by Christine Radish
The dramatic thriller Disconnect shows how ordinary people struggle to find personal connection in today’s world where modern technology is so readily available, and it can both unite and divide us. While the stories of strangers, neighbors and colleagues collide, the technology that we so often rely upon proves that it can result in unforeseen consequences for those around us. From first-time narrative feature director Henry-Alex Rubin, the film stars Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgard and Max Thieriot.
At the film’s press day, Collider spoke with actor Alexander Skarsgard at both a press conference and a 1-on-1 interview, in which he talked about what attracted him to Disconnect, how he got into the headspace for the character, the scene he was most concerned about shooting, his own experience in the Navy in Sweden, and how often he disconnects from technology himself. He also talked about the kinds of roles he looks for, how he feels about being on the hit HBO series True Blood for six seasons now, and whether he’s officially signed on for Tarzan (which was recently halted by Warner Bros.), as the title character. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: How did you come to this project? Did you audition for this role, or did you just meet with the director, Henry-Alex Rubin?
ALEXANDER SKARSGARD: I was in New York, shooting What Maisie Knew. My agent sent me the script and I just loved it. I thought it was brilliant. I thought it was so intelligent, well-written, relevant and an important story to tell, and a really, really great character that was something very different from what I’d done before and what I was currently working on. Lincoln in What Maisie Knew is a very different type of guy than Derek. So, it just felt like something new and fresh and interesting. I called my agent and said, “I’d love to meet with the director,” and 30 second later he was in my lobby because Henry literally lives next door to the hotel I was in.
So, he came over and we just sat and talked for hours about Derek and the relationship between Derek and Cindy (Paula Patton). I was already a fan because I had seen Murderball and thought it was brilliant, but even if you’re a great documentary filmmaker, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a great narrative filmmaker. There are fantastic documentary filmmakers that can’t direct actors. You don’t have to do that in a documentary, if it’s a real documentary. But, it was just a gut feeling. I just felt that Henry was so intelligent and so sensitive. He knew these characters and cared so much about the story that I just felt like, “I’m in good hands here. This is definitely a guy I want to work with.”
We talked a lot about it not being melodramatic or didactic. It’s not an anti-internet film. That’s not the story we’re telling. We’re telling a story about couples and people who are disconnected, for different reasons. The reasons Derek and Cindy aren’t happy have nothing to do with the internet. They’ve lost a lot. He came back from the war and he’s dealing with PTSD and he’s stuck in a job that he hates. He is emasculated. He was a war hero, but now it’s like, “What am I now?” That’s why it felt so important to me and so personal. I know a lot of guys that served overseas, and I know how difficult it is and how little help they get when they come back. I don’t know what’s going to happen to Cindy and Derek, but at least there’s some light there and some hope that they can find each other again. But, they are going to use the internet, and that’s not a bad thing.
How did you get into the headspace for this character?
SKARSGARD: For Derek, I saw the internet theft almost as a blessing in disguise. Up until that point, he has no control. He’s conflicted. He was a warrior and a hero, and now he’s a paper-pushing grunt. There’s so much guilt there and so much pride. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone about it. He can’t do that. So, the moment of taking control is when this horrible thing happens. Not that they have a lot, but they get the money they have, stolen from them. That’s when he comes back. That’s the moment where he takes control again. He’s suddenly a marine again, on a mission. There’s a spark there. Something happens that Cindy can see, in his eyes. For the first time, in a long time, he’s actually alive.
Does it help, when you’re doing material that’s this dark and intense, that you like your scene partner?
SKARSGARD: That was very important. Even in the first meeting I had with Henry, we talked a lot about it, and Paula wasn’t even cast yet. It was important to feel the love between Derek and Cindy. Even though they’re so disconnected from each other and they’re so miserable together, you have to root for them. You have to feel that there is, deep down, so much love between them, so that when they go on this road trip, you want the audience to be like, “Yeah, they’re finally looking at each other. They’re finally touching each other. This could work out.” Otherwise, what’s the point. You want to feel that there was something lost, not that it’s never been there.
