In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Brit Marling made the kind of splashy debut most actors would kill for, getting two critically acclaimed films into Sundance the same year, both of which she helped produce, starred in, and co-wrote (Another Earth and Sound Of My Voice). From there, she’s worked consistently in independent cinema, from playing Richard Gere’s daughter in Arbitrage, to an undercover operative in The East, to a dedicated scientist in I Origins, which re-teamed her with Another Earth director Mike Cahill. Her new film, the feminist Western The Keeping Room, just opened. When The A.V. Club spoke to her, she was a little frustrated and frazzled after getting stuck in a massive L.A. traffic jam—something which may have affected at least one of her answers.
Brit Marling: One summer, I remember having to find a job in a short amount of time, and going to all these restaurants and not being able to get a job at any of them because I didn’t have waitressing experience, and finally getting a job at Steak ’N Shake. Working there for like three months over the summer, it was just so… it was a brutal job. Being a waitress can be a very brutal job sometimes, and I remember during the training, the person said to me, “The redder the lips, the better the tips,” and that was like the only advice she gave me.
The A.V. Club: The New York Steak ’N Shake is a real tourist-centric one, too, so presumably that doubles the stress. Was it just the sheer number of people that made it suck so bad?
BM: Yeah, the number of people and just like the chaos—fast-moving, working late, and insane hours. That was a rough one.
BM: Not yet. I mean if I think about it, I guess, are these allowed to be… how long are these answers supposed to be?
AVC: They can be as long or short as you want.
BM: I guess the short answer is I feel like success to me is about feeling like I have done something in storytelling, where I’ve gotten close to articulating something intangible that I’m feeling, and I think I get closer every time, but I don’t know that I’ve done that yet. I don’t think I’ve stepped back and gone, “Oh, yeah. That is realized exactly as it was in my imagination.” So I think I keep looking for that. It’s a kind of healthy dissatisfaction. It motivates me to keep going, maybe.
AVC: So artistic success you’re still chasing, but was there a moment when you realized, “Okay, now I don’t have to worry about going back to Steak ’N Shake?”
BM: Definitely. We got really lucky when both Another Earth and Sound Of My Voice played at Sundance and they both sold to Fox Searchlight and got to enter the world, and then suddenly I was able to start really working professionally as an actor and a writer, and that experience completely changed my life, so that was a game changer.
AVC: So you’ve got half-success feelings.
BM: It’s a villainous plan?
AVC: You could employ it for good purposes, but you could argue that they’d be selfish purposes.
BM: I’m thinking right now, just because I’m living in L.A., that I would get a giant magnetic vacuum and I would just suck all the cars into it, deposit them into a landfill, and make everybody have to start biking everywhere. I think a lot of people would think that was villainous because they would miss the luxury of the car ride to work, but I think we just need a new plan for transportation. It doesn’t make any sense anymore.
AVC: Does this have anything to do with you just getting stuck in traffic?
BM: Yeah, basically. We were 30 minutes late to get back here, and I was sitting in the car being like, this is just a dumb way to move people around. It’s really inefficient and horrible for the environment, and there’s got to be a better plan. So until we can figure out teleportation and light-beaming people places, I think I might just put on some spandex and invent a giant magnetic thing in the sky and just suck up all that traffic and deposit it somewhere.
AVC: That’s a good sort of Mr. Burns-esque way to screw with people’s lives, too.
BM: Yeah. It is. It’s very Mr. Burns.
BM: Oh, my gosh. What was I like as a kid? Okay, I’ll tell you this story. I got kicked out of a summer camp for telling too many ghost stories, because all the girls started crying at night in their bunk beds, because they said, “Brit’s stories are so scary.” Then they called me down to the front office, and my parents showed up to come and collect me from this sleepaway camp, and they were like, “Brit can’t stay here anymore; she’s terrifying these little girls.” So I got sent home for telling too-scary ghost stories to other 8-year-old girls. So maybe… I don’t know what that means that I was like? What is that kind of person? I don’t know.
AVC: You could argue that it means you love telling stories, or you could argue that it means you’re a little bit sadistic.
BM: Yeah. Which is it? I assumed that they were really entertaining. Maybe I was just going too far. Maybe the content was a little too dark and mature. Maybe I needed a different audience.
AVC: I can’t imagine your parents could get too angry at you for getting sent home for that, though. That’s like the best reason you could possibly get sent home from summer camp.
