How Majoring in Economics Helped Brit Marling Create ‘A Murder at the End of the World’

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Photo Source: Nathan Arizona

When Brit Marling first moved to L.A., she struggled to find the types of roles she wanted. It wasn’t for lack of trying; they simply didn’t exist. Only when she started writing her own scripts did she finally have the chance to play the kind of complex characters she’d always dreamed of. Now, she’s a co-creator, writer, director, and cast member of the FX on Hulu mystery “A Murder at the End of the World,” which premiered Nov. 14. Here, Marling discusses the limited series and how she hopes to create opportunities for future generations. 

You majored in economics in college. Does anything you learned back then apply to your current career?

Part of why I wanted to write [the show’s main character,] Darby, was to write for a young woman the [role] I wish had been offered to me when I was in my 20s. My economics background came in handy there: One of the skill sets you develop when you’re learning econometrics is how to whittle down…proofs so that you don’t have any wasted lines or wasted variables. You’re trying to be elegant with the math, [using] the fewest number of lines to say the thing that you need to say. Screenwriting—and filmmaking in general—is actually similar. It’s, like, the distillation of: How do you [create] the greatest impact or feeling [in only] a few scenes or a few frames?

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You cast Emma Corrin as Darby, an amateur sleuth and hacker who’s invited to a remote retreat by a reclusive billionaire. As a writer and director, how did you decide which part to cast yourself in?

I had wanted to direct for a really long time, but it’s really hard when you’re trying to build these ambitious worlds on TV budgets and timetables. An average day rate for shooting a one-hour drama would be five to six pages a day; we were often shooting, like, 11 pages a day. So [we were] just moving so fast that there was no way for me to be the kind of director I wanted to be, and be in front of and behind the camera. I needed to take a step back from acting [and play a supporting character] in order to take a step into directing in the way that I wanted to. 

Brit Marling on “A Murder At the End of the World”

Brit Marling on “A Murder At the End of the World” Credit: Chris Saunders/FX

And now you’re writing these complex characters that actors like Corrin can tackle.

I felt this real calling. The only way to really achieve anything through feminism is to think about it as a multi-generational project. It’s hard to achieve in one life cycle…the things that you as an individual want to do. But I feel like you can learn the things and then create the opportunities for people coming up after you. I can find my way into the director’s chair only because of all the incredible women who fought to find their way to that place before me. So, I get all the benefit of there already being some lanes and inroads into doing that, because Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, and all these incredible women have been there; and so I think I felt that a little bit about Darby. I felt this sense of: I want to write for a young person the role and the story, and a place in that story, that I wish somebody had offered me when I was in my 20s. I think Emma Corrin is a remarkable actor and just builds Darby out on a molecular level.

Do you have any career regrets or advice for your younger self?

I don’t know if I have any regrets; but sometimes in this industry, there’s a real desire to be validated by the system. And I keep feeling that it’s better to somehow stay a little bit outside, because that’s where the real originality and breadth comes from. I keep trying to encourage myself to make choices where I’m taking risks on myself or on other people—to do things that feel far out, and [to always be] ready to risk failure or embarrassment. That’s what keeps me getting out of bed in the morning and trying to tell stories: trying to reach for spaces that feel like they haven’t been so well-trod. It’s really hard to resist because all these things are nice; the safety and security of money in an increasingly fraught world is nice. It’s a little harder to try to stay wild, but I’m trying to hold onto that as best I can. 

This story originally appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Backstage Magazine.