Known for her solid work in a bevy of high profile supporting roles from ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ to ‘21 Jump Street,’ Brie Larson has established herself as a young actress on a meteoric rise in Hollywood. The buzz over her blossoming career and roles ‘Don Jon‘ and ‘The Spectacular Now,‘ which are set to hit theaters this fall, leave her poised become a breakout star in 2013. Larson is an incredible young actress pours her heart and soul into each and every role. It is her captivating and highly emotional performance in Destin Cretton’s ‘Short Term 12’ that started turning the heads of critics and audiences alike. ‘Short Term 12’ is told through the eyes of Grace (Brie Larson), a twenty-something supervisor at a facility for at-risk teenagers. Passionate and tough, Grace is a formidable caretaker of the kids in her charge – and in love with her long-term boyfriend and co-worker, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). But Grace’s own difficult past – and the surprising future that suddenly presents itself – throw her into unforeseen confusion, made all the sharper with the arrival of a new intake at the facility: a gifted but troubled teenage girl with whom Grace has a charged connection. While the subject matter is complex, this lovingly realized film finds truth – and humor – in unexpected places. The second feature from Destin Daniel Cretton (I Am Not a Hipster), Short Term 12, opening August 23rd, also stars Kaitlyn Dever (Bad Teacher), Rami Malek (The Master), and Keith Stanfield. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon caught up with Brie Larson to discuss her role in the film, the challenges of bringing her character from script to screen, evolution as an actress and much more!
I wanted to go back to your early years and learn how you got started on your journey in the entertainment industry and what drove you to pursue it as a career.
Wow! I don’t really know to be honest with you! I was about six years, living in Sacramento and my parents had a practice together, they were chiropractors. I apparently went up to my mother when she was doing dishes and I said “I know what my dharma is, I am supposed to be an actor!” She was incredibly confused that I knew what dharma was and that I wanted to be an actor being that I was incredibly shy and there was no one else around us that was talking about or like that. [laughs] I was pretty adamant about it. I bugged her about it for about a year and finally she said if I took acting lessons, once a week for a year, she would think about it. During that years’ time, I not only started taking those private lessons but I also started auditioning for plays, getting roles and doing actual stage performances and monologues. I was really loving it and flourishing at it. I was coming out of my shell at the same time, so I just continued pursuing it.
Who would you cite as our biggest influences or even a personal mentor along the way?
Ed Claudio was my first acting coach. The older I get and the more time I have spent on set and jumping into new characters, I realize who absolutely lucky I was that he was the first person who started working with me. He used to make me sit on my hands and act out scenes with my eyes. Now, I am so grateful for that because I really know how to express myself in very subtle ways, which I think is like a superpower! Toni Colette was a huge influence on my before I had even worked with her. I decided to be home schooled when I was in the seventh grade. I was in charge of it myself, so I would do really long school days because I wanted to finish school as quickly as possible. I would sit there in front of the TV for seventeen hours and watch movies and do school work. It took me about four movies to realize I had watched the same person. I had no idea that Kitty from “The Hours” was the same person as the mom from “The Sixth Sense” and was Muriel in “Muriel’s Wedding”. I couldn’t believe it! Those were all individually characters that I loved. I loved how they were portrayed and I loved them. I felt like I knew those people. That really was a huge spark for me, realizing I could conceivably become a chameleon. That is what I wanted to do and was interested in being. Once I had the opportunity to play her daughter for three years, it was the most exciting and intimidating experience for me at first. She became everything I wanted her to be and more! I find her to be, in every way, an inspiration and I feel very lucky to call her a friend.
Your latest film is “Short Term 12”. How did you get involved with the project initially and what made you want you to pursue the role?
The script was sent to me while I was in Georgia filming “The Spectacular Now.” I hadn’t even finished reading the script, I think I got about halfway through it, and I was already an emotional mess from it! [laughs] I felt very stronger that I had to play this part. I just knew that character and wanted to play it more than anything. I sent off an email saying I would do anything it takes to get the role. They set up a Skype call with the director, Destin Cretton, because I was out if town. In the meantime, I applied for a bunch of volunteer jobs to work with kids in Georgia, so I could get a head start on what that world looked and felt like. After that, Destin and I Skyped. We didn’t even talk for that long and by the end of it; he asked if I would do the film with him. I couldn’t believe it! Of course, I tried to play it cool. When I hung up I was stunned and just very concerned that it was all going to come crumbling down, that he was just being nice and I wasn’t going to get to do it! [laughs] That is how it all started. I came back from Georgia a couple of weeks before we started shooting and worked with the kids at a foster care facility and then we were rolling!
