Interview: Brit Marling, Co-Writer and Star of ‘Another Earth’

In the film Another Earth, co-writer and star Brit Marling plays Rhoda, a woman who’s released from prison after serving time for a fatal drunk driving accident.  Eventually, she works her way into the life of John (William Mapother), the sole survivor of the wreck and the two form a unique bond. As this story unfolds, the world is dealing with a different set of problems: a mirror version of Earth has appeared in the sky.

The film, also co-written by Director Mike Cahill, is a mash-up of a small indie drama and sci-fi and it works wonderfully.

Brit is having one amazing year. Not only was Another Earth accepted into Sundance, but a second film she co-wrote and starred in, Sound Of My Voice was also in contention at the festival. Add to that, she’s currently shooting the film Arbitrage with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon.

Not bad for someone who didn’t even have her SAG card before filming began Another Earth began.

I talked to Brit about the film, her decision to start writing and more!

Another Earth is in limited release. Check it out when it comes to your town.

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

You basically quit college (Georgetown) to follow your dream?

Brit Marling: Well, yeah. I guess. I was having a hard time figuring out how to be an actor in the world. Unless you’ve started when you were like 2 in L.A. doing, you know, diaper commercials, like how do you, how do you enter the system? It takes such a long time and I was obviously coming at it after school and I, I don’t know, I guess I knew that that’s what I was passionate about and what I wanted to do and it seemed to me like the best way to even begin was… because I came out to L.A. and I found out it was just really hard.

It’s hard to get work and a lot of things that you can audition for are, especially for girls, so thinly written, you know what I mean? When in your early 20’s and you’re young and you haven’t done anything before, it’s like the kinds of roles you can go out for is just always a girl being chased by some serial killer. Or being held hostage, or they’re always in such week positions and I felt like, oh this is so sad, this isn’t like the women that I know who are strong and interesting and complicated and driving the action of their lives. And so, I thought it would probably a good thing to just try to write. Write things for myself and for other women and so that’s sort of how it begin.

Had you always wanted to be an actress? Did you do any acting in high school?

Brit Marling: I did. I acted in plays growing up in elementary school and middle school and high school, I loved that. I just had a hard time seeing how… I didn’t know how you can make a living doing that. And I think I also felt very overwhelmed by how much your experience seems to be out of your control. Like, if you’re violinist you can just lock yourself in your room and practice until you satisfy yourself. You don’t rely so deeply on other people to practice your craft and to get good at it.

As an actor, you really can’t do that, you need other people and you need to be cast in things and you need the story and you’re relying on all these other elements in order to get to do the thing that you love and I found that overwhelming. I didn’t know how to deal with that and so I guess that’s why eventually I came to writing. It seemed like a way to ensure that I could get to do the thing I loved maybe.

Had you ever written anything prior?

Brit Marling: I had written short stories. I’d always loved writing, but I didn’t start screenwriting until I came out to L.A. and just read a lot of screenwriting books and I was reading a lot of bad scripts. Sometimes it’s easier to see in a bad script how things are, in what ways the story’s broken it needs to be fixed ‘cause sometimes when you read a good script it’s so good it sucks you in, it’s hard to see the math of how it’s working.

Acting wise, did you have any training? Did you go to any classes?

Brit Marling: I didn’t have really any formal training. I mean I didn’t go to drama school, but when I was out in L.A. I started studying with this wonderful teacher, Harry Master George, who has a theater, and he’s incredible. He’s incredible as a teacher because he’s really about developing your imagination and your mentality, getting yourself into a place where you can actually let go of the pre-occupations of being an adult or being an actor, you know? Results-oriented stuff. Like, will this be good? Will I be liked? And really lose yourself in the story and listening and being present.

And he’s an incredible teacher. I mean he keeps people or their scene, usually you’re given a scene or two scenes and he will keep people on scenes for years. And you’re doing The Seagull, you’re doing Beckett, for a long time and the reason he does that is he says that, and I think this is really true, that if you’re capable of working professional hours on the material, you would be working 6 to 8 hours a day or whatever, living in the story, trying to make it real to yourself. And obviously most actors, as their coming into their work are also working part time jobs, doing other things it’s hard to spend that amount of time. And so then, you just keep adding to the calendar year and you find that after a year of doing a scene from The Seagull, you are still finding new things in it a year later. I mean you think you hit a wall and then at some point you push pass the wall and you find a depth to it and you realize you can never get to the bottom, that there’s always deeper to go. It’s just a question of what is the first day that you begin shooting and doing as much as you can, as much homework, preparation as you can until the moment you have to stop.

