Unpacking the wonder of “feminist quest narratives”.
Jacket and dress COACH
I call a friend—a film programmer at a repertory movie theatre in New York— before I talk to Brit Marling. “Ah. She has great hair,” my friend says. I start, surprised that I have to google just to double check. Like most gifted actors, when it comes to her “looks”, I remember only the planes of her face.
When an actor graduates valedictorian of Georgetown—or should I say, when Brit Marling graduates valedictorian of Georgetown and turns down a job offer from banking behemoth Goldman Sachs, and goes off to Cuba at 19 with a friend to work on a film, then spends the next decade co-writing and co-producing films with two friends she met at Georgetown, starring in the majority of her high-minded film projects about serious young people struggling to make unusual connections with strangers (Sound of My Voice, Another Earth, The East, all Sundance hits)—you forget that having good hair, and a symmetrical face, factored into her fate. “I can’t just be a story teller with my body,” she says matter-of-factly.
Telling, perhaps, that in the transcript of our conversation the word “myth” comes up five times, and “feminist quest narratives” for whole paragraphs, but never once anything material, nothing you can touch, except a paperback book. (She too caught Ferrante Fever.)
(LEFT) Dress BALENCIAGA
(RIGHT) Shirt SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO
Instead, she talks seriously about being drawn to people who feel that their projects are so overwhelming that they may “dissolve” under the pressure. It doesn’t give me much pause to imagine Marling a figurehead on a boat crammed with her ideas, on the choppy seas of Hollywood. “We are so far behind in female narratives you don’t even know what the fuck it looks like,” she vents serenely, almost excited. “Do you ever feel like in the murkiness of all of it you only know what something is not?” she asks, and then waits for my answer. The answer, I think, is already in her work, where feminist narratives look a lot like a preoccupation with the friendships of disenfranchised Americans who want a spiritual feeling. There’s a deep belief in miracles at the core of each of these stories that strikes me as unusual. And a patience in finding these miracles, both by the character and by the writers, that seems a miracle in and of itself.
Listening to Marling talk so sincerely, I never once raised my eyebrows despite spending an hour discussing “unseen worlds,” and how “we’re just so limited in our understanding and I think that’s kind of a divine and incredible thing.” It’s a typical reaction to her work. It wasn’t until someone told me that I even realised The OA, Marling’s sleeper Netflix hit, is, on its face, about a group of strangers using modern dance to stop a school shooting by accessing another dimension. (I first saw Another Earth, which Marling co-wrote and starred in, when it premiered. A story, on its face, about a young woman who is released from prison, with a doppelgänger on another planet that she wants to meet.)
Jumper and dress COACH
Marling apologises only once in our interview, prefacing an anecdote by saying she uses it a lot, perhaps warning me that it will show up in other interviews, but I can’t help but share it. Both for being an example of the kind of thing Marling would bother repeating for ease in interviews (it’s a mouthful), and how eloquently it distills her writing process:
“The metaphor we use quite a lot is the idea that the story already exists as a prehistoric skeleton and our jobs as writers is to get a big shovel and dig it out. I like finding all those bones and dusting them off and trying to stand the whole skeleton up. If you haven’t been a very good digger then you have missing pieces of the knee bone or you have missing pieces of the neck. You have to get everything out for it all to fit together, and make it separate from you.”
She has organised a life around building “handmade stories”. Fighting the fact that “language is so limiting”. Proverbially “putting on the overalls and a hard hat and just trying to write a good story”. (A masculine disguise makes sense—slipping under the Hollywood radar with these gems has been her reputation.) The 34-year-old actor lives in Silverlake so she can wake up and go directly to the writer’s room for season two of The OA, and grapple “how to make that experience survivable in terms of mental health and in terms of physical health”.
She talks about balance. About figuring herself out without “over correcting”, about feeling especially weary of technology. But I keep thinking about how casually she says she was in a “pyromaniac club” as a kid. I like to imagine the kind of balance she’s seeing is really symmetry. The kind you only get if you build a wooden house, and then light a match, and watch it burn.
(LEFT) Jumper COACH
(RIGHT) Jacket, trousers and shoes GUCCI
Taken from the Summer 17 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.