Brit Marling is a talented actress and writer on the rise and Steven Yeun is probably best know for playing Glenn Rhee on “The Walking Dead,” but they both have a great new film called “I Origins” that hit theaters this weekend.
The film tells the story of Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), a molecular biologist studying the evolution of the eye. He finds his work permeating his life after a brief encounter with an exotic young woman (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) who slips away from him. As his research continues years later with his lab partner Karen (Brit Marling), they make a stunning scientific discovery that has far reaching implications and complicates both his scientific and spiritual beliefs. Traveling half way around the world, he risks everything he has ever known to validate his theory.
Read our roundtable interview with Brit Marling & Steven Yeun below:
I understand that you and Mike have like a history.
Brit: Yeah I met him Georgetown University. He was 19 and I was 17. We were like children, like infants. His short films we used to make with our friends a lot were the things that drew us together and really wanted to make me do this for a living. And so a lot of deep history and rich history and it’s amazing to know that he’s growing in his work. It’s amazing when you can really trust the director, when your director is also your best friend that you have known for like 15 years, you can really really trust that person on set and when we are getting the notes that just plays and he really knows me like how we work best, how to push you, and how to protect you and its been a lovely collaboration, especially crafting a narrative together and trying to tell the story of a husband wife partnership that was really quality, that know each other’s worlds and when he has to go off in search of his former lover to prove something they have been doing scientifically, she’s not the traditional wife “No you can’t leave, you have to stay here and help me with the baby,” no you go, go do it.
Steven: Oh that was really good sass.
Brit: The sassy wife. I should have played that that would have been better. But of all people you play sassy.
Steven: Oh yeah I elevate the sassy throughout my character.
So since you went from lab assistant to wife, your character is not secondary, how do you think your character is shaped by what has been years in the movie?
Brit: That’s interesting actually because you see the 3 of us grow up and you see contact with 3 people that met in a lab that were young people and then 10 years later what happened to them. You see the route that Kenny goes on. He goes into the business end of science. Karen and Ian get together and kind of go in the direction that you’d predict them. But it was really fun telling their story and watching them mature and grow and not making any judgments on the first love that you’ve had. The puppy love is not less important or valuable as the marriage love that you had later, or a love that’s more mature. You love at different times in your life with different people and that’s complicated.
I realized that that was a real lab you could work in, how was that for you guys?
Steven: It’s nice to always have something practical there. I’ve been in that situation in college, working with stuff like that. It’s fun to immerse yourself in an environment like that. I don’t know, Michael and Brit really get to do more of the hands on stuff with the pipets. I wanted to play with the pipets so bad.
So did you guys do any research for the film?
Steven: Research? You know what’s funny about my character Kenny, is that I think I know him, like the perfect mash up of like a Wall Street Guy, but someone who went to academia for altruistic reasons, he’s like my cousin and my other cousin combined, like Dan and Mike combined. My cousin Mike he’s a banker and my other cousin is a social scientist. So he’s in a lab and the other is you know grinding it out on Wall Street … I’ve lived it, this competitive nature and Kenny is that guy who went into science with an interest in it and love and he saw everyone else just pass him in life. Not in that industry but like my cousin can afford a BMW and he bought a condo and he has a kid and it’s all great. And he has to pay fees and sees past himself and now he’s geared to let me get that money. How I want to live, get that money and that’s his obsession. And that’s why there’s even that moment where he finds out that it might not be the truth and he crumbles and I wanted to definitely play that.
I think the first half does a really good job of setting up the characters and in the second half it’s not an unbelievable turn that your character goes into the business end and starts to make money while you and Michael Pitt stuck with the science and the work on the eye.
Brit: Yeah I love the movie scene that they have; it’s actually my favorite scene. It’s like old friends come together and one’s making a lot of money and living a total baller life and the other two are kind of working it out and she’s pregnant and he’s writing his book and you see that thing where each is trying to feel where after many years they can’t help but measure their lives and compare and contrast with each other. There’s the people that you don’t see for ten years and you can still take the piss out of each other. I just came back from London and I keep using British words and some people have no idea.
Steven: You know what’s really fun now that you thought about it, I really love this job, this industry, this film, because you often if not all the time run into art imitating life in their art and you know those scenes when we were in the lab, the dinner scene, or even when we were at home, it was funny how we just flowed when we rolled and it was so fun and we just like riffed on it. And the cameras weren’t even rolling we were just into the scene. I love that because on the editing room floor I’m sure there’s a lot of my stories that I just made up.
Brit: But that’s the amazing thing, when me and Mike were there you just kept riffing and improvising and monologging and I was just so drawn in. It was better than anything in the movie (laughter). Well all that ended up inside the scene, it was there, you could feel like the scene when he comes to the house and you’re breaking apart his database that time, you could feel that those two people have known each other, like he’s seen you wasted and picking you up in a car and there’s was just that richness and depth that was in it.
Steven: In such a short amount of time.
Is that apart of Mike’s process of directing, allowing you guys to improv certain things and mold it into that certain scene or take to. Improv is that something that he does?
Brit: I think that definitely improv enters into some places and I think definitely in me and about letting actors play and I think Michael Pitt and I had a scene where we needed to argue about India and we would just play. And play over and over again. And sometimes he would be shouting, sometimes I would be shouting, and sometimes I would win and he would be there just sequencing it and when he sits in front of a play taking notes and synthesizing something from that. That didn’t happen for every scene but sometimes you’re looking for and trying to get at something you always feel that with me and Mike that we would be getting the best version of the scene, however we get there even if that means I’m embarrassed. A scene that I’m working on and play and see what pops up. He is kind of about finding it and does a version of that moment.
Steven: I thinks that’s what the joy is when Mike works is that we hash stuff up and then it might not even be there when we show up on a day and he has that perfect, kind of, juxtaposition of knowing how film works, how to edit, but also knowing and giving you the freedom and that vision. You just throw everything you thought before, the last night, at him and he digests it and comes back 5 minutes later. It’s awesome and it makes you feel like you can do no wrong which to me as an actor is paramount, I don’t like being uncomfortable with things, like right now. (laughter)
Are you guys, in your approach to life, more science side or more spiritual?
Steven: I was raised in a very spiritual household, but I also loved science and I don’t know if I can compare one love to another. It’s more like a happy harmony I can find in these things. The beauty of it all is that you don’t know and that’s kind of the point. At least from a faith stand-point you don’t know. That Icarus climb, but I don’t know we are always finding out these things. Did you here that Reddit thing, you know what that is? I was on Reddit, and they do that science update now, the weekly science update.
So are you more scientific?
Brit: No I think that Mike and I are really similar, which is why we’ve been so attracted to each other’s work and having been close with him for so long, and so have one foot firmly in the real world and one which is totally in fantasy and abstract concepts and I just see that some things are so much closer than I initially thought. That science fiction is always fantasy, well not in general. It’s always a fantasy; it’s just science is just what’s going on right now. It’s always improving and advancing, so sometimes it’s fun just to take it a little bit farther and a lot of those ideas end up coming into reality. Everybody feels something about the human eye, something inexplicable about it. And the story sort of plays with that right now that when you look there’s just some people when you meet them, there’s just something that you know that in away you’ve met with each other and it’s fun to reach a logic based idea to articulate that. It ends up provoking the non-logical part of you ultimately, tricking you into thinking that it’s real.