Before the Sundance Film Festival, Brit Marling had been butting up against the challenges facing any young actress.

“When I came to L.A., I really couldn’t figure it out,” she admits. “If you didn’t start when you were 3 years old doing commercials, how do you begin?”

So Marling decided to take matters into her own hands, co-writing, producing and starring in two shoestring indies: “Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice,” which both premiered in Park City this year.

Though the actress had studied theater growing up, when it came time for college, she opted for a broad liberal arts degree over drama school.

“How could you be an actor and not study theology and physics?” asks Marling, who settled on economics as her major. Then she met Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij, fellow Georgetown students who had directed a short film featured in an on-campus sprocket opera.

Impressed, she introduced herself to the pair, sparking an intense friendship that carried through college (she spent the rest of her time at Georgetown juggling econometrics proofs and making short films with the guys) and beyond. After graduating, she and Cahill went to Cuba and made a documentary called “Boxers and Ballerinas,” while Batmanglij enrolled at the American Film Institute.

Then came the disappointment of trying to make it in Hollywood.

“I’m always frustrated by the idea that so much of your ability to practice your craft is beyond your control,” Marling says. “I realized the quickest way to do what I want, which is to act, would be to teach myself to write.”

So she made “Earth” (with Cahill) and “Voice” (with Batmanglij). While vastly different in style, the two projects — one a portrait of regret set against an ambitious sci-fi premise, the other a mind-bender about a beguiling cult leader — reveal Marling as a unique quantity, more ingenious than ingenue, with a soulful streak that comes through both onscreen and in the material itself.

After Sundance, Fox Searchlight snapped up rights to both pics and greenlit another, “The East.” Marling also stars in Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep,” in which she could act someone else’s words, for once.

“The thing that is most exciting and intoxicating is to lose yourself in someone else’s imagination,” she says.

Lucky break: “Going to the Georgetown Film Festival and meeting Mike and Zal and finding two collaborators for life. And then Sundance.”
Favorite film: “‘Lust, Caution.’ I love that it’s an espionage thriller with a female protagonist.”
Career I’d like to emulate: “Anthony Hopkins. It’s astounding to have that longevity and to keep growing.”

Benedict Cumberbatch | Jean Dujardin | Luke Evans | Josh Hutcherson | Felicity Jones | Taylor Kitsch | Brit Marling | Elizabeth Olsen | Octavia Spencer | Shailene Woodley