Brett Michel interviews Brit Marling

After reading the story about Rep. Peter King threatening to investigate the White House's cooperation with Kathryn Bigelow for her upcoming Bin Laden film, I started wondering again about whether or not women have gained any ground in Hollywood since Bigelow won her Oscar.

Well, last year was kind of a wash, Oscar-wise" Lisa Cholodenko ("The Kids Are All Right") and Debra Granik ("Winter's Bone") got Best Picture and Best Screenwriting nominations but not Best Director and ended up winning nothing.

This Year? For while the "women can be as gross and funny as men" movement looked promising with "The Bridesmaids," co-written by and starring Kristen Wiig, but bottomed out when Leslie Mann took a noisy crap in "The Change-up."

More promising have been the women working in indies. Like Miranda July, whose "The Future" got a mostly positive, though extremely  divided critical response. Coming up next week is actress Vera Farmiga's surprisingly  accomplished and affecting  directorial debut "Higher Ground." And then there's Brit Marling, the "it" girl at the last Sundance festival, whose "Another Earth," which she co-wrote (with director Mike Cahill) and which she stars in, opened a couple of weeks ago. Her "Sound of My Voice," which she also stars in and co-wrote (with director Zal Batmanglij), will be later this year. Brett Michel had a chance to speak to her  recently and, predictably, the first topic of conversation  was the similarity of their names.

BRETT: We basically have the same name.

BRIT: We might be the same person.

BRETT: We're like a mirror.

BRIT: We're like a mirror My gosh, are you me? Do you know more about me than I do? Do I know more about you than you do?

BRETT: I've yet to see "Boxers and Ballerinas"  [a 2004 documentary directed by Marling and Cahill ].  "Another Earth" utilizes the same theme, where you have two sets of people  - in that case, a boxer and a ballerina, and another boxer and another boxer and a ballerina - reflecting back at each other.


BRIT: I had never considered that. It's like the same thing. A character to character - a boxer and a ballerina in Havana, and a boxer and a ballerina in Miami - and then on a societal level - like the Cuban culture in a communist setting, and then the Cuban culture in a capitalist setting.

BRETT: It sounds like you spent a long time on it.

BRIT: I think one of the reasons we gravitated towards fiction filmmaking afterwards is because, the wonderful thing about documentaries is, so much of the story is just a series of variables, and you have no idea what they're going to be, and life just happens, and you're just catching it. And the narrative is, like, coming together as you're experiencing it in real time, which is cool, because it keeps you on your toes, but...I think the best documentaries have to follow their subjects for decades to really say something useful. Like...

BRETT: Like the "Seven Up" series?

BRIT: Yeah, or the "Following Sean" series. Did you see "Following Sean"?

BRETT: I haven't.

BRIT: It's this Ralph Arlyck film. He followed this kid from the time he was...he made a short about the kid, when the kid was 3 or 5, this sort of skating kid in Haight-Ashbury, and his parents were hippies, and his parents were pot dealers, and he would, like, deal pot too. And he was this precocious young kid. And then that documentary, that short, went to Cannes and made Arlyck quite recognized as a filmmaker, and then he actually followed the kid for the next, like 40 years. And that is a story, you know? And that's something interesting.  And that's why, I think, after "Boxers and Ballerinas," I was like, it would be cool to try and do fiction filmmaking, because you have a little more control over the narrative than in a documentary.

BRETT: Well, would you have any interest in revisiting the characters in "Another Earth"? There are many directions these characters could go in...

BRIT: Would we want to revisit them in, like, a sequel, or like, a television series?

BRETT: Not necessarily a television series, but...presumably, the other Rhoda has become, or is studying to become, an astrophysicist...

BRIT: Yeah.

BRETT: ...and that's what leads her to travel to this Earth...well, before I even go there...


BRETT: It drove me crazy while I was watching this movie, I was sitting there thinking, I recognize you: "Community."

BRIT: I love that show. The humor is so adventurous in that show. The writers are so gifted, and they go wherever they want. It's cool.

BRETT: But, you're more than just an actress...You're also writing and producing. Do you have any intention to direct as well in the future?

BRIT: I'm just trying to figure out how to be a good actor and that consumes all of my time.  My heart, and my brain energy. To me that is the most challenging thing. Your job description  - what you're being asked to do - is so against the way that the world is. It's like you're being asked to create an illusion, an alternate reality in your head and live in that reality and believe it so deeply that you can convince an audience of strangers to believe in this fantasy with you too, and that, to me - I'm endlessly fascinated by that, so I don't need to go anywhere else for kicks. I'm totally consumed by just trying to get good at that.

BRETT: How much have you touched the actual Hollywood machine so far? I know you've got the one film you're doing with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon, "Arbitrage." That's got to be a major studio production, yes?

BRIT: You know? I don't know how that worked. It was certainly a bigger budget than "Another Earth," yeah.

Q. I'm curious. After, say, "The Hurt Locker" had won some Oscars a couple of years back - hopefully that's signaling the beginning of a change for women's roles in Hollywood. Do you see that?

BRIT: Yeah. I think "Bridesmaids," for instance, is marking a real shift in comedy, which is women being, like, fuck this, we don't have to be cute and sexy - the cute, sexy sidekick in every comedy. We can be driving the action and we can be sexy and funny and disgusting and forthright, and all of it. And its entertaining and its great comedy, period. Not great female comedy, its just great comedy. That's really exciting. I thought "Bridesmaids" was so progressive, and I thought it was so cool that women wrote it and are acting in it. I think that we're going to see more of that, because the truth is it's just really good storytelling and there's been a gap there in the marketplace.

