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Q&A: Chicago native 'Another Earth' star/co-writer Brit Marling

MoviesDrunk DrivingWilliam MapotherRichard GereMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Here’s something you didn’t expect to say: “Hey, remember that episode of ‘Community’ where Britta thought that girl was a lesbian? Well, the actress who played that girl now stars in a spectacular new sci-fi movie that she also co-wrote.”

Get ready to say it.

Starring “Community” guest star and Winnetka native Brit Marling, “Another Earth” is a terrific, low-budget story of regret and redemption guaranteed to rattle you.

In the film opening July 29, the 27-year-old actress plays Rhoda, whose plans of going to MIT are derailed when she has a few drinks, gets in her car and distractedly kills a woman and her son. After getting out of prison four years later, Rhoda pretends to be a maid and develops a surprising relationship with the widower (William Mapother) who survived the crash. This all happens as a duplicate of Earth, dubbed “Earth 2,” appears in the sky.

Marling, who’s certain there’s intelligent life beyond Earth and expects an extraterrestrial arrival to be peaceful (“I think if they’re smart enough to figure out how to find us, they’re smart enough to know that aggression isn’t the best way to meet someone,” she says), doesn’t think “Community” fans will recognize her in “Another Earth.”

Probably not. But she could be a familiar face to many upon the opening of the recently wrapped “Arbitrage,” in which Marling plays the daughter of characters played by Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon.

At the James Hotel, L.A. resident Marling talked about filming naked in cold weather, meeting a duplicate of herself from Earth 2 and the surprising lack of successful saw players.

You say you like winters in Chicago. How much time have you spent, as you are at one point in “Another Earth,” naked in the cold?
Not any time except this movie! We shot that scene three times, and I think there are three different edits there, together. One of them we shot in the snow in Connecticut when there was like three feet of snow on the ground and I just like trudged out into this field and got naked.

You were actually naked?
I was full-on derobed. And another we ran out of snow and so the next time … there was some ski mountain in Connecticut, which was like a mountain of fake snow and people doing downhill stuff, and so we snuck in when that was closed and did it again. And there was another time where we had to do the close-up again and we didn’t have any snow, so we got it from the back of a hockey rink. When they clean the rink they push off all the ice and it looks like snow. So we took a bunch of that in a pickup truck and put it in [director/co-writer Mike Cahill’s] mom’s backyard and flattened it out. It was a lot of cold work.

And after the third take you just said, “Enough!”
After that I was like, “I don’t care! There will be no more snow nudity!”

If you had a chance to meet a duplicate of yourself, would you want to?
Yes, I would want to do that. I think I would be curious about the various mutations of Brit. What would Brit, the doctor version be like? [Laughs.] I think we’re all curious as to how we might turn out if we had made different choices along the way.

What would you say? Like, “Did you also get a parking ticket in 2007?”
[Laughs.] Totally. I guess I would be like, if she looked and acted very different from me, so I knew that she’d had a totally different experience, I would just want to get to the bottom of that. I’d be like, “What are you passionate about? Are you in love? Have you ever been in love? What do you want to do? What do you want out of life?” I’d be so curious to know … what happens when you take the basic raw goods of who you are and then put them through a different filter?

How tempted would you be to trade places with her like an episode of “Sister, Sister”?
[Laughs.] That’s so funny. That is a real fantasy, the prince and the pauper, or the idea of having a twin that you meet up with and you get to go live their life. I forgot about that fantasy, the doppelganger fantasy. Would I want to take on her life?

Yeah, how much would you want to do a switcheroo?
It depends. If she showed up and seemed really buttoned up and severe, I’d be like, “I don’t know that I want your life.”

“I think I hear my mom calling me; I gotta go.”
[Laughs.] “Really nice to see you, but I gotta get back on my Saturn-5 rocket to Earth 1.” “Seriously, call me!” And then you give her a fake number. It’s like, “So good to meet you, but not that great.” “Find me on Twitter,” but then you’re like, “Peace.” But yeah, if she seemed cool, if she seemed more open and spontaneous and she seemed like she had some edge or something about her that was dark and complicated, I’d be curious to figure out why and to live her life for a bit.

What would you need to bring with you on your trip to Earth 2?
A videocamera.

That’s it?
Yeah. I’m trying to think, is there anything else?

I think you’d get there and be like, “Dammit, a toothbrush!”
Sunscreen! We’re so much closer to the sun here! [Laughs.]

In “Another Earth” there’s a musical performance on the saw. Why are there not more well-known saw players out there?
This is a really good question. I don’t know. Mike met that lady, the saw lady, she calls herself the Saw Lady--and I guess she can call herself the Saw Lady ‘cause there aren’t many of them. When you’re the only one, then you’re allowed to call yourself the Saw Lady. I think it’s because it’s actually really hard to produce the sound. First of all, it’s difficult to just bend the saw in those contortions and then even when you draw the bow across it, producing something that’s really resonant, it’s really hard.

Wait. The Saw Lady?
Mike was going through the subway in New York and this woman was playing and she trained William on how to hold the saw and how to draw those notes from it.

So he can play it now?
His saw is in all of the right positions, and he was producing a tone, but the tone is actually in the film it’s from the Saw Lady herself playing it.

‘Cause there is room for a Saw Man.
I mean, we could have Saw Man. I wonder if William would want to take that on, I’m not sure. Maybe Mike will become the Saw Man.

I can see the press release now: “I’m giving up film to play the saw.”
“I have found my true love.”

Like Rhoda, you’re in prison. How do you pass the time?
I love your questions. Your questions are so imaginative. How would I? I think I would just leave the space in my imagination. I would just create imaginary characters and I would try to convince my cellmates to play along with me.

That can only end well I’m sure.
Or it can end really badly. It probably wouldn’t end well.

Plus:
How to punish someone whose crime is an accident like Rhoda’s: “I don’t know because part of it is that the person really punishes themselves. There wasn’t any intent there. And there was a recklessness, certainly, in the drunk driving so there should be some punishment. And you need some punishment because the person needs that to work through the grief and the guilt and the loss and of course the victim needs that too. But the funny thing is that the victim and the perpetrator, they also kind of need each other, oddly. They had this experience that has bound them together that somehow only they understand. Whatever it is, it should be something that’s a lot more open and honest and talking and about communication. I don’t think that putting somebody in a cell and depriving them of light and the natural environment and depriving them of human contact and social interaction is somehow a deterrent or that it will make you into the kind of person who will behave better on the other side. I think there are other ways to deter people. I think Rhoda would have done a lot better with her car being taken away and maybe doing some kind of manual labor with a group of other young people who are in similar circumstances.”

On her iPod: “Gil-Scott Heron. ‘I’m New Here,’ that album, so good. There’s this song, ‘I’ll Take Care of You,’ it’s beautiful. What else? Discovery. I love dancing to that music. I love music that makes me want to dance and makes me happy to be alive.”

If she’s moving back to Chicago: “That would be cool, wouldn’t it? Oh my gosh. I would love to come back and make a movie here. I love this city. This is what I feel like is home when I come back here.”

Where she goes when she comes back: “Oh my gosh. The Museum of Contemporary Art because I love that museum, and I love being by Lake Michigan. And I love being here in the winter actually which is strange, but I guess ‘cause I’m living in L.A. now, something about the extreme of the weather seems so appealing to me.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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MoviesDrunk DrivingWilliam MapotherRichard GereMassachusetts Institute of Technology
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