How to Succeed in Hollywood Despite Being Really Beautiful
After she graduated at the top of her class from Georgetown University and turned down a job at Goldman Sachs, Brit Marling moved to Los Angeles with her two best male friends to make movies. Because she is beautiful — she hazily evokes a “Manhattan”-era Meryl Streep crossed with a California surfer girl — she found she could easily land auditions for small roles in horror movies and action films. Those didn’t interest her. So she decided to create some roles for herself.
For two years, she read how-to screenplay-writing books while working on scripts with her two roommates. In the mornings she wrote upstairs with her friend (and ex-boyfriend) Mike Cahill; in the afternoon she went downstairs and worked on another with roommate No. 2, Zal Batmanglij. Together the friends eventually managed to make both movies, with financing from an independent production house and an individual investor. Both films were accepted to the Sundance festival this past winter and bought by Fox Searchlight. In “Sound of My Voice,” Marling, who is 27, plays a crazed cult leader; in “Another Earth,” which is being released this month, she enters a complex relationship with a man whose family she killed in a drunken-driving accident.
The collaboration began when, as a freshman at Georgetown, Marling went to a student film festival and saw a short film she loved. It was co-directed by Batmanglij and Cahill, two fellow students she’d never met. “It was beautiful and rhythmic; you surrendered to it completely. When the lights came up, I led a standing ovation. Then I saw Zal in a supermarket, and I followed him around the store. I tapped him on the shoulder. I was like, ‘I really loved your movie, and I’ll do anything in your next one — lights, sound, whatever.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Well, maybe you can be in it.’ ”
In addition to having screen-friendly looks, she moved a lot as a kid — her parents are real estate developers — and “every time I moved, I sort of reconstructed an identity in order to fit in. I began to see identity as an ephemeral concept. ”
She spent the rest of college collaborating with Batmanglij and Cahill on experimental films. The summer before her senior year, though, she took an internship at Goldman. If anything, it left her disillusioned. “I started to feel like it was all a bit of a fraud, all these charts and regressions and models.” She turned down the subsequent job offer and took a year to travel to Cuba to shoot a documentary with Cahill. “Living in Cuba made me unafraid of whatever could happen to me. Nothing seemed as scary as waking up at 40 and realizing that I had not lived a very courageous life.”
So she moved to Hollywood. The three friends wrote some scripts together but decided they worked better in pairs. “Zal actually had a dream that he was bound and blindfolded and walking down to a basement. And I was like: ‘Who was there? Maybe a woman who never leaves!’ And we ended up with ‘Sound of My Voice.’ ” Their other film, “Another Earth,” which hinges on the discovery of a duplicate planet, came in part from a piece of video art Cahill made in which he interviewed himself in a split screen. “We were like, what if you could confront yourself? What if there was a duplicate you?”
She, too, is haunted by the idea of a duplicate — another Brit Marling, perhaps one who took the job at Goldman. “If I hadn’t met Mike or Zal, I really wonder what I would be doing right now. I wonder if I would even be acting. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do it alone.” There may be a duplicate Marling looming in the future as well — one who perhaps succumbs to all this post-Sundance Hollywood attention and finds herself, say, starring in a romantic comedy opposite Ashton Kutcher. (She just finished filming her first big-budget thriller, “Arbitrage,” directed by Nicholas Jarecki and starring Richard Gere.)
“I worry about that a lot,” she said. “You see this with young women and men — they have some success, and then they just get eaten up like fish food and they’re done.” She looks to the actress Samantha Morton as a model of a different sort of celebrity. “I don’t know anything about her. Is she married or not? Does she have kids? How old is she? What food does she like? I have no idea. But she’s just a phenomenal actress.”
I asked Marling why she thinks she has succeeded so far as a screenwriter, and she paused for quite a bit. “First off, I think the fact that I come at it from an actor’s perspective is very helpful. When I’m sitting writing, I know that something works if I’ve made myself cry, or laugh, or have a visceral emotion. Also, I work with collaborators, and I think we’ve gotten very good at editing each other’s work. And lastly, I just practiced a lot. It was kind of like breaking in a horse — it keeps bucking and bucking, but one day it breaks.”
Source: NY Times