And just from a purely financial perspective? There's money to be made. Whenever there's money to be made, people are going to start figuring out how to make it, right?  That's how Hollywood certainly approaches it. From a more romantic perspective, I think a lot least as an actress coming out to L.A., I just found a young girl, you're in your twenties, you've never done anything before; the kind of roles you can read for, for women are just...appalling. I mean, appalling.

BRETT: Well, most of the female roles that end up onscreen are fairly appalling.

BRIT: Yeah, they're pretty bad And there are so many talented actresses, and the great stories with good female roles are so few and far between its, like, I mean, on some level, yeah, I feel pretty excited to keep writing, just because I want to create work for myself and I want to create work for other women, and I think a lot about what it was like for me growing up. So much of how we think of women in the world is based on what we're observing through film and television, and the stories that that's telling us about what women are like. I don't think that many people have gotten it right yet, so we better keep refining the thesis  ‘cause I think it's important.

BRETT: I'm glad you cite "Bridesmaids," because, before it came out, people tended to dismiss it as "the female ‘Hangover.'" And then along comes "The Hangover Part 2," and it's really not that good. It's a rehash of the original, and "Bridesmaids" was a lot more original than that. And it was funny

BRIT: Totally. And I think that the thing that will eventually change is that people will no longer think of it as "the female ‘Hangover,'" they'll think of it just as "Bridesmaids."

BRETT: It's hopefully going to be remembered as a touchstone film...

BRIT: Completely. Because the audience I saw it with was 50% men, 50% women, and everybody was deeply entertained. So, I think what have to remove from the language, and the discussion about it, is applying the word "female" to everything, as if it only belongs...if it's created by women, it's only for women. Can you imagine somebody being like...things that are created by men are only for men? Ladies are supposed to love it too.

BRETT:  "Sound of my Voice," when is that coming out? Describe the film to me - in under ten minutes, of course.

BRIT: It's about a couple that infiltrates a cult that meets in the basement of a house in the San Fernando Valley, but nobody knows where the house is.

BRETT: What kind of cult?

BRIT: Well, they don't know at first. They're documentary filmmakers, and they're brought in through a garage, and they're made to scrub down in a shower and put on hospital gowns. And then they're blindfolded and plasti-cuffed. Then they're brought into a van and ferried to another house through the garage...And they end up in this other garage. They don't know where they are, and they're brought down these basement stairs, and in the basement, is a woman who never leaves the basement chamber. And her followers, like, give her blood, and they're growing her food in hydroponic gardens in the master bedroom. And, the question is: why?  And so this couple that infiltrates the cult, pretending to be believers, are there to figure out why she's amassing all these followers, and what she knows, and...

BRETT: Speaking of interesting, you realize yours isn't the only new film that deals with another planet entering the orbit of Earth...

BRIT: Right. "Melancholia"...

BRETT: Not just that The same day I saw your film, there was a screening of the third "Transformers" film later that night...

BRIT: Oh wow, there's another Earth in "Transformers 3"?

BRETT: Not another Earth, but "Cybertron"...


BRETT: ...the Transformers' home planet. It's just very bizarre to me that I saw both this and your film on the same day. And what the hell is going on? What's with all of these...

BRIT: I actually think I have an answer to that.

BRETT: Ok, enlighten me.

BRIT: I think we're all obsessed with other planets and the possibility of other planets, or things entering our solar system, because we're killing this one. And so it's like a survival mechanism. Like, we're destroying this planet...There's like a self-liquidation happening, and so everyone's daydreaming about how we could occupy something else. I know it sounds kind of doom and gloom, but I always think there's a possibility for turning things around. On any given day, you could decide to change the way you are. So I'm kind of hopeful.

BRETT: What about the governments, though?

BRIT: I don't know, but...governments are just people. It's always just humans at the end, and if you can reach the humans, then I think you can change the way people think and feel.

BRETT: All right, how long do you give us as a species?

BRIT: I think if we radically alter the way in which we're living, then we could keep going. And if we don't, then...well, we won't even make it for as along as the dinosaurs did. We'll be like a flash in the pan.

BRETT: All right. There was a profile on you that recently ran in the "New York Times Magazine..."

BRIT: I heard about that...

BRETT:  In the article, you referred to your time at Goldman Sachs as "deeply unsettling."

BRIT:  You know, It's funny because when I went there, there were all these people who were really passionate about that work, and so they're really good at because they wake up every day with the markets, and they love to be ahead of the curve, anticipating how these currency prices and this commodity and this shift and that shift in trends is creating advantages in the marketplace. But I just wasn't bitten by that bug.

BRETT: But you went to school for that. What were you thinking?

BRIT: Maybe that's why I have a preoccupation with a doppelganger. I'd love to turn around to that girl and say: what were you thinking? But, its actually useful to have studied economics because I think that's where so many ideas of how you could change the status quo in a really good way would come from: changing the economic system. That's a whole different discussion for another day, I guess.

BRETT: Perhaps even another film.

BRIT: Perhaps in another film.

BRETT: On the other Earth...

BRIT: "Another Another Earth."  The other Earth runs on ecological economics. It's completely different.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Outside The Frame Archives