Brit Marling on Sound of My Voice, DIY Filmmaking, and Her Dream Director Wish List


Since moving to L.A. have you been doing the regular aspiring actor thing, sending out head shots and resumes and hitting auditions?

It's funny, right when I got out to L.A. I realized pretty quickly that one, it's just difficult to go on auditions as a young unknown. And then even if you can get an audition, what you're auditioning for is probably garbage. I mean, it's just horror films, the torture porn genre, or it's just bad comedies, girlfriend characters, girl in bikini running from man with chainsaw. I thought to myself, "Oh my gosh, I don't know how I can do this stuff." People said to me you just have to start somewhere, everybody's got this kind of work, the skeletons in their closet, and eventually you'll get to the other side and you'll get to do substantive work. I remember thinking to myself, nobody says to an aspiring heart surgeon, "One day you'll get to operate on patients at Cedars-Sinai -- but for now, come over to this back alley and remove kidneys illegally and sell them on the black market." Nobody asks that of any other profession, that you wade through this morally-corrupt swamp. Also what I felt really strongly about was that I didn't want to play these roles where women are constantly in these submissive positions or being sexually abused or harassed or just sexual objects. I did not want to do that. I didn't want to be responsible for putting storytelling into the world that other young girls would watch and think, that's what it means to be a woman. Hell no. So writing became a way to get to act in things that I thought were meaningful, and hopefully write stronger roles for other women. The Lorna character, to write [SOMV character] Carol Briggs, to create work for other women that wasn't like the stuff I was reading.

Speaking of strong female characters, Maggie in Sound of My Voice is mesmerizing, manipulative, transfixing. (See photo above.) There is an amazing power to her that's almost inhuman. Where did that magnetism and power come from in your performance, and where did you draw her characteristics from when you were writing her?

In the beginning when we wrote this, Maggie for a while was a bit of a blank placeholder. She was there, but we had a hard time determining her character. For a while she read pretty one-dimensionally, and then she started to flesh out the moment that we came up with the scene between her and Peter [Christopher Denham], where she kind of pressures Peter about his past and gets him to throw up, physically and emotionally. I think that scene gave us as writers insight into her character, in that she's deeply intuitive, really compassionate on one hand, but on the other hand there's a scorpion- or viper-like quality to her. If she feels dismissed or threatened, or if she feels someone accusing her of being a fraud, she will attack and it will be fearless and aggressive and very dangerous. I think that seed from that scene gave birth to this girl who's at once potentially magical -- is she a time traveler, is there something ethereal, or is she ordinary? And look, even if she is a time traveler, which I'm not going to answer, but if she is a time traveler, a time traveler is just a person from the future who comes back in time. She can be sort of an ordinary girl who, like, smokes menthol cigarettes and is kind of crass in the future and travels back in time. That ordinariness doesn't leave her. I think we liked the idea of that juxtaposition, that she's telling people the future and smoking softpack menthol cigarettes and has really badly chipped nail polish on her fingernails.

About that ambiguous ending; you don't have to tell us the answer, but is there an answer?

Yeah. And that's what's amazing about this; this was actually conceived as the first part of a larger story. Oh my gosh, there are hours of storytelling that could be had. Whether or not that's a trilogy of films or a TV show or a miniseries, it doesn't matter -- there is an ending that you come to between Peter and Maggie that is so, I think, beautiful and complicated. A really great love story. And I hope that we get a chance to tell that, because right now only Zal and I and another person know that ending.

It might just drive people crazy to know that more story is out there, even if it only exists in your minds.

[Laughs] We'd love a chance to share it. Maggie's a character that I think there's still a lot to mine, in who she is.

Your other Sundance film, Another Earth, is coming to theaters. How did that project come to pass in relation to the development and filming of Sound of My Voice?

That was while the three of us were living together. It was a two-level house, so I used to write upstairs with Mike and then come downstairs and write with Zal, and go back and forth. I was basically not getting any sleep and had no social life at the time. Then Mike and I made Another Earth and had such a great time doing it, and Zal and I were shopping Sound of My Voice around trying to get money -- trying to get a lot more money, and it just came with all these creative constraints. It wasn't enough money to warrant those kinds of constraints, so we were like, okay -- let's just make this one, too. I think we learned a lot from each other's projects. I learned a lot on Another Earth that I then took into Sound of My Voice, as an actor and from a producing perspective, making something for not very much money.

