SUNDANCE BREAKOUT: Brit Marling of ‘Another Earth’

Brit Marling Portrait 2011

The actress also co-wrote and produced "Earth" as well as "Sound of My Voice."

Calling her Sundance debut “totally stunning,” Brit Marling, one of this year’s breakout talents, likened the experience to being in “an oasis in the middle of a blizzard.”

The young actress stars in both Another Earth, a science fiction romance that screened in the U.S. dramatic competition, and Sound of My Voice, a psychological story set in a modern day cult (in the Next category). Marling also co-wrote and co-produced both the films and learned on Friday that Another Earth had been awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film prize, a $20,000 cash award given to a movie focusing on science and technology.

“My brain is rational and skeptical, but my heart is emotional. I want to believe in love and in poetry, that they are sometimes extraordinary, even in mundane settings,” said Marling. “Both movies have that longing.”

Marling has a unique backstory. She went to Georgetown University and took a double major in economics and studio arts. There, she met Zal Batmanglij, director of Voice, and Mike Cahill, who directed Earth.

“I like the discipline and rigor of math,” she said, sitting in the green room of the Library theater, where Marling spoke about the commonality between economics and screenwriting.

“You're trying to arrive at the right answer in simplest steps, and in screenwriting, how to say the most in the least amount of words.”

After three years of college, Marling spent her junior summer at Goldman Sachs in New York. “The experience there was deeply upsetting,” she confided. Her economic education she felt was more about indoctrination than exploration.

Marling dropped out of Georgetown and traveled to Cuba with Cahill and the two collaborated on their first project, a documentary called Boxers and Ballerinas. The Cuba experience affected her and she decided to go beyond docs to tackle narrative story-telling.

Struck by the film bug, Marling moved to Los Angeles. “I acted in Zal's thesis film and the experience was amazing for me,” she said. It made her more empathetic, curious and open.

As a screenwriter, Marling says she writes characters that are most unlike her. And she is fascinated by alternative reality, the cosmos and prophecies. “The world is in such a weird place and sci-fi allows you to talk about politics and xenophobia, keeping it as an entertainment vessel.”

Both the films were super low-budget. Marling didn't want to divulge the amount. She did, however, illustrate a couple of examples. In Voice, there is an interior shot in an airplane and the tight budget did not allow building a set. “Mike bought a cheap $60 ticket from LA to San Francisco and our DP shot the wing of the plane through the window with a Canon D5 camera. They just looked like tourists,” she said with a laugh.

In Earth, where Marling's character walks to the jail, she posed as a yoga teacher and told the guards she was there to work with the inmates. While the guards were busy checking about her, Cahill quickly took some shots of her in front of the jail. A true indie solution.