Over the weekend I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced screening of the upcoming minimalist science fiction film Another Earth (it doesn’t open in Minneapolis until August 5). The following day I took place in my first round-table interview with the film’s star and co-writer Brit Marling and the film’s director and co-writer Mike Cahill. We had about 15 minutes with each individual and took turns asking questions among the four journalists at the table.
At the early hour of 9am on a Monday morning, faced with talking to four journalists from websites and publications she had never heard of, Brit Marling was very eloquent and charming. She eagerly answered each of our questions with the enthusiasm of somebody who very much loved talking about not only her film, but movies in general. The 27-year old beautiful blond has been thrust into the spotlight thanks to the success of two films that played at Sundance – The Sound of My Voice and Another Earth. Her life trajectory was not always to be an actress and writer, however. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Georgetown University with a major in Economics and was immediately offered a job with Goldman Sachs. I started the interview by asking about why she chose acting:
Q: I understand you were an Economics major, so how did you go from Economics to acting?
BRIT: When you put it like that it sounds so extreme. When I was a kid I really loved acting and I used to put on plays for my neighbors and charge them lots of money, which I guess is the Economics part coming in, and I think I thought for a long time that I didn’t really know you could make a living that way. I think when I started interning at a bank over the summer and I thought “I don’t love this” and there were people around me who were really great at it and loved it and I thought I’m never going to be one of those people, so I better find the thing that I love and that turned out to be acting. It was kind of going back to where I started in terms of childhood loves or obsession.
Q: Did you do a lot of acting in college or high school?
BRIT: Mike [Cahill] and I met in college and we started making short films together so I started acting again then and we would make these little short movies in the totally renegade style that we made [Another Earth]. When we came out to L.A. he wanted to direct and I wanted to act and it seemed totally impossible to do those things within the system so we decided to make something outside the system.
Q: If you had the opportunity, what would you say to your flesh and blood self?
BRIT: Wow…is she me? Is she my double? Like if I saw her would she be wearing my dress?
Q: She could be her economics self. You who chose to stay with Economics.
BRIT: I’d be like “Girl, I hope whatever you’re doing with your life you are not doing with a faint heart. I hope you are trying to be unafraid and living courageously and if not…then turn around, go back to your planet and try again!”
Q: I was really surprised in the movie how personal Rhoda and John’s relationship becomes and I was wondering if that was the direction you always intended or if it progressed while you were writing the movie?
BRIT: I think we always knew that we liked the idea of these two people who were outsiders who, because of age and circumstance, were unlikely romantically. But by the event that has connected them they’re actually very likely because they’ve both had this experience that has thrust them out of the realm of the normal world. The end of that loneliness that they’ve both been feeling for four years sort of naturally comes to this romantic relationship. It’s funny, that part of the story sort of told itself in the way they are trying in small ways to open up and heal one another. There’s something actually quite beautiful about that as long as you totally don’t acknowledge the past or the future and just live in the very present moment. It’s like your watching these people who have suffered so much find some kind of small happiness and it’s really sort of beautiful.
Q: You made this film on what they call a “shoestring budget”. What are some of the crazy scenarios you ran into along the way?
BRIT: Oh my goodness, yes. At one point there is a shot where Rhoda gets released from prison and we couldn’t obviously afford a prison or even barbed wire to make a building look like a prison. We drove around until we found a prison where we could get close enough to the front entrance and Mike parked across the street and I put on the janitor uniform, walked across the street and there was a yoga mat in the back of the car so I brought in with me was like “hey, I’m here to teach yoga.” The guys were like “uh…” and while they were busy figuring that out I dropped the yoga mat, turned around and walked out and Mike filmed the shot and that became Rhoda walking out of prison.
Q: Where did the idea for Another Earth come from?
BRIT: I think we were both really interested in doppelgangers. There’s this great Kieslowski movie called The Double Life of Veronique and the idea of a doppelganger I think has occurred to everyone before so we decided to make it more visually literal. What if all 6.3 billion people had a doppelganger and there could be some sort of confrontation not just on a personal level, but on a societal level, on a planetary level. Then Mike started messing around with video art and actually putting the other Earth in the sky and we were like, whoa, that has some intense, unexplained emotional effect. Things just built from there.
Q: I’m a big Royal Tenenbaums fan so it was great to see Kumar Pallana in this movie. It seems like something really profound is happening with Rhoda and his character. Could you talk a little about that?
BRIT: What happened with Kumar’s character is that you never find out the source of his grief or his guilt, but you sense that he and Rhoda recognize one another. There’s like a shorthand between them like there is a shorthand between people who have experienced war. I think for Kumar, he is sort of this foil to Rhoda’s character, what could become of Rhoda if she doesn’t face these things. He is literally muting his senses in order to not have to feel all that he feels. He is literally eradicating those senses so he does not have to deal with himself.
Q: Being a writer, actor, producer…do you have any directing ambition?
Q: Not at all?
BRIT: No, directing is so hard. I’m really just an actor and I’ve only done the other things out of necessity. I find acting such an overwhelming challenge. I saw this play Jerusalem in New York the other night and Mark Rylance gives this performance that is truly transcendental, I had to walk home from the theater because I didn’t want it to be over. That is the great rabbit hole mystery that I am chasing down – what happened in that moment that some human being was having an experience in real time that moved me so much that I am somehow different because of it? I think you could spend a lifetime trying to chase that down, so I have no ambitions to do anything but that.
Another Earth is now playing in New York and Los Angeles and it expands to additional cities on August 5, 2011.