It's difficult to explain how stressful it is to cover a film festival without seeming ungrateful. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now than at the Sundance Film Festival, so I appreciate how lucky I am to be here. That written, it's not easy. Park City, Utah is a surprisingly spread-out city, and Sundance itself often requires a person to be in two places at the same time, preparing interview questions whenever there's time (which is usually while watching a movie in the dark). That leads us to this interview with Brit Marling, where I couldn't read my own handwriting. Luckily, Marling was kind enough to help.
Marling is at Sundance to support Mike Cahill's sci-fi effort, "I Origins." Michael Pitt and Marling play brilliant scientists who discover a link between the human eye and the possibility to disprove the existence of God. As they dig deeper, their research uncovers more and more spiritual implications.
When I arrived at the interview location off Park City's Main Street, I was told to wait in a couch for further instructions. Without warning, Marling sat down, ready to begin. Marling is about all a person in my position can ask for out of an interview subject: thoughtful and engaged. Eventually, I gave up even trying to read my notes at all, which lead to the kind of loose conversation that's always more fun anyway.
This is the way interviews should be. You're told to sit in a corner and then with no warning, boom...
[Laughs] Somebody drops in your lap!
This movie is fascinating.
Oh, I'm glad. That's a nice thing to hear you say.
What would be a bad thing?
"That movie sucked." You'd never say that probably to anyone.
I just don't say anything.
Right. You'd just be like, "Mm…that was interesting," maybe. I much prefer honesty. But I'm like that with my friends, too. Like I have friends who, if I see something and they're not that moved by it, then it's like, "Hm, okay, good." And you know then when they give you praise that you've really earned it.
Michael Pitt's character is really into eyeballs.
Really into eyeballs.
It's very different than something like "Another Earth," which had this concept, but there's another thing going on while this concept is happening. "I Origins" is very on-target with its concept. Does that make sense?
Totally. "Another Earth" had this a high concept, but then a very micro-drama at the center that was kind of separate in the way they were kind of related to one another. There was so much more inherently wound. Like Michael, his character, Ian Gray, and my character, Karen, are scientists and we are doing the exploration ourselves, and we make the discovery and the discovery about Ian's would be a high-concept idea.
You know what's bad? At a film festival you don't have time to prepare for an interview like you do in a normal life.
Of course, yeah.
So I'm writing down questions while watching another movie in the dark -- my handwriting is awful and now I can't read anything.
Let me try to decipher. [Marling takes my notebook] "Do you get a boycott?" "Boy scout"?
Oh, that says "big budget." Since you seem to only do these interesting movies, I'm wondering if you get offered huge big budget stuff and just turn it down because you only want to do this kind of stuff? Do people come to you with hokey stuff and you're like, "no"?
Yeah. It doesn't mean that I'm not interested in big-budget filmmaking. I mean, I think a movie, whether it's made for $100 million or $10, I'd be down to do it.
There's obviously great big-budget films, but you don't seem to pop up in a throwaway romantic comedy.
No. I mean, if it was a great, new, fresh take on the romantic comedy that was kind of subversive and, you know, two people navigating a love story in a way you've never seen it before -- I'd be totally down because I love comedy as much as I love drama. And I love the silly as much as I love the serious. But it has to be good. I mean, I think that the reason I feel that way is life is really short -- and I don't ever want to find myself on set being like, "Well, I just have to get to the end of the shoot." I can't work that way. I don't know how to work that way. I have to feel a really passionate -- I have to be moved.
So you don't buy into the "one for them, one for me" attitude that some people incorporate?
No. I mean, I wish that I did. In some respects, maybe it would be nice if I did. And also, I have the luxury of not having a family to support; I'm on my own in the world, so I can decide to live in my tiny apartment in the east side of Los Angeles and not worry about putting kids through school or something.
Right. That's where usually the "one for them" comes in, right? "I'm going to do 'Joe Dirt,' or something, and put my kid through school."
Totally. And maybe at some point in my life, I'll be in that position. That's why right now, while I have the freedom to choose and the luxury to choose, I really want to be a part of the stories that I feel matter or are new. And certainly I like to play roles that are not like the ones we often see for women. You know?
Does that bug you? Specifically, what roles do you see for women that you don't like?
I think just the idea that women have to be one of the categories. Have you ever heard of the Bechdel Test?
I'm quite familiar with it.
Okay. I mean, it's kind of shocking ...
It's a little flawed, but it's a good barometer.
It's a good barometer. It's the idea that two women in a film, both have names.
"Gravity" doesn't pass it.
Right. That's right. "Gravity" is a good example of how it's flawed. But it does mean something that usually the women in the film are talking about the male protagonist. Usually, they don't have an identity outside of their own. They're there as foils to reveal things about the men around them. You don't often find them acting with a lot of agency or driving the action in the film. And that's fine.
When you read a script, do you put that test to the script?
Well, I just discovered that test recently, so I haven't. But when I read something, it has to be that she's got to stand strong or be impervious -- women can be vulnerable and weak and all these other things, too. It just -- it's not just men. It's not, like, a woman in there as an afterthought. I think we're starting to see more of that. But there's also ...
Or the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
Yeah, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl -- shrew, prostitute, mother. You know? And I guess as a woman, you're often looking for ways to navigate the world that feel more, I don't know, better than the ones that are often out there. So I think about that when I take a role. Maybe that's weird.
I don't think that's weird. I think that's good.
Okay. Well, if you think it's good ...
Well, keep in mind, I don't know what I'm talking about.
Yes, you do!
No, I don't.
You totally gave yourself away earlier. You know exactly what you're talking about.
How did I give myself away?
Well, first of all, you're honest. Most people when they sit down are trying to put up a certain show for each other -- a presentation. And you're just like, "I wrote these notes in the dark; can you read them?"
I don't think that's "honest." I think that's called "unprofessional."
That's when you won me over. That's not unprofessional ... like, I'm just fascinated to hear your point of view on things.
That's very kind of you to say.
Isn't that what we're all doing here? Otherwise, we'd be making things in a vacuum, you know? I mean, we make stories to connect. And if you start talking about your mother or your psychotherapist with somebody that you shouldn't, that's on you.
Wait, has that happened to you?
I don't think I'm a cagey person; I think I'm pretty open. But, I think if somebody puts themselves in a situation where they're revealing more than they feel comfortable with because of the public, then that's on them. I mean, the less I know about an actor, the more able I am to surrender to the illusion they're creating. If I don't know where they're from or what their parents did for a living when they were growing up -- the less you know, the better. The more you're able to surrender to the character. So, I do think there's some part of me as an actor that tries to protect some nucleus of who you are to do your job well.
I think we're out of time. Thanks for reading my notes for me.
You should see my handwriting in the dark.
See, like you said, that's too much information. Now if I see you writing in a movie and the penmanship is perfect, I know it's all a lie.
[Laughs] "Oh she's lying!" All right, I won't tell you any more.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.