Why Is 'The OA' About Dancing? Brit Marling Reveals How Quentin Tarantino Inspired The "Movements"
If you had to name one filmmaker who you thought had a huge impact on Netflix's spiritual sci-fi series The OA… well, I'm betting it wouldn't be the director of Pulp Fiction. And yet, according to creator/star Brit Marling, Quentin Tarantino helped inspire The OA's "movements." Marling, the 34-year-old actress who co-wrote the series and stars as Prairie Johnson, spilled that surprising factoid during a panel at Vulture Festival in New York City this past weekend — and also revealed why her show ultimately had to be a show about dancing. (There are SPOILERS ahead for Season 1)
When viewers first tuned into a show about a missing blind girl who returned after seven years with her sight restored, they probably didn't know exactly what to expect; but it probably wasn't a story about angels, interdimensional portals, and the power of modern dance. Depending on your ability to suspend disbelief, the conclusion (in which a school shooter's rampage was halted by a series of five choreographed movements) was either transcendent or ridiculous — and Marling is happy either way. "Any emotion is fair game," she says about the divisive reactions to the Season 1 finale. But for Marling, there is no other way her show could have ended.
"I think Tarantino said at some point along the way that, violence is uniquely cinematic," Marling recalls. "And he's right, it's true. You can read a passage that's very violent in a novel and it's moving, but when you watch it onscreen, it takes on a visceral potency that you can't find on the page. So [co-creator Zal Batmanglij and I] started asking ourselves, is there something else that's also uniquely cinematic that is a kind of antidote to violence? And that felt like movement."
But coming up with the idea of the movements was just one part of the process; then there was the small matter of coming up with the actual movements themselves. "For a long time it just said in the script, 'And then they do…' all caps, bold, underline, 'the movements.'" Marling and Batmanglij needed someone who could choreograph a sequence that felt "primal but not tribal, graceful but also awkward." Something that makes you "feel like you could travel to a different dimension." Ultimately, that job fell to choreographer Ryan Heffington, the same man behind Maddie Ziegler's stunning dancing in the music video for Sia's "Chandelier."
Since none of the actors playing Prairie's acolytes were trained dancers (except for Phyllis Smith, aka Betty Broderick-Allen), there was some question of whether or not they would be able to properly execute Heffington's complex choreography. Marling and Batmanglij briefly considered adding some visual effects to supplement the movement sequence — but the cast was determined to do it right. "They were all training for five months," Marling says. "The magic has to be in the practice, and the rigor of devoting yourself to something and doing it every day. And if [we] can't pull it off and make it feel synchronized and otherworldly, then it doesn't work. So we all just practiced our asses off."
Of course, The OA was renewed for Season 2 by Netflix back in February (or "Part 2," as Marling refers to it, since she considers it more of an eight-hour movie or a series of books than a traditional television show), so viewers will get to spend more time experiencing the strange magic of the five movements. But how much more time, exactly? Marling refused to give an exact number of seasons, but teased that her ultimate plan involves "more than three." She likens her series to an accordion: "We have the two sides of the accordion, the beginning and the end, and the pleats of all the major events in between. The question is, how long do you get to stretch it out, or do you have to compress it?"
No matter how long it runs, Marling assures her fans that she already knows the ending — that she's already "solved all the mystery boxes" — so there won't be any unanswered questions when the show finally comes to an end, whenever that may be. Hopefully Prairie and her movements can transport us all to a dimension where The OA runs as long as Marling wants it to.