BM: Yeah, I think they thought that was pretty punk rock. They figured, as far as reasons to get kicked out of summer camp, this is a pretty decent one.
BM: I was madly, wildly in love with Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. And when I realized that Mandy Patinkin, on Homeland, was Inigo Montoya, it just blew my damn mind. I literally felt like he was going to be my husband until like a day ago. [Laughs]. I was so smitten with him. I thought he was so fearless and talented. I just loved that character.
AVC: Was it the kind of thing where you would draw his name on notebooks or something when you were a kid?
BM: I just wanted to sword-fight with him. I just wanted him to invite me over for a fencing lesson. I felt like that would be a really cool first date between Inigo Montoya and I.
AVC: He would realize that he loved you through fencing lessons?
BM: Exactly. Like, at first I’d be bad at it, but then there’d be a montage, and I’d get a little better, and then the next thing you know I’d have the upper hand and he’d think, oh my god, I’m in love with this woman. Maybe there’s a spin-off movie in there somewhere.
AVC: If you pitched it to him right now, he might be down for it.
BM: Yeah, he might be down.
BM: Who comes up with these questions? They’re awesome! I’ve never thought of any of these things before. If I had entrance music…. oh my god, okay. I’m thinking of so many things at once, I hardly know. There’s this song by Christine And The Queens. Do you know them?
AVC: Haven’t heard of them.
BM: She’s pretty rad. She’s a French singer and she is an amazing dancer, too. You should check out her music videos. She has this song called “It.” And if you watch the music video, there’s something thrumming and sort of sexy about it, and her moves are so awesomely androgynous, that when you said “entrance,” I just thought, oh, Christine And The Queens. She’s doing a proper entrance. So I might borrow that song and see if I could pull a few moves like hers, and that would be it.
[There doesn’t appear to be an official video for “It”—at least not one that’s been licensed to play in the U.S.—but we found a video for “Saint Claude” that features her dancing. So maybe watch the video with the sound off and play the Soundcloud track for “It” that we’ve included below. We tried it; it actually works pretty well.—ed.]
AVC: So you’d want entrance music where you’d walk in and give everyone a reason to be drawn to you, basically?
BM: I want entrance music that I can dance to. I would want something to move to. Is there any other way to make an entrance, really? I guess you could have a kind of drumroll fanfare, but no. I would want to dance my way into something.
AVC: As opposed to the Kool-Aid Man busting down the wall, “Oh yeah!” entrance.
BM: [Laughs.] Exactly. Exactly right.
BM: I woke up and the sun was just coming up, and then I did hair and makeup for a while, and then I went and started a whole day of talking about [The Keeping Room]. What’s amazing about talking about this film that is it’s actually—it’s so different that some interesting conversations really do get started. But I don’t know that there’s anything that happened so far in the day that was unpredictable or wild. Everything’s gone according to plan, unfortunately. But, you know, it’s only 5 o’clock, so I have great ambitions for the evening. I might really stir up some trouble around the screening and the Q&A and the after party. Things could get dangerous over there, so… Maybe the adventure remains to be seen today.
AVC: Well, hopefully somewhere in the middle of talking about the movie all day, did you eat something at some point?
BM: I did a fitting through lunch, which was not the coolest thing, but then I grabbed a can of peanut M&Ms, which I thought was kind of fancy because they weren’t in a bag, they were in a special can, and I ate an entire can of them, which is definitely more than those big bags of M&Ms. So I had peanut M&Ms, and a lot of caffeine. I flew in at midnight last night, and then I decided to read, and then write for three hours, so I’m running on like four hours of sleep and lots of peanut M&Ms right now.
AVC: Have you hit the point of starting to get little hallucinations yet?
BM: Yeah, 100 percent. I have almost no idea what I’m saying right now. It’s a very dangerous time. Anything could come out. Anything at all.
AVC: I wish I had more dangerous questions, then.
BM: They’re pretty dangerous, I think.
BM: I haven’t been. Sometimes people say, “Oh, you look a lot like Robin Wright Penn.” But only if my hair is down in a long, wavy thing. Otherwise I don’t really get anybody else that often. I wish I had a cool doppelgänger, but not yet. Maybe one is coming.
BM: That’s an awesome question. I think I would put that I’m really good at archery, and see if that opened a cool window into some job I never even imagined.
AVC: Surely there are jobs out there that still need people who can shoot arrows well, right?
