August 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

Writer-actress Brit Marling tries to keep audiences on their toes

Brit Marling says she's working on a script that may be set in Detroit. (Jelena Vukotic / Fox Searchlight)

Before she's even asked a question, Brit Marling starts gushing about Michigan.

“I’m a big fan of Michigan, for lots of reasons. I love Ann Arbor in particular. It’s a good audience for film,” the writer-actress says. “The Traverse City Film Festival I went to, and I found the same thing there, these incredible audiences that really love cinema and really want to watch movies and talk about them.

“I’m thinking of writing something right now that we’re thinking of setting in Detroit, so I have Michigan on the mind,” she says on the phone from Los Angeles.

But the reason she's on the phone is to talk about “I Origins,” her latest foray into indie metaphysical filmmaking. It's written and directed by Mike Cahill, who directed and co-wrote the indie sensation “Another Earth” with Marling. Marling starred in “Another Earth,” and now she co-stars in “I Origins.”

“It’s about two scientists, a husband and wife, who come across a spiritual idea that they think they can potentially prove through real science in a lab, and they become sort of bent on pursuing this mystery,” Marling says.

But it's actually about much more than that, which makes the movie hard to describe. And that's the sort of thing Marling, 31, looks for.

“In the beginning, it’s almost a romantic indie, a scientist falling in love, and then it suddenly takes this hard left turn and becomes a bit of a metaphysical mystery. But I kind of like that,” she says.

“I think audiences have become so used to formulaic, paint-by-numbers filmmaking, and we all are consuming stories at such an alarming rate that everyone knows what to expect from a romantic comedy or an espionage thriller,” she says. “What a lot of young filmmakers and writers are trying to do is sort of mash up the genres a bit so that you can keep the audience on its toes again — people don’t quite know what’s going to happen or what they’re watching.”

Marling has been keeping audiences on their toes since 2011, when “Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice,” both written by and starring Marling, took the Sundance Film Festival by storm. Marling, who graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in economics, had abandoned plans to be a banker and moved to Los Angeles to pursue movies. She figured the best way to get cast in one was to write her own.

“There are so many wildly talented young actresses, I could name 20 of them I would cast in a heartbeat. So if you’re a young woman right now and you want to act, you really have a responsibility to be a self-starter and create stories. You’ve kind of got to get stuff generated and out there,” she says.

Since those first two films, Marling has acted alongside Richard Gere in “Arbitrage” and with Robert Redford in “The Company You Keep,” as well as starring in last year's eco-thriller “The East,” which she co-wrote. Next up she has the Civil War thriller “The Keeping Room,” which will debut at September's Toronto International Film Festival.

“If I have any vice, it’s that I’m a real workaholic. But I love the work, I get so much pleasure out of it. And I don’t know how to stop. Sometimes I probably should stop and take a break. Because you’ve got to remember to live your life in between,” Marling says.

“That’s the only real danger — that you keep going from story to story and you’re constantly living in these imagined realms. Because then I think your stories lose their contact with reality and just become abstract nonsense fantasyland,” she says. “That’s the real danger.”

'I Origins'

Opens Friday

Rated R for some sexuality/nudity and language

Running time: 113 minutes

Michael Pitt and Brit Marling are married scientists working on a ... (Jelena Vukotic / Fox Searchlight)