Brit Marling: Inventing The Female Narrative

Photo by Eric Ray Davidson. Brit wears denim shirt and jeans by Levi’s. Styled by Rachel Pincus.

“There’s no mythology for women. If you’re reading On Poetics or whatever, the archetypal, primal stories are all about men. With women you’re either Persephone, the innocent that’s captured in the underground, or you’re Aphrodite, the unapproachable goddess. There are no gradations,” explains Brit Marling, always the charming intellectual, speaking from the Los Angeles home where she’s working on her next script. “It’s fascinating to watch women writers and directors wrestling in real time with what it means to invent the feminine narrative from scratch. Does it not look at all like the traditional, linear hero’s journey? That very classic, traditional line that we think of as storytelling. Or does the female version look different? Is it elliptical?”

Marling emerged on the independent film scene four years ago, when she co-wrote her own debut performances in Mike Cahill’s sci-fi morality tale Another Earth and Zal Batmanglij’s mystical thriller Sound of My Voice, both Sundance hits that showcased the kind of dynamic female roles Hollywood doesn’t often offer. “I feel an emotional and moral imperative to write for myself, but also to write for all the women I see around me at every age,” Marling says.

Having since gone on to star opposite icons like Robert Redford and Susan Sarandon in films like The Company You Keep and Arbitrage, Marling has crossed over from indie darling to mainstream leading lady. But even when immersing herself in a script she had no hand in, she says it’s getting to “feel the breadth and expanse of somebody else’s mind,” whether the director’s or the writer’s, that intoxicates her most about being an actress. And as her career continues to accelerate, that sensation is getting stronger.

She recently played the lead in Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s BBC satire Babylon, has movies like Daniel Barber and Julia Hart’s female-centric Civil War drama The Keeping Room coming out later in the year, and she’s readying a few of her own scripts. “There are all these things around us all the time that we can sense but can’t explain,” Marling says. “Film becomes one of the beautiful tools for attempting to get at the unseen, to talk about it and to revel in it.”

Come back later in the week for our extended interview with Brit Marling.

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