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ANOTHER EARTH poster‘Another Earth’

Q and A interview with director Mike Cahill and star Brit Marling of sci-fi film

By Michelle Tennis

We’ve all had those fleeting, or more than fleeting, thoughts about what it would be like if we had taken another path in life or what it would be like to live in an alternate universe. But what if there was another planet similar to ours? What if there was another one of us out there in the universe? Would we want to meet that person?  “Another Earth” (Fox Searchlight) touches on these subjects and poses the question, “If you could meet another you, what would you say?”.
The independent, Sundance award-winning film is now playing at select theaters nationwide. Directed by Mike Cahill and co-written and produced by Cahill and Brit Marling, the film follows the lives of Rhoda Williams (Marling), a bright young woman who aspires to be an astrophysicist and composer John Burroughs (William Mapother), who has reached the pinnacle of his career. On the eve of the discovery of a second earthlike planet, tragedy strikes as the lives of both characters collide.
Cahill and Marling dropped by and delighted the audience recently at an advance screening of the film in Scottsdale, Ariz. Below are some highlights from that brief question-and-answer session.
(Q): How did you make that transition from being economics majors [at Georgetown University] to artists and filmmakers?

(A: Cahill): Very quickly [laughs].Filmakers Brit Marling & Mike Cahill
(A: Marling): I saw a film when I was a lowly freshman and Mike as a very cool senior at Georgetown. I saw a short film that he that he co-directed with our friend. It was so beautiful and it took my breath away. I basically stalked him all over campus after that to see if I could somehow be a part of it. And then we started making short films together.
(Q): You both were documentary filmmakers and collaborated on a documentary before this debut feature. Tell us about that.

(A: Cahill): For about five or six years we made documentaries. I worked for National Geographic for a while and then Brit and I went Cuba and we made a movie called “Boxers and Ballerinas,” which is about a boxer and ballerina that live in Havana and a boxer and ballerina that live in Miami. And it’s funny because we never really saw the parallels between that documentary and this film. But someone brought up recently that ‘you’re looking at parallel lives: people who live in Cuba and people who left and lived in capitalist Miami.’ So that was kind of interesting. So we worked and built our chops making non-fiction movies for a living. Then about 2 ˝ years ago we wanted to make a fictional movie and we wrote this project together.
(Q): When you were shooting the film, how much of the script changed during production?Shot from movie ANOTHER EARTH

(A: Cahill): It does evolve. I think you make a film three times. Basically, you make it in the writing stage, in the shooting stage and then you make it in the editing room. Each one of those stages has different evolutions. So when we wrote it, our first cut of the film was 2 hours and 40 minutes. Really long [laughs]. This one is 90 minutes. So there was a lot of stuff that we ended up leaving on the cutting-room floor. Which it’s difficult to decide what goes. But ultimately we tried to keep the story tighter. So we lost a bit of the science… that stuff wasn’t very emotional…we kind of hoped the audience would not require it so much. But it does shift a great deal from the writing to shooting to editing.
(Q): Obviously when shooting an independent film there are budget limitations. How did you get William Mapother on board to play one of the lead characters?

(A: Cahill): Very luckily. Actually when we started, our casting directors presented a bunch of male leads for the part and no one had the very specific energy and vibe and everything that I was looking for. So we began shooting without him. And in the summertime after we had shot a bunch of the movie, our casting director asked, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about William Mapother? We just met him and he’s a really great guy.’ What I loved about him from previous roles [“Lost” and “In the Bedroom”], two roles that he’s very well known for, he has this intensity on screen, this almost intimidating energy. He imbuesBrit Marling & William Mapother fear in those around him on screen in some ways. And I wanted to harness that. I loved that idea. I saw underneath all that he had this warmth, beauty and joy. Piece by piece of that outer shell could be removed. So he read the script and he really loved it. And we talked for a few hours and the three of us met in a deli.
(A: Marling): Then Mike said, ‘So I know you really love this script, but we have no money. And also she’s never been in a movie before. But do you still want to do it?’
(A: Cahill): And he said yes. He did it for nothing, basically. Just for points. 

(Q): He [Mapother] has such a broken quality, too. He’s tough, but he’s also vulnerable. He seems shattered at a certain level. You [Marling] exuded that as well. Was that difficult and challenging for you? You don’t come off as necessarily a shattered or broken person?

(A: Marling): Why thank you. I guess it was challenging. I spent a lot of time daydreaming, meditating on what it would be like to spend that amount of time in prison. And I watched a lot of documentaries on women in prison and read a lot of essays and poetry. By the end of all that [daydreaming] I decided that it was the most cruel and inhumane punishment imaginable. That you would really lose whole pieces of your humanity being sort of isolated and confined like that. So I think a lot of that experience really formed who Rhoda was. I think we also talked about during the writing phase that we didn’t want Rhoda to be a victim. And I think with the horrible accident that happens in the beginning that it’s very easy for her to be wallowing in self-pity through this movie. We talked that we wanted Rhoda to be really active, even in her grief. And she’s always attempting to move through it or figure out how to construct a meaningful life despite what’s happened. Hopefully some of that came off.
For more details on “Another Earth,” visit

Michelle Tennis, social media manager and feature writer for, can be reached at or follow her on twitter @CinemaCLIPS. 

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