Brit Marling, with her sharp, patrician features and poreless skin, doesn’t look like a Dumpster diver. But as research for the taut thriller The East, both director Zal Batmanglij and Marling, who wrote the film together, spent a summer entrenched in the freegan movement, hopping trains and foraging for food in the trash. In the film, Marling plays Sarah Moss, a corporate spy who infiltrates The East, an anarchist, ecoterrorist collective—with a notably charismatic, handsome leader played by Alexander Skarsgård—that argues its dirty methods are in service of noble, anticorporate ends. Whether Sarah truly comes to agree is a question The East doesn’t answer until the last possible moment; as with Marling herself, it’s more complicated than it looks.
ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: I wanted to start by talking about otherness. The title of the film has a lot of associations — you might think about things like Orientalism — and for the eco-terrorist group to name themselves that, at least for me, seemed to speak to this idea of all of them as people who had purposefully othered themselves from what they would see as the normal world.
BRIT MARLING: We tried to make the group somewhat diverse — Doc is supposed to be from a very middle-class background, probably went to school on scholarship. Luca is probably more of a runaway, and Thumbs an ex-soldier in Afghanistan. You pick up on hints of that, but definitely I think in the plotline of the story, you’re hearing more about Izzy or Benji’s backgrounds. They come from a certain world of privilege. You see a wide range in those communities — direct action or freedom groups or anarchists. Some of them are kids who left home and dropped out of high school, some of them are kids who dropped out of their banking jobs or law firms. I think you’re sort of seeing more of that now—people who are going out to start an organic farm or living collectives who were formerly working at a hedge fund in Boston. We wanted to include that group, too.
Brit Marling on Writing, Anarchists, and the Need to Get Her Heart Broken
When actor Brit Marling called, fresh from taping the Craig Ferguson show — where she was publicizing The East, the new espionage thriller she stars in and co-wrote — I had just happened upon the most absurdly grotesque headline I have ever seen in the UK’s Daily Mail (this is saying a lot). Because it involves her, I felt obliged to share: “I Ate Out of a Dumpster … Brit Marling reveals desperate lengths to make a movie… as she displays her toned tummy in vintage outfits for Glamour magazine.”
This is how our interview began: with the typically uncommonly graceful Marling snorting with hard laughter about how her time exploring freeganism had been spun into something that sounded like a new diet.
“Doesn’t it just show the willingness of capitalism to straddle the divide?” she said. “It is always able to co-opt even the extreme left and turn it into something that you could make money out of. Bikini body, in time for summer!”
In The East — which Marling, 29, co-wrote with her college friend, director Zal Batmanglij — she plays Sarah Moss, a private security-firm investigator who infiltrates a group of anarchists. Led by the charismatic Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) and Izzy (Ellen Page), the group carries out attacks (“jams”) on various corrupt corporate entities (big pharma, oil companies and other polluters, etc.), including some of Sarah’s firm’s clients. There is an aspect of Wikileaks-style mischief making in the pranks, which start out clever and harmless then turn increasingly dangerous.
You’re sort of the anti-ingenue. Educated at Georgetown, had an internship at Goldman Sachs, then went out to Hollywood, auditioned for some lousy movies and decided if you wanted good roles you needed to write them yourself. Working with Batmanglij and another friend from Georgetown, Mike Cahill, you’ve co-written some very cerebral movies, Another Earth, Sound of My Voice and now The East. Whenever I see styled magazine photo shoots of you I wonder if you’re uncomfortable doing that very Hollywood thing.
Sometimes, a photo shoot can feel a lot like a movie set, where there is a wonderful photographer and you kind of create a character and just pretend for a couple of hours. Then, it can be kind of fun. More often than not, I find that shoots have been like that. But there are those where you suddenly feel like you are there to sell the clothes…where you feel surrounded by phoniness and artifice. There is this whole world that attracts incredible artists, then there is this whole other side of it that is just about commerce. It’s like movies, there are those that are high art and beautiful. And then there is a part of moviemaking that is just paint-by-numbers. One wishes that we could just draw a line in the sand. The truth is, the times are really muddled.
Watch Brit Marling’s Inspiring Georgetown Convocation Speech
Brit Marling is a hero. The actress and writer has not only starred in and co-written some of the most incredible independent films in recent memory — Another Earth, Sound of My Voice, The East — but has provided an intelligent new perspective on culture that’s as beguiling as it is inspiring. Since Marling and Mike Cahill released Another Earth back in 2011, I’ve been transfixed not only by her work but by the intellect that she brings to every encounter. And as someone whose entrance into post-collegiate life is still a recent memory, I was pleased to see that Marling delivered the senior convocation speech at her alma mater, Georgetown University, earlier this month. In the brilliant and emotionally thrilling speech, Marling reflects on her formative years at the school in which she met two people that would change her life, with whom she would shape her future with — Zal Batmanglij and Mike Cahill.
In the speech, she describes her initial impression of Zal as one of those “soul crushing” people who would always show up late for class with nothing but a cookie, yet when called upon would have the most profoundly insightful ideas. As for Mike, she recalls him as the man-jewelry-wearing econ major who would skateboard between classes. After discussing their first collaborations and guerrilla-style filmmaking while still in school, she describes moving to Los Angeles after Zal was admitted to AFI – explaining the journey that led them on and how, although it seemed there was nothing to solidify their lives but their collective dreams, they had each other.
