Brit Marling faced a dilemma. She’s a strikingly attractive young blond actress who didn’t want to play the kinds of roles strikingly attractive young blond actresses (hereafter designated SAYBA) are routinely offered in Hollywood movies.
For just the most recent example of what we’re talking about here, look no further than “Star Trek Into Darkness.” In it, SAYBA Alice Eve, playing a brainy scientist, is shown in a brief, unnecessary scene clad only in her sexy undies. Cue Internet uproar. Such a ruckus has been raised that “Trek” screenwriter Damon Lindelof took to Twitter to apologize for what he termed a “gratuitous … representation of a barely clothed actress.”
That’s exactly the kind of thing Marling has been determined to avoid in her career. In Hollywood, she said by phone recently from Phoenix, “being a young woman is difficult when you’re trying to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t involve total moral bankruptcy.”
What to do? Marling’s solution was to become a screenwriter. That way, she could write roles for herself that would allow her to avoid SAYBA stereotyping.
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In 2007, she starred in “Another Earth,” a complex plotted indie sci-fi drama. In it, a second Earth suddenly appears in the sky over our home planet, and that Earth is populated by duplicates of everyone on this one.
Marling plays a young woman trying to come to terms with her guilt at having caused a deadly car crash, and wondering whether her doppelgänger on the other Earth is experiencing the same crisis of conscience. She co-wrote the screenplay with the director, Mike Cahill, a longtime friend.
In 2009, she played the enigmatic leader of a secretive cult in “Sound of My Voice.” She co-wrote that microbudgeted indie with the director, Zal Batmanglij, another good friend. (Marling, Cahill and Batmanglij forged their friendship when they were students at Georgetown University.)
In “Sound of My Voice” and “Another Earth,” her characters are intelligent and multifaceted, and Marling portrays them with quiet authority. They’re plum roles, challenging in their complexities.
And now she’s back on screen with “The East,” which she again co-wrote with Batmanglij. It opens Friday at several Seattle-area theaters.
In this one, she plays a corporate spy who finds herself in a moral quagmire when she infiltrates a group of ecoterrorists. The character comes to believe that the group’s goal of exposing misdeeds of big corporations is an honorable one, but she’s appalled by the criminal methods they use to punish people they perceive as wrongdoers. Once again, her character is highly intelligent, deeply conflicted.
The very existence of “The East” is a sign that Hollywood is taking notice of Marling and giving her the kind of respect, and the type of roles, she has long sought. That recognition came when “Sound of My Voice” and “Another Earth” both premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and set the festival abuzz.
That buzz caught the attention of producer Michael Costigan, an associate of director-brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, two of Hollywood’s bigger powerhouses. (The latter died last year.)
When Costigan met with Marling and Batmanglij, he told them, “I really want to work with you guys. What do you have next?” They showed him the script for “The East.”
The story had been inspired by experiences they’d had during the summer of 2009 when they crisscrossed the country visiting anarchist groups, organic farms and so-called freegan collectives where members live on recycled or discarded goods. The script’s blending of social concerns into a spy thriller appealed to Costigan and the Scotts.
“They sort of godfathered the project,” Marling said of the Scotts and Costigan. The latter served as the day-to-day producer on the set. “It would not have gotten made without him,” Marling said of Costigan. “So we were very fortunate.”
Soren Andersen: firstname.lastname@example.org