Brit Marling Interview: Talking the Secrets of ‘Sound of My Voice’
Where did this Brit Marling come from? She comes from the future! Or at least that’s what her character Maggie wants you to believe in her film ‘Sound of My Voice.’
This beautiful, young, inquisitive actress and screenwriter has been a part of the indie film conversation since her double-barreled debut at Sundance 2010. The star and co-author of the mostly good ‘Another Earth’ is now primed to release her second low-budget science-fiction (kinda) drama/thriller and I am here to tell you that it is fantastic.
And it should come as no surprise that Ms. Marling, a Georgetown economics major and, again the co-author and star and Georgetown economics major, speaks in sharp, assured phrases, pouncing on difficult topics with a fierce intellect.
We met in an eerie boardroom somewhere where she was carrying a bag from Evolution, a store in SoHo that sells jewelry made of bones, change purses made from frogs, paperweights of insects in amber…
That’s a helluva store.
I’m really into rocks, into fossils. They connect you to a prehistoric time. Just to be reminded of dinosaurs, that there were once pterodactyls, I mean, doesn’t that put all of this [gesturing to life on the busy Manhattan street] into perspective?
Wizards and Elves are not real. . .but triceratops were.
Exactly. A triceratops is very magical to me. These stones that get made in the Earth by pressure and time and heat – I find that the natural world is quite magical.
Or go to the shore, you’ll see jewelry stores with sea glass. Sea glass is, you know, some putz tosses a Rolling Rock off of his fishing boat and litters, right?
It’s kinda weird you bring this up. In the new script ['Sound of My Voice' director] Zal Batmanglij and I are doing, ‘The East,’ there was a line where a character talks about how she collected sea glass, that she was mesmerized by it as a kid, then one day she realized she had been collecting pollution – picking up trash.
I find that very gratifying. Thank you. That’s in the new film?
No, we cut it out actually.
Maybe the director’s cut?
No, we didn’t even shoot it. But I like that childlike perspective, the wonder and awe where you can find sea glass interesting.
On to ‘Sound of My Voice,’ which I saw at Sundance last year and loved. Fox Searchlight has been holding on to the movie for a year and three months for reasonable reasons. Number one, they had ‘Another Earth,’ and, frankly, who needs to see you twice. . .
[Laughs.] Or at all, yes, continue. . .
And they had ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ which kinda-sorta touches on some similar themes with cults. How much of a pain was it waiting for this damn thing to come out?
For some reason I feel like ‘Sound of My Voice’ is more prescient right now. It’s the right time for it. It doesn’t feel like a delay. I feel like my character Maggie is talking about a future that we are all becoming increasingly concerned about. I think the Occupy Wall Street movement made it even clearer that we may be living in an unsustainable way. Even though the world feels more organized with technology and the Internet, it actually is more prone to unravel, I feel. Maggie talks about this.
Do you think maybe the election makes the film more relevant? Because the way Maggie acts as a leader – she’s really a politician, no? She has the answers, she won’t get into specifics, just follow me and you’ll be all right, no?
Yes, you’ve really nailed it – she is a politician, and every day is an election. She has to be constantly re-voted into office by her constituents. She has to constantly change her face to the group – one day motherly and kind, the next day a vixen, the next day innocent and heartbroken, then the next day stern – it’s all an attempt to keep people voting for you.
Will there be Halloween costumes for Maggie? The sheet and oxygen tank.
And hair extensions and black-chipped fingernail polish. That would be the coolest thing. And people memorizing the secret handshake.
How long did you work on the handshake?
It’s funny when we wrote it we said, “when we get financing we’ll spend so much time on this – we’ll hire a choreographer and test it out with kids.” Then next thing you know you are shooting, you are always running behind, 17 locations, 35 actors, running around looking for basements, building one – Zal’s parents helped build that set, that’s how little money we had. So after all our dreams, the day before we shot Zal and I were on YouTube looking up cool handshakes.
So, allow me to be bold. The film opens – and this is part of the 12 minutes viewable online – we meet these characters going to a secret thing, they are going through all these steps, showering. They get to the basement, they take off their blindfolds to meet the leader and. . .it’s a young woman. Do you think you could play this role X amount of years from now? Can it only be played by a young, attractive, specifically blonde woman who, pardon my patriarchal thinking, we don’t think of as being in charge? Or as leaders?
[High Fives me.] Thank you. That’s why we are interested in this kind of storytelling. Why aren’t there more stories of young women acting with agency? What’s shocking is that we sit down to write women acting with agency and we end up putting them in submissive positions because our entire lives growing up on film and television – the cultural milk we’ve all been drinking – where the woman is always a second class citizen. She’s always defined by her husband, boyfriend, always just there to serve up lines of dialogue. It’s true we haven’t seen much of this before.
I think women are more natural leaders than they’re given space in society to be. But there’s such a lag in this – I mean, not that long ago the idea of a woman in a board room would be a scandal. I think women, because of motherhood, tend to rule from a place of empathy, and that’s what the world is lacking. I think masculine and feminine is a yin-yang thing, and we have a lot of masculine energy in power in the world, so the world is out of balance. It doesn’t need feminine energy to come and replace it, it just needs to come into its rightful share.
If you were to meet someone from the future, what would you want to know?
Is. . .it dangerous?
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if a WWI soldier was crossing no man’s land and suddenly ran into an iPod. He wouldn’t be able to conceive how that music could be contained on it – he’d think it was a device from an alien culture. What would the glow of that screen mean to him? And it wasn’t that long ago. Technology is moving so quickly, so it is hard to imagine what the world will be like five years from now, let alone three decades.
But it’s exciting! Not all of it need be dystopian. I can’t wait to see flying cars.
The question of a human future is that there are so many positive and beautiful things that can happen – how do we keep it in balance before we self-liquidate? If things continue we’ll just be voyeurs as things crack up.
So much of the fun in this film is wondering “is Maggie for real or is she a charlatan?” I would never in a million years ask you the answer, because that’s dumb. But I will ask if you and Zal know the answer.
Okay. I don’t want to know.
That’s so marvelous and sensitive. No one says that, but it’s a movie about faith. There’s never evidence. The whole point of faith is whether you choose to believe or not based on something inside you. There’s an article floating around suggesting that there may be a gene for faith.
Makes sense. There are some people more prone to alcoholism than others. Maybe a faith gene would make me a happier person.
Are you an atheist?
I don’t know. I want to believe in the possibility of magic. Dinosaurs and fossils make me want to believe – my perception is so limited so I can never articulate the divine mathematics that make a sea shell.
Well, you know, in an infinite universe with no notion of linear time, enough energy and gas crashes into one another and they create the conditions for all things, right? And eventually there’ll be one that creates —
[overlapping] a Halal cart on West 48th St.
I love that I say Chekhov and you say a Halal cart, and it creates BOTH! But I do believe in the sense of something greater or larger outside the individual. I can’t articulate it or describe it, but movies, oddly enough, get closer to the ineffable than a lot of other art forms.
Well, that’s because they are the most like dreams.
That’s really true. I told Zal about a dream this morning, and he asked if I wrote it down, he thought it was the beginning of a possible movie. But I didn’t. I just told it to him.
‘Sound of My Voice’ hits theaters today, April 27th.