BM: Don’t you think? I also have some skill from when I was a kid: My cousin was really good at training pigeons to go away and come back, so maybe like a kind of courier system of pigeons carrying secret messages. Just to take it away from the whole social media speed of communication, just pull it way, way back, to moving at the pace of birds flying with messages in invisible ink. I could maybe do something in that line of work, too.
AVC: Plus, if anyone ever tried to horn in on your business, you could take out their pigeons with your archery skills.
BM: See? We already have a plan, we have a model, I think we could turn a revenue in like two years. We don’t need that much money to get this started. I feel like we could put this together in a weekend. With a little bit of seed funding and a coop on the top of some building in Manhattan, I think we could really do something special.
AVC: We’ll draw it up over the weekend.
BM: Yeah. This could be a Kickstarter thing.
BM: I’m really into rocks. I have a really serious rock collection. Rocks and feathers and shells and strange found things in nature. I have a lot of those kinds of collections… and then not really anything else.
AVC: What does a rock have to do to make the Brit Marling collection?
BM: Sometimes they’re really ordinary, but they have a good vibe. You know, you’re hiking somewhere and there’s just the one rock that you pick up for some reason and you can’t even say for sure why that is. Is it a color or texture thing, does it have some sort of graphic design, is it just because that’s the one that was waiting for you? I don’t know. Then there are the more serious ones, where you roll up on a semi-precious gemstone somewhere, a gemstone fair somewhere in Pasadena, and you’re buying a weird, chunky, unpolished malachite or some strange crystal formation you’ve never heard of before. But I think that they’re so… I think there’s something mesmerizing about them, and just things collected from the earth in general. Maybe it’s just that these lives we live in cities seem so removed from the natural world that I just have some desire to keep pulling fragments of it into my house.
AVC: Do you associate ones that you have with specific memories?
BM: Definitely. Depending on how challenging they were to get. I remember there was one rock that—where was I? I was somewhere on the coast of California and I’d gone swimming in this river, and you weren’t supposed to, and I’d gone anyway, and the current was kind of fast and I was really getting swept down, and I found an amazing rock in the bottom of that river.When I look at that rock I’m like, “Oh yeah, that time I nearly got swept 10 miles downstream by myself while hiking in the woods.” So those ones really carry memories. Then the other ones you don’t necessarily remember as much. Or ones that were given to you by somebody who cares about you, who knows you’re a weirdo who collects rocks.
BM: Wow. This is a really good question. What do I really feel I must have before I go? I mean, I’m a sucker for french fries. I just love a really good french fry. So anything that invites french fries would be my last meal. It could be just a really great roast chicken… it could be anything, so long as it comes with a side of piping-hot, just-the-right-thickness salted fries. Then it’s all about the condiments. The right ketchup, the right mustard. My last meal is really just a vehicle for condiments.
AVC: Do you prefer the big, fat, thick-cut fries, or do you like the crispy, shoestring style?
BM: I think the sweet spot is right in between. You don’t want to get too thin and crispy, then there’s no potato in there, but somewhere right in the middle. Usually, for some reason, they taste better when they come wrapped in that wax paper or whatever it is. You know what I’m talking about?
AVC: Oh, totally.
BM: Then like that funnel, and they’re just pouring out and there’s grease everywhere? Oh, come on. I’m going to go get myself some fries after this conversation.
AVC: Sorry for talking you into them.
BM: It’s totally cool.
Bonus 12th question from Big Freedia: Are you happy with the way that you’re living? With the job that you have? Is it something you really want to be doing?
BM: Wow. It’s so awesome to be asked that question and to be able to answer yes. Yeah. What a profound gift. I totally love my job, and I wake up every day basically thinking about how can I do my job better. It never feels like a job. It’s hard, and it’s exhausting sometimes, but it never feels like—I would do this even if they didn’t pay me to do it. That’s a pretty amazing feeling.
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person?
BM: For some reason, I don’t know why this just popped into my head, but if you could design an amusement park from scratch, what would it be like, what would be inside it, and why? What would you want the person who went through that amusement park to experience?
AVC: So it’s not only just what would the rides look like, but what kind of feelings and experience would you want the person who attends your amusement park to go through?
BM: Yeah. Like how do you want to change them? Like it’s basically, if somebody gets to take a walk through your imagination, and the imagination of the rides of your mind, and the sort of, however you would design it, whatever experiences you think are relevant, like what do you want that person to leave with, having taken a walk through the landscape of your imagination? If you’re designing it from scratch, and you don’t have to borrow anything from any theme park that exists, if you were really making it up, what would that be?