Aspiring actress Brit Marling went from having no agent or manager, armed with a “funky headshot” with virtually no resume to eventually co-creating, writing, and starring in the Netflix series The OA. In an Off Camera Show interview, she describes a moment she realized she needed to start creating her own projects and roles.

Moving to Los Angeles, Marling hoped to find audition opportunities to portray strong, independent women in adventurous films. But, like so many other actresses, she was dismayed by some of the vacuous and degrading roles being offered to young women like herself. She recalls:

“Here’s an open call for a horror film somewhere in the valley, and you go. I only needed to go through a few of those before I realized one, you often weren’t given the script to audition. The implication is you’re so desperate for the part that you don’t even care how you’re using your voice, your body, your mind inside a narrative—just so long as you’re in the narrative. You don’t care if the moral of that narrative is like deep misogyny to women; you’re just trying to get the part. At some point in one of those lines, I was standing there and looking at us, this group of women, all desperate for this role—a bad role in a bad thing—in skirts, hair blown out, a lot of makeup on, standing in the hot sun, waiting to come in and do these two lines that are like, ‘Oh no! Don’t! No, no—help! Stop!’”

Questioning why she was even bothering to try out for a role she didn’t believe in, Marling soon understood she had two choices: leave her Hollywood dreams in the dust or start creating her own material. “How many moral compromises can you make before you start to chip away at the thing in you that is even worth giving? … So I think for me, I was suddenly like, ‘Wait, okay. I think if I want to go about acting, what I really have to go about is writing,” she recalls.

Having graduated from Georgetown University in 2005 with degrees in economics and studio art—and being the class valedictorian to boot—she found support from her college friends and creative collaborators, Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij. Between classes, they’d made short films for fun, and now, the trio lived together in Laurel Canyon, each trying to break into the business in various ways, to little avail. Marling shared in a 2013 Georgetown University senior convocation speech:

“Finally, we all stopped trying to break in. I stopped auditioning, we all started writing. We decided that we didn’t need to wait for permission or validation to make our work. That all we had to do is go back to making films the way we made them at Georgetown.”

 Marling would go on to become the first woman to have two films premiere in the same year during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival: Sound of My Voice directed by Batmanglij and Another Earth directed by Cahill. She co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in both films. From there, Marling and Batmanglig continued to create The East and as well as the Netflix series The OA—both of which she produced and starred in and Batmanglij directed. 

In the sci-fi spiritual drama The OA, Marling plays the previously blind young woman named Prairie whose sight was mysteriously restored after a prolonged disappearance. Described as “unusual and daring,”  The OA was intended to be a five-part story told over the course of five seasons, but Netflix canceled it after just two.

While the series had developed a small but devoted following, Netflix blamed high production costs for the abrupt stop. Unhappy fans who are invested in seeing the three remaining seasons have been protesting, even putting up crowdfunded billboards and organizing mass cancellations of Netflix subscriptions. Indeed, the streaming giant holds exclusive rights to the series as producers, so protesters want to see the show renewed or released to another network. In response, Marling made a heartfelt post to Instagram to share her appreciation for the devotion of her fans but made it pretty clear that The OA’s days are over. And, no doubt, Marling will be able to create more storylines and roles for herself in the future.

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