Which scene were you most worried about shooting and pulling off?
SKARSGARD: My character is dealing with PTSD, and there’s a scene that was very pivotal, with [Paula and I] in the car, outside of Schumacher’s (Michael Nyqvist) house. They’re clearly not connecting, up until this point, but when they’re on this road trip, something happens. Derek, for the first time in almost a decade, he’s doing recon. He’s on a mission. He’s finally doing something. He’s not a paper-pushing grunt anymore. And something beautiful happens in that scene when Cindy sees that. Derek talks about an incident back in Iraq and Cindy just looks at him because he’s talking about it. What I loved about the scene was that it really had no point. It’s not a good story. There was no punchline. It was just this moment in time, when he was out there with his boys, doing absolutely nothing, and for some reason, he felt that, in this moment, with Cindy. There’s a moment where they, for the first time, really see each other. It could come across as an insignificant scene, but to me, it was one of the most important ones.
Did you do much improvisation on this film?
SKARSGARD: To Andrew Stern’s credit, who wrote the script, most of it is actually scripted. But, it’s very well-written, so it hopefully sounds very real and organic. That’s always what you want, isn’t it? You want it to feel improvised, like it’s just happening and they’re just saying what they’re feeling. So, most of it was scripted, but there were moments. Henry made us all feel very comfortable on set, and when you’re that comfortable, you allow yourself to take more risks and to be terrible in front of the camera. If you’re not comfortable, you’re going to play it safe. But, when you’re surrounded by someone like Henry and a great crew, and other actors that you feel comfortable with and are having a good time with, you take more risks, you’re crazier and you do something that doesn’t work at all, and then you just laugh and do something different. That’s also how you surprise yourself and find something new and fresh that’s unexpected.
Did your experience as a soldier help you understand this character?
SKARSGARD: Yeah. The script is extremely well-written and very intelligent and so relevant, on so many levels. The first time I read it, it felt very personal to me because of my own experience being in the Navy in Sweden. I also did a mini-series called Generation Kill that took place in Iraq, following a platoon of recon Marines, the first five weeks of the invasion. We shot that in Africa for about seven months, and I got to know a lot of the recon Marines when I was out there. So, when I read this, it just felt like Derek could have been one of those guys that was out there, and who came home and didn’t get the treatment and help that he deserved and needed. There is a lot of pride there. These are proud men and they’re warriors. They come home and feel like, “I’ve survived three wars. I’m not doing to go to a shrink and talk about my issues!” It’s a problem because they’re not getting that help. Derek does not open up, and he does not talk about it. That’s why it felt very personal, in a way. I know a lot of guys that are enlisted.
How do you handle your own experience?
SKARSGARD: The thing is that I was in a unit that is part of the Swedish Navy in Sweden. I did not come home with a lot of PTSD. We’re not fighting 16 wars. It was a very intense experience, but 200 years was the last time we were at war. I don’t carry that burden that Derek is carrying around.
Was it fun to finally get to see the final cut of this film, with all the different stories?
SKARSGARD: Yeah, it was so much fun! With Max and Andrea’s story, or Jason’s story, I could actually enjoy those. We shot the stuff with me and Paula first, so we were already wrapped before they even started the other storylines. I could actually just sit back and really enjoy watching those stories, which is very unusual when you’re in the film. I just think Henry did an amazing job. It’s incredible that he’s a first-time filmmaker. When you watch it, you can see how interwoven the three stories are and the pacing of it. He got inexperienced, young actors to be that good, and it’s not easy for a director to accomplish that.
Do you have any rules about technology at home, as far as when people can and can’t use it around you?
SKARSGARD: I’m a very lonely guy, so it’s just me. I wish I had someone I could tell to turn off their phone.
How much do you disconnect from what’s written about you on the internet? What do you do if you get a Google alert with your name?
