Another Earth is a compelling and thought-provoking sci-fi drama about a world just like ours, that suddenly and mysteriously has a similar planet – dubbed Earth 2 – appear overnight. When Rhoda (Brit Marling) gets behind the wheel after a night of partying, a tragic accident halts her dreams and leaves her with no sense of the future. She is drawn to the man whose life she irrevocably changed, wanting to make things different for him. As Rhoda and John Burroughs (William Mapother) become involved in a risky love affair, and she gets the incredible chance to travel to Earth 2, she feels the need to tell him of their true connection.
With Another Earth, the film’s lead actress, Brit Marling – who also produced the provocative piece and co-wrote the script with director Mike Cahill – proved that she is a talent to keep an eye on. At the film’s press day, the rising star, who began writing scripts so that she had films to act in, did this exclusive interview with Collider, in which she talked about what drew her to the sci-fi genre, what led her from being an economics major to an actress, balancing an intimate love story with such an epic concept, and how “positive dissatisfaction” keeps her grounded. She also talked about selling both Another Earth and the equally compelling Sound of My Voice (which she co-write with director Zal Batmanglij) to Fox Searchlight, how she envisioned Sound of My Voice as a trilogy that she hopes to someday complete, what made her want to be a part of Arbitrage and act from someone else’s script, and how she’d love to continue to work outside of her comfort zone. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: Both of your films have a sci-fi element to them. Is there something specific that drew you to that genre, or did that just come out of the story?
BRIT MARLING: That’s a good question. Mike [Cahill], who directed Another Earth, and Zal [Batmanglij], who directed Sound of My Voice, and I all met at Georgetown, and we were all really interested in high-concept ideas married with small, substantive stories. Science fiction has a way of letting you talk about where we are in the world and letting you be a bit of a pop philosopher without being didactic. It lets you come up with new paradigms and new things that are happening, and then see the way people react in those settings. Because we’re watching so many movies now and are consumed by so many stories, science fiction lets you do something a bit fresh and that hasn’t been seen before. You can bury the metaphors, so that you’re not talking about anything too directly. It’s all in the background, and the audience absorbs it just as part of the story. Nothing is hitting you over the head. I think that’s the appeal of it, for all of us. We’ve all been interested in that.
Did you watch a lot of sci-fi growing up?
MARLING: One of my favorite stories growing up was A Wrinkle in Time. I loved that book. I still remember the image, so strongly, of all the kids coming out of their house at the same time, they’re all bouncing a ball at the same time, and they all go back in at the same time. A Wrinkle in Time moved me deeply. And, I always loved fantasy, too. I loved all of Roald Dahl books, like The BFG (Big Friendly Giant). I also loved his darkness. I loved that he was telling children’s stories, but that there was always this dark under-current in it, and humor too. The Phantom Tollbooth was fantasy too, but there were some sci-fi elements to it. That was a really good one. Maybe those early science fiction books and movies influenced me. I loved 12 Monkeys. I love that film. I thought it was such a great love story, and it was talking about a lot of interesting things, like this world in which everybody’s humanity had been forced underground because the planet had been destroyed and how we were feeling about being alive and the destruction of the planet. There are all these interesting ideas that can happen in metaphor, but are pointing to things that we’re actually feeling and thinking.
When you decided to move to L.A. to make movies, was it something that you were just determined to make happen?
MARLING: No, I didn’t know I was going to make it happen, not at all. I feel like so much of it has just been being lucky. There are so many filmmakers who are so talented, and actors and writers who work so hard, and it’s really hard to let your work enter the world. Sundance just blows my mind with what they’re doing, and all the artists’ voices that would just be lost, if they did not exist. There’s no one else getting that kind of resources and stability and exposure for people making work outside the system. Talk about a group of people who are just not accepting the world as it is, and are doing something different to change it. I feel so lucky to maybe have a chance to make a living doing the thing that I love because of them.
How did you go from being an economics major to deciding that you wanted to act and writing yourself roles?
