In the sci-fi drama Another Earth, Brit Marling plays Rhoda, a carefree young woman who goes out one night to celebrate her acceptance to MIT and ends destroying a family when she drives home drunk and hits their car. Marling, who co-wrote the film along with director Mike Cahill, gives an honest and powerful performance that will be tough for any actress to beat this year. It also places her among the crop of rising talent looking for more than the typical Hollywood role.
Criticize This! spoke with Marling about Another Earth while she was in Toronto promoting the film. Read our Q&A below.
Brian McKechnie: How did you prepare for the role of Rhoda?
Brit Marling: I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like being in prison for four years. So much of the movie happens after that and this catastrophic accident. That was tough work because it’s so outside my own experience. What was the smell like in that cell? What did the first hour feel like like? And the second and third? I also watched a lot of documentaries on women in prison.
BM: Did you feel an even stronger connection to the character because you co-wrote the script?
Brit: As a writer you feel connected to everyone in the story in this weird way. You literally sit inside each character as you’re writing. You spend time being [them] and lose track of your gender and age. You’re constantly daydreaming from different people’s perspectives.
BM: Was it hard working on the film with such a limited budget?
Brit: There’s something really wonderful when you’re working with very limited means. Everyone feels so deeply connected and everyone is there because of the story. You come to work with this love and everyone is working so hard. Every small victory is celebrated by the group and it has a real tribal feeling to it. It’s a wonderful environment to work in. It’s all about the story and there is no room for vanity or ego or anything.
BM: As co-writer, did you have room to ad-lib and do your own thing or did you stick to the script?
Brit: We stayed very true to the script because the script was so heavily plotted. It was really tricky to weave this macro sci-fi conceit with this micro human drama. The dance between the two was very delicate braiding. There were some moments where we would find things during rehearsal or on set that would seem more honest.
BM: Are you happy with the reaction the film has received so far?
Brit: I don’t think we could even dream about it connecting with people the way it has. We were just trying to make a good movie. When we wrote the story and people would read it and get excited, we got excited too. But you never have any idea of what you’re making until it finds the home in the audience. The audience really tells you what you have. For this film it’s been very shocking and surprising.
BM: One thing I noticed after screening Another Earth was how everyone had a different idea of what the movie was about. Was that your intention when you set out to make it?
Brit: I think Mike and I really dig the idea of endings that are satisfying but are still very open. Endings that leave room for the audience’s imagination to walk in and walk out of the theatre with. Those are the kinds of movies I like the best. The ones that leave room for me in it. Where you’re not being told but where your own interpretation is just as important as the writing.
BM: Was there anything in particular that inspired the story?
Brit: We were really inspired by Dr. Richard Berendzen. We listened to his book on tape Pulp Physics. He’s the narrator in the film and has a great epic voice. He really inspired us because he has this wonderful way of talking about physics and space through narrative and poetry that a lay person can actually understand. That made us want to make a movie with that kind of wonder.
BM: As an actress who do you look to for inspiration?
Brit: There’s so many talented actors in the world. I think of great actors and I also think about great performances. I think of times like watching There Will Be Blood and Daniel Day Lewis’ performance in that. I think about Penélope Cruz in Elegy. Vanessa Redgrave in anything. You watch these works and they are just telling the truth. They believe. They believe so completely with every cell of their being that they’ve been transformed that they make you believe. That’s a pretty magical thing when that happens.
BM: What do you look for in a role?
Brit: I always like to take something on that makes me a little nervous. If the feeling you have when you read the story is like, ‘Cool. I got this!’ then I don’t want to do that movie because it means I’m not pushing myself.
BM: Do you have any plans to direct one day?
Brit: No. I’m not a director, I’m an actor. I have no aspirations to direct. I leave that to the masterful filmmakers like Mike. Mike is a born director. He’s a genius and it comes out of his every pore. He has a very specific way he sees the world and the ability to capture it and translate it. You either have that or you don’t have that. I’m too obsessed with acting and have too much to learn with that still.
Another Earth opens in Toronto on July 29, Vancouver on August 5, Calgary and Edmonton on August 12, Ottawa and Victoria on August 19, and Halifax and Winnipeg on August 26.
Top image: Brit Marling in Another Earth. Courtesy Fox Searchlight.