SKARSGARD: I don’t get Google alerts. I stay away from my name. I don’t want to know. I’m not very active on social media. That’s an understatement. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, or anything like that. I think it’s wonderful that they’re out there. They’re fantastic. I have a lot of siblings and friends that use it, and it’s great for them. It’s such a connected world. When I’m on a plane, people know where I’m going before I even know where I’m going. People know where you had lunch yesterday, or who you had lunch with. So, trying to avoid sharing everything with everyone is my way of keeping something private in my life.
To actually turn off your phone when you go to your country house or you’re on vacation for a few days is important. I turn off my phone and just check it once a day. I turn it on and, if it’s an important message, I’ll call back. Otherwise, it can wait. I don’t worry about it with agents and managers because they’ll learn to accept it. If it’s important, they can leave a message and I’ll call back. Otherwise, I’ll call when I get back. For me, it’s really important to have that because life is crazy. You travel and you’re busy and there’s so much going on that it’s important to have those moments where you can breathe and you can just be present with the person or the people that you’re there with.
But, I don’t want it to sound negative or that I’m so like, “Oh, the internet is horrible!” It’s amazing! I have friends that are very active online and they’re saving the world. Kristin Bauer, a dear friend of mine, went to Africa to save elephants and she got all of her fans involved. It’s absolutely wonderful. You can use it in a way that’s actually really great. It doesn’t have to be about how amazing you are, or “Come watch my show!,” or “Look what I’m wearing today.” It doesn’t have to be narcissistic. To me, it’s not a didactic film about how horrible the internet it is, how evil it is or how it ruined our lives.
Actors who are on TV shows often talk about how they look for characters that are very different from their day job, that they can play on hiatus between seasons. Is it easy for you to find characters very different from Eric Northman?
SKARSGARD: You’d be surprised! I get a lot of scripts sent my way that are very similar, where they want me to play, basically, Eric Northman. Maybe without fangs, but it’s the same character. What’s the incentive? Why would I do that? If I just spent six months shooting a show, doing that, I want to do Lincoln in What Maisie Knew or Benji in The East or Derek in Disconnect – something that’s different. It hasn’t been about, “Oh, I’ve gotta show people that I’m versatile.” That’s not it. For me, creatively, I’d suffocate if I played the same thing, over and over again. I want those challenges. I want to sit down with a director and be like, “I’ve never done this before, but it’s going to be exciting. It’s scary, but really thrilling, so let’s do it!”
How has it been to do six seasons of True Blood now, and how do you feel about the journey this season?
SKARSGARD: We’re shooting right now. We’re half-way through the season. I go to set in a couple of hours, and I worked last night, as well. I think the writers are so good on the show and they keep it interesting for us, as actors, hopefully as well as for the audience. But, it doesn’t feel redundant. I don’t feel like we’re doing the same thing, over and over again. Every season is unique and I get to try new things. They put Eric in situations and with characters that are new and interesting. I keep learning new things about him, and I feel that he keeps on growing, as a character. The day that I don’t feel that any longer is the day to move on, but it’s still fun.
Have you officially signed on to do Tarzan?
SKARSGARD: It’s not officially greenlit yet, as far as I know. It’s a very big project, so they’re figuring out the budget, and all that.
By Fred Topel
Disconnect is a drama of several intersecting stories involving the dangers of the internet. Alexander Skarsgård plays Derek, a man who’s lost touch with his wife Cindy (Paula Patton) after the death of their son. Cindy’s online grief support group leads to identity theft, and they hire a private investigator (Frank Grillo) to find the thief. Meanwhile the P.I.’s son has been Catfishing (spoiler for Catfish) a classmate, whose father explores the Facebook account to find out what he’s been missing about his son’s activities. We met Skarsgård for a private interview in a Beverly Hills hotel suite. Jealous, ladies? He was super articulate about the film’s themes and his upcoming film The East, in which he plays the leader of an eco-terror group, and open about his casting call for Tarzan and history with Thor.
CraveOnline: Was this the character you always went out for or could you have considered any of the leading roles?
