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Brit Marling finds exciting new direction with 'The East'

Published On: Jun 21 2013 06:33:25 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 25 2013 01:47:36 PM CDT
Brit Marling in 'The East' (photo -- Fox Searchlight)

Fox Searchlight

Brit Marling in "The East."

Since her acclaimed indie film breakout "Another Earth" in 2011, word of Brit Marling's acting and screenwriting talents have spread like wildfire around the globe, making her one of the hottest talents in Hollywood.

Her latest film in front of and behind the camera, the espionage thriller "The East," comes after a busy nine months that has found Marling acting opposite the likes of Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon in "Arbitrage," and working with Robert Redford -- the actor and director -- and a talented ensemble cast in "The Company You Keep."

"I've been really lucky since I've gotten to be a part of a lot of really great stories," Marling told me in a recent interview. "With 'Arbitrage,' I really loved the script and there were a lot of great female characters in that movie, which had something interesting to say."

As for Redford, Marling said she not only was thrilled to be working with the actor and filmmaker, but the person who has had such tremendous influence on the independent film industry.

"I've admired him as an artist for so long, but also as a human being in the world with what he has been able to create with the Sundance Institute," Marling enthused. "So many artists are able to make a living at what they love do because of his festival and the labs for screenwriters and directors it has."

The Sundance Film Festival gave Marling a voice as an acting and a screenwriter because of "Another Earth," which earned a Special Jury Prize. Her other indie work includes the sci-fi mystery "The Sound of My Voice," which she co-wrote with the film's director, Zal Batmanglij.

The two also collaborated on the screenplay for "The East," which is once again directed by Batmanglij.

Expanding into more theaters Friday, the film stars Marling as Jane Owen, a former FBI agent-turned-undercover operative for a private security firm who is saddled with the daunting task of infiltrating The East -- an eco-terrorist group which has been exacting covert attacks on major corporations that have covered up crimes against humans and nature.

After she accepted by the group (Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Shiloh Fernandez, Toby Kebbell), Jane becomes fascinated with their ideals and soon finds the lines blurred and her loyalties tested.

Marling says "The East" is probably her most commercial film to date, which is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, since it still is an indie production being released through indie distributor Fox Searchlight, she and Batmanglij were still able to tell their story without compromising their collective vision -- a important vision in that melds with the times we live in.

"The film is a sort of thrill ride -- but it's like an espionage thriller that cuts through a more prescient landscape -- a landscape about the now, which I think raises a lot of questions about things like activism, authority and accountability," Marling explained.

Marling said the film is not politically divisive, and that people on both sides of the aisle will share common frustrations.

"Whether (they're) on the right or the left of the spectrum or somewhere in-between, I think everybody is feeling really frustrated with corporate greed and corporate accountability," Marling said.

In an unfortunate bit of serendipity, Marling said some events she and Batmanglij initially wrote as fiction actually came to fruition as real-life events a short time later.

"There are instances like the BP oil spill. We actually wrote that scene that happens at the beginning of the film, and a couple weeks later, that occurred," Marling said.

Whether it's portrayed in a film or happens in real life, Marling, 30, said events like major oil spills can't go on without some sort of follow-up questioning.

"Here this massive disaster happens, and in the PR nightmare to clean it up, they dump dispersant on the oil that's just as bad for the environment as the oil spill is. Then they get slapped on the wrist with a fine that they could probably pay in a week, and it all disappears. I think everybody feels like, 'Wow, there's something that doesn't feel right here.'"

Marling says in the complicated world of filmmaking, it's not often the timing of film can be in sync with the news of the day, and she's thrilled "The East" is coming out at the right time.

"The thing we keep hearing over and over again is, 'The film is so zeitgeisty -- it's so about what's happening right now," Marling said. "Usually there's a lag in filmmaking -- it takes so long to get a film made -- and when it's done, it ends up talking about the past. It is rare to get to be able to put your finger on the pulse of what's happening around you."

The only thing better, Marling added, is the satisfaction of knowing she's accomplished a rare feat in industry -- releasing a movie that can be every bit as informative as it is entertaining.

"As a storyteller it's your job to entertain and keep moviegoers on the edge of their seats and show them something they've never seen before," Marling said. "That was our primary focus, and if you can do that and set it in world in which all this rich stuff is happening, then maybe it will connect with somebody."