The 2011 Sundance Film Festival has played host to a slew of fresh faces with multiple films in the lineup. British up-and-comer Juno Temple appeared in “Kaboom” and “Little Birds.” The other Olsen sister, Elizabeth Olsen, had lead roles in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Silent House.” Kyle Gallner, meanwhile, came to Park City to hype his work in “Red State” and “Little Birds.” But none can hold a candle to blonde, brainy beauty Brit Marling, who quickly emerged as this year’s Sundance marvel by arriving with two critically acclaimed films under her belt (sci-fi romance “Another Earth” and the tense thriller “Sound of My Voice”), both of which she co-wrote, co-produced and stars in.
Marling, a valedictorian from Georgetown University where she majored in Economics and Studio Art, took some time out of her packed Sundance schedule to chat with indieWIRE about how she came onto both projects and what it feels like to be the talk of the festival.
There are a number of actors with two films in the festival, but you stand apart from the pack, having also co-written and co-produced both “Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice.” What does it feel like to have this status coming into Sundance?
It’s so hard to properly explain. I met Mike [Cahill, director and co-writer of “Another Earth”] and Zal [Batmanglij , director and co-writer of “Sound of My Voice”] in Georgetown. I was a freshman, they were seniors and we all made short films together. We’d shoot on the fly, sneaking into the national gallery; illegal things. We never thought when we came to LA together that we’d make films that same way. We thought when we moved to LA we would make things properly, whatever that means. To arrive at this place, to find yourself here, is completely unexpected.
How did the two scripts come about?
We [Cahill and Batmanglij] were living all together in a house in Silver Lake. I was acting and they were both directing. As an actor I found it really hard to navigate the space of being a young ingenue type without totally losing my morality. So I found I had to learn how to write. I started to teach myself by reading screenplays.
I would work on “Another Earth” with Mike upstairs and write all day, and then I would go downstairs and Zal and I would work on “Sound of My Voice” and write all night. I basically had no life for a long time. But we were just doing them to do them and maybe to prove to ourselves that we could make them.
Now you play wildly different characters in each film, but both films fall within the realm of science fiction – “Another Earth” deals with space travel, while the cult leader you play in “Sound of My Voice” claims to be from future. Why are you attracted to this genre?
The idea of doing something high concept, especially with science fiction, is that it kind of allows you to explore pop philosophy. It allows you to look at the same human relationships we’ve been reexamining since ancient Greece, but from a slightly different perspective. You can’t reinvent the mythology and you can’t reinvent narrative structure. With science fiction you can tell a different kind of story.
Which science fiction film do you draw the most inspiration from?
I love “Twelve Monkeys.” It’s amazing because it’s thoughtful and sensitive, but it’s also just deeply entertaining. I love the idea that with science fiction, you can talk about politics, about the way of the world and what’s wrong with it, without being didactic.
Lets switch gears. You majored in Economics and Art at Georgetown. Was acting always on your radar?
I was very passionate about acting when I was a kid. I acted in a lot of plays. I think my concept of work was that it had to be punitive. This idea that what you did for a living was hard. Then at some point I totally had a break with that way of seeing the world.
Did you originally feel that way because of your upbringing?
Well my father’s a very talented painter, but that’s not what he does for a living. I had no artist role model growing up. I think also, in truth, I for a while lacked the courage. I think I came to it by the experience of Georgetown. I think I arrived at a place where I couldn’t wake up in a place at 30 or 40 and thinking I was in someone else’s life. Is there anything worse that getting to the end of your life and realizing you didn’t risk it all?
You clearly took a risk in tackling such emotionally complex characters as the ones you play in “Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice.”
I see how they’re complicated. But the only reason I wanted to act is because it’s the hardest thing in the world for me to do. I can’t think of anything harder. I could probably be a heart surgeon easier than I could be an actor. Acting, what it demands of you — it requires this kind of monastic discipline where you just take on a story and you invest yourself in that world until that reality becomes more vividly imagined than the one you’re living in.
Doing that work is lonely, hard and super challenging. That’s why I liked those roles.
Following all the attention you’ve been getting at Sundance for your work in these two films, how do you feel about the future?
Some people have said things that are too nice to be true. I feel and hope that from here I can get to do a lot of things. It’s the beginning of something.