Orlando’s Brit Marling thinks before–and while–she acts, which keeps her film career going strong.
By Roger Moore
The hardest thing for a young actress is finding work she "wouldn't be embarrassed by." Being a smart, beautiful blonde, Orlando's Brit Marling realized that long before she stepped in front of a camera. Hollywood ingénues are horror film fodder. "They stick you in a bikini, or nothing at all," Marling complains.
And she wasn't having it. Chicago-born, Orlando-raised, a graduate of Dr. Phillips High School's magnet arts program, Marling looked for a different way into films. And if it took her a while to make it, no worries. She had a plan.
"She's always been a very serious, studious person," says her mother, Heidi Marling, who runs a Central Florida real estate development company with her husband John.
The Marlings warned their daughter of the odds against success in the entertainment industry. They encouraged her to get an economics degree from Georgetown and to intern with Goldman Sachs, which she did. But they weren’t surprised, Heidi says, that Brit took her shot at show business. And that she's making it.
"I'm just learning as I go," Brit Marling, now
30, says. "I'm a sponge, soaking up everything
I can from my collaborators."
She met the first of those collaborators at a college film festival, where she marched up and introduced herself to filmmakers Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij.
"Even 17-year-old Brit just glowed," Batmanglij recalls.
Cahill and Marling teamed up to make an acclaimed documentary about Cuba and Cuban exiles called Boxers and Ballerinas. They co-wrote Another Earth, a mesmerizing 2011 sci-fi film with a breakout performance by Marling. Then came Sundance Film Festival favorite, Sound of My Voice, starring Marling as a charismatic cult leader who claims to be from the future.
Critics started to rave about "the enigmatic blonde" (New York Post), a label that makes Marling giggle.
"Finding compelling and yes, 'enigmatic' female roles is difficult, which is one of the reasons I write parts for myself," she says. "That was the only way I could see how to go about it."
But now Marling is moving up the Hollywood food chain. Arbitrage, released in September, dressed her up as a high-powered Wall Street type, ready and willing to take over Dad's hedge fund empire but not willing to forgive his misdeeds. Dad was played by Hollywood heavyweight Richard Gere, while Oscar winner Susan Sarandon played her mother.
"She's smart, incredibly beautiful, and you can tell that she's thinking," Sarandon says of Marling. "That's really important—letting the camera see you think. Women in this business are encouraged to be sexual, flirtatious and be perfect looking. But not to think."
An impressed Sarandon then pitched Brit to play a younger incarnation of famed film beauty Julie Christie in the Robert Redford drama, The Company You Keep, about aged 1960s radicals being forced out of hiding. Marling would have to cede control, not writing her own script, appearing in movies she was not producing.
"When you're writing a script yourself ... you're limited by your experiences and the way you see the world," Marling says. "It's fun to walk in someone else's shoes, on another writer's landscape, for a while."
Having considered a career on Wall Street, Marling found that her character in Arbitrage was within her life experience, if a little outside her comfort zone. Her passive screen presence drew the viewer into her earlier films; in Arbitrage and The Company You Keep, she would play feisty women capable of losing their temper.
"I had played 'cryptic,'" is how she puts it. "I was ready to try somebody who's a little brassy."
If Marling is looking for a Hollywood role model, she can’t go wrong with Sarandon, who has navigated the shoals of stardom for more than four decades. Another person Marling idolizes is her Company You Keep director and co-star Robert Redford, whose Sundance Film Festival launched her career.
But Marling is determined to blaze her own trail. She co-wrote her next film, The East, with her college pal and Sound of My Voice director Batmanglij. Hollywood glory aside, indie cinema still has its allure.
Filming a scene in Arbitrage, dressed in designer wear and chewing out Richard Gere in New York's Central Park, with crowds of onlookers gathered to gawk and cheer Gere, gave Marling a taste of what real film fame could be like.
"It was fun," she says, "for a while. But I kind of hope I never get too much of that."