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Brit Marling on Fighting For Her Life in the Civil War Drama 'The Keeping Room' (Exclusive Trailer)

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Brit Marling (The East, Arbitrage) finds herself mired in a grim, violent past in the above new trailer for The Keeping Room, a period drama set in the waning days of the Civil War. Marling plays Augusta, who along with her younger sister Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and slave Mad (Muna Otaru), are forced to protect themselves from two renegade soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) roaming the rural back roads of South Carolina as the war is winding down.

The movie debuted last year at the Toronto Film Festival and has since received warm reviews. Written by first-time screenwriter Julia Hart and directed by Daniel Barber, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for his live action short The Tonto Woman, The Keeping Room will make its way into theaters on Sept. 25.

We spoke to Marling about how she landed such a gritty role and the difficulties of the movie’s “pressure cooker” shoot.

What drew you to this role?
Augusta isn’t like any other female character I’ve ever read. She’s confident and brave, but also there’s also something very tender and feminine beneath all of that. She’s had to become something of a fighter.

What was the casting process like?
A friend of mine called me and said, “I went to high school with this girl who wrote a script… When I read it I thought you are Augusta.” I rolled my eyes. I remember reading the first 10 pages. It was two o'clock in the morning and I just couldn’t stop. I read the whole thing twice in one sitting. And then I wrote emails to my manager and agent asking, “How can I play this part?!”

Why do you think your friend said you were perfect for the part?
We’d had so many conversations over the years about the question of the female point-of-view in any writing — even in a novel, let alone in screenplays. It’s so arresting to see something written by a woman about a group of women and to have it be really thorough and insightful. I think she read it and knew I’m more often than not turning down things because I feel some sense of responsibility.

Could you cite a situation where you’ve turned down a role?
So much of it has swung toward more franchised filmmaking. There are a lot of great movies that are made that way, but I think sometimes the roles for girls in those are an afterthought. The other version is the girl who’s in a bodysuit tied to a chair, but then somehow manages to drop kick a ring of assassins. It’s cool, but it’s kind of the same sort of thing in a new package. None of it is actually physically possible. What was really cool about [The Keeping Room] is there’s no moment in the movie that’s physically impossible. It all feels real.

How did you keep those more intense scenes believable?
Daniel Barber, the director, paid very close attention to this on set: He was always saying, “You’re holding a gun. Don’t turn a corner like you’ve seen people turn a corner with a gun in movies.” You have to unlearn all of that and try to get to a place where you think of how terrifying these moments would actually be, how paralyzed you would be in the face of potentially being shot or having your home invaded. I think we tried to be true to that and also tried to be responsible to how horrifying, how extraordinary, and awful that violence is.

How difficult was the shoot?
In the days leading up to shooting, I was waking up before the sun and training for two, three, four hours on horseback, then going to rehearsal, and then going to [costume] fitting, and going back to horse training… It was so physically overwhelming. There would be scenes where everybody would have held it together, shooting in the heat in that hot keeping room with the door closed to keep the sound right for, like, five hours. The scenes would be really intense because the stakes are so high in the movie: Around every corner is a life-or-death moment. By the time we opened the door to the keeping room and stumbled into the twilight, people would just burst into tears.

What is a keeping room?
These were common [in the South] — rooms that were the kitchen, but also a hearth, where everybody would always be gathering. [On set] it was just a tiny wooden room with all the actors and the cameras and the lights — everything’s crowded in there. [Laughs.] It got to be a pressure cooker, but you kind of wind up using that stuff in the film. The really tough shoots tend to make the better movies.