Alexander Skarsgård: No, I was involved pretty early on. I think I was the first actor involved. I was blown away by the script. I thought it was so well written and so relevant and interesting, but there was no doubt. It was Derek that I fell in love with, partly because I have some experience. I was in the Royal Navy in Sweden when I was younger, and I also did a miniseries called “Generation Kill” about a platoon of RECON Marines.
When we shot that for seven months in Africa, I got to know a couple of RECON Marines that are now friends of mine. It made me realize how extremely difficult it is to come home to the States after you’ve served overseas and how little help you get. Also, for some of them, like Derek, how you’re so proud you’ve survived the war, so you don’t want to come home and say, “Oh, I need to find a couch so I can talk to a shrink.” Some of them are like, “Come on, I’m a warrior. I’m a hero. I can get through this.”
So Derek can’t even talk to his wife about it. In a way, when I read it, I felt like it was almost like an extension of “Generation Kill” in that the sense that Derek could have been one of Brad Colbert, the character I play on “Generation Kill,” one of his best friends. He could’ve been one of those guys that were out there and now you meet him eight years later and what’s become of him?
You were attached for a while. Does that mean whatever financing or scheduling for the film had to work around your schedule? Because you’re on a TV show that needs you at a set time.
That wasn’t a problem. I had two other films though that were already scheduled. I was shooting a movie called What Maisie Knew in New York and then I was starting another one called The East a month later. But, because of the nature of the film, we could actually block shoot it. We could shoot the stuff with me, Paula and Frank and Michael Nyqvist so that when I wrapped What Maisie Knew on Friday, a couple of days later I was able to start Disconnect and shoot that for three weeks, and then go down to Louisiana to do The East. So it worked out perfectly.
Did you need to know how Derek and Cindy lost their child?
No. No, I think he blamed himself for it. For Derek, coming home, he felt emasculated because he was a warrior, a hero, and then like he said, suddenly he’s a paper pushing grunt in a cubicle surrounded by people he hates and an idiot of a boss who’s just mean to him. He felt that he wasn’t a man anymore. Then Cindy gets pregnant and I think that was a moment where Derek felt like well, wow, I’m going to be a father now. I have a mission. I have a purpose here.
But when they lost James, he blamed himself for that. I think he felt, “It was my fault. I was lost for so many years and then I tried to give my wife a baby and then we lost that and I have nothing now.” That’s why when you meet them in the beginning of the film, they can’t really talk to each other, mostly because of Derek, because he’s so shut down emotionally and he blames himself for it.
In the other storylines, in a lot of scenes, the actors are having chat sessions and acting as the chat session goes on. Paula does that in your storyline. Could you imagine giving a performance like that?
It was so funny watching that because I’ve only seen the film once, up at Santa Barbara Film Festival, and the first time I watch something I’m in is always horrible. Even if I like the film, it’s tough because I’m very self-critical and I dissect my own performance and there are always moments where you’re like, “Ugh, I should’ve done that, I should’ve done this. That was weird. Why’d I do that?”
What was great about this was that I could actually watch the other storylines as a member of the audience, sit back and really enjoy them. I think [director] Henry [Alex Rubin] did a fantastic job with those. I love that there were scenes five, seven, 10 minutes long with no dialogue, with people on their devices, like a phone or an iPad or a computer sending messages back and forth. I just thought it was riveting. It was amazing. You’re in it. You’re there but they’re just sitting in front of a computer.
It used to be so frustrating when films would show chat sessions where people talk to the screen, like no one would ever do. I guess now actors have lived with this technology so long, they know how to act when they’re on a chat.
Right, and it’s nice because it’s so minimalistic in a way because you’re not talking but you’re still reacting to what pops up on your screen, so it’s a little giggle or a little smile or a surprise, whatever it is but it’s very subtle, which is fun.
We see Derek on a poker site briefly, and I imagine when there’s a website in a movie, it’s not a live site. Is that just playback for you?
Yeah, we obviously knew when shooting it, but there was green screen.
Oh, so they didn’t even play a video of the site on your screen?
Well, they created something where I could click it and different cards would come up and stuff, but I wasn’t on a real live online poker site.
