ABOVE: BRIAN "SENE" MARC IN NEW YORK, DECEMBER 2015. PHOTOS: SEBASTIAN SABAL-BRUCE. STYLING: MARINA MUNOZ/LALALAND ARTISTS. GROOMING: LAURA DE LEON FOR CHANEL/JOE MANAGEMENT USING SOLUTION 10 DE CHANEL. STYLING ASSISTANT: ANITA LAU. SPECIAL THANKS: AN CHOI.
Brian "Sene" Marc owes his acting career to a stranger. Before getting cast in the indie film White Girl, Marc was one half of the electro-R&B duo denitia and sene. They were—and are—pretty successful, participating in Red Bull's Sound Select program, playing fashion week parties for brands like Prabal Gurung, and working with Neptunes member Chad Hugo on remixes of their tracks. Then, Marc received a script. He assumed the producers were fans of his music; they weren't. Someone who worked at the lyrics website Genius had recommended they audition him.
"I finally got to meet him recently," laughs Marc over breakfast in New York. "It was weird, because everyone was drinking and celebrating our friend's birthday. He was leaving, so there wasn't much time. He was like, "Oh, we'll catch up." And I was like, 'You changed my life! Let me get you a drink!' I really owe him a lot," he continues. "Based on the dailies from White Girl, I was recommended by producers for another lead role in another movie, so I got flown out to L.A. before we even finished White Girl to talk about that. Then an episode of a show came up, and I did a different movie for two of the producers of White Girl, [Nerve]. One thing led to three others."
This weekend, White Girl will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City. It's one of the more buzzed about films so far and director Elizabeth Wood, who wrote the film based on her own experiences, has already landed on Variety's 10 Directors to Watch List. Marc plays the male lead opposite Homeland's Morgan Saylor, with a supporting cast that includes Chris Noth and Justin Bartha. Since wrapping White Girl, he's also worked on Luke Cage, Netflix's much-anticipated Jessica Jones companion series.
But it is Marc's personality that makes his success story particularly fun to tell. A native New Yorker, Marc is affable and sincere. "I'm not worried about everyone liking me," he says. "But whether you like me or not, I want people know, ‘Oh, he's decent. He means well.' That's important to me. Even if you're having a bad day, that might be someone's first and only time meeting you." Marc has always wanted to get into acting, and thinks carefully about his career choices. "I don't want to be someone who throws his hat in for everything. Not in a cool way," he adds. "There are some other people who'd be really good for other things, and if I just do it to say I'm doing it, that doesn't help me or them."
HOMETOWN: Brooklyn, New York
BRIAN VS. SENE: That's the big question. I introduce myself as Brian and people are like, "Why?" My friend Chris McQueen was visiting from Texas; he's in this group Snarky Puppy and they were in New York. They're awesome. They're up for a consecutive Grammy this year. They won last year. He brought someone, and I said, "Hi, I'm Brian." Chris came over to me, "Why did you say your name was Brian?" "Because my name is Brian." And he was like, "Ohhhh." He walked away and came right back, "Can I still call you Sene?" I guess I don't take myself seriously enough to be like, "You have to call me this." I know some people that are like that and more power to them, but I don't think about it. I don't lie in bed at night going, "People should really call me this." All my friends call me Sene. I think sometimes it sounds funny to people who don't know me, so I say, "Oh, I'm Brian."
I've come to realize that it makes some people uncomfortable that I won't pick. I stress that it doesn't matter. An actress recently made a big deal about it at a birthday party, and not in a funny way. I hated Sene when I was 14. When I was first recording demos, I tried to call myself "Obscene," but "Ubsene." [laughs] I thought it was genius. Someone I worked with kept getting it wrong and saying "Sene," and I was like, "It's not Sene!" One day he pulled me aside and said, "Listen, all you talk about is the things that you've seen, it's never obscene content, I'm just going to call you Sene." And sure enough, a while later I was like, "Alright. He's kind of right. It should just be Sene."
FAMILY SUPPORT: [My older brother] was everything. He was the first one that made me freestyle in front of his friends and I froze like a deer in the headlights. They were like, "Come on man!" And he was like, "Give him a second." It was a room full of people that were really good, and he was DJ'ing and he wouldn't let them take the microphone from me. I remember the feeling of wanting to jump out the window. He would send me food out to L.A. when I was 18 and he was like, "He's probably struggling." He would send me Omaha steaks. Every step of the way he was like, "You got it." He was the only one from top to bottom that was always like, "No, no, no. This is going to work out." Never any question. He's my brother through marriage, but we've known each other since I was four, so I never say step-brother. That's Jeff. There's Matt, and then I have my sister who is Jessica. It's a weird melting pot. Every time someone meets my brother, they're like, "But he's Chinese." "Yeah..."
