Actress Brit Marling, whose film credits include “Sound of My Voice” and “Another Earth,” recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” about her new thriller “The East.”
In “The East,” which opened Friday, June 14 at movie theaters throughout the Valley, Marling plays an operative for an elite private intelligence firm who finds her priorities irrevocably changed after she is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations.
Question: Tell me about the research that you conducted for this film. What did you do and who did you speak with?
Answer: A couple of years ago, we spent a summer on the road. We were really interested in learning more about activist movements and direct action groups. We were not doing it as research. We were just living our lives and trying to figure out how we could live an accountable life in a time where there seems to be a real lack of accountability. So we spent that summer on the road and we really moved by it. We learned so much from a lot of young, wildly intelligent and creative people who were finding new ways to live their lives and make them meaningful for themselves.
Q: What was the most significant thing that you learned during your experience on the road?
A: It was an entire change of perspective. We suddenly started to be able to identify more types of trees than brands of jeans or brands of soda. It feels strange that I was ever on the other side of that. There was a time where I could list 20 different denim companies but could not list 20 types of trees. We are living in such a strange time and that experience woke us up to a lot of the things that we had been feeling and suppressing. After something like that, you are just changed and you don’t ever really go back. Your perspective is opened and different. I am very grateful to all of the people who I met on that road for the things that they were willing to teach anyone who was curious, hungry and wanted to know.
Q: So then how – and perhaps more importantly why – did you decide to turn your experience on the road into a movie?
A: When we came back to LA and started making films sort of in the tribal fashion that we had learned to live while on the road, we couldn’t shake the feeling of what had happened that summer. We were still really overwhelmed by it and still trying to make sense of the experience. So we started to write about it and, of course, we thought, “What better way to talk about it and provoke a dialogue than by embedding it into an espionage thriller?”
Q: This movie is not necessarily about a cult, so to speak, but it does share some similarities with your previous project “Sound of My Voice” in that they both deal with tribalism. What interests you in that particular topic?
A: I think that it is a really strange thing that human beings have broken away from nature. We used to live in in concert with the wild. We broke away from that agriculture and came into these extended families. Then we broke away from those extended families and came into these nuclear families. And now we are breaking away from our nuclear families and it is suddenly all about the individual. Having lived a bit that way myself, I can say that it is a really lonely and isolating existence. And with things like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, there is a crisis of alienation. They are deeply afraid of intimacy.
Q: Speaking of “Sound of My Voice,” your character in that – Maggie – was quite unique but you character here – Sarah – seems as though she would be the more complicated of the two to play. Was she?
A: Maggie was such an extrovert. She was just shuffling between different tropes of femininity. One can look at that and say, “That is very difficult.” But at least it’s there on the page. You know the height of the bar that you are trying to jump. Sarah was very different and a challenge because she is not as extroverted. And there are so many layers of deceit. You want the audience to know where she is internally even though she is lying to almost everyone in her life – her handler, her boyfriend, the man in the activist group who she is falling in love with, etc. It was a lot harder to locate her and to find the quiet spaces in which she can really share where she is actually at with people. That was challenging.
Q: So then, finally, what did Sarah teach you about yourself?
A: I think that it has something to do with this kind of resilience that she has even after this whole tumultuous journey that she goes through. She is pulled by the private espionage world and she is pulled by the world of anarchist yet there is something resilient in the center of her that maintains some real sense of identity. At the end, she can find her identity separate from the identity that she formed as a spy and separate from the cover identity that she created for herself. There is something really cool about that.