When you saw that there was a comedy movie called Identity Thief this year, was it hard to imagine the funny version of that since you did the serious version?
Oh, that’s true. Jason got to do both, didn’t he? I haven’t seen it yet.
Me neither, but I wondered if anyone’s really been through identity theft, could you really joke about it? Because it destroys lives.
Absolutely, but in this case, it almost was a blessing in disguise, wasn’t it? I think that was the moment where Derek, who’s drowning, he’s so lost and so miserable, at that point there was almost no hope that they would find each other again, Derek and Cindy, but I think that was the moment that triggered him. That was like suddenly he had a mission again.
He was a Marine again. He had a reconnaissance job. He was going to go and find this Schumacher guy. I think that in a weird way saved their relationship because he found that energy and that excitement, and Cindy saw that. When they were finally together in the car, they were really together and they actually saw each other for the first time in years without computers or phones or whatever. They were there together physically. That’s how they reconnected.
Are you attached to Tarzan now?
Um… No, I mean, we’ll see what happens. I’m not quite sure yet.
Have you been courting a big franchise role for yourself for a while?
No, no, not at all. It’s all about finding scripts and directors that I’m creatively excited about, be it a small, European art house film like Melancholia or a cool little gritty indie like Disconnect or a huge movie. Whatever it is, it’s always about the script, the character and the director. Am I excited about working with this director and exploring this character? So I don’t really care about other things.
And David Yates is one of those?
He’s arguably one of the greatest directors out there. He’s a phenomenal, very intelligent guy and amazing director. It’s a very, very good script. It’s a really, really good script but it’s also a very big movie, so it’s not super easy to just get a project like that off the ground.
Well, you got really close to playing Thor. Were you able to enjoy Thor and The Avengers after that?
I thought they were awesome. I thought they were really great. At least they got one Skarsgård in them. My dad’s in them. [Laughs] He’s very funny in both films. I thought they were great. Chris [Hemsworth] is awesome. He’s really great. He does a really great job as Thor.
I got to see The East at Sundance and I’m a huge Brit and Zal fan. Did you audition for them or take a meeting with them to get that part?
I feel the same way. I think they’re just amazing, amazing people. We had a blast on that movie and it was actually Fourth of July almost two years ago. I’d read the script and I thought it was brilliant, brilliant. So well written. I thought Another Earth and Sound of My Voice were fantastic films so I just felt like these are definitely people I want to be down in the trenches with and make a movie. I was down in San Diego but drove up to meet with Zal and Brit Fourth of July. We just got together and sat and talked for hours and played around with a couple of scenes and just improvised. That’s how it all started.
There’s a Spin the Bottle scene in the movie. Was that already scripted or did that come out of that meeting?
It came out of that night basically. Zal had an idea obviously because they joined a group of Freegans when they did research for this project and that’s what they did, because they obviously didn’t have television or anything. So they did that often at night, so that was kind of all improvised. We just played around with it and they let the camera role.
And can you believe you’re working on a sixth season of “True Blood?”
We’re halfway through. I’m actually going to set in a couple hours, another night shoot, but I’m working with some of the most talented people in television and a cast and crew that are just like a family now. Like you said, six years is a long time and I’m fortunate to be working with not only very, very skilled actors and crew members, but also good people. It’s still a lot of fun.
Alex will be attending the premier of “Disconnect” at the Regal Union Square Monday the 8th. Also premiering in this movie is the famous clothes designer Marc Jacobs, who has dressed Alex in many of those wonderful tuxes we have all seen him in over the years.
Marc Jacobs on his experience: “Firstly, I don’t speak the language of movies. I didn’t understand 90 percent of what they were saying, so I really felt like I was in a foreign land where I didn’t speak the language. There are some similarities in putting on both productions, especially when it comes to the tedium. I’m used to the tedious aspects of putting together a fashion show.