MARLING: I learned from my parents the idea that, if you are devoted enough and you want to study something enough, you can really teach yourself anything. The mind is so elastic that it’s all just about whether you have the discipline to want to learn something, but maybe that isn’t true of everything. I wasn’t actually very naturally good at economics. My brain doesn’t work very well, in terms of mathematics. I’m not one of those people who can just spout off numbers for things, if numbers are thrown at me, or think very well, in terms of statistics or probability, but you just kept working at it until eventually your brain opens up and accepts it. And, I think the same was true of writing, and all of it.
There were a couple experiences that I had acting, where it gave me a pleasure that nothing else even approaches. It doesn’t happen all the time, but in the moments where you really lose yourself and you fall into this character, it’s like time travel. You lose track of the past and the future, and you’re so radically in the present moment that it feels infinite, in some way. That sounds really lofty and romantic, but when it happens and you are really there with someone, in a scene, it can feel more crackling with electricity and truth than anything in your real life does. It’s bizarre, but I wanted that. I wanted to have it, again and again. And so, I thought it was worth the time to try to learn to write and to read these books and figure out if I could maybe do that. If we could learn to write these things, it would be worth it, in pursuit of that thing. It sounds nuts, but I guess it’s just what happened. I couldn’t think of anything else to do with myself that seemed as meaningful, or that would make me that happy.
Where did the idea for Another Earth come from?
MARLING: There were a lot of things in the mix, at the time. The primary thing was just that [Mike Cahill] wanted to direct and I wanted to act, and we were like, “Okay, how can we do that? Let’s try to write a movie.” For this story, Mike was listening to a lot of Dr. Richard Berendzen’s work on tape, at the time. He’s an astrophysicist with a particular way of talking about the cosmos with a strong sense of narrative. Instead of coming at science from a more clinical or empirical way, he talks about it very emotionally, so it makes it easy to understand his ideas. I would go over to Mike’s apartment and he would be listening to Dr. Berendzen. He’s the narrator of the film because he has that epic, omniscient voice of the universe. We were really inspired by that and his work, and the idea of becoming reconnected to the night sky. In L.A., in New York and in any of these cities, you lose track of the stars. You don’t really see them at night, so you lose track of all that is still so unknown and mysterious, and we wanted to try to make a movie that had some of that mystery in it. We were also fascinated by the idea of doppelgangers and the idea of confronting yourself. And then, from somewhere within that, Another Earth came and the story was born.
Was it hard to balance the intimate love story with such a huge concept?
MARLING: Oh, gosh, totally. We spent a long time trying to crack the story, and we were always arriving at the tricky thing of shuttling back and forth between this other Earth that’s coming closer. What does that mean? How is it affecting the way people behave? At the same time, we wanted to tell this really small thriller/love story. How do you do that without both sides making the other seem awkward? It was a really tricky dance. I think what we finally landed on was this idea of making sure that what is happening in the external, epic conceit is always a bit of a reflection of what’s happening internally between these characters. So, as they’re opening up and going through changes, that becomes manifest in what the experience of the other Earth is like. That way, they’re braided.
What was it like to go through the experience of Sundance and sell Another Earth right away, but then have to wait to sell Sound of My Voice, and then to return home and have to wait for them to come out in theaters?
MARLING: That was intense. Sound of My Voice went on a bit of a different journey because it was in the NEXT section. People were coming to the film at Sundance and talking about it, and by the last screening, people were wrapped around the block to try to get in to see it, and that was the very last day of the festival. And then, when we played at SXSW, the energy just kept increasing and the reviews were so positive. People really seemed to be connecting with the story and all these weird things that we were thinking while we were making it were translating. And then, when Fox Searchlight bought the film, after SXSW, at that point, I was just like, “I’ve never even dreamt of these things. These things are so amazing that it’s outside the realm of our dreams.” We may have allowed ourselves to dream of going to Sundance, but not even beyond that because that just seemed so impossible. It’s been amazing. Fox Searchlight are an amazing group of people. You really feel that they’re deeply passionate about the films they take on and they will do everything in their power to bring them out into the world and share what they feel with everybody else. They are a fierce group of people. We’re all a bit humbled by them and the energy that they’ve put into these movies.