What elements did you bring to the character that might not have been on the written page originally?
It was specifically designed, in Dustin’s script, to have a really strong structure to it. It felt like you were reading an improv but they were very well thought out lines and scenes. Everything was very well placed except for the fact what really moves the story along emotionally is Grace’s internal world and internal conflict. It was a dream for an actor, to go into something being very well structured and support but then there is a whole other world and territory I was able to explore and make my own. It was really fun to do!
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge you faced with this role?
I didn’t find much challenge with it other than sometimes wishing I could have more sleep! [laughs] All of those things and the struggle of it bleeds into what is actually happening in the film. To be honest, every day was a pleasure! It was the most loving set and the most fun I have ever had making a movie. It was the best!
What did you take from your experience working with director Destin Cretton and what did he bring to this project?
The thing I learned from Destin was having patience and feeling, even when it seemed it could not go your way, belief that you are going to make the day and things are going to work out they way they are supposed to. It is incredible to imagine you can make a day on any film ever! To create a schedule that is completely out of order as to how to the story really goes and then to say “Ok, this Tuesday at 2 o’clock has to go this way.” It is a miracle that we ever get it right once! We were actually two days ahead for a long time, while we were shooting. I realized after the fact, of course we were an ultra low-budget movie, we didn’t have money to go over twelve hours. We couldn’t afford it. I have worked on many independent films that are in the same situation and I was very aware! The producers make you very aware on films in the same situation that we can’t go over and things have to get done at “X” hour. By the end of “Short Term 12,” I finally thought to myself, “Oh my, God! We are in this course and probably have even more restraints on us because this is lower budget than most things I’ve done.” Yet, I never felt that way because everybody onboard had this incredible uplifting sense that we were going to get through it and we were going to make it and we did! With ease, everyday! It was so easy! I think if you support and love something and have the patience to just kinda watch it and not put this sort of restraint on it, then it goes the way it is supposed to. It felt very open and honest, every step of the way.
How do you feel you have evolved as an actress since you first started out?
I just think I have gotten better because I have had more time to do it. I have felt more comfortable doing it as time goes on. I think it is a very strange profession for me to have chosen because I don’t enjoy being observed and I am not a lover of attention. There are certain aspects of it that have plagued me in small ways and with time, I think I have been able to become more comfortable with letting it all go and letting it all happen. I think with every new project, it is about finding new ways to leave your ego at the door.
Is there any particular type of role you are interested in tackling in the short term?
Not necessarily. I am twenty-three and still trying to grasp what authenticity really means, so I find I keep gravitating towards projects that reflect where I am out or the philosophical questions that I am trying to answer that will never be answered. It always happens — something comes along that really speaks to me. Sometimes, it is very abstract to the viewer as why it would speak to me but it always seems to make sense to me.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to other young actors who may just be starting down their own career path?
I could talk for awhile about that but the main thing is to never lose sight of yourself. You have to understand your job is to tap into these internal human emotions and if you don’t know what it is like to be a human or are afraid of struggling or feeling pain or happiness, you won’t be doing a good, honest job. You also need to be very aware that you are one small piece of a very big art project. You can be the best actor in the whole world but if there is no camera man, then you are acting to nothing. Being aware, respectful and a team player and not just focused on yourself and your performance but the morale of the whole team is an important thing to remember. It makes the whole process become fun rather than an us versus them thing.
You are still in the process of mastering your craft but I was curious if you are also looking to develop more of a life behind the camera?
Absolutely. I have already started by doing two short films. One of them won the Grand Jury Prize for Comedic Storytelling at Sundance two years ago. My second short premiered at SXSW, when “Short Term 12” premiered. I am just writing now and will be directing more as time goes on! I really enjoy it!
What should we look for next?
I have no idea! [laughs] I just finished a musical in India. I am not sure when the timeline is for that to come out but it will be the next release. I haven’t agreed to d anything else just yet. I want to give myself some time after all of this hullabaloo is over before I make a decision about what my next passion project will be!
We will definitely be on the lookout for wherever you land next! Thanks for your time today, Brie! We will talk again soon!
Thank you very much! Talk to you soon, Jason!
Mark your calendar! ‘Short Term 12’ will be released on August 23rd by Cinedigm!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.