Brit Marling on Another Earth, Arbitrage, and Learning from Your Doppelganger

another_earth_marling630.jpgEarlier this year, Verge designee and writer-producer-actor Brit Marling took the festival circuit by storm with not one, but two knock-out indie films which she starred in and co-wrote: the philosophical sci-fi pic Another Earth, directed by Mike Cahill, and the cult drama Sound of My Voice, directed by Zal Batmanglij. This summer, Fox Searchlight will release the first of the Brit Marling two-fer, Another Earth, starring Marling as a young woman haunted by a chance tragedy in her past who finds hope of a sort when a duplicate Earth appears in the sky. Finally, the world will see what all the fuss was about.

It's a well-deserved fuss, since Marling is one of the great revelatory discoveries of 2010, a clear-eyed actress with an amazing ability to command the screen, whether as a manipulative cult leader in Sound of My Voice (which was also picked up by Fox Searchlight) or as the troubled, conflicted Rhoda in Another Earth. Next, Marling will be seen in her biggest film to date, playing the daughter of Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere in Andrew Jarecki's Arbitrage.

Movieline spoke with Marling via phone about the origins of Another Earth, the contemplation of paths not taken, and the sweet relief she's felt so far in watching a major Hollywood studio get behind the tiny-budgeted passion projects she thought she'd just be screening for friends in her living room.

We chatted last March at SXSW, where you brought both Sound of My Voice and Another Earth. Fast forward four months -- how has life changed for you since then?

Oh my goodness. That's a really good question; let me think of an honest answer. It's been good. Mike [Cahill] and I have been on the road for a while, every day a different city doing Q&As, and that has been really amazing, because you see so many responses to the film at once. You're in Philadelphia one day and Chicago the next, and it's really interesting. This movie -- everyone has very different feelings about the interpretation of it, and what happens. And they're strong opinions! People get really passionate about it. It's cool to see that, because you give up the film now to the audience, to the debate and the things they feel, and it doesn't belong to you anymore. It's a nice transference.

You shot both this and Sound of My Voice (with director Zal Batmanglij) on a shoestring budget, but to have it then reach such a wide audience through a studio release must be a sort of dream scenario for you and Mike.

Oh my gosh, it's so far outside the realm of the dream. It's like, beyond dreaming. When we were making this movie, we were saying at the beginning, "Oh yeah, we'll have a screening at our house. How many people can we fit into the living room? If we bring in chairs and we borrow this person's couch, we can fit 20 people in here to watch the movie!" That's kind of how we went about making it; we just wanted to make something, you know? The desire to just make something is so strong, you're not even thinking about how it could enter the world. Getting to go to Sundance, and Searchlight taking the film into their hands -- which are the most capable hands in independent filmmaking -- they put so much thought and feeling behind bringing this work into the world that basically, it's every day a state of shock and awe.

Mike was studying a lot of theoretical science when you and he first formulated the ideas that went into Another Earth. How did you translate real life scientific studies into forming the actual story?

You know, it's interesting. We would just show up to write every day, and we started with this more epic conceit -- first, the idea of a doppelganger. And then, what if all 6.93 billion people on this planet were also on this duplicate Earth, what if you could make literal and visual the sort of healing we all have, or are haunted by, the idea of twins, a duplicate you, another you and all the variations on that theme. And we started with that idea, and began to think: What's a human drama we could tell within that where the possibility of a confrontation with yourself would have the most emotional resonance? And that's sort of where Rhoda and John came from. But basically Mike and I would just get together every day and tell each other the story back and forth and try to move each other and try to make each other laugh, and try to make each other afraid. If, as you're telling each other the story back and forth, Mike or I is falling asleep or going to the kitchen to make a snack, you know that you've lost the other person. We spent a lot of time doing that, and once you crack the overall narrative -- that's what takes the longest, figuring out the story beat by beat as you tell it to each other. Then you finally open up Final Draft and actually start to write something.

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  • terebi says:

    Unfortunately, she lost me when she said there are THREE billion people on earth. Maybe an excited slip of the tongue, but that's not a difficult fact to get right. Oh well; it's not as though scientific accuracy is demanded of our starlets (or our screenwriters for that matter).

  • Jen Yamato says:

    Actually that was a publishing error. Apologies, and fixed above.

  • lifts shoe says:

    I came to the exact theory as well not too long ago. Excellent read and I shall be sure to look back later for additional postings.

  • K. says:

    The "Brit-Mike-Zal" trio is the best thing to hit indie edges of hollywood in a long time. I'm such of fan of all three films...I recommend you see them in order made, so you get a sense of just how awesome these people are on a shoestring budget: Sound of My Voice, Another Earth, The East. Brit commands the screen, and holds the lead role in all three films! Plus, she co-wrote & produced. She's amazing. I've had a personal alchemical reaction to Another Earth. It's literally changed my life.