Interview: Brit Marling Looks Inside ‘Another Earth’

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CHICAGO – One of the true powers of the new film “Another Earth,” is the essential performance of Brit Marling as Rhoda, the lead character who seeks redemption in the midst of an interplanetary event that shakes up the universe. Her deep portrayal is enhanced by her role as co-writer of the screenplay.

Another Earth gained buzz at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in January, winning the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for outstanding film with science, technology or math as a major theme. Besides its integrity as a character study, Another Earth is an astounding “what if?” that encourages understanding about the nature of our existence.

World Above Us: Brit Marling as Rhoda Contemplates ‘Another Earth’
World Above Us: Brit Marling as Rhoda Contemplates ‘Another Earth’
Photo credit: © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp

Brit Marling has been a filmmaker since 2004, often collaborating with Mike Cahill, the director of Another Earth. She was in Chicago recently promoting the film, and sat down for an interview with about her memorable film. You are the co-writer of this screenplay. Since you both wrote and played Rhoda, what qualities within you and about you did you give her character?

Brit Marling: It’s interesting, I think with any character as you’re finding the story, you’re sitting in a chair and daydreaming, I don’t know if you tangibly think about how much of you is in it. You sit in a chair, and you let go of your identity, and you say, okay, my name is Rhoda, I’m 17 years old and you start to think about who she loves, and the people in her life that she loves. You daydream about all these things, and then you start a daydream about the story itself. You’re living in them and you’re attempting to make them feel real to you and believe that it really happened to you, so you hopefully can convince other people that it’s true as well. But what qualities about you did you give her?

Marling: I never think that way. But when you’re writing the story I think you want your imagination to be totally liberated. You also don’t want who you really are to be a constraint, so you let go of your identity. I mean, who is Brit? I have no idea. Brit is a handful of stories that people have told me about myself that I have reinforced over the years. People are changing all the time, identity is really ephemeral. You played Rhoda from a point at 17 years old to a rougher version of herself four years later. What experiences from your own travels through that age period did you try to relate into Rhoda?

Marling: I think it’s easier to remember the feeling of youth and how naive you are, how full of wonder you are. How much of your life is in front of you, and how little is behind you. You feel it can be anything. That is what makes the accident in the film so much more devastating, because of the feeling that there is so much promise. As Rhoda, my world gets very small very quickly. And I want to keep it that small. In your work in developing the character, was there an incident or series of incidences that we didn’t see regarding Rhoda’s interest in space? How about her years in prison following the accident?

Marling: Yes, so many things. I remember daydreaming a lot about why Rhoda first fell in love with space. Mike came up with this beautiful time-lapse of Jupiter in motion. For me, that informed my work about Rhoda as a human being, which is like realizing her as a kid going to Cape Canaveral and seeing a shuttle launch. The complete and utter majesty, that space is alive and moving, a seething and expanding thing.

The prison stuff was harder. I watched a lot of documentaries of women in prison, read essays and poetry about it. It was really helpful. But mostly it was thinking about being in a confined space, the loneliness of it. Prison is torture.

Rhoda and John: Brit Marling and William Mapother in ‘Another Earth’
Rhoda and John: Brit Marling and William Mapother in ‘Another Earth’
Photo credit: © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp How much support did you and Mike figure in representing Rhoda’s family. There is tentativeness about them that doesn’t seem welcoming. Do you think they somewhat disowned Rhoda because of what she did?

Marling: How do you help your kid through that? On the surface, her mother does want to connect with her, but it’s hard. I think Rhoda has had an experience that is hard to share with other people, and it’s hard to escape that grief. It becomes an island that she is on. As much as her mother wants passport to that, it’s hard to explain to anybody. That is why the isolation becomes important, it is how John and Rhoda come together in such an intense way. You did a notable sequence of vulnerability when Rhoda faced a winter night without any clothing. What type of symbolic essence were you portraying by allowing this almost pure state of nature?

Marling: The hypothermia scene, when we were writing it, we were thinking that Rhoda would never make an overt suicide attempt, because that would seem too gratuitous or dramatic and not in her character. But we did feel that she is suffering so much on the inside and there is a desire to somehow get it out. The feeling of stripping down naked in the cold is almost like offering yourself up in some way, to the chaos of the same world where the accident came from, surrendering to not understanding what has happened and why. You and William Mapother have a push-me, pull-you type chemistry in this narrative. How did you surprise or challenge each other in communicating the intensity of your relationship on screen?

Marling: I think the amazing thing about William is that he so thorough in his preparation. He spends a lot of time thinking and feeling through everything to make sure that it’s real. So that when we come to set and come to work there is just a lot of things that you find there, because each actor has done their own preparation.

I remember being surprised by the Wii scene [John and Rhoda play the game], he is so focused and into it, really wanting to teach me how to do it. I saw in that scene something I didn’t know when we wrote it. There is something so tender and loving in him, there is a sweetness in the way he was teaching her. I was really surprised in how much feeling was in that moment.

Brit Marling in Chicago, July 12, 2011
Brit Marling in Chicago, July 12, 2011
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for As a film actress, you become an illusion on screen once the film is struck and presented. Is there something that frightens you or makes you more vulnerable when you experience that illusion reflected back at you as you’re watching it? Or is it another feeling or emotion?

Marling: I remember once watching Another Earth after it was done, when the score was added. There was so much thought and love in that music. I really did get swept away by the completed story, I was surprised. I wasn’t watching it for performance or wasn’t embarrassed for myself. There were moments when I was surrendering myself to the story, as if seeing it for the first time. That was really cool. But I never watched it again after that, I didn’t need to or want to. We see the importance of coping, redemption and love in the John and Rhoda’s story of Another Earth. How did those nuanced, individual human experiences help define your characters and strengthen their survival instincts and resolve in the light of the other earth?

Marling: I think in the story the other earth is always a bit of an externalization of what is happening internally in their relationship, in a way. Much of the discovery, or trying to understand the mystery of it, is happening while they’re trying to discover the mystery of each other. Who is this person? What are they like? And then, as they begin to open up and talk to one another, communication is made to the other earth at the same time. There are parallels between what is happening in their relationship and what is happening on a cosmic level.

I do think the reason we wanted to tell a story about forgiveness and redemption is because the other earth seemed to inspire that in us. The feeling that there was a Judgment Day, or end of days scenario, the idea that in judgment or in the last moment, it’s not an external force that is going to judge you, you’re really just going to judge yourself. It’s the question of whether or not you’re going to let yourself off the hook for the things you’ve done or the life you’ve led. Rhoda seemed like a good vessel for that story.

“Another Earth” has a limited release, including Chicago, on July 29th. Check local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Brit Marling, William Mapother, Kumar Paliana, Robin Taylor and Diane Ciesla. Screenplay by Brit Marling and Mike Cahill, directed by Mike Cahill. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald,

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