TV preview: Babylon

Pictured Brit Marling as Liz Garvey.
Pictured Brit Marling as Liz Garvey.
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Brit Marling is contemplating packing her bags and moving to Blighty for good.

It’s the type of move you might expect from the rising star who, at 31, is very much the captain of her own ship. Determined not to take on stereotypical roles, as vacuous horror victims or the kind of two-dimensional characters often offered to young actresses (particularly those so blessed in the looks department), Marling wrote her own script.

She’s written a few in fact, and starred in the productions of some of them, including her Sundance hits, The East and Another Earth.

But now, she’s put down her pen (temporarily) to appear in Danny Boyle’s new Channel 4 drama Babylon, which was shown as a pilot earlier this year and is about to begin as a six-part series.

Working here for six months on the project has given Marling time to fall in love with Britain, to the point where she doesn’t mind ‘kipping’ in box rooms, bedding down in “spare apartments” (wryly conceding this might be an optimistic ask) or doing a spot of couch-surfing if it means she can stay put.

“I love it here,” she says, laughing. “I’d love to come and live here. I’m on my way to becoming a total ex pat.”

So far, Marling, who grew up in Chicago and studied economics at Georgetown university, has had a ball in the UK, helped largely by the geniality of her Babylon co-stars, including Last Tango In Halifax actress Nicola Walker, and James Nesbitt, as well as her juicy role in the drama.

She plays Liz, a tech-savvy communications whizz who has been cherry-picked from the States to revolutionise the image of the British police, which is under the control of the uncompromising Commissioner Miller, played by Nesbitt.

Written by Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, who penned Peep Show and Fresh Meat, Babylon takes a wry look at the people and politics of London’s police force.

Right from the first take, Marling felt at home.

“Everyone has really invited me into their lives,” says the actress, who turned down a job at financial giant Goldman Sachs after graduating, to pursue acting and screenwriting. “And not in a superficial half-hearted way, but in a, ‘It’s my birthday, come over; my mum’s coming over for dinner, come and meet her; do you want to borrow my bike? Yes! Come see Hampstead Heath..’, kind of way.

“Is everybody in this country so hospitable, or did I just luck out with the nicest group of people to work with?”

She’s aware of how differently things could have turned out, though.

“I didn’t realise what I was doing, and what a big deal it was to move away from home for half a year at this age, and be in a foreign country by yourself,” she says. “It’s intense actually, really intense.”

One of the big cultural shifts was the difference in the way Brits approach work.

“I feel like the work here is stripped of the noise and the vanity and the glamour that sometimes clouds film-making in the States,” explains Marling, who is neatly turned out in one of her character’s chic blouses.

“It can be a lot more about the press tours or about red carpet events than it is about the work itself. Or about people thinking, ‘What’s the next thing I’m going to do? What’s the latest list of who’s hot and what’s hot?’

“It gets a bit caught up in all that emptiness. I feel like here, people are really focused on the craft, and I want to get better at the craft on every level.”

While the British approach has been “a lovely thing to be around”, the role was also enticing. As a child, Marling rarely saw relatable women on screen.

“Most of the time, when you’re reading female characters, they feel pencilled in, like no one’s bothered to fill them in,” she explains.

“Even when women are writing them, as a culture, we just don’t know how to tell stories about women. There’s no mythology to borrow from, all the writing from the beginning of time has been men writing about women, so what does this story about women even look like?”

“Liz is not pigeonholed into what we usually see,... and that was so refreshing.”

Babylon, Channel 4, Thursday 10pm

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