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Brit Marling, Emma Corrin Interview

Brit Marling, Emma Corrin Interview

When Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij started working on the idea that would become A Murder at the End of the World in 2019, they were searching for a way to build out the character of the billionaire who holds the retreat for the show’s central whodunit. The seemingly obvious option was to make Andy Ronson a social media scion, but their instincts told them the trope would quickly become cliché and that a new evil was presenting itself — but for awhile they were the only ones. “We had a friend in tech say, you can’t make the guy an AI designer, that’s so far away,” Batmanglij said during a recent THR Frontrunners panel. “But we were like, no, AI is important.” Of course, the show’s creators turned out to be more right than even they could imagine, and the result is the acclaimed FX limited series.

Murder stars Emma Corrin as the young hacker Darby Hart, who finds herself at an exclusive convention hosted by Ronson (played by Clive Owen) as fellow participants start dying one-by-one — including Darby’s first love and former sleuthing partner, Bill (Harris Dickinson). The casting was a departure for the longtime creative collaborators, who typically build their projects — most notably Netflix hit series The OA — around Marling’s lead characters.

“While we were making The OA, I really felt I wanted to direct, but it was so ambitious in its scope and on such a narrow budget that it was impossible to be the lead and direct in the way I would have wanted to,” said Marling. “So when we set this project up, from the beginning I said that I wanted to take a step back as an actor to make the space to really direct.” Marling knew they had written a character with big shoes to fill: Darby is in every scene of the show, with intense emotional arcs and incredibly physically demanding scenes (like scaling glaciers on location in Iceland) as well. “Then we met Emma on Zoom and by the time we finished, I just knew this person could take this on so completely,” she said. “They have all the gravitas, but also Emma as a person brings a lightness of spirit.”

Corrin was in the middle of makeup tests for 2022 film Lady Chatterley’s Lover when the script for Murder came in. They were in a house in Wales, with hours to kill as the artists fit them for a wig, and found themselves sucked into the world of the show. “I’m normally quite a distracted person, and my atttention is sort of everywhere, so for something to really consume is — wow,” they said. “And especially to have that at the hands of a female protagonist who is really unexpected. I found Darby really endearing but quite hard to decipher, which I really liked. You can never quite catch this person.”

Back in 2019, Batmanglij and Marling knew that they wanted the show to be a riff, of some sort, on murder mysteries. They spent multiple days watching as many as they could stomach, and quickly realized that they all began with a dead young woman — characters with no agency whose personal tragedies are used as enticement. “We were kind of overwhelmed and horrified, and Brit was like what if we just lift this girl up and give her life, and clothes — because she’s undoubtedly naked — and invite her to solve the mystery,” Batmanglij explained, noting that the writing proved to be extremely challenging. The pair turned to FX heads John Landgraf and Gina Bailan, who Marling says served as story editors on the series, offering notes that spurred the duo to push themselves even harder: “We’d take these drafts apart and rewrite them in a way we had never done before. I mean, close Final Draft documents and never open them again. Start a new blank page. We did that two or three times in the middle chapters.”

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Despite joking that she occasionally felt like she never wanted to write again, the end result offered a protagonist that felt fresh and whole and more fully realized than they’d seen before. “The Emma that I met when we first started shooting, versus the Emma that I see now, you were coming of age at the same time as Darby,” Batmanglij said to Corrin. “You’re coming of age in this new era where women are telling stories for the first time onscreen. I don’t think we understand how radical it is that in the last five years women are writing and directing stories that when Brit, you were Emma’s age, just didn’t exist.”

Watch the rest of the panel interview in the video above. This edition of THR Frontrunners is sponsored by FX.

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