Brit Marling, co-writer and star of “The East,” called her Patty at the junket for the eco-espionage thriller, but most of us know her as Patricia Clarkson. Audiences and directors have gushed about the character actress since her breakout role in 1998 as Greta, the druggy German lover of Ally Sheedy’s character in “High Art.”
Unforgettable parts followed, in films directed by A-listers that included Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent”), Martin Scorsese (“Shutter Island”) and Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Whatever Works”). Then she had her first lead role at 50 in the terrific “Cairo Time.”
“The East,” which stars Marling as an ace undercover agent named Sarah who infiltrates an “eco-terrorist” group called The East, also co-wrote the savvy script with director Zal Batmanglij. At the junket Monday at the Crosby Hotel, there was a mutual admiration dynamic going on between Marling and Clarkson.
Marling, who began as an actress, talked about why she became a writer. “It was out of desperation,” she said. “It was hard to figure out another way to start working that didn’t involve taking all your clothes off or being chased by somebody with a chainsaw.”
“Or both,” Clarkson chimed in.
Marling said the other reason she started to write was “for other people that you are dying to work with. Getting to work with Patty on this was such a big deal. I remember falling in love with Patty’s work from ‘High Art.’”
In “The East,” Clarkson, in another stand-out role, plays Sharon, Sarah’s cold-blooded boss, whose interest is protecting the giant corporate companies that hire them. She warns Sarah — too late — not to “go soft.” Clarkson plays an elegant, sexy and smart woman with ice running through her veins, whose portrayal will stay with you long after the credits roll. Clarkson commented with rare understatement, “I don’t have a million scenes, but what’s there is choice.”
On the surface, a movie about a commune of eco-activists who dumpster dive for food and agonize about environmental abuses, doesn’t sound so appealing. But “The East” is primarily a sexy, espionage thriller that features heart-pounding action scenes. The cast also stars “True Blood” actor Alexander Skarsgard as the charismatic leader of the environmental cult, and Ellen Page as his hard-nosed second in command.
Their group strikes out at the polluting pharmaceutical companies and chemical manufacturers by giving the offending CEOs a taste of their own medicine. They call this “jams,” or actions where they make corporate heads swim in polluted water or ingest their own harmful drugs. In another memorable scene, they slime the walls of their mansions with oil.
(By the way, I don’t know if Skarsgard and Page are dating, but they looked very chummy at the junket; they sat close together and answered questions as a pair. Page also stared intensely at Skarsgard, who did most of the talking. They are very cute together anyway.)
When a journalist asked Marling if she worried that the movie would be misconstrued and that extremists might think it was a call to break the law for a good cause, she said, “What’s been interesting in the responses, whether you’re in the right or the left side of the spectrum, is that right now everyone feels frustrated by corporate malfeasance, and just the inability to hold them accountable.”
She continued, “What the movie is really about is the kind of rebellion or the spirit of rebellion where people stand up and say okay, enough is enough, you dump oil all over the coast of Louisiana, we’re going to go dump oil in your house.”
Clarkson added, “I’m born and raised in New Orleans. Trust me, no one is giving up. Texas just brought in a new lawsuit, but it is staggering that someone can commit this crime. It is a crime, and not one person is in jail yet. The person who should be in jail is the head of BP, but he never will be. Do you realize how the CEO’s home would look? I tell you, the head of BP? If I could just have black tar and black oil and dead birds,” she laughed, “for him to wake up one morning and to just be covered in dead pelicans.”
“Oh my God!” Marling laughed. “What’s funny is Patty obviously should have been the leader of the anarchist movement.”
So what’s next for Marling and Clarkson? “I have to go spend some time thinking about that,” Marling said. “I’m writing a couple of different things. Mike [Cahill, “Another Earth”] and I are writing something together, and Zal and I are writing something together, and I’m writing some things on my own. So hopefully, I’m going to take a month off and sit in a cabin in the woods and see if I can come up with something good.”
The actress/writer/producer also stars in a few high-profile projects, including “The Green Blade Rises,” directed by A.J. Edwards, in which she plays a young Nancy Lincoln.
As for Clarkson, there are, happily, no dead pelicans. “I’m doing a beautiful film. It shoots in New York and stars myself and Sir Ben Kingsley. It’s based on a gorgeous, gorgeous Katha Pollitt short story, and it’s called, ‘Learning to Drive.’ It’s about a middle-aged woman who at 50 learns to drive in New York City, and it’s, of course, a metaphor and it’s quite yummy. It’s absolutely yummy. And the man who directed, ‘Get Low,’ Aaron Schneider, is directing it.”
In “Learning to Drive,” Kingsley, who in “Elegy” played Clarkson’s lover, now plays her driving instructor. In the Pollitt story he’s Filipino, but in the movie version he is a Sikh. “A beautiful Sikh, who sought political asylum many years ago, and he teaches me to drive. The comedy ensues!”
Clarkson laughed in her trademark whiskey voice. Is this a cousin to ‘Driving Miss Daisy?’ someone asked. Clarkson laughed, “Oh no! Well, a very distant cousin. No. No!”