CELEB INTERVIEW: Brie Larson
We caught up with Hollywood's new leading lady
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Pegged as the next Meryl Streep, Brie Larson has this evocative quality of an actor far beyond her years – passionate yet poised and able to take on any genre that comes her way. And she’s only 26 years-old! The ambitious Californian started young; as a child actor she earned her SAG card when she was seven years-old and began her trade as an actress during a series of skits for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, before moving onto the series Touched by an Angel and Raising Dad and indie dramas Tanner Hall and Greenberg, as well as supporting in bigger movies from 21 Jump Street to Trainwreck. But it was her performance as Grace, a supervisor at a group home for troubled teens, that finally got the actress critical recognition in 2013’s Short Term 12, as she was shortlisted for an Oscar, but ultimately robbed of a nomination. Taking the lead role in multi-awarding-winning, Oscar-nominated Room is what finally put her on the A-list map, and now Brie Larson is a household name – even though she was born Brie Desaulniers and changed it over feared problems with pronunciation. We sat down with the star of the moment to find out what other sacrifices she’s made to get where she is today…
How do you take on a film like Room, about abduction and abuse, an experience that’s so harrowing that no one would really imagine, unless you’ve experienced such things yourself?
That’s the thing, what my character Ma goes through in this movie, it’s not something you’d normally know how to take on. You can’t Google “what does it feel like to be trapped in a room for seven years?” – you have to reach out to very specific people. I spent a lot of time with trauma councillors and experts in their field who explained what exactly happens in the mindset of someone who goes through an event like this in their lives. Trapped in a room for seven years, dealing with abuse for all that time, going through pregnancy alone and giving birth alone – how that would affect the mind, body and soul. After a certain amount of time the brain learns to shut off awareness because the body wants to survive. I also talked to doctors about being deprived of sunlight and not getting the right nutrition, and what that would do. I followed a very specific diet and I stayed at home for a month. But, whatever I did, nothing could compare to the real life stories I read.
You stayed at home for a month?! How was that experience?
There are two years before her son Jack comes along where Joy [Ma] is alone and I wanted to try, in some small way, to understand the silence and quiet of that time.
Initially it wasn’t that bad. I’d rather be at home, it sort of felt like a vacation to me when I could disguise it as preparation for this movie. But after a while, the still and the quiet, it started to get to me. I hit this point where I felt so depressed. I cried a lot. I couldn’t stop crying. It didn’t help that I was on this incredibly restrictive diet to get me into character. And it’s reflective of my character who cried and cried for two years and finally stopped when she learned she was pregnant.
How did you fill your time, besides crying?
Reading. I drew a little bit, too, but tried to sit still as much as I could. That’s what my character would have been doing. I had no phone, no internet. She had just five books. It’s this emptiness you get to, that’s so very strange. There are memories that you previously had no memory of. Your brain starts to show you all these things you knew, but didn’t know.
One thing I remember so vividly, that came back to me, was moving to LA with my mum and little sister when I was seven. We moved into a studio apartment not much bigger than the room in the movie. There was a bed that came out of the wall and we had very little in the way of possessions. Top Ramen [instant noodles] was every meal. I also very clearly remember waking up one night and seeing my mum sitting on the edge of the bed and sobbing, and trying to do it so quietly because we all slept in the same bed. And I remember being so moved and so sad. It was only later than I learnt my parents were going through a separation at the time. At that age, I had no comprehension that my father had asked for a divorce, and she was dealing with it all alone.
How have the Best Actress awards made you feel?
I don’t know. I don’t really feel anything about it. It’s the highest compliment you can get in our industry, which is very flattering and lovely but it’s not something I work towards. If it happens, it happens and I’m happy. But I can’t fathom anyone ever being like, “I love Brie Larson. I have to see her next movie” – that would be so wrong and weird and odd.
You got your Screen Actors Guild card when you were just seven. What was it like being an actress at such a young age?
Apparently, I went up to my mum when she was doing the dishes and said, “I know what I’m going to do with my life, I want to be an actress,” and I was five or six at the time and obsessed with Gone with the Wind. I was really shy and intense, and I wasn’t a big socialiser and my mum thought there was no way I could be an actress. I was really an introvert, and still am a little. But she said, “OK, Brie, I’ll consider checking out the possibility of getting you an agent if you go to acting classes once a week for a year.”
Though you did movies like 21 Jump Street, you’ve admitted you struggled financially right up until you were cast in Short Term 12. How did you cope?
While we were shooting Short Term 12, I literally didn’t have money to buy food. I was bringing food home from the catering table. I never ever wanted to work on something for the money and that got me into trouble. At one point, I did three independent films, had the most amazing experiences and didn’t get paid a cent. I didn’t have anything to my name. I would find myself down to the last dollar, backed up against a wall, ready to quit or go to college and the next day, something would come up and I would be saved. This wasn’t even that long ago.
But those times have passed now, right?
That panic isn’t so frequent.
Surely you’re minted now that you’re the lead in the new big-budget King Kong? How do you move on from Room to something as huge?
I’ve had quite a few people saying to me this will be a breeze. No challenges like Room. And yes, it’s nice that I don’t have to concern myself with a deeply affecting storyline. But all movies have their extremes and challenges. With this, I’m going to be climbing mountains and hacking through forests and getting attacked by insects. I’ll have to do scenes with real emotion opposite tennis balls. That will be challenging.