Brit Marling burst onto the scene a year ago with the film Another Earth, which she starred in and co-wrote with its director, Make Cahill, a friend of hers from college. Now she's teamed up with Zal Batmanglij, another friend from her college days, on Sound of My Voice. The two co-wrote the screenplay, and Marling plays Maggie, the leader of a small cult which has been infiltrated by two documentary filmmakers, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) who are trying to expose Maggie, who has made some pretty extraordinary claims about her origins. But as they stay involved with the group, both of them start to find a place for themselves. At the same time, they're forced to make decisions about Maggie, and whether or not they believe what she's doing and saying is real.
Marling spoke to Upcoming-Movies.com about the new film.
Upcoming-Movies.com: I made a conscious effort not to know much about this film going into it, and I was glad I did. I felt like not having a sense of what it's really about helped me to enjoy the story that much more.
Brit Marling: I'm really glad to hear you say that. We keep saying that this is a film that's easier to enjoy when you don't know much about it. The less you know about it, the more fun it is to watch in a theater.
When I prepped this interview, I actually went back to the one we did for "Another Earth," and I found myself coming up with a lot of the same questions. At the end of that film, in many ways it's open to the audience's interpretation, but you told me at the time that you and Mike knew exactly what the ending was. In the case of "Sound of My Voice," it seems like it's up for debate, but I feel that the ending actually tells you the entire story.
Brit Marling: I love what you're saying. I agree with you, in that I think that everything is there, in the sense that the story really belongs to Peter. It's about his arc and his journey. He goes through an experience that really puts him under a kind of duress that reveals something to him about himself, that, I think, he didn't realize. In that way, the story is kind of traditional story in a closed sort of arc. To Maggie, and what the audience comes to think and feel about Maggie, people emerge thinking that she's one thing or another. But I think it's important to leave that open in the sense that it's a movie really about belief and faith, so if we came down on one side or the other, we'd be robbing the audience and Peter of the chance to believe.
But you guys know the answer, right?
Brit Marling: Yes. True.
Right. And I think I know, too. But I'm not going to ask you what it actually is.
Brit Marling: I'm glad! I'm glad!
Now, you co-wrote this one and you co-wrote "Another Earth." I'm wondering what you were able to take from the first experience and use in this one?
Brit Marling: A lot of the takeaway from "Another Earth" was being a small group of people making something. That smallness actually gives you a lot of freedom, in terms of the places you can go, and the things that you can infiltrate, and the tremendous production value that lies in being nimble. It allows you to get into all kinds of spaces that would be harder to do when you're operating with a huge crew and a massive budgets and all of the rules and regulations that go along with it. We definitely brought that into making "Sound of My Voice." From an acting perspective, I think that every time you try to do something, you always learn something about your craft. "Another Earth" was interesting because I was reminded that if you think it or feel it, the camera can read it. You don't really have to push on that or press, or worry that it's not enough. That's a lesson I'll never forget.
Now, when you were putting this together, did you always see yourself as Maggie? Essentially you wrote yourself a supporting role.
Brit Marling: We always saw me as Maggie in the writing room, and I think I was drawn to that character because she was so different from me. She was so out there and it was so extreme, and I always like to take something on that I'm a little nervous about, that I'm not quite sure how to pull it off, but somewhere, in wrestling with it and in the homework, you find something that makes that person tick. Then hopefully you have a way to enter that feels authentic.
Do you know what that was for Maggie?
Brit Marling: Yeah. Totally, I do. In the beginning, I was thinking a lot about the effect that Maggie has on people, and that was sort of intimidating. How do you act charismatic? It's a weird thing to think about. How do you have people be so devoted to you that they're giving you their blood? That's a tall order. If you think a lot about those eternal effects, it keeps you on the outside of things. What broke Maggie open for me was to begin to act the questions she might ask. Why do I need this attention? Why does it feel like oxygen, like a necessary thing just to breathe, to be doted on. Once I got to the center of her vulnerable side and her need for love, that felt like an honest way in, rather than a caricature of a cult leader.
