Brie Larson Interview: On ‘Short Term 12,’ Becoming Famous and a Role in ‘Star Wars: Episode 7′
I caught ‘Short Term 12‘ at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival almost accidentally. It just happened to be playing and I just happened to be available. And I just happened to see the best film at the festival and one of the best films of the year. As Matt Singer wrote in his review, it’s a “brilliant and amazing movie” with a revelatory performance by actress Brie Larson.
The actress, who you probably know from her supporting roles in ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ or ‘21 Jump Street,’ is poised to take a major leap into stardom this year. Along with her star-making turn in ‘Short Term 12,’ Larson has equally impressive work in ‘Don Jon‘ and ‘The Spectacular Now‘ also in theaters this fall. It’s hard to look at Larson at this point in her career and not draw comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence – another actress who received critical acclaim for an indie film (‘Winter’s Bone’) and went on to super-stardom.
We spoke to the young actress about the depressing work on ‘Short Term 12,’ if she’s prepared for the next level of fame and starring in ‘X-Men’ and ‘Star Wars: Episode 7.’
I saw ‘Short Term 12′ – and three other projects of yours – at SXSW. That must’ve been a pretty crazy time.
My whole feeling is that I try to stay pretty ignorant toward the whole thing. At SXSW, I was just excited that there were things I had acted in, and something that I had directed [the short film 'Weighting'] that were at the same festival. It felt so exciting and the perfect combination of who I am. A bunch of movies where I play a bunch of different things and then this one, weird short that I wrote and directed. That felt right to me. I’m in my early-20s and in the thick of trying to find out what my authentic self is and I felt like I was getting closer to it and that felt really great. I dunno, I’m new to the festival world but I just love going to the movies and I love watching movies. It’s a great time to go watch movies and get excited about things. It’s a whole week filled with mutual respect. I love that. I love to see that you’re part of a community filled with outsiders.
And it helps that these are all three very good movies that you can feel especially proud of. You weren’t just there promoting some studio movie.
Well, thank you. I do feel proud of them. I found some really interesting like-minded people to want to work with.
For an actress of your age, I see you and some of your contemporaries get cast as a high school student in one movie, then a grown adult in another, then back in high school and so on. Does that get frustrating? Are you ready to leave high school behind?
(Laughs) I don’t know. For the most part, I’ve stayed as far away as possible from high school movies. I just don’t find them to be that relatable to everybody? They become like this, “Look at that period of time. Isn’t that interesting?” I like films that are bigger than that. That are more about the overall human feeling of existence. The more complex, the better. I dunno. I haven’t really thought about it. I think about it if I read something and I feel like I know who that person is or I have an idea and this is something I can create and work with and every aspect will come together. From the way they stand to wardrobe and all of that. And if it makes sense and it excites me, then the rest of it doesn’t matter to me. I did ‘Spectacular Now’ before ‘Short Term’ so in that sense it felt like I grew up from high school. If it went the other way around, it would’ve been more confusing.
You’ve said that after the filming of ‘Rampart,’ you had a difficult time coming down after playing a very dark and depressed character. Did you experience anything similar with ‘Short Term 12′?
No, it wasn’t hard at all this time because I made it part of my daily routine to go back to myself at the end of every day. After the experience of ‘Rampart’ – which, that was how I thought actors work. You spend all this time messing with yourself and getting yourself in this headspace to get this performance out and then it sticks with you and it lingers like a ghost. And you can’t ever get into a character and get out of a character the same way, twice. That was my philosophy. But, when ‘Rampart’ took me about three times as long to get out of than it took for me to get into, I became a little fearful about doing another dramatic piece again because it turned up a bunch of stuff for me. As much as I love acting, I just want to be a healthy person (laughs).
But for ‘Short Term,’ I shadowed at a facility and I asked the woman who I shadowed – I think she had been working there for 23 years – how she did it. And she said she just lets go. She spends her day being strong and fighting for these kids, but then she goes home and does things for herself and finds ways to associate with herself. So, I started being interested in that and part of that was in playing Grace but it was also applying it to my life. Going to work and getting this routine of waking up, going to work and fighting the good fight and then when I went home, it wasn’t about that. I wasn’t Grace anymore. Sometimes it would take me brushing my hair to the side – Grace has a middle part – and you play a video game, chess or cook…I would spend a couple of hours before falling asleep, just knowing there weren’t kids I needed to fight for. That allowed me to really stay true to myself.
And also my Game Boy. I play my Game Boy a lot between scenes. I was getting really good at Mario Tennis.
Is this the classic Game Boy?!
No, no, I have my Nintendo 3DS.
Oh. I thought you were cool for a second.