Another Earth is very open at the end of the film, and you’ve said that you envisioned Sound of My Voice as a trilogy. Do you see yourself continuing these stories at all?
MARLING: Sound of My Voice we definitely, really seriously mapped out a lot more storytelling. We saw it as a trilogy of films, and we mapped things out for an ending. There was an answer to the riddle of, “Who is Maggie?,” and it’s a very satisfying answer. And, there’s an answer to the riddle of, “Who is Abigail’s father and what’s he doing injecting her between the toes?” There are worlds of information that are just not there, that were in the two other films. I hope we get a chance to make them. It would be cool to get to the real ending of Sound of My Voice, but if it doesn’t happen, this work itself is captivating in all that it leaves to the imagination, at the end. It provokes and unsettles in a way that’s really cool to be on its own. But, if somebody was like, “Here’s some money, finish the trilogy,” we’d be like, “Hell, yes!”
How are you handling all the attention you’re getting?
MARLING: You stay pretty on the ground because I always have this positive dissatisfaction with my work. You like what you do, but you always see the ways in which you could do better, be more authentic, feel things more deeply, write a story that is more true, and have more insight into the way things are, or any real insight at all. That’s so hard, all of those things, so I think you’re constantly humbled by the people who do it really well. When I go to the movies and watch something like There Will Be Blood or Reprise or Edge of Heaven, and you see these tremendous performances, I’m so humbled by the filmmakers and writers who made them. I’m so humbled by that, that it’s easy to keep the rest of it from entering you so much. You’re always just trying to get back to the work and figure out how to get better at it.
Is it important for you to continue to write roles for yourself, or are you focused more now on doing other people’s projects?
MARLING: I think both. One of the things that’s awesome about being an actor is that you get to do stories, live lives and have experiences that you never could have even conceived of, and that’s because you’re living in another writer’s imagination and another director’s imagination. The most intoxicating thing about being an actor is to surrender to a story that you never would have come up with. That’s really why it all began, and I love that feeling. When you’re reading Chekov, you’re in this world that he’s created. I never would have created that world. I don’t know anything about that time period or that setting or those groups of people or what those experiences were, but oh my gosh, it’s amazing to daydream on it and put yourself there. I love that, first and foremost, but having spent a lot of time trying to figure out screenwriting, I do feel moved and I want to try to write good roles for women of every age. There are so many talented actresses and not enough stories that are giving them the work they deserve, to get to do the stories they should, and also the stories that, if I had a little girl, I would want her to watch, about what it means to be a woman in the world and how to be a woman in the world. We educate our kids and we educate the world. So much of the world is being brought up on these stories that Hollywood is coming up with and exporting all over. They have so much power and influence, so it’s really important that they represent women properly.
After taking on two such complex and complicated characters, with Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, what was it about Arbitrage that struck you and made you want to take on that role?
MARLING: That’s a great question. I liked Arbitrage because you traditionally see this father-son story, where the father is leaving his empire to his son and grooming his son to take over, but in that it was a father-daughter story and I loved that idea. I loved that this man was grooming his daughter to take over his company. I hadn’t seen that before. I thought that was really original. That was a great role to take on.
Do you know what kind of roles you’re going to or want to take on next?
MARLING: As far as what I want to do next, I’d love to do anything that is outside of my comfort zone, that I’ve never done before. Whenever I think about something that I want to take on, I like it if it makes me a bit nervous, or makes me feel like I don’t know exactly that I can pull it off. You want it to feel like a stretch, and that’s exciting because then you go find the pieces of being human that you don’t have or have never located within yourself, in order to get there. That’s the exciting difference between Rhoda and Maggie. Maggie is cruel and vicious and unyielding and aggressive, and Rhoda is very different from that. Whatever is next, I want it to be very different. I never want to repeat the same thing. I always want it to be different from what I’ve done, and to be not quite sure whether or not I can pull it off, until I hopefully do.