By Jenna Hawkins
The East, written by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, is easily on of the best films you will see this year. Also directed by Batmanglij and starring Marling, this is the second offering from the innovative and intensely creative duo whose first feature Sound Of My Voice received critical acclaim after it’s release in 2011. If anything, The East highlights the importance of young creatives and in particular filmmakers who are willing to push the boundaries and explore highly sensitive and contentious issues. Drawing parallels from major recent events such as Wikileaks and the BP oil spill, The East is a very important and a relevant, modern commentary on the state of the world we live in. Inspired by the concept of Buy Nothing Day, an international day of protest against consumerism, Marling and Batmanglij spent a summer living by these ideals.
Portable spoke to two of the film’s stars the incomparable Ellen Page of Juno and Inception fame, and Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), YEP OMG ERIC! The East follows the exploits of an anarchist collective of the same name which is infiltrated by Marling’s character Sarah Moss, an agent from a private intelligence firm. Headed by Benji (Skarsgard) and his most promising protege, Izzy (Page), The East attacks global conglomerates who have committed a range of environmental, medical and social injustices. However, it is not until Sarah begins to feel compassion for the group and suddenly questions her whole operation that the film really captures the viewers attention and makes them question who really is at fault.
Portable: What drew you to the story, especially due to it’s timely and contentious nature?
Ellen Page: Firstly, I think it’s an incredible screenplay. So when something comes across that well written, you’re just fortunate to even read it. It’s such a beautiful piece of writing. Then a lot of the ideas in the film are a lot of ideas that I am already really interested in and think about and read about and then the opportunity to meet Zal and Brit, they’re just incredible people so I was desperately hoping they would want me to be in their movie. I just feel fortunate to be involved and the experience was fantastic.
Alexander Skarsgard: It starts with a script. You either respond to it or not. You don’t read a script like that very often.
P: You are part of an anarchist collective in the film, how did you prepare for your roles?
Ellen Page: It was worlds that I was already interested in and familiar with but on top of that I read anarchist manifestos and a lot of actually really interesting literature that’s on trial in some places for crimes, but a lot of really interesting things to read just to get in the headspace and the mentality of those communities.
Alexander Skarsgard: I read up on groups like The Weathermen and studied that and also talking a lot to Zal and Brit about their experiences of hanging out with freegans and anarchists. Just talking to them about the camaraderie and that lifestyle really influenced my character.
P: Because it is something you are particularly interested in in your personal life, had you been waiting for a film and role like this?
Ellen Page: Maybe without knowing it. It’s like the first film that I feel like is really tapping into the sort of current zeitgeist. I feel like a lot of people feel this way whether you’re Republican or a Democrat or an Athiest or a Buddhist, whatever. I think a lot of people are frustrated with a lot of blatant injustices in the world and unfairness and it seems like it’s getting worse and the gap is getting bigger and corporate greed is appauling and what we’re doing to the environment. Then when there is absolutely no accountability for it it becomes so frustrating, and then nothing is being done about it. I think a lot of people feel that discomfort and the rumble and the film started exploring a lot of these ideas and asking a lot of questions and doing it in a way that’s suspenseful and entertaining and heartfelt and what a great thing to be involved in. I was so excited to be able to play this character. It was just a bit of a dream. Anything where I can lie in the dirt in my wardrobe is like a dream for me.
Alexander Skarsgard: It felt very relevant and very important and it was a script that made me think and it wasn’t preachy at all. It wasn’t clear who the good guy or the bad guy was. It wasn’t black and white like that. It made me think about what they are struggling with internally as well. Like what’s ok, how far is it ok to go? How far are you willing to go for a cause that you really believe in. Is it ok to hurt someone, is it ok to kidnap someone, is it ok to kill someone? It wasn’t like Zal and Brit wrote it as if this is the answer, it just made me think a lot in a very intelligent way. That’s what I hope people will feel as well when they see the film, to think about it and talk to their friends about it without feeling like you have been force fed the opinion of me or Ellen or the filmmakers.
P: A really interesting and realistic element of the film was the use of social media, what is your opinion on social media and how it can ultimately influence people?
