If given the opportunity to meet an exact replica of herself, actress/co-writer/co-producer Brit Marling wouldn’t think twice.
“I would absolutely want to,” Marling told me during an exclusive interview about her new sci-fi drama Another Earth. “I would be too curious. I think it would lead you to some insight, to some deeper understanding of who we are and what we’re doing here.”
In her new film, Marling plays Rhoda Williams, a young woman released from jail for a tragic mistake she makes and discovers life as she once knew it would never be the same.
During our interview, Marling talked about how her and director/co-writer Mike Cahill tackled the writing process of a story steeped in so much mystery and emotion and the reason she never judges a character she is about to portray in a film.
I love these types of intimate science fiction films like Solaris and Moon. Am I correct to assume you’re of the same opinion as I am and believe not all sci-fi films have to feature giant robots and huge special effects to tell an intriguing story?
I couldn’t agree with you more. I think really great sci-fi stories use the science fiction as a way of telling you something you haven’t seen or heard before in a human relationship. Those are the kind of sci-fi movies I like. I’m glad to know you like those, too. I love Solaris and I love 12 Monkeys and all those movies.
You hit a lot of themes in this movie like grief, redemption and forgiveness. When you sit down with director/writer Mike Cahill to write a script like this, where do you have to be emotionally?
At the time, I think from the writing perspective we were trying to inhabit all the characters. You spend a while thinking and feeling from Rhoda’s perspective and then from John’s perspective. The state I think we were during a lot of that was questioning forgiveness. How do you forgive yourself? How do you forgive someone else? I think there was also a sense of wonder. There is this vast unknown out there, this manifestation in the sky; this other earth. I think we were grappling with that as our characters were, too.
It must have been difficult to play a character like Rhoda. There seems to be so much emotion running through her, but she is so unemotional during the film. How were you able to do that?
I know what you mean. There is this certain restraint to her. But for me, when you’re inside of it as an actor, it all feels very loud. The emotions of things are surging within you. I think the interesting thing about Rhoda was that I didn’t want her to be wallowing in melancholy or self pity. I think that is a really isolating emotion – when somebody pities or feels sorry for him or herself. I wanted to find a way to make her seem active in her grief while she tried to figure out a way to handle it and reconstruct a life that had meaning. I was always trying to find ways to keep that strength and this almost warrior-like energy rather than crushing under the weight of what has happened to her.
Did she evolve during filming? I’m wondering, was Rhoda the same person halfway through filming that you envisioned on paper during pre-production?
Hmm, that’s interesting. I think that’s one of the cool things when Mike and I work together. He comes at things from a directing and writing perspective and I come at things from an acting perspective. We end up doing a lot of that work in the writing. I think we had a pretty solid sense of who Rhoda was. If anything, the only real surprise in what was found later was that there’s not much of a status quo before this accident happens. It almost begins the film. You don’t get to know much about what Rhoda was like prior to that. I think what we found out while making the film was a lot of who her former self was. It comes out as she and John begin to open up to one another. You start to see glimpses of what Rhoda was like before the accident or what she might have been like if the accident didn’t happen. That was something that was interesting to discover in the making of it.
Since you knew the type of person Rhoda was when you wrote her, I’m assuming you also knew who John was when you wrote his character. I bring this up because it’s been reported that when William Mapother was cast as John he came in with a few concerns with his character and wanted to work on the script some more. As a co-writer, how open were you to revisiting some of your work?
I think Mike and I are really open as writers. You want to get to the best version of the story. While things had been heavily weeded out in their relationship, it was still an intricate and epic sci-fi idea with this smaller drama at its center. That was all very delicately woven from the beginning. But then there are things we found in rehearsals with William that were very true. We found things in the spontaneity of putting a scene on its legs. When you’re in the presence of it, everyone just agrees. (Laughs) When you find something honest during rehearsals, you just want that to be part of the story. Everybody has the same agenda, which is to tell the best story. Mike and I don’t bring too much ego to the table.
William is such a great actor. I loved him in In the Bedroom.
Oh, Mike and I really loved his work in that film, too. We were so excited when he read the script for Another Earth and really responded to it. We thought he was perfect for this story. The moment he said yes was the moment it became a film. We were so excited to begin the story with him.
What type of relationship did you hope to build between Rhoda and John throughout the film?
We always knew we wanted to tell a story about these two outsiders who have a very dark secret between them. As a result, this relationship always has this thriller undercurrent. You don’t know exactly what will happen if this secret is exposed. As a result, their relationship is really by fits and starts. They have these moments of connection and intimacy because of this similar experience in the wake of this accident. Then there are moments where they are setting one another off in weird ways because they don’t fully understand there’s a lie at the center. It’s a real relationship that is sort of coming together then coming apart then coming together then coming apart right until the very end. I really do think they return one another to a state of living in some way.
As a person, do you feel empathy for Rhoda? She’s lost part of her life for this one terrible mistake. Or do you feel she needed to be held accountable?
I totally feel empathy for her. I think when you take on a role you never judge that person. You accept everything. You have to come at her from an empathetic place. It’s a terrible thing that happens at the beginning of this story, but I think there is also a real bravery in how she tries to confront things afterwards. You try to never condemn or praise your characters. You just have to live in them. That’s what I was trying to do.
What would you ask Brit Marling if you got the chance to meet her?
It depends. Is she a real duplicate or has she lived a different life?
Ah, good question. Um, for argument’s sake lets say she’s a perfect mirror image of you.
Interesting. Hmm, I would ask her, “Tell me your darkest secret.”
So many times indie films like this, unfortunately, go unnoticed. A film will be critically acclaimed, but few people will see it. What do you think has to happen for indie films like Another Earth or your last film The Sound of My Voice to get out into the mainstream?
I think it was a really exciting time at Sundance this year because so many micro-budget films had such great ideas and strong stories behind them and were made by such creative and inventive filmmakers. A lot these films were bought and are going to come to theaters, so I think that’s really exciting. I think if people respond to them, it’s important to champion them. That’s how more stories like this will be created and enter the marketplace. It’s always important for stories like this to enter the world because they’re usually outsider ideas that get to enter the mainstream.