Brit Marling Talks Sound of My Voice, on Blu-ray and DVD today!
On Blu-ray and DVD this week, Sound of My Voice follows a pair of investigative filmmakers out to expose a cult run by a young woman named Maggie, who claims to be from the future. The film stars Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the script with director Zal Batmanglij. We recently caught up with the actress to chat about the movie, the future, and what it means to be living in these end times.
Here is our conversation.
From since you first wrote this film, to where we are as a culture right now, a lot has changed. History and our social climate are morphing at an expedient rate. Do you think you would have changed anything about the story and where it goes, had you started writing Sound of My Voice today?
Brit Marling: Totally. It's interesting that you bring this up, because it has been a while since we wrote the script. But even then, it was starting. You could feel the undercurrent of this unrest. The way everything is structured, it's unsustainable. It is like we are on a train going 500 miles, and we're headed for a cliff. There is no manmade bridge that can withstand this. I guess that is the thing this character is talking about it. All of this stuff is coming to the surface now. It was latent before, when we wrote the movie, but its all coming to the surface, with the financial crisis. The overwhelming drought in areas. These things are unraveling quickly. When this script was first going around, people were maybe not as ready to admit it as they are now. That these times we live in, we are precariously close to the edge of something.
Do you look at the movie as something that might help people cope with all of this unrest that is going on in the world?
Brit Marling: I don't know that we thought that it would. I think we were just looking for our own way to cope.
Yes, but I think if you work through what you are dealing with, and find a means to your own end, that is going to, in turn, help someone else...
Brit Marling: The director, Zal Batmanglij, and I were very much feeling that at the time. Oddly, we stumbled into these yoga groups when we first came out to L.A. I think, in Los Angeles, there is a certain amount of history about cults and groups coming together in an attempt to define meaning, or figure out the "why" to being alive. I guess, a part of the story came from the imaginings of that. Also, this desire to create the family, or find some sort of tribe. So at least there isn't a total loneliness. The thing that seems so intoxicating about Maggie is that she seems very convinced of her version of the future. It isn't something she stumbled upon. She could give you a prescription for how to navigate this. I think we'd all be more willing to sign up now than at the time we were writing all of this.
You bring up Yoga here in Los Angeles. I've been pulled into a couple of these sessions over the years, and I am always skeptical of these Yogis, some of whom claim to be from another spiritual realm. What is your take on this whole spiritual plane of existence? Do you buy into it? Do you think some of these people are frauds? Or do you believe they are from a different time and space?
Brit Marling: I think the delicious part of it is that it is all complicated. Here in Los Angeles, you will find yourself going out to a workshop, or a class. Sometimes, you feel like you are stumbling into something that is a bit mystical, and not something that is easily explained. I remember doing a conference at UCLA, were they were doing meditation, and we were all lined up in pairs. You would have a partner, and you were with this person for hours. And you were either chanting or meditating. I have to admit, at first, it seemed absurd. But then, after a few hours, it seems like something had been released, or that something had transpired. Could there be a logical explanation for that? Or is the body just an instrument that is working through these things? Or is something metaphysical happening. I think that is a question that plagues a lot of us that participate in these classes. We are experiencing something.
There doesn't seem to be too many female cult leaders throughout history. Off the top of my head, I can think of only Mother Meera, and some may not consider her a cult leader. Did you look into the history of female cult leaders, and were you able to pull anything from what you found in studying them?
Brit Marling: You know, I never looked into Mother Meera. I never even heard her name until after the movie came out. People have brought her up. We did look up a lot of cult leaders. We watched some on Youtube, and we watched a lot of documentaries on the Jones Town Massacre, and we read different texts about the cultures, and one thing you will find is that most cult leaders are men. When we were writing Maggie, one of the things we felt was, "How would we dream up this woman? And which qualities of being a girl would she use to sway, and hold court over her audience?" Maggie is multi-faceted. The more you think you get to know Maggie, the more she throws something else in your face. In my mind, she is innocent, and youthful, and girlish. The next minute she is overly ambitious, she is a therapist, then she treats you like a dominatrix, and then she treats you like a mother. She has a different angle in the way she holds the different attentions in her audience.
How much of Maggie did you discover during the writing process, and how much of her arrived on set while you were performing her in front of the camera?
Brit Marling: One of the great things about Zal and I writing together is that we actually act out a lot of these scenes as we write. It's incredibly humbling. During that process, we will also switch off roles. Sometimes I'll be Peter. Sometimes he will be Peter, and I will be Lorna. Working on Maggie was the hardest part. She didn't come to us as easily. In the script, she was a bit of a placeholder. A lot of it was improv. In the script, it would say, "She emphatically says this here." We knew we had to make it compelling. What happened was, we started daydreaming on that scene where he has swallowed the transmitter, and she has to get it out of him. She has to get him to let go. That scene suddenly just toppled out. After that, we knew who she was. Then, she very much just wrote herself. After that, I think the acting attempted to bring that to life.
In terms of genre, do you see this film as a companion piece to Another Earth?
Brit Marling: I mean...Zal Batmanglij, Mike Cahill, and I all went to school together. We were also all in Los Angeles together, we were living together, and I think the three of us really were watching the same films, and reading a lot of the same books. We were taking the things that we were learning, and teaching each other things, making short films, watching films to rip them apart, and then put them together again. Figuring out how they worked. I think in that sense, our film education was made up of a lot of experimenting. ...Zal and Mike were directing things together. I think that kind of formed both of these works. I guess you are right, because we were all interested in similar ideas, and similar feelings. But I think the movies take on two very different expressions, if that makes sense.
When I saw Another Earth I was fascinated by it. You forget in a way that it is science fiction. And that idea plays into Sound of My Voice as well...
