Brit Marling talks to Glass about her directorial debut in A Murder At The End of The World 

Glass talks to filmmaker Brit Marling about her directorial debut, her love of storytelling and her unconventional route into Hollywood  

“It’s so a part of how I processed life and reality that I didn’t even notice its inception,” asserts Brit Marling. “[Storytelling is] just how I’ve coped with being alive from the beginning.” It’s difficult to even begin to scratch the surface of who she is without this understanding. Storytelling is an inherent, almost innate and some may even say a preternatural part of who Brit Marling is and has become. 

“I found these books I’d written when I was six years old – they’re painstakingly illustrated and I clearly had some adult type them out,” she recalls, explaining one whose plot followed a group of friends trying to rescue kids who had been kidnapped and shrunk by a woman using hairspray. 

Photographer: Shane McCauley

Pretty far out for a child but Marling’s imagination never stuck inside the walls of reality. Finding solace in the limitless bounds of sci-fi and fantasy, her previous projects like The OA, I Origins and Another Earth realigned and redefined what it means to think ever so slightly outside the box. 

Now 41, the American multi-hyphenate (scriptwriter, producer, actor, and now, director) is easily described as a personified encyclopaedia of storytelling. For someone whose trajectory was Wall Street, her ending up in Hollywood and famed for escapism makes for an apt plot twist. 

“I went to Georgetown to study economics. I was going to be a banker,” she explains. “I stumbled into a video art class and started making short films.” Though this seems quite black and white, truth be told is that Marling had fallen in love with acting in high school but her mother had persuaded her to take a more fail-safe route. “She was, like, that’s not a serious profession.” 

Photographer: Shane McCauley

Now finding herself equipped with “mini DV cameras which could mimic a 24-frame rate”, a computer and Final Cut Pro, she began experimenting with the art of filmmaking. It was here that she created and produced a short called Eloise, which she showed to fellow student and film buff Mike Cahill. 

“He was, like, this is good. this is really good. I think it was the first moment when a light went off,” she describes. “I didn’t think ‘oh I could do this’ because I was very set on my economics trajectory, but I did think ‘oh wow, I moved this person with this, and it felt very unexpected.” 

After a series of collaborations during their time at university as well as an internship at Goldman Sachs, Marling got a call asking to co-direct a documentary with Cahill that would follow a migrating group of boxers and ballerinas from Havana to Miami. She graduated as her class valedictorian and accepted the offer.

Photographer: Shane McCauley

The third collaborator of the Georgetown trio became Zal Batmanglij who, after gaining a place at the American Film Institute, persuaded Cahill and Marling to join him. “He was, like, I’m going out to Los Angeles, let’s all pile in the car and go together.” Back then and in their early twenties, that shimmering glimmer of West Coast hope that sat on the horizon was enough for the graduates to pack up their belongings and just leave.

“It really became about the three of us trying to figure out how to break into the industry. Like how do you get your scripts read? How do you get an audition and then get a part? How do you get someone to let you direct?” But after a tsunami of no’s, Marling found herself on the Las Vegas strip as a cinematographer on MTV’s True Life: I Hate My Plastic Surgery questioning whether she had made the right decision. 

Photographer: Shane McCauley

But every hero needs to hit a low moment. This was hers. “After a couple of years inside that struggle, we were, like, why don’t the three of us just make movies the way we made them at Georgetown? Just picking up the camera ourselves, running and gunning it,” she says. “So, we made our first two films that way.”

Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, in which Marling also starred, found themselves at Sundance in 2011. Heavily nominated and critically acclaimed, they were getting somewhere. But those films didn’t only garner them attention, it also accumulated a huge, loyal audience. 

Characterised for their otherworldly and somewhat sci-fi takes on reality, the trio paved their own creative path by embracing the unconventional. Shows like The OA (2016-2019) penetrated through the lacklustre appetite for content on streaming platforms, proving that the blueprint for quality still relied on good writing and an element of fantasy. 

Photographer: Shane McCauley

Marling’s new project, A Murder at the End of the World, marks a transition for her, handing over the reins of playing the main role to take charge as a director. “It really does feel personal in a way,” she answers when I ask why. “I put a lot of myself into [the protagonist] Darby and a lot of the complexities and darkness I have had to navigate inside. I feel like I was at a place where I could finally articulate that understanding.” 

This new mystery series follows hacker Darby Hart (Emma Corrin), who along with eight other guests is invited to spend a week at a tech-billionaire’s remote retreat. Here one of the guests is found dead and Darby is adamant to prove it was a murder.  

Photographer: Shane McCauley

Illustrating twisted stories with contrasts is Marling’s forte. Life and death. Truth and lies. Past and present. Even cold and hot. “What’s cool about Iceland and the desert as a juxtaposition is that they’re both these flat, treeless spaces where winds just come howling in across the plains,” she begins, explaining the relationship between the two timelines in the plot with her choice of set. “It feels like the wind of the present is going into the past and vice versa. These timelines are constantly animating and reanimating each other.” 

Every artistic decision was meticulously thought through and deeply personal. “Stepping into the role of director felt like going back to what I had been initially exploring at Georgetown,” she says. “I was a dual major and my other major was photography. I fell in love with it when I was 16.” 

Photographer: Shane McCauley

Admitting she had cheated her way into a camp in Maine one summer by lying about her knowledge of darkrooms, Marling discovered the importance of light. “It really changed my life and understanding of photography as just being about capturing and sculpting light.”

When it came to A Murder at the End of the World, she knew that light had to play the biggest role in her puzzle of contrasts. “The lighting really tells you the story of how this young woman [Darby] lives in the company of ghosts, like this is all she thinks about.”

Marling’s arrival to the director’s seat has come at a pivotal time in Hollywood. Emerging from a backdrop of female filmmakers at the forefront of cinema, A Murder at the End of the World with a female director and an unconventional female lead feels normal for once. 

Photographer: Shane McCauley

“We’re at a watershed moment,” she acknowledges. “I sometimes think the world feels really out of balance. And a lot of why it’s out of balance is that we have been deprived of the feminine perspective. We’ve been operating at half our intelligence level because we’ve been existing so squarely inside of male storytelling. I’m so excited for the future. I can’t even imagine where it’s going to be in 10 years from now”. 

Having spent nearly two decades dodging roles that would pigeonhole her, learning how to make films with tiny budgets and translating her life experiences into make-believe scenarios, why did Marling stay fighting to pioneer a path in film?

“The day the crew falls in love with the story, you will feel it,” she asserts. “It’s like lighting in a bottle. It’s an inflection point and after that every day it feels like you transcend something together. You all become greater than the sum of your parts … You all believe you are making something of value. That’s why I do it”.  

by Imogen Clark

FX’s A Murder at The End of the World is now streaming on Hulu in the US, on Disney+ Internationally and Star+ in Latin America. 

Photographer: Shane McCauley

Stylist: Megan Gray

Make up: Fiona Stiles using Chanel Beauty

Hair: Laini Reeves using Hair Rituel by Sisley Paris

Manicurist Mazz Hannah using Chanel and Dazzle Dry

Look 1: All clothing GIVENCHY

Look 2 & 3: All clothing ALAÏA

Look 4: All clothing LOUIS VUITTON

Look 5: All clothing MIU MIU


Look 7: All clothing PRADA

Look 8: All clothing DIOR