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» Brit Marling on ‘The Company You Keep’, Living Off the Grid, and Surviving Her Twenties

by Joshua Sperling, published on April 5, 2013

Brit Marling. Photography by James Orlando

I first became aware of Brit Marling a year ago, when I had coffee with the writer and actress to talk about her breakout films The Sound of My Voice and Another Earth—both of which had premiered side-by-side at Sundance, making her the first woman writer/actress to have two films at the festival. Since those auspicious beginnings, things have only spiraled upward for the actress. She was cast as Richard Gere’s daughter in the financial drama Arbitrage, and appears this week alongside Robert Redford and Shia Labeouf in The Company You Keep. The film follows a group of aging radicals (played by a class reunion of all-star Hollywood boomers) reckoning with their youthful days in the Weather Underground. Marling was handpicked by Redford for her role as a young activist—a kind of next-generation heir to the thoughtful, Hollywood left.

Redford’s compliment is spot-on. On May 31, Marling and writing-partner Zal Batmanglij return with an eerily resonant political thriller of their own—The East, about a renegade Anarchist collective taking vengeance on corporate hotshots. When we meet this time to talk about her work, it’s high up in a midtown hotel. As we both acknowledge, there’s something bizarre about talking radical politics in a corporate suite, but it’s indicative of how far—and how quickly—she’s come since her breakout Sundance season two years ago.

So I saw The Company You Keep and The East on the same day.
No way. What was that experience like?

It was fascinating.
What did it make you think? They’re such interesting companion pieces.

It made me think a lot about our generation’s relation to the ’60s. It must have been crazy to work on one film and then the other. It’s like the year of political radicalism.
It’s funny because Zal [Batmanglij] and I had been researching and writing The East when I got the script for The Company You Keep. And so I had seen the Weather Underground documentary as part of the research for The East. And I had watched it and had been really moved by them, and particularly been moved by the idea that they held themselves so accountable for things that were happening in their time that weren’t necessarily happening to them. They were rebelling for their brothers and sisters in the Black Panther movement and for what was happening in Vietnam, but they weren’t actually the people who it was happening directly to. And yet they felt the responsibility to create the beginning of a—which is totally what the group in The East is wrestling with. It’s the same question. Is it okay to hurt people if you think the end leads to a greater good? And then there’s the whole idea of an eye for an eye justice. This corporation poisons us, we’re going to poison them. This corporation spies on us, we’re going to spy on them? And does it really end up leading to a better world?


It’s really interesting. I’ve gone through some periods off the grid, dumpster diving and the rest of it. You know, there’s this new exhibit in Chelsea that follows hobo kids. And what’s interesting is that if it wasn’t for that exhibit a lot of adults or middle-class people wouldn’t even know that subculture existed. I can imagine that with The East when you first proposed this idea—and you ended up getting some pretty prominent people to sign on—but did you have to educate them a bit about it? Did they think it was a fantasy?
It’s really true what you’re saying. It’s so interesting that you had that experience. And I really wonder what people from that community are going to think about it, because I agree with them that there’s a very interesting question of what does it mean to make a movie about this subject matter within a system. Is that it’s own culture jam or not? I don’t know the answer to the question. The script was a real litmus test for people, because people were either totally drawn to the script or not. But a lot of people were just like—I have to do this. Ellen Page was like that, for instance. I know she spent time on a permaculture farm in Oregon. And the same with Alex [Skarsgaard]. I don’t think Alex knew as much about the culture, but he was incredibly fascinated by the idea of portraying somebody who is operating in this anti-hierarchical system. But of course there is this quasi-hierarchy. How do you avoid the natural, charismatic leader that always comes up in these groups even when they’re anti-hierarchy? That was I think an interesting challenge for him.


I was just talking to Antonio Campos and Brady Corbet this morning. It does seem that there is a young generation emerging that can feel as at home in alternative spaces as in a hotel like the one we’re in.
I love what you’re saying. I think you’re getting at something that The East is about, which is the millennial generation is doing something really weird. You and I both feel like we’re operating in this space, and we’re also dumpster diving and we actually don’t see those things as being that dissimilar. And Antonio Campos and Sean Durkin—their club is doing that too. And I think it’s in The East. There’s Sarah who’s a corporate spy—that’s about as mercenary and ambitious as you can get. And then there’s Benji, who’s the leader of an anarchist group living in the woods and scavenging everything. Maybe these two people are actually not that dissimilar. Benji and Sarah have a lot in common, and you could very easily see them switching positions—Benji being the corporate spy and Sarah running the anarchist group. I think what you’re saying is so interesting because our parents—or even like The Company You Keep—I’m not sure that generation was having that dualism. And I think our generation is having this dual identity where we’re straddling it, and we’re trying to figure it out.

Source: bullettmedia.com

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