“If I can tell you anything of value, it’s that the most important thing you do from here is hold onto one another,” she says. “The thing that separates us from other forms of life is not our ability to make tools, or our big brains, which came later. The thing that separated early human beings was the ability and the desire to cooperate and to communicate, the need that we have to move one another, and to be moved. To connect.” It’s fantastic and moving and everything one would want out of a speech to end the most important four years of our young lives. Take a listen below.
Latest Public Appearances
I’ve just added lots of HQ images from the last four public appearances Brit has made over the past two weeks, as well as adding additional HQs from The East‘s NY premiere and Brooklyn screening. Big thanks to DeA for the donations!
Public Appearances > 2013 > May 24 | “The East” TheWrap Screening
Public Appearances > 2013 > May 29 | “The East” LA Premiere
Public Appearances > 2013 > May 30 | “The East” Film Independent Special Screening
Public Appearances > 2013 > May 31 | “The East” Press Conference
Brit Marling Talks The Stakes of Espionage Thrillers, Real Life Inspiration & More
Alongside her co-conspirators and director friends Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij, actress and writer Brit Marling has fashioned a confident path for herself in the film world, simply by creating the roles she’d always wanted to play. In “Sound Of My Voice,” she played Maggie, the enigmatic cult leader possibly from the future, and in her second collaboration with Batmanglij, “The East,” an operative for a private intelligence firm who infiltrates an anarchist collective led by Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Shiloh Fernandez, and Toby Kebbell.
Targeting corporations for their environmental misdeeds, the group’s “Jams” quickly escalate into more dangerous acts, and the film swiftly explores the murky moral depths that occur on either side of the law. Marling sat down with us recently to discuss the film’s subject matter and genre leanings, her thoughts on writing collaborations, and also the initial inspiration for “The East:” one summer in 2009, during which she and Batmanglij hopped trains, dumpster-dived, and generally led a “freegan” lifestyle.
From the finished product, some might easily assume you and Zal had a unified perspective toward freeganism and direct-action groups when writing it. You’ve spoken about your experiences with both as life-changing, but did you and Zal come out with divided perspectives?
What was interesting is that we may have felt different things from that experience, but we were unsettled and opened up in a similar way. It was so strange because the thing I love the most is movies, but when we came back from that summer it was a long time before I could watch any again. It felt like surrendering to someone else’s experience of life when you wanted to be living your own.
“Arbitrage” Blu-Ray Screen Captures
I have just added over 200 HD/Blu-Ray screen captures of Brit from her 2012 film Arbitrage. Enjoy!
Film & TV Productions > Arbitrage (2012) > Screen Captures (Blu-Ray)
Scans & Photoshoot Additions
The gallery is nearly complete – I have just added some missing magazine scans and photoshoots that Brit has done in 2012/13 – the W Magazine shoot with Eddie Redmayne is a particular favourite!
Brit Marling on ‘The Company You Keep’, Living Off the Grid, and Surviving Her Twenties
I first became aware of Brit Marling a year ago, when I had coffee with the writer and actress to talk about her breakout films The Sound of My Voice and Another Earth—both of which had premiered side-by-side at Sundance, making her the first woman writer/actress to have two films at the festival. Since those auspicious beginnings, things have only spiraled upward for the actress. She was cast as Richard Gere’s daughter in the financial drama Arbitrage, and appears this week alongside Robert Redford and Shia Labeouf in The Company You Keep. The film follows a group of aging radicals (played by a class reunion of all-star Hollywood boomers) reckoning with their youthful days in the Weather Underground. Marling was handpicked by Redford for her role as a young activist—a kind of next-generation heir to the thoughtful, Hollywood left.
Redford’s compliment is spot-on. On May 31, Marling and writing-partner Zal Batmanglij return with an eerily resonant political thriller of their own—The East, about a renegade Anarchist collective taking vengeance on corporate hotshots. When we meet this time to talk about her work, it’s high up in a midtown hotel. As we both acknowledge, there’s something bizarre about talking radical politics in a corporate suite, but it’s indicative of how far—and how quickly—she’s come since her breakout Sundance season two years ago.
So I saw The Company You Keep and The East on the same day.
No way. What was that experience like?
It was fascinating.
What did it make you think? They’re such interesting companion pieces.
Gallery Update: 2008 – 2012 Public Appearances
I have just re-added all of Brit’s public appearances from 2008 – 2012, replacing lots of MQ pics with HQ ones and adding lots of missing images, especially from the end of 2012. I must say a big thank you to Lindsey for the HQ donations! Check them all out in the gallery, more on the way:
Public Appearances > Last Uploads
Gallery Updates: 2013 Public Appearances
I have had a bit of a mishap with the gallery, so right now I am currently re-uploading all of the files to a brand new gallery. However! whilst I am replacing older images with HQ versions and other boring bits, I have uploaded all of Brit’s 2013 public appearances, with thanks to Luciana and Lindsey for their donations. The full gallery will be back online asap!
Public Appearances > 2013 > Last Uploads