Q&A: Indie Darling Brit Marling On SOUND OF MY VOICE & Eating Worms

Brit Marley is quickly becoming an indie darling with SOUND OF MY VOICE as her second film released by Fox Searchlight after being acquired at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 along with her other film Another Earth.  Another Earth was released late last year and now the actress/writer/producer can be seen in the drama about a woman from the future amassing followers and a couple investigating the cult for their documentary.  The role involved eating worms in a scene where her followers must prove they are loyal servants.  Watch Trailer.

Q: We just heard that you actually ate earthworms in this movie. Is that true?

BM: I did! They were actually worms. But the bag that held the worms was Oreo cookies, so it was like a chocolate worm. So it was a bit more palatable [laughing].

Q: Is the way you approach a character when you’re writing same or different from your approach the character as an actor?

BM: In the writing phase, Zal and I switched hats a lot and we would do improv. We would switch characters and were looking for the things that stick to the wall. So in the writing phase you spend time in everyone’s shoes, but in the acting phase mercifully you focus on one person, which is such a delight. Because, hopefully, you can dive pretty deep.

Q: It seems that you as a writer put your acting self into uncomfortable positions.

BM: This just turned into therapy [laughing]. Zal was saying to me during “The East” where my character has to be naked in freezing cold water, and that’s one of my phobias, “Why did we just write this thing?” One of the parts of acting that’s really delicious is that you get to live several lifetimes in one, and you’re also living in a heightened state. Most stories have cataclysmically climactic moments in them, but most lives don’t. So the idea that you are constantly putting yourself in a state of emergency is exciting, because you feel so alive when you’re dealing with the unexpected. For Maggie, I really did get naked, wrapped myself in a sheet, and was dropped off at one end of Skid Row. I just started walking around downtown naked. It was weird and interesting, and it gave me perspective on a life that I didn’t have before that- on being abandoned, being vulnerable, being alone and having nothing. You start to think differently.

Q: What parts are you offered now? Are they primarily Scifi?
BM: No actually, which is interesting. Some of them have been. There is a lot of great stuff out there. The more work you create that enters the world, the more you get to read, the more you receive. As an actor it’s more challenging to act someone else’s work, and I’ll never be able to write something to the extent that I’m capable of acting. For instance, I love Chekhov. I’d love to act Chekhov. But I’ll never be able to write Chekhov. But it’s fun to keep writing- because there aren’t that many parts written where the women are the action of the film, or they aren’t being dragged around barefoot and pregnant by their hair.

Q: What are your opinions on the pervasiveness of those roles?

BM: We’re all in this culture where that’s the only kind of story we’ve heard. With Zal and Mike [Cahill], we start off with the agenda to write strong and compelling women. But sometimes you find yourself putting themselves in passive situations, and that’s because you’ve grown up on the cultural milk of woman as a second-class citizen, or woman in relation to the man she is with. You have to literally break the training of your brain. It’s a great challenge.

Q: What stood out to you in your research for “Sound of My Voice”?

BM: What stood out to me the most was the Jim Jones documentary. He began as a preacher in California, and his earliest services were very progressive. He was against segregation. But he was then capable of these monstrous things. So that idea- that there is light and dark in people, that you can begin in a good place and ego, vanity and insecurity can bring you to a terrible one, is an interesting one.

Q: If you had devout followers like Maggie, what kind of leader would you be?

BM: I would be so terrible because I would probably [laughing] I don’t even know. I have a hard time following the rules. So I think we would all just stop following the rules together, and it could turn into something that could be interpreted as environmental terrorism [laughing]. So it’s probably best that I don’t go there.

Q: How did your processes as both a writer and an actor with “Sound of My Voice” influence your understanding of the relationship between skepticism and faith?

BM: That’s a really good question. I think I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if I’m a skeptic or a romantic. Maybe it changes, you know? Peter was so compelling because he’s this hard-headed, reasonable person who likes facts. But you do start to think that maybe skeptics are the most deeply romantic people, and their skepticism is just a protective cover. Because if they ever surrender themselves and their hearts, the possibility of being hurt would be so devastating. I’m probably a little like that. In the process of making any story you test your faith- faith in the story, faith in yourself.

Q:  Tell us about your acting background.
BM: When I was a kid I used to put on productions in my neighborhood. I would take Shakespeare works, borrow liberally, and then mix it with dance numbers from Janet Jackson music videos. I would do these really weird performances and charge people a lot of money to come see them [laughing]. Then I thought that being an actress is so hard- can you imagine if someone were to say to a cello player, “You can be a cello player, but you have to audition to get the bow all the time” ? How do you get to practice? How do you even get good at it? I didn’t want to do something that I didn’t have control over my ability to become good at it. I went in a different direction for a while, but then through writing I was able to ensure that I could do the things I want to do.

Q: What makes a great director?

BM: What I know about great directors I learned from Mike and Zal. I was very lucky to be at university with two filmmakers who I really believe will be the voice of our generation. Zal is an emotional anthropologist of sorts, he feels things very deeply and absorbs it like a sponge. The storytellers that really speak to us are really unusual people, because they have to be both incredibly imaginative and able to execute and run a set, and be experts. It’s right-brain, left-brain super stardom. It’s very rare.

Q: What is your advice for up-and-coming filmmakers?

BM: Just decide to start. Give yourself permission to fail. The important thing is not to wait. It’s so hard to just begin. Think about what you have, not what you don’t have.

Next, Brit Marley and SOUND OF MY VOICE director Zal Batmangliij reteam for The East starring Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, and Julie Ormond. The Chicago native will also appear alongside Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, and Susan Sarandon.

SOUND OF MY VOICE is now playing in movie theatres.

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