You wrote the film and you’re the star, when you watch yourself do you ever see something that you could have done better?

Brit Marling: It’s funny, I’ve only watched it… I watched it in the editing room a couple of times and at that point I was watching it as a writer again, ‘cause you’re you’re re-writing the story again so you’re not thinking about it as much from an acting perspective. I mean, I really divorced myself from watching myself and you’re thinking only just, this seems authentic, or this seems inauthentic.

How did you do that?

Brit Marling: I don’t know. I guess maybe it’s because of the writing thing that you, there’s a way for you to divorce yourself from it and just see if the story is working. But then later, you know, Mike spent an incredible amount of time working on the score and Mike is such a gifted director. I feel so lucky to have worked with him because every part of the process, he is so deeply talented. The story writing, the directing, directing actors, understanding how to talk to actors in terms of story and the subtlety of performance, and cinematography and editing. The whole thing is like one brushstroke for him and that makes it really amazing as an actor because you feel safe, like you trust that person’s art, and then you can, you’re free to give yourself over to it. So he really creates a safe space in which to work. But I never, I didn’t, I didn’t feel, I didn’t watch it from an analytical place of ‘Oh I could have done this better’, ‘I could have done that better’, I was really just lost myself in the story.  I suppose if I watch it now I’d have a lot of criticism for myself.

Just talking to you for these few minutes, you’re completely different than your character. I know a lot of people who have written for themselves and they keep that writing in their wheelhouse. You didn’t do that with Rhoda. Was that on purpose?

Brit Marling: Yeah. I always feel as an actor that I can tell that I wanna do something when it makes me nervous. Like, if I get this nervousness, this sort of butterflies in my stomach feeling. If I don’t recognize that humanity, like I have to go in search of it to find it.

I’ve never been in prison, I’ve never had a catastrophic accident, I’m not like this girl. I haven’t had her set of experiences and that’s where I think, for me the true joy of acting comes. Letting go of your identity and losing yourself in someone elses that is very unlike you.

The movie is kind of like a mash-up of two genres, how did you come up with the story? Are you a fan of sci-fi?

Brit Marling: Totally. Mike and I both love sci-fi, but we also love thrillers, and we also love drama, and I think thats sort of where it came from. We were trying to write and make the movie that we wanted to see and that we don’t see as much as we would like. You’re taking elements of sci-fi and sort of high-concept spectacle storytelling and then you’re also taking elements of, you know, just substantive drama and a great thriller, and you’re weaving it all together, and hopefully making something that’s interesting.

When you’re writing, do you have an idea who the perfect cast might be?

Brit Marling: No, we didn’t for this story. When we met William Mapother, it was like ‘Oh my gosh, this is John’, and we were so excited.

When I watched it, you kind of expect him to be a jackass, just because of his prior roles and then you see him in this vulnerable performance.

Brit Marling: Oh, I think we often do that with actors and it’s unfortunate, we see them one way and they cast that way again and again because people are afraid to take risks. But the great part of being an actor and what I think most actors bring to the table is their ability to be changelings, to be unrecognizable from one moment to the next and I think William is a tremendous actor and I can’t wait to see what he does next. He’s so talented and there’s so many facets to what he can create.

And my last question before they throw me out of here, what’s your advice to actors?

Brit Marling: Write. I think it’s so hard to be an actor especially now that the competition is international. I mean, there fewer films being made and I think that writing is a way to…  so it doesn’t always feel like you’re waiting to be chosen. And I think that that’s an important thing for an actor to feel like they can take their work into their hands and be active in creating it.

2 Comments

  1. Teresa Decher

    August 1, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Great interview– I am so glad to see her featured on this site! I’ve heard a lot about her with “Another Earth” coming out soon, but I’ve been having a hard time finding interviews with her.

    She’s a total inspiration and I hope I can build my career the same way she has.

  2. Lance Carter

    August 1, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks Teresa 🙂 She’s is a total inspiration to me as well. And she’s incredibly nice as I’m sure you got from the interview. Check out the movie if you can, you’ll like it!

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