What are you planning on doing next? Do the three of you have more stories that you'd like to tell together?

I think a little bit of everything. As an actor, it's an amazing thing to write material for yourself, because you can write things that are divergent from who you are. You know your limitations and you try to write a role that pushes you way past them. If I was thinking about myself, Brit Marling, I would feel uncomfortable making a group of people throw up. [Laughs] So you then write something that takes you places you're not comfortable going, and that's cool. There are only so many stories that Mike or Zal and I have to say together. But the most amazing thing as an actor is to lose yourself in someone else's imagination, so I'm excited to do that more. I'm doing something in April called Arbitrage that I think will be really fun to do, coming in as an actor with nothing to do with the writing or the producing. That's a lovely experience, to come in and just do that job. On Another Earth, for instance, there were so many other things you're worried about that it's hard to focus on the acting. And also, Zal and I have written something we wrote last summer about a group of anarchists that we're going to hopefully shoot this summer, and Mike is going to shoot another film that he wrote that I'm going to act in.

After Sundance, you signed with an agency. Did Sundance completely change things for you in terms of career opportunities, and what kind of roles have you been approached with since?

It's a very cool thing to begin to have the opportunity to read really great scripts, to actually go in and meet the people who are making those stories and really be in a po
sition to be a part of them. That is awesome. But so far I haven't been approached with anything similar. You do have to be careful of that, but because these films haven't fully entered the world yet people still don't really know. Absolutely, I don't want to do another role that's similar to Maggie or similar to Rhoda; I think as an actor once you've explored that territory it becomes safe and you begin seeking out the dangerous territory, something new that you feel you maybe cannot do. So I'm looking for that, and it obviously becomes much easier when you have an agent and managers and people supporting you that believe in your work and your ability to do it. As far as studio vs. independent films, I'm interested in any story that's good and a lot of the great stories that I watch are huge studio films. I love 12 Monkeys, it's one of my favorite movies of all time. I love The Princess Bride, I love The Fugitive. I also love Dogville and Edge of Heaven and I Am Love. So it doesn't really matter to me, the budget or how it's being made. It's really a question of the story and the people behind it.

The common thread in many of those films seems to be that they're made by iconoclastic directors with very strong visions.

Yeah, and I think that's what interests me the most about being an actor. You have to surrender. You have to really trust the director and the way that they see things, and how can you surrender to anyone who doesn't move you deeply and whom you don't trust? I'm excited to meet those other directors and writers that will move me so much that I'm like, "Take me on the journey with you." I will do my homework and know this human being that I'm playing inside and out and I'll trust you to keep me safe. You have to be willing to make yourself really vulnerable.

Who are some directors you can name who have inspired you that you'd like to work with as an actor?

Oh, gosh. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden; I love their work and Half Nelson is, I think, the most stunning film that's come out of our generation. Fatih Akin blows my mind. Luca Guadagnino. So many people.

In terms of directors working closely with their actors as you have in your films, Guadagnino developed I Am Love over a long period of time with Tilda Swinton.

And her performance in it is transcendental! She's speaking Italian with a Russian accent and then Russian? It blows my mind. Also Elegy, directed by Isabel Coixet. Beautiful film based on the Philip Roth novel. For whatever reason it came out at the same time as Vicky Cristina Barcelona and it got sort of got buried, but it is an amazing movie and she is a stunning director. A female director who also camera operates, which I think is so cool. Oh my gosh, there are so many directors I look forward to getting to know.

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  • Rohit says:

    I'm sorry, Who is this??
    Half Nelson is pure Ryan Gosling though.

  • Ligaya says:

    Ryan Gosling's performance didn't come out of nowhere. Ryan FleckAnna Boden wrote sterling script; Ryan Fleck directed. Gosling didn't improvise. Gosling didn't act by himself, Shareeka Epp more than held her own; she won Independent Spirit Best Actress award same time Gosling won Best Actor. Ryan Gosling had incredible performances before in great movies - not as searing & memorable as in Half Nelson and not in as near universally acclaimed, award winning movies as Half Nelson. Half Nelson marked Gosling's turning point (skip The Notebook).
    Movies are a collaborative art & craft.

  • Morgo says:

    Wow what an interesting article and an interesting good choice. That picture o her is outregeously beautiful and striking also.

  • Sharita says:

    I personally LOVE your stream and you're probably one of my favorite TGWTG guys on the site, but you do what you gotta do man.