess I'll always be interested in the science fiction sort of approach to – I mean, one of the greatest things about science fiction is it allows you to talk about things that are happening now without being didactic or political. 'Twilight [Zone]' episodes and 'Star Trek' used to do this so well. They would talk about racism, the Vietnam War and all these things without hitting you over the head with it … bearing it in a very entertaining science fiction story. I think science fiction is always useful for that – no matter what you are interested in.
HDD: 'Another Earth' and the character you play in it go into a very deep, dark and intimate place. Was it hard to put that onto a page, let alone bring it to life?
Brit Marling: You know, it's interesting. … I think the really great writers really put themselves into their characters and are not writing in their mind's eye. They are really writing from the perspective of the character, living within it. I think that's how really stunning thing are achieved in fiction where you read a novel and the writer is a 45-year-old man – how did he write this 14-year-old girl so well? I think that the answer is that the writer is also, in some respects, doing a lot of the imaginary work that an actor does before they prepare – which is, really living in that space. In both the writing and the acting it is difficult. It's overwhelming, really … to spend hours daydreaming what it would be like to be in a prison cell or spend four years there, what the first hour is like … what does it smell like, how is the sunlight there and how often do you see the sunlight. You daydream on these senses until you make them real to yourself. Then you can hopefully convince and audience of it. … I think there also has to be a sense of play in it. When you're done with the story, you just let go and have been somewhat hanged by it. If it's a story worth telling, you're always a but changed by the character that you played. And that's actually a great thing, I think.
HDD: Was it hard to balance the intimate story with this big concept of “another Earth” with -
Brit Marling: With dopplegangers? (laughs). It was really hard, actually. We spent a long time just outlining the story. We would go through outline after outline where, “Okay. The science is too heavy.” “Now it's too light.” “This juxtaposition seems strange.” “How are we going to go from Rhoda and John looking through this telescope at this other Earth … and how are they going to go play Wii in the next room?” It was really a trick balance, but I think what we ultimately found was that so long as the other Earth always felt like an external manifestation of what they are feeling inside, Rhoda and John, some sort of journey they are going through in their relationship, that there would be a connection there, that when the Earth seemed somewhat menacing and threatening … that is where they are in the story. And when it seems sort of light and full of wonder and possibility, that is where they are in their relationship too. I think that's how we tried to navigate it. … I hope that we somewhat succeeded.
HDD: Changing gears, do you have a home theater system?
Brit Marling: (laughs). That such a good question. It's funny because I'm subletting a place right now … and the place … has a nice theater system, but because I'm subletting it, I have no idea what it is. I just know that when I come home, on the occasion that I do get home, there's like a nice flat screen TV and whatever else. I'm sorry I can't answer that better for you. (laughs). I was just with Mike and … we watched a Blu-ray of … one of the 'Bourne' movies and it was really fun to watch because I love espionage. …
HDD: What are some of the shows – besides 'Community' – that you are watching right now.
Brit Marling: Oh, my gosh. 'Community' is so much fun. Isn't that the best show? I feel like the writers are liberated on that show. They get to do whatever they want. It's so cool. So, besides 'Community,' I really liked … 'Mildred Pierce.' I thought that was amazing. I really like … 'Hung.' I really like the idea of a female pimp character. I think it's really interesting because we've never seen that before. I like 'So You Think You Can Dance.' (laughs). Because I like to dance. I sometime watch that show with my best friend Jane. We live vicariously through all their dancing antics.
HDD: Are we going to see Page on 'Community' again?
Brit Marling: I hope so! (laughs) I hope I should be so lucky as to be written back in there. I wonder where they would go with it – that's what I'd be really curious to know, do they have a full on affair (laughs) or did it end at the Valentine's dance?
HDD: They are really good a bringing old characters back into the story.
Brit Marling: Well, I'm going to be waiting for that phone call.