FIRST AUDITION: You're all in a room because you all kind of fit one thing. You see people who they think look like you, and you're like, "Really?" Or "You kind of look like me, but you're such an asshole." I'll never forget my first audition. I showed up to the wrong building. I was like, "Look at me, I'm so early." I felt so good about myself. Then looking around, I was like, "There should be other people here. I'm alone." And then panic set in: "I'm in the wrong building." So I ran down the stairs and went from calm and composed to showing up with sweaty palms. I get there, and there's this kid in the hallway, and he looks like he's just stepped out of an Abercrombie ad. He's literally making this face [makes a duck face] and smirking to himself. There were so many other auditions for other movies that were going on in the same place. This woman was walking reading to herself going, "Come on! Come on! You've got this!" and hitting herself in the head violently. Everyone was really high-strung—beautiful people that don't look beautiful at all because they're completely losing it. There were a few kids that looked like they were cut out of an Abercrombie ad: the flip haircut, tight shirt, cargo pants. It kind of worried me. I was like, "I really want this but god, is this what they're looking for? I'm the only one that looks like me." Every time I came back, there were more and more that looked like me, in my zone. It was funny.
WHITE GIRL: Someone was complimenting the movie, and I said, "Oh, I'm glad you enjoyed it." And he said, "Enjoyed it? Ooh... you did a great job and it's great movie, but I don't know if I can say ‘enjoyable' just because it made me think so much about life. It's just painful." I think he's right on the money. It's enjoyable until you think about it deeply—this really happened. Then it makes you nervous: "I'm really disappointed in human beings that this could be based on a true story."
INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS: I'll let Elizabeth explain that all should you meet with her, but I know that a lot of White Girl—even the parts you wish weren't—is true. In the beginning, I was curious if they wanted me to [meet the person my character is based on]. I had an interest and then I did a 180. I wanted nothing to do with it. Elizabeth stressed that she wanted it to be mine and wanted me to develop it, and there are a lot of things I related to from growing up, so I kind of knew the person already. I didn't want to meet someone for the idiosyncrasies.
I'd say I'm the nicest person [in the film]. It's a juxtaposition. They do a really good job of making you feel a certain way when you meet someone, drawing the stereotype out of you, and then, as in real life, you're like, "Wow, they're so comfortable being themselves. You think they're the bad person, but really they're the only good one." I think I'm the only decent person in the entire thing.
ACTING NOTES: I'll tell you one that'll really make you want to meet Elizabeth. There's a powerful scene in the movie, and I was trying to get there in my mind before. I pulled Elizabeth aside and was like, "I really want to get there. We have time right? I really want to get this." And she said, "Well, just think of it like this: If you get this, it can be a beautiful future. You can provide an amazing life for kids and have a nice career off of the strength of this. And if you blow it, you could fucking ruin it all for everyone here that loves you. Just fucking ruin it." And then she smacked my arm and walked away. [laughs] That's Elizabeth.
THE SLOW CLIMB: I was living in L.A. when things really launched off, and I saw a lot of people take this huge jump and become household names and then take huge plunges. I always felt more like, "I'd rather do this, as long as it takes." And I feel like we still haven't peaked, whether it's solo stuff, whether it's Denitia and I. I haven't peaked. Had I made different choices that were a little more selfish like I saw some people make, I'd been done. I see a lot of people that are struggling to do something now, and it's because it was all about becoming famous. Fame was never on my mind at the forefront. People being able to listen or look or 20 years from now go back and say, "Oh, that makes sense" was always in my mind. I'm hyper-cognizant of where I'm at.
FAME: Would I be okay with being famous? Yes, because I think about the things that I'd like to do that, when someone with a bit of a higher profile wants to get involved, more heads turn. I always focus in on that. This may sound funny, but I mean it whole-heartedly, I would really like to get involved in a lot of things that affect children, whether it be a children's hospital, displaced children. I think they are kind of thrown to the wolves, and nothing gets me more worked up than watching children become by-products of adult decisions. I would like to be involved in that. I was witness to a friend in L.A. losing everything because her son was sick, and watching no one care, and then rallying musicians to do something to raise money, and how quickly everyone said yes. Luckily everything is beautiful for her right now, but I watched a great woman lose everything. So it's like, "Wow, with a little bit of profile you become more of a power player at a table to make important things happen." People tend to mock celebrities that get overly involved, and I think you should more mock the ones that don't.
ACTING VS. MUSIC: I wanted to act more than anything. It almost felt like a joke that Lady Gaga said that the other night [at the Golden Globes]. About a year before they sent me the [White Girl] script, I was telling someone I was going to do theater, and they started laughing right in my face, "Really? You went from hip-hop to denitia and sene, which is more fashion, now you're going to do theater classes? You're finally doing really well with a group and music and you're going to do theater? You're crazy."
DENITIA AND SENE: We're finishing the second album. My entire body is killing me right now because we played Brooklyn Bowl the other night and I haven't bowled in a long time. I couldn't figure out why I was so sore the other day, and that's why. But we're finishing the album, which I'm very excited about. I think it's stronger than anything we've ever done. We're getting the mixes done now. We've already said no to a bunch of labels, so I think we'll release it ourselves. But it's not on hold. It was for a while, but it allowed everyone to do their own thing. I put things on a calendar, so it wasn't like, "Well, I have this new baby now, so stay here." I invited everyone to everything. I bought some of my bandmates to be extras in White Girl. Denitia couldn't do it because she was handling another obligation for us that I couldn't do anymore. I'd like to think I've done an okay job balancing the two so one doesn't have to go bye-bye.
WHITE GIRL PREMIERES THIS SATURDAY, JANUARY 23, AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL IN PARK CITY, UTAH. FOR MORE ON DENITIA AND SENE, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.