Brit Marling: Yeah. Someone brought this up. They said, "If you had a lot of money, would you have changed the movie?" Both of these movies, really. Its something we find special, because we didn't have these resources. We had to rely on ideas, rather than explosions or special effects. I don't know...We had always talked about the types of movies that we were interested in, and that we watched. A lot of the times, it was about the ideas, and the conversations that it evoked. I think we were about making movies that were up to something peculiar. I think both of the films fall into that type of science fiction. One of the shorts we all watched at that time, and I'm not sure who discovered it first...La Jetée, have you seen that? It's the short that 12 Monkeys was based on...
No, I haven't. I just watched 12 Monkeys literally two days ago, so it's weird that you bring that up....
Brit Marling: Oh, well, then, you should go on line and look that up. Go on Youtube and type in ...La Jetée. It's the short that Chris Marker made, that they based 12 Monkeys on. It is all just black and white film. It is all very simple. But the ideas and the feelings behind it are so big. With Sound of My Voice, that was always the idea. If you don't leave the basement, what kind of sense of wonder and awe can we create? It's about working within that limited space.
Neither movie needs big CGI effects. I think that would ruin what they are. They would be completely different movies...
Brit Marling: I think this is true. And it is true of a lot of the films that came out of Sundance that year. All of these movies were really big on ideas, but small on execution. There was something really cool about that marriage. This new crop of filmmakers wasn't thinking, "Well, we only have this much money, so we can only shoot in this one apartment in Los Angeles. We can only use this many people." Instead, it was about, "We have this idea, and this is how we are going to do it." I think we are coming to a place where technology is allowing people to do that for the first time. It was an exciting moment at Sundance to see all of these young directors, and to see all of these voices coming together at once, making these things work. At some point, you can only go so far. You can only do so much with special effects before you break the rules of screenwriting. You go beyond what can exist in this world, and in a way, it is anti-imagination. You need to be given the space to become invested in the story, while still being able to indulge in the fantasy. That is the good thing about these movies being made. The smaller resources make you stretch your imagination. These are the kinds of movies I like to watch.
I think they will stand the test of time better. They remind me a lot of the movies coming out of the 70s. They are timeless, because there is no technology apparent on screen to date them in terms of the special effects being used.
Brit Marling: Its like going back and watching The Princess Bride. There is something very timeless about it. The look, its all a little wonky, but the story is good and the ideas are big. Everytime you go back and watch that movie, it is breathtaking and visual. I don't know that movies being made now have the same feeling.
I don't think a lot of the movies coming out now have a personality. Or a personal touch. You look at Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, and you can tell they are coming from an individual. They are art, not commerce...
Brit Marling: Movies should be personal. I get excited to feel things, and then talk about these ideas with other people. Hopefully, I will have the same conversation with other people that watch the film. I guess that is why you try to make something. It is about a genuine desire to communicate. It's about looking at the things that have me confused. The things that I find myself in awe of, and that I am inspired by.
Sound of My Voice does deal with the idea of Time Travel. Are you familiar with idea of spiritual time travel? Is that something you personally believe in?
Brit Marling: Our interest in time travel was what it would be like to explore in a practical sense. If someone appeared in the San Fernando Valley, and they were from the future...How would they appear? What would their experience be like? Would anyone believe a word they were saying? Are they just crazy? There is a part in the movie where you think Maggie might be some kind of street urchin. Maybe she is telling the truth. I think that is where our daydreaming began. We wanted to articulate those scenes. What would her immune system be like if she traveled back in time? Would she be severely depressed? Would she get disease easily? Or could she go outside? We needed to figure out the measures for how this would all work. How would she find the first person to believe her, and a second adaptor, and a third adopter? How would they meet? Whether it is a con, or not a con, we had to think through the ramifications of what this might be. If that makes sense...
I don't know why I have always thought this, but I feel that if I traveled through time, I would get very sick. I don't know where that idea comes from.
Brit Marling: Oh, of course...I think that is interesting. I think its instinct. How would this affect my body?
Are you aware that this press release came out today? About the Green Blade Rises?
Brit Marling: Oh, yeah. I forgot that was out and about. That is great.
I read that when you went to write Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, it was because you weren't being offered the kinds of roles you wanted to do. That you were being pigeonholed as the dumb blonde or the secondary girlfriend. Now that these two movies have come out, and they have been so well received, do you feel that Hollywood is offering you more challenging roles as an actress? Has the climate changed?
Brit Marling: I have always been open to good stories. I started to write because I wanted to direct, and I wanted to act. I was like, "Okay, so how do you start directing and acting?" Its not a job you can just go internn for. We thought, "How do you begin?" I decided to write, and then go make it, the way that other people go off and make things. Through the process, I have certainly come to love writing very much. Because I do think we are living in a very strange time. Writing is one way to make sense of it. But, yeah, I really began all of these because I love acting. I find it to be an overwhelming challenge. Anytime I read a story, it gets under my skin and I can't stop thinking about it. I'm excited because I what to jump in and experience that. I want to explore whatever that feeling is. So, yeah, certainly, after making these two movies, there have been other opportunities to read other scripts, and be a part of projects that I love very much. I feel very fortunate.
What draws you to a role like Nancy, Abraham Lincoln's mother? That sounds like an interesting choice. I don't know anything about this woman myself...
Brit Marling: I was drawn to...Obviously we know more about Lincoln in his adult years, and less about his childhood years. This script really delves into that. I found the information about his mother and father fascinating, and I got to learn about his developmental phase. We all know very well about the person he became as an adult. That was fascinating to me. Also, that time period. You could walk into the wilderness and have these lives. This is an unforgiving landscape. There is something really extraordinary about that. It's about finding courage, and the people that went off and did that. It's all very fascinating to me. Of course, I have to go make the film and have the experience first. Right now I can't say too much about it.