Alexander Skarsgard: Ellen is more active than I am on social media, I’m still learning. It’s amazing that you can take a picture with your phone and someone in Nebraska can see that? I made another film just before called The Disconnect and that’s about social media and about how that affects people with internet bullies and identity theft. This has a bit about that as well. I thought it was very interesting how people think they stay in touch with someone that they haven’t seen in years, like Doc has that fake Facebook page, so people think they are staying in touch because they see these ‘updates’ on his wall. So it’s interesting how you kind of replace this real relationship with social media. I also think of course this group use the internet because the corporations they attack have a lot of money, a lot of power, a lot of lobbyists that can shut them down and silence them, but what is great is that when they pull something that is as dramatic as they do, the videos are very dramatic, when you put something like that on YouTube, no matter how big these corporations are they can’t stop that because it will go viral within a couple of hours. It will have like millions of hits. So it’s a way for a group like The East, that live in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, that are hiding to connect with the world and to get their message out there.
INTERVIEW SXSW 2013
Note: This is a joint media production between AMFM Magazine and Paul Salfen of the Drew Pearson Show.
THE EAST, a suspenseful and provocative espionage thriller from acclaimed writer-director Zal Batmanglij and writer-actress Brit Marling, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and closed out the SXSW 2013 Film Festival. Marling stars as former FBI agent Sarah Moss who goes deep undercover to infiltrate The East, an elusive anarchist collective seeking revenge against major corporations guilty of covering up criminal activity. Determined, highly-trained and resourceful, Sarah soon ingratiates herself with the group, overcoming their initial suspicions and joining them on their next action or “jam.” But living closely with the intensely committed members of The East, Sarah finds herself torn between her two worlds as she starts to connect with anarchist Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) and the rest of the collective, and awakens to the moral contradictions of her personal life. Paul Salfen interviews Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgard.
“Your beliefs are always coming into question; it’s a hallmark of our time; it’s very hard to believe fully in something,” said director Zal Batmanglij, who in the last year has emerged as one of the most exciting and innovative voices in a new wave of American film. With a style that blends both intimate drama with high-concept thrill, his evocative debut Sound of My Voice—a film that mixed science fiction, psychological drama, and ethnographic study—left us eagerly awaiting just what he would have in store for us next. And to our delight, we didn’t have to wait long. His sophomore feature The East premiered this January at Sundance to a warm reception and, thanks to Fox Searchlight, his wholly important eco-thriller will be hitting theaters this May.
Penned by Batmangij and Brit Marling, his collaborator and star, the film explores similar themes as Sound of My Voice, with investigation of identity, the allure of charismatic leaders, and questions of personal belief. Batmangij and Marling seem to share a cinematic language; while Batmanglij has a knack for exploring the anxieties that plague our modern age, harkening back to a bygone era of political and social thrillers, Marling possesses an ineffable grace and intelligence that’s as fierce in her writing as it is in performance, both capturing the metaphysical nature inherent in human connection.
And with The East, we follow Marling as Sarah, a young ex-FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm who is hired to infiltrate an anarchist collective that is rumored to be attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to come in contact with the harm they’ve inflicted on the masses. But in her time spent with the collective known as The East, her beliefs begin to waver as she starts to sympathize with the group’s leaders and opens her eyes to the wrong doings that so easily go unnoticed.
But what makes the film so exciting is that Batmanglij has made something totally important to our generation that speaks to where we’re at and where we’re going in a way that hasn’t been touched on in modern cinema. The East feels like the first film to breathe a young voice into an issue so embedded in our current society, but in a way that’s more personal than polemic. There’s an emotional authenticity behind the thrill, making it something you can feel as well as enjoy.
“We’re not trying to hit anyone over the head with these ideas,” Batmanglij told me. “We’re trying to plant these seeds so they will grow, because I think it’s much more important that these ideas grow inside of people than it is that they come out changed. A film shouldn’t be too intellectual in the making of or the watching of, but much later they can be—little seeds that just pop up and make you question things.”
And today we’re pleased to share the new poster for The East highlighting Marling as well as her striking co-stars Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgård. In addition, you can now explore the film’s awesome official website here at WeAreTheEast.com.