The ending finishes the story, but it also makes the audience work. People seem to have a hard time with ambiguity in movies these days.
Brit Marling: Yeah. I think this is the kind of movie that Mike and Zal and I watched in college, when we were watching films and thinking about making films and showing each other films that we felt were important. Those movies that leave room for you, the audience, to join the filmmakers in this imaginary world. Also, films that married a blockbuster sense of spectacle or scope or awesomeness, you know, a muscular plot in a sense. Pure entertainment, in what we watched in the arthouse films that we loved, with substantive character and story and scenes and thinking. Flip-flopping between these kinds of films, and going, why can't we bring these things together? Why can't a movie have a muscular, entertaining, pulpy plot with a substantive plot and thinking and daydreaming? I think these movies all come from that well that we were drinking from in college
I think you see that in television these days, especially on cable. I think it's harder to do in today's film framework.
Brit Marling: I think it is happening more often on TV, because you're given the space and time to develop an idea. Now, the land of filmmaking is extreme. You're either a $100 million movie based on previously written material, or something that has already done half of the marketing, or you're a micro-budget film. But I think we did notice, at Sundance, that most of the films we say were very ambitious in their storytelling. There was no navel-gazing. They were movies that had a lot of breadth and imagination to them. They were all high-concept ideas, and I think it's really cool that this generation of filmmaker is thinking that way.
One of the things that we also talked about in terms of "Another Earth" was that when the film was done, many audience members were thinking about big forks in the road of their lives. Is there something you think people will come out Sound of My Voice thinking about?
I think that this film opens up for people, two things. One of them is community, or the idea of community, and a conversation about alienation and being trapped in your own ambition. Peter is so ambitious, he wants to make a documentary, so he goes and joins a cult. He and Lorna are in this relationship but they both seem really alone in the relationship. There's a lot they don't know about each other, that they're not sharing. I think they're both drawn to this group to expose it, but ultimately they both find something compelling and interesting in the idea of belonging and having some sort of tribe. Not feeling so on your own. So I think it provokes a conversation about that. And I think that people are interested in the idea of belief or faith, and the idea of the unseen. Perception, maybe, the way that so much of the film can be interpreted one way or another. Is there a possibility for extraordinary unknowable things around us, or isn't there? Those are some of the things I've heard people talking about, but I'll be really curious to see what happens when the movie meets with a larger audience.
Now, we know how the movie ends, and we know that this will leave audiences thinking whatever they will about Maggie, about who she is or what she is or where she's from or where she isn't from. But let's say the operation that ends the movie doesn't go down that way. Do you know what happens next?
Brit Marling: That's a good question.
You don't have to tell me what it would be, I just want to know if you know what it is.
Brit Marling: We do, actually. In fact, we leave a lot of room, if the audience should so desire, I could see this story continuing. I think that there's a lot of places to go with it. But it wouldn't be a good idea to say what any of those things are now. But yeah, when Zal and I work together we go really deep into the past and really deep into the future, and then we take a slice of that and start telling the story. Hopefully that's why everybody is given the story.
Release Date/s: 4/27/2012 (Showtimes & Tickets)
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Official Site: Official Site for The Sound of My Voice
Cast & Crew:
Starring: Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Brit Marling, Avery Kristen Pohl, Davenua McFadden, Kandice Stroh, Richard Wharton, Alvin Lam, Christy Meyers, Constance Wu, Matthew Carey, David Haley and Jacob Price
Directed By: Zal Batmanglij
Written By: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij
Produced By: Shelley Surpin and Brit Marling
Sound of My Voice Synopsis:
Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), a couple and documentary filmmaking team, infiltrate a mysterious group led by an enigmatic young woman named Maggie (Brit Marling). Intent on exposing her as a charlatan and freeing the followers from her grip, Peter and Lorna start to question their objective and each other as they unravel the secrets of Maggie's underworld.