Photographed by Nina Westerveldt.
But, she is like no one else in Hollywood. Marling comes across like an academic who somehow found herself starring next to folks like Michael Pitt, Alexander Skarsgård, or Richard Gere. (This is true. Marling is a Georgetown graduate, and a writer/producer herself.) Truth be told, it would be hard to see her in a slapstick sex comedy or a reboot — she simply couldn’t take a role she wouldn’t be able to sink her teeth into, to explore and discover real, palpable meaning. She’s not just an actress, but a thinker, which may be why she works so well with director and co-conspirator Mike Cahill.
Cahill and Marling are now entering into their second full-length project together. The first was the indie stunner Another Earth, which had the shining Brit play a young woman who changed several lives with one foolish choice, all while a second Earth, a ripple in our continuity, appeared above the night sky. This time, Brit and Mike take on souls, religion, and the nature of relationships with I Origins. "I think we were always interested in really similar things, and spaces, and wrestling with similar ideas in our lives; and I think that’s what has made the collaboration so fruitful," she says. "He's such a great director, and he creates an environment on set that is unlike anything else. You feel that you're there to explore and play." (Full disclosure: I saw I Origins at this year's Sundance festival and was 100% floored, immediately telling everyone it was my festival pick, but I would strongly recommend heading into the film knowing nothing about it.)
Slowly, Brit Marling has created a name for herself not only in indie cinema, but in her collaborations with her director/friend, and in out-of-the-box science fiction, as well. "Storytelling is about taking risks, about casting unknowns, you know, throwing it all down on the line on a provocative story that people may hate. But, then you run and you leap with a story and you meet the audience halfway, and they love it." This is precisely the case with I Origins, which isn't quite sci-fi in the big-budget sense of the word, but it is certainly fiction about science — and God, love, and the nature of relationships. "These are wild risks," she adds, "and it's really hard for people who are just thinking about turning around more of a profit every quarter to take them with films."
In it, Marling plays a dedicated intern — to Michael Pitt's scientist — who values nothing more than the sense of discovery. "I think she’s really noble and sort of is really just obsessed with the ideas and the potential for discovery," explains Brit. Her character, Karen, works with Ian to discover the evolution of an eye, the one thing that, due to the organ's complexity, religions point to as definitive proof of the existence of a higher power. Their discoveries force Ian to reconcile his personal life with his professional output. "Karen says at one point, 'This is so much bigger than me and it's bigger than you. It's bigger even than us.' That's one of the things I found most admirable about her. She is kind of all about the pursuit of the knowledge and has really let everything else go."
In many ways, this could describe the actress that Brit has become, as well. One who picks roles based on the pursuit of story — not in terms of prestige or career. One who selects a role, if you will, because it is bigger than just an actor. And, that's hard for a woman Brit's age to find in Hollywood, a problem she thinks could easily be remedied.
"The more there are women that write, the more women end up directing, producing, and acting. I think we just need to see more of the female perspective, and that doesn’t mean even that it needs to be women writing about women." That's one of the things about the imaginative worlds that Brit and Mike Cahill create for themselves: speculative fiction imagines new possibilities, like works full of smart, fully developed, incredibly deep characters — for both men and women.
Photography by Nina Westervelt