Brit Marling lets Hollywood know that she's not just another pretty face

Brit Marling stars in "Sound of My Voice."

Brit Marling stars in "Sound of My Voice."

Peter and Lorna, a young Silver Lake couple, delve into the underworld of a cult that meets in the San Fernando valley. At the center ...

Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use

Length: 85 minutes

Released: April 27, 2012 Limited

Cast: Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Brit Marling, Avery Pohl, Richard Wharton

Director: Zal Batmanglij

Writer: Zal Batmanglij

More info and showtimes »

ORLANDO, Fla. — Her screen debut was greeted with profiles describing her "stunning" beauty (Interview Magazine) and her "otherworldly" good looks — a phrase that turned up in most of the rapturous reviews of "Another Earth."

The New York Times headlined a 2011 profile of Brit Marling "How to Succeed in Hollywood Despite Being Beautiful."

Which gets a snort out of Marling, 28, whose second film, "Sound of My Voice," has her playing a mesmerizing and gorgeous cult leader in Southern California.

"Please," she says. "I'm a TOMBOY. I do outdoor stuff, wearing the same pair of jeans for an entire week."

Born in Chicago, growing up in Orlando, she claims she never gave her looks a second thought. Even in college (Georgetown) studying economics and photography, trading on her appearance was the further thing from her mind. When she approached student filmmaker Zal Batmanglij, all she wanted was "a chance to be a gaffer, to help with the lighting. Because, you know, I was a photographer."

But Batmanglij had other ideas.

"Even 17 year-old Brit just glowed," he recalls. "The camera sees that. I was aware that I was in the presence of something different. But I was too young to realize just how rare and special that glow is."

He cast her in his short film, "The Recordist." Marling and another classmate, Mike Cahill, shot a documentary about Cuba, "Boxers & Ballerinas," that played to some acclaim on the film festival circuit.

But with "Another Earth," directed by Cahill, Marling became THE face of indie film. Batmanglij, who co-wrote "Sound of My Voice" and directed Marling in it, has watched his friend and the star of his 2011 Sundance movie, just now reaching theaters, become an indie film phenomenon.

"She's someone who doesn't like to draw too much attention to herself," he says. "She hides it, during the day. But the camera picks it up. Her relationship with the camera and with the audience is going to be interesting to watch."

Marling has been a cinematographer. She writes. She produces. And even if Hollywood sees her as a star in the making — she has performances in Robert Redford's "The Company You Keep," "Arbitrage" and Batmanglij's "The East" in the can — she has other ideas.

"In Hollywood, if you're a young man in your 20s, you at least seem to be driving the action in the film you're in," Marling says. "But young women? We play victims. We're total second-class citizens. If it's a horror movie, you're dead in the first act. They stick you in a bikini, or nothing at all. How do start out in the business as actress and not get totally raked over the coals and thrown away by the time you're 30? It seems impossible.

"Writing and producing seemed like a way to ensure that I'd begin in a way that I wouldn't be embarrassed by."

"Sound of My Voice" came from the culture shock she and Batmanglij experienced when they moved to Los Angeles after college. Marling "noticed how people in this city of desire and dreams also have disappointments. People seem to be in search of meaning, in search of their tribe. That seems to make Southern California a hotbed of cult activity."

They pondered "how a woman would lead a cult. Maggie (her character) ... leads by presenting a different face just about every time you see her. She's a mystery, and she needs that mystery to keep her followers coming back for more ... She has an uncanny ability to see people. Everybody wants to be seen. Everybody."

Loving science fiction, and having some experience in the genre ("Another Earth" premiered at Sundance the same year as "Sound of My Voice"), they blended this blond cult leader to a sci-fi reason people are secretly flocking to her. Maggie says she's from a few decades in the future.

"Science fiction is about the realm of possibilities, and when we put it in the real world, there's a kind of magic to the way you see things," Marling says. "We liked daydreaming about what a time traveler would really be like, or what somebody who fakes being a time traveler would think of. Would she be weird, or would she be affected by the organisms that are in the air in our time?

"Either she really is from the future, or she's a very sophisticated con artist, clever enough to have thought this thing through."

"Sound of My Voice" is earning the same sorts of glowing notices that the ethereal "Another Earth" did, and Marling confesses that attention makes it hard to resist acting's siren's call.

"I really started writing because I wanted to act, and I didn't see a way to get into that in L.A. without writing something for myself," she says. And she's not alone — with Greta Gerwig ("Nights and Weekends"), Kristen Wiig ("Bridesmaids") and Lena Dunham ("Tiny Furniture"), we're seeing more women trying to go this route.

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