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‘The East’ Actress & Co-Writer Brit Marling Talks The Stakes Of Espionage Thrillers, Real Life Inspiration & More

The Playlist By Charlie Schmidlin | The Playlist May 29, 2013 at 11:02AM

Alongside her co-conspirators and director friends Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij, actress and writer Brit Marling has fashioned a confident path for herself in the film world, simply by creating the roles she’d always wanted to play. In “Sound Of My Voice,” she played Maggie, the enigmatic cult leader possibly from the future, and in her second collaboration with Batmanglij, “The East,” an operative for a private intelligence firm who infiltrates an anarchist collective led by Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Shiloh Fernandez, and Toby Kebbell.
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The East, Brit Marling
You drew influence for “Sound Of My Voice” from your experiences in Los Angeles upon moving there, and then similarly on your summer away shortly afterwards for “The East.” Do you find the best material comes from those real-life parallels of change in your life?
Maybe -- actually, when I was at Georgetown the other day, they were asking about acting and writing; I didn't study either in school and I think that was really useful, and I didn't realize that until now. Studying other things and living other things is where ideas in writing come from. I think it's more useful to have an actor study philosophy or physics than it is to study acting.

I even feel this now. I want to take a break at the end of the summer and write again, and the thing that I feel is I can't write again until I go out and live more. I just have to go live -- get my heart broken, travel someplace unexpected with nothing but my passport. You have to go in search of adventure, because otherwise our lives can become really too comfortable. We feel really safe in these bubbles. You find yourself in a world where you're only interacting with people who think like you, whom you don't question too much. I keep trying to find a way to get outside that, to talk to the people I disagree with, or the people that move me in a different direction.

"I think it's more useful to have an actor study philosophy or physics than it is to study acting."
Could that mean moving back toward your documentary roots, like in [2004 film co-directed by Cahill and Marling] “Boxers and Ballerinas?”
That was a interesting experience, for sure: living in Cuba, following those kids, their bravery, thinking about defecting from your homeland when you're 18 years old; leaving you family and country behind in pursuit of a career, or what you think freedom might be? Those are really challenging questions.

But if I had to think about where I'm interested in going next, I would say someplace I’ve never been, for sure, and a character that I haven't done before. Someone was saying to me earlier, "What are you interested in doing?" and I said "Comedy." They were surprised, like "But all you do is serious stuff!” I think in my life I'm more prone to find the humor in something than I am to cry about it, but for some reason the roles that have come out so far have been these intense films. So when I think about it, I want to do something with a lot of humor and light in it. I don't know exactly what that is yet, though.

You’ve come up with Mike Cahill and Zal and experienced success with both; what do you find in your writing partnerships?
When you write with a partner, a really cool thing happens where it's like a Venn diagram, and you're two separate circles but there's some overlap you share together, and you write from that overlap. And I think the more time you spend together the more you move each other's circles and there's more shared space to write from.

Mike and I, we really geek out about the surreal and ethereal, and also a sort of cosmic exploration. Zal and I, we have been geeking out on infiltration, espionage, deep cover -- the idea of creating characters and convincing people that you are this identity, and playing with that. That's the amazing thing about writing with someone -- you're looking for the overlap and then you talk from there. It's a much better approach than writing alone. Like when I had to sit and write that Georgetown speech, I found myself thinking it’s really lonely, with no one around to read this draft and tell me if it's bullshit or not.

Have you shot your part in [Mike Cahill’s follow-up to “Another Earth”] “I, Origins” yet?
We shot that in the winter, and Mike's editing it right now. I've seen some of it, and it's so cool. Michael Pitt is such a talented actor, and it was so much fun making a movie with him. I think you'll dig it.

Catch “The East” when it hits cinemas May 31st. Check out a new clip from the film below.

This article is related to: The East, Brit Marling, I Origins, iOrigins, Interviews, Interview


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