Just a year ago, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij were scrambling to finish their debut collaboration, “Sound of My Voice,” to have it ready in time for the Sundance Film Festival. Speaking last week to Marling from the Shreveport, LA set of their follow-up, “The East,” the multitalented actress seemed enormously grateful for the opportunities she and Batmanglij are currently enjoying, even if Hollywood hasn’t yet quite written them a blank check.
“Working on this film has been like pretty stunning,” Marling told The Playlist via telephone on Friday. “Zal just pulls off these incredibly ambitious days every day; I feel like we’re making a movie that needs 60 days in like half the time. But it’s going really, really well, and it’s cool making a movie someone you’ve been working with for years, because you know each other so well at this point that you kind of even don’t have to talk about a lot of stuff. You just know, and it’s nice because there’s a short hand there. So it’s going well.”
Marling spoke to The Playlist to commemorate the home video release of “Another Earth,” her other breakthrough film. Discussing “The East,” she suggested that the three films share in common ideas that polarize people – even the people who participate in making them. “Because the story is so kind of divisive, it kind of attracts its own tribe, and really repels people who wouldn’t be interested,” she said of “The East.” “So everybody is so committed, it actually reminds me of ‘Sound of My Voice’ in the sense that ‘Sound of My Voice’ was made with very little money, and that was kind of a good way for vetting people.”
“People only get involved if they really love the story,” she continued. “So everyone comes to work every day not because they’re getting a huge paycheck, but because they really believe in the movie – and that makes everyone work harder.”
When asked what the film is about, Marling herself wasn’t sure what she could reveal, but she indicated it followed in the footsteps of her previous work with Batmanglij, which featured two characters investigating a cult. “To be honest, I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say either,” she admitted. “But it’s funny – Zal and I are always interested in themes of espionage and infiltration. I don’t know why that keeps coming up as something we’re interested in writing about, but it’s a story about an infiltration into an anarchist collective.” She pointed out that its themes feel particularly relevant right now given the sense of political unrest that has recently seized the world, and the United States in particular.
“I think we’re all sort of struggling with this right now,” Marling said. “Occupy Wall Street certainly has shown there’s a general sense of unrest in like how do we live our lives and how do we construct meaningful existences and what’s going on in the world. Like the system hasn’t been designed very well, so how do we design a better one? So fueling that is this undercurrent of revolution and rebellion that’s just in the world right now, and there’s a lot of that in this story.”
In between “Sound of My Voice” and “The East,” Marling worked as an actress on Robert Redford’s next film, “The Company You Keep.” She indicated she learned a lot from the experience that she was able to apply to “The East,” not the least of which being the simple truth that very often less is more. “There were spaces in scenes in which in the shooting of them, I’d be like, oh, I don’t actually need to say that,” she explained. “Like if the movie is doing its work, that’s already there, you know? And I guess maybe a lot of that stuff, you figure out in editing that you don’t need and you cut, but it’s better to make a cut sooner because the performance carries some of the weight of the pause instead of an editing pause.”
Marling also said that she was emboldened by the commitment she saw from her costars in “The Company You Keep,” which reminded her how important it is to be fully invested in each project you take on. “I think it’s been a similar thing on ‘The East’ – it’s the kind of movie that people do because they have to, like they feel somehow compelled, that the story is significant,” she observed. “I feel like I’ve been really lucky in that respect, to work on a story where the actors all come with that homework and preparation to the table. It’s astounding, because when you write something, I think you’re worried, is it ever going to translate to an audience? And when the actors come and they push the text farther than you ever even imagined, and they get it as much as you did, or even moreso, even more deeply, then you sort of step back and go, like, wow, there’s a chance that these ideas could enter an audience of strangers with these actors as the custodians of it. It’s a tremendous thing to watch.”
In spite of the sense of collaboration she said she feels on the film, she said she’s equally eager to let audiences see it, especially since she thinks they’re the ultimate judges of what those efforts create. “I’m excited for the part where the story meets the world, and the audience tells you what you made,” she said enthusiastically. “Because you don’t really know – I certainly felt that with ‘Another Earth’ too, because we haven’t really seen ‘Sound of My Voice’ meet its full audience yet, but ‘Another Earth,’ the people that you meet, their response tells you what you really made – I don’t think you really know until they tell you.”
Nevertheless, Marling was mum about how soon she and Batmanglij will finish the film – or at the very least, whether they’re trying to get it into shape in time for the festival circuit next year. “I haven’t really thought that far off, because I know some of these ideas are being talked about right now,” she revealed. “Because it feels very prescient and bizarrely timely, I think the feeling is, we want to share this.” At the same time, she admitted she and her collaborator have so many other ideas in the works that it’s hard to set a definitive schedule for when all of them will come to fruition.
“Zal and I are already directing three other movies in our heads, so you’re always trying to like birth the thing that you came up with two or three years,” she said. “And then, you’re trying to catch up with where the rest of the world is going. Of course, I say that, but then I look at the next two weeks of shooting and I’m like, gosh, look at all of the things that Zal has to do to finish the film, like it’s always a massive editing process. But everyone’s working so hard on it, I hope we get to share it as soon as possible.”
“Another Earth” is now available on DVD and BluRay.