(Laughs) When it comes to Nintendo products, I gotta go with the new stuff.
I don’t want to jinx anything, but people have already started talking and this will all get back to you anyway. Have you prepared yourself mentally at all for any award consideration for your performance in this film and the considerable bump in notoriety that comes along with that?
I’ve completely blocked it out. I haven’t read anything. I only read one review, which I’m very proud of. I hope to continue that philosophy. There are people who have said…very generous things. But…I don’t even know. I don’t know how to process that information, really. I’m just in my own little ignorant world right now. I’m enjoying the reaction people have to the film. But, I’m not very good at having the attention put on me. I’m not one that enjoys being observed. So, I’m trying to pretend that I’m not being observed right now.
In the middle of an interview where I’m observing you.
But, after a highly-acclaimed performance, bigger offers tend to come in–
–Well, since I don’t have any of those, I don’t know! I couldn’t possibly say! What, are you offering me the lead in the next ‘X-Men’ movie? What are you telling me?
When you’re cast in the new ‘Star Wars’ movie, you have to call me back and admit I was right.
I would be so excited. But, I think that the fact my performance is being recognized as, “This is someone who put some thought and care in this and I’d like to give her the opportunity to do this again.” That feels great, because I want to continue to express myself in this medium. That seems promising. But, I don’t know if I’m the type of person that…will…feel like I’m not the underdog. I like this feeling. I don’t mind fighting for things. So, I truly have no idea what is going on right now or what is happening (laughs)! It feels surreal. I feel like someone woke me up in the middle of the night, handed me a plane ticket and said, “You’re going here.” And I don’t know where I’m going and everyone tells me it’s a really beautiful place. But, I could get there and maybe it’s not for me. I’m trying to focus on the small things and the day-to-day stuff.
Now you just got back from India where you were shooting a Bollywood musical. Already, that’s not the typical “next move” for a young actress.
Sometimes, after what ever it is I’ve done, I like to shake it up. I like to not get stuck in one mode. I had just done ‘Short Term’ and I was interested in exploring the idea of singing and dancing. And, in this film — I hate to quote other people but Alan Watts is a huge inspiration and he has this thing where he says, in life we’re always trying to get to this thing and we work really hard in school and then we go to college and we’re working really hard for this thing to get the thing and then we get an office and it’s on the bottom level and we work to get to the top thinking we’re gonna be so happy to get that thing and then you get there and it’s…fine. But, you realize you didn’t sing and dance along the way. The idea of singing and dancing throughout my life and finding that bliss is something I wanted to express and explore within myself and hopefully spread that idea to other people. The preparation for it was a lot of constant singing and dancing and getting in touch with myself and how my limbs worked in a way that I hadn’t explored before. Going to India was just the other screwball to it that made it really hard and impossible and adventurous and fun. I just wanted to try and I’m really glad that I tried. It was absolutely life-changing. I’m so much better for the experience.
That quote you were just saying before, that pretty much just sums up my life. Maybe I should go sing and dance on the way to the subway tonight.
Exactly! No, no, you should! Seriously. If I’m in New York, I’m listening to music and scoring my day, but I always dance on the subway. I’m always bopping around to music. And most of the time, people in New York aren’t paying attention. Even still, it’s not about them, it’s about you. It’s about the freedom that you can take little steps toward, every day. It’s not asking for attention, it’s not getting into anyone’s space, it’s just allowing yourself to be beautiful. We’ve become so obsessed with our bodies in a way that’s not the right way to be obsessed with them. People want thin legs but they don’t think how awesome their legs already are. I don’t know if we take the time to notice how remarkable the movement of a finger is, but they really are fantastic. Look at how beautiful your fingers are. Are you looking at the way your fingers move right now (laughs)?
I’m not. But, I am going to allow myself to be beautiful today.
I’m gonna set some time aside and just…be beautiful. I’m gonna look at my fingers.
You do it! But, it’s a constant process. You don’t have to set time aside.
Hmm. OK. Quickly, before we go, will you be returning for ’22 Jump Street’?
After speaking with [directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller], it’s not something I’m going to be a part of anymore than just in spirit. I will be a virtual cheerleader for those boys doing it again. And I’ll be so happy to see the movie and laugh as hard as I did during the first one.
Well, that’s too bad but I could see where you’d want to–
It’s not necessarily my choice. It’s not like they said, ‘Would you do it?’ and I said, ‘No.’ That’s just the way the story goes.
Yes. And, it just frees you up to star in the next ‘X-Men’ movie.
Or ‘Star Wars’! Let’s start those rumors (laughs)! “Brie Larson is in ‘Star Wars.’” Oh my God…
‘Short Term 12′ opens in select theaters on August 23.