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Brit Marling: Former Banker Turns Indie Starlet In 'Another Earth'

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BRIT MARLING

Brit Marling, the star and co-writer of the new sci-fi indie drama, "Another Earth," isn't used to the whole interview thing yet.

"This is like musical chairs," she laughed, as press and studio reps shuffled in and out of a room at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan. "It's a little crazy."

Attention is something she can probably get used to. The 27-year-old Marling shines in her feature debut, and while her character in "Another Earth" is both introverted and reserved, the real Marling is anything but. Ethereal and talkative, with the piercing blue eyes of classic Hollywood stars, she also possesses an inherent thoughtfulness and curiosity about the world that sets her apart.

Fame doesn't concern her much. Instead, she seems more enamored with process, and the projects themselves.

"You try to get into a space where your imagination is so strong that you can really erase yourself," she told The Huffington Post last week. "I get a real high out of that."

"Another Earth" -- which imagines a world where a duplicate Earth is orbiting our own -- was co-written by a college friend of Marling's, Mike Cahill, who also directed, edited, and shot the film. Cahill and Marling -- both former economics majors at Georgetown -- were years apart at school, but immediately took a shine to each other. When Cahill asked her to collaborate on a documentary, "Boxers and Ballerinas," Marling dropped out of school, and headed to Cuba with him.

Though the two of them flew by the seat of their pants, they developed a close working relationship, and Marling realized that, though she appreciated the documentary format, she craved the storytelling and narrative that original feature films provided.

"The power of communicating comes from getting really good at story structure so you can smuggle the things you're thinking and feeling across," she said. "We were obsessed with the poetry of the filmmaking, but I think a lot of the things we were feeling at the time weren't clearly articulated yet."

"Boxers" attracted some industry attention, but her parents insisted she head back to Georgetown and get her degree. She did, and even worked at Goldman Sachs for a summer in a nine-to-five job as an investment banking analyst. But that experience only confirmed that a life spent in offices wasn't for her.

"What I liked about economics in school was the probabilities and econometrics and regressions, which all come very naturally to me," she recalled. "I liked making my brain work that way. But when I was working at the bank, that whole part of it went away. I started thinking: how have I arrived at this place? It's easy to just go on autopilot and let the current take you somewhere, and I could feel the trajectory like 30 years in the future, I could see what I was going to be, and I didn't want to be that person."

It wasn't long before she moved out to LA to live with Cahill and another mutual friend and filmmaker, Zal Batmanglij, who was attending the American Film Institute. Marling had acted in high school and decided she wanted to get back into it, but wasn't quite sure how.

"I was looking around for things to read, to do, but being an unknown girl in LA, they were... not so good," she laughed. "We sort of started to teach ourselves to be screenwriters, in order to do the things we wanted to do."

After acting in one of Batmanglij's AFI short films, Marling became "obsessed" with performing again, and immediately set upon creating her own work. She hunkered down with screenwriting books and forced herself to write every day, and what she came out with was not one, but two feature length screenplays -- "Another Earth," which she wrote with Cahill, and "Sound of My Voice," which she wrote with Batmangli. Both films were made, and both premiered at Sundance back in January. "Another Earth" won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, and a Special Jury Prize at the festival.

Despite Marling's obvious writing talent, acting is what she ultimately wants to pursue. She said she couldn't imagine writing a part and giving it away to another performer.

"[Acting] is the greatest challenge for me," she said. "Like way harder than econometrics! Way harder. There are moments you feel like you're really in it," she leans forward, "and that's what I imagine time travel would feel like. Time stops, its suspended, there's no past, no future, you're so focused in a present moment, and it just stretches out like taffy."

Her performance in "Another Earth" had to be both grand and minute in a character tasked with conveying major ideas with subtlety -- a tough job for an actor in her very first feature-length onscreen appearance.

The first half of the film is essentially silent, as Marling's character attempts to reconcile herself with a drunken car accident that claimed the lives of a man's wife and son. She gets out of jail, takes a job as a janitor, and tries to rebuild her life, as well as that of the man (played by William Mapother of "Lost" fame) whose family she killed. At the same time, there's that whole "other Earth" thing. While a melancholy, personal story is playing out on one level, on another is a philosophical sci-fi drama, the specifics of which we learn more about as the film moves forward.

Cahill, the film's director, said that this marriage of forms was intentional. As long as viewers connected emotionally with the characters, he said, they'd follow the film's unique science and mystery in any direction.

"We also felt that the kind of movie we wanted to see, we weren't seeing," Marling added. "A lot of time you're going to these big summer movies, and you're given a sense of wonder about the premise, and then you go to a smaller indie drama and you're given what you need emotionally, but you miss the breadth of a concept."

Marling's career looks to be striking a similar balance. Though she doesn't look to be shying away from the indie world completely -- she is working on other feature projects with Cahill and Batmanglij -- she recently shot a guest spot on NBC's "Community," and confirmed a co-starring role in the new Richard Gere film, "Arbitrage."

She's excited about taking on characters she hasn't created herself, about "losing herself" in other people's work. "That's the fun part of being an actor," she said, her eyes wide. "It's also the terrifying part. You can't be fully self-reliant. The way a musician picks up a violin and just plays, you can't really do that with acting. It's also the thing that makes it beautiful."

Fox Searchlight will release "Another Earth" in select cities on July 22, and Marling's other film, "Sound of My Voice," will hit theaters later this year.

WATCH Marling discussing her process in this video below. Via Fox Movie Channel and AOL.

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