Brit Marling is an up-and-coming actress. But she’s also a writer, a producer, and sometimes, if it’s required, a director too. She’s following up last year’s major debut Another Earth with Sound of My Voice, in which she plays the mesmerizing leader of a cult in Los Angeles.
When the 28-year-old first moved to LA, after giving up life as an investment banker, she found, like many bright-eyed stars that had gone before her, that just getting an audition was only half of the problem. “Usually when I did it was for some terrible horror film, where I would end up naked in a dumpster in the first act,” she says, when we meet at the Fox International offices on a warm day in April. “I would think, all of the things I could be doing in the world, surely there’s something else I could do with more meaning or matter?”
So, in the great tradition of Barbara Streisand and Kathryn Bigelow she did something about it and added more skills to her set and became a filmmaker. Brit learnt scriptwriting so she could create the kinds of stories she wanted to act in. “I just wanted to be able to go and practice my craft and so I thought if I want to act I should probably learn to write so that I’m not like a violinist who’s told she can’t have her bow unless she does certain things.”
She believes her economics degree hasn’t been a total waste and has actually helped her in the writing process. “It’s a very sparse way of writing. You have to create this whole big world, and then pare it down to just the necessities. That sparcity is the tie in with the economics view point.”
Together with her two university friends, Zal Batmanglij and Mike Cahill, they set about teaching themselves all they needed to know to make movies on a shoestring budget – like buying air tickets from LA to San Francisco so they could shoot a scene staged on an airplane. “It’s an exciting time to be coming of age when the technology makes you feel like you can do anything,” she says. “We were never thinking about the things we couldn’t do; we were always looking at the ways in which our smallness could be an advantage to us.”
“But the hard part is still crafting a good story – and telling us something we don’t already know. That’s pre-historic technology – good story-telling. When the setting is LA, a place Brit believes is described well as a “hotbed of desire and disappointment”, the stories are there. “Some of the houses there are made by movies – you can see the house that Beetlejuice made (with its box office revenue), but there are so many dreams that haven’t been realized. That makes the area a hotbed for cult activity as people search for meaning.”
But, as Brit sees it, everything is a cult of some sort. “The experience on set is that you’re all in this together, locked away for some time, answering only to the story – the story is the higher power – and you are told when to wake up, when to eat, it’s a cult-ish experience. I’m interested in the way people organize and attempt to find community when all of that is happening.” So long as dreams are made or broken, Brit will have plenty to write about – that won’t require her to be naked in a dumpster somewhere. Unless of course, it serves the higher power.