In theatres this Friday from director Zal Batmanglij and Fox Searchlight Pictures comes another amazing story about THE EAST.
The film tells the story of Sarah, an undercover operative who is sent inside an anarchist group who want to bring down a huge corporation. Sent in to learn about leader Benji played by Alexander Skarsgard, she is met with trepidation but quick acceptance. Now she must discover the group’s secret and then do what is right.
Brit Marling plays Sarah and I was so thrilled to meet Brit a few years ago when she was promoting ANOTHER EARTH (one of my favorite films) and had the best conversation about that film. Now, once again we meet and I’m thrilled, along with Film Brat, to once again sit and chat on a sunny rooftop about her new film, inspirations for writing and a lot of other girl stuff that isn’t going to make it into the interview!
Jeri: How have you been?
I’ve been fantastic, how have you been?
Jeri: Great and I’m so excited for you. I haven’t seen you in about what, three years?
I know it’s been a long time
Jeri: You’ve been so busy in that time. I’ve told Jenise all about you.
Wow, that’s so nice.
Jeri: You two will hit it off famously and she saw the film as well.
You did? Did you like it?
Jenise: I did and I love it.
Jeri: She did have that momentary pause with the scene everyone will be talking about. You know, Alex’s bathtub scene.
Who doesn’t have a moment with that scene!
Jenise: He’s really hot, just have to say.
Yes, he is, and he’s so very kind as he is handsome. We were very lucky to get to work with him.
Jeri: How did you manage to get him to work on the film?
He read the script and just got it. The script was like a weird litmus test and some people said I have to do this movie. We met with Alex and were really worried about Benji as a character because how many actors are you really going to believe has charisma and gravitas like that at that age that your going to follow them into the wood. Where a bunch of kids are going to drop out of their lives and join him on this adventure. It would have to be someone with would and feeling and Alex has all of that and we were very fortunate that he wanted to do this film.
Jeri: We are going to backtrack a little, when did you write this? Last time we talked you were getting ready to do SOUND OF MY VOICE and you said you had other ideas going on. Was this one of them?
Yes! I was writing this a little after that period. We spent the summer on the road in 2009 just living our lives. It wasn’t at all research for work. It was just before ANOTHER EARTH and I was struggling as an actress and couldn’t like parts that were really meant for women. Every time I managed to get something I had to turn it down because I didn’t think it was a good image to have out there in concert with other bad images about women out there. So I was at odds with it all. So Zal had just graduated from film school and it was hard to figure out how to get a job or begin. We were reading a lot about the anarchist movement and finding blog postings of these young direct action groups that were writing these manifestos and it was so beautiful and so inspired and didn’t have any bi-lines. It wasn’t about credits it was about the ideas. We thought we wanted to go there and there seemed this energy of ideas. So we packed some backpacks, learned to train op and we went back and forth across the states. We learned the different collective and lived on organic farms and met some of the most incredible young people and we learned so much from them. A couple of years later we came back and made ANOTHER EARTH and SOUND OF MY VOICE and were still thinking about that summer and the experience. We thought we’d write about it as a way to make sense of it and putting it in the body of an espionage thriller.
Jeri: The story is a story within itself meaning the group in the woods and now you have expanded it to include another story of the infiltration. Where did that come from? How do you go from the group to wanting to find someone to get inside the group?
I love the BOURNE trilogies and espionage movies are so fun. I love the thrillers of the 70’s including ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN, KLUTE, THE PARALLAX VIEW and even later THE PELICAN BRIEF. The coolest ones were entertaining and exciting but they were also about something. We thought it would be cool to have an espionage thriller set in the now.
Jeri: Jumping into this character I don’t want to say she was emotionless but it was almost as if had to be emotion-less because it could have been so easy to get involved and the conflict would have been incredible. It seemed the only way she can reconcile the two is show nothing to either.
Jenise: Even when you are falling into it your not falling into it. You can tell – but there is no emotion at the same time.
This is one of those tricky performances because you are feeling so much but the group can’t see it because you are in deep cover so you are constantly hiding the depths of your feelings. All that comes out is the vapor of it. That was really challenging as a performer because your instincts are to put it all out there and you have to really restrain it.
Jeri: You’ve gotten good at it. In all the three characters that I’ve seen you play, all of them had a mask yet its right there. Its whether the viewer is going to go there with you to see beyond the mask. In ANOTHER EARTH you shut down a little but yet its all right there. You have this amazing ability to just say ‘I’m not going to tell you but yet, here it all is if you are looking’.
That is such an amazing thing to hear, seriously, because you worry about that.
Jeri: You worried about it the last time we talked too.
The story is so ambitious and you want to be a good custodian of the story. There was that one moment where Sarah sort of finally breaks down and you towards the end it’s the same. It’s like when she says to Benji ‘you don’t think I’m tough enough for the truth’ and he says ‘no, I think you are not soft enough’. I think the whole movie is about women coming back to their femininity. We live in such a masculine, aggressive time when men and women are going more toward the masculine tendencies. So I think the movie is about returning to some of the more feminine emotions of vulnerability and softness and sincerity are important.
Jeri: That could have been so screwed up at the end too…. (nope, not going to tell you anything)!
Which is hard to do to with Alexander Skarsgard!
Jenise: I’d be looking at the script think ‘oh it says I have to do that? Dang it!’
Jeri: It was interesting that Sarah makes the choice to do the right thing or the feminine thing but you do it because it’s right for Sarah. That moment was good to see that empowerment.
I think we’ve seen a lot of movies like that. What I am careful about with a story about a girl/women because I feel like most narratives are being crafted by men for women it would be tricky for me to end any story in the typical Hollywood fashion.
Jenise: Its either your just the extreme or so masculine and a warrior, there’s no time for a character to have feeling while in the feeling.
Exactly! That is so beautifully said. There aren’t always the best parts and it gets frustrating. I want to be something different in these roles.
Jeri: Are you working on anything else?
I’m writing new stuff and working on a movie in June called THE KEEPING ROOM about that’s set in the Civil War about three women defending their home from invasion by Union soldiers.
Jenise: That’s pretty cool, talk about female empowerment.
Jeri: Thanks again Brit and I can’t believe we are done but we will see you next year I’m sure.
Thank you and it really was so great to see you again too. I know we’ll see each other again soon.
And sadly that was the end of our conversation with this uber awesome actress who we’ve come to admire and respect for the incredible writing and filmmaking the way she wants it done. You gotta love a gal for being so headstrong AND talented!
This Friday in theatres is THE EAST with Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page and Patricia Clark – hit it up!