In 21 Jump Street, Jonah Hill goes back to high school as an undercover cop alongside Channing Tatum, where he becomes smitten with Molly (played by Brie Larson). Things have changed since Hill’s character went to high school, and he is baffled by some of Molly’s progressive views, in particular her open relationship with a schoolmate played by Dave Franco. However, the true obstacle in their budding relationship is the age difference, since Hill plays an adult police officer romantically interested an underage girl. That indicates you won’t find the typical romance that’s shoved into buddy cop movies in Phil Lord and Chris Miller‘s very R-rated remake of 21 Jump Street.
A group of us movie bloggers had the chance to interview Larson (22 years old, FTR) on set in New Orleans near the end of the shoot. She talked about her character, her research into polyamory, the unusual casting process, and the influence of older films on Molly’s wardrobe. Read what she had to say after the jump.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your role in the movie?
LARSON: I play Molly Tracie. She’s the female—I don’t want to say “lead.” She’s the girl. That feels like something everyone else can say, but I can’t or else I’ll pee my pants. “Love interest” sounds good. To Jonah’s character.
They both described you as a more modern high schooler than they might have been.
LARSON: Oh yeah. That’s nice of them. This whole school is, as times are changing, much more modern and progressive. Molly is in an open relationship with Eric, the Dave Franco character. They seem to be into each other and also very okay not being together. They’re free to do whatever they want and are green.
Is that a common thing in high school, open relationships?
LARSON: You know, I wouldn’t know. I think more things are becoming socially acceptable. I think that just by having more media, whether that’s TV or internet, we’re able to see more things. And once we start to see them, things seem to be less taboo because you’re watching everyone else do it. I watched a show on being polyamorous. These are kids who are 19 years old and in relationships with three people. As much as we are shocked by that now, at the same time, you watch it and you see them. They’re all loving one another and all together. It’s like, whatever works, right?
So your character watches a lot of Skins.
LARSON: But with the high school thing, I was homeschooled. I don’t know that much about it. My sister just graduated and I would be shocked to know what she knows.
Was she homeschooled as well?
LARSON: No, she just graduated from the high school that I couldn’t last a semester at. She’s amazing. Much stronger than me.
Why couldn’t you last?
LARSON: I had a tough time fitting in, as I guess most kids do. I felt like school was kind of a grand opportunity to figure yourself out and to figure out what you wanted. I just saw it as a buffet of knowledge and it was a chance to go, “Oh, I like science!” or “I don’t like history” or “I like this thing.” You find your interests. I knew already and felt like I was wasting my time. I felt like I was sitting there in class going, “I want to say all these things!” I felt stifled. Stifled and resentful of school rather than opened by it.
Neal was talking about the moral of the movie sort of being, “Be yourself.”
LARSON: Yeah, I think that actually underlying the whole thing is the sense of being yourself and not conforming. There’s a lot of different types of people within this film. The movie itself is a weird contradiction. Jonah brings this comedic element. Neal brings this much different action side of it. Then Phil and Chris are kind of the heart of the whole thing with what’s technically an animation background. Then you’ve got Channing who brings this amazing movie-star—he can do anything, really. Then you’ve got me and Dave and Riggle and a few other great people who come in and fill those holes. It’s an amazing push and pull because we all come from completely different schools. I’ve never done anything like this before. I know how to have a conversation, but I’ve never done improv. I’ve never taken improv classes. I think it’s that. The fact that I came from a more dramatic background and that Jonah came from a looser background. The two of us kind of meet in the middle. It’s those moments when it does feel a little awkward and it does feel like we’re trying to dance but are misstepping that make the relationship seem so realistic and beautiful and wonderful and exactly like what we all went through in high school. It’s sweet and it’s young and it’s insecure, but it’s also the most beautiful part of the whole thing.
Do you get to do any action?
LARSON: You know, I don’t. I had to do quite a bit of running and I had to do quite a bit of breaking free and wrestling. I think maybe Jonah and Channing would argue, but I think that I have gotten the most injuries of anybody on this film. I bruise easily and you can even see here—these are nothing. Also, I get brutally attacked by bugs and I’m very allergic and they turn into bruises. I haven’t had to do much of that, but I’ve somehow become injured and bruised. There’s the last scene in the movie after everything where I’m in the ambulance and we have a sweet moment. After all this chase and stuff, they wanted me to be scuffed up and they didn’t have to do anything. I had a huge bruise on my shoulder and they were like, “That’s perfect! We don’t need to cover that or that or that.” They really just needed to take off makeup.
It seems like Molly is sort of stuck between the good guys who are lying to her and the bad guys who probably don’t have her best interests at heart. What do you do to make her stick out and become her own character?
LARSON: Well, I guess once again it’s a huge amount of acceptance in this movie also a large amount of naivete that she has. She’s the one person in this thing that doesn’t have a clue as to what’s going on and is the one person that’s following her heart and following Doug and assuming he has the right intentions, which he does. In the end, I think her intuition is right. They just met in a way that seems a little bit misconstrued. The reality is that he really is the person he says he is, it’s just the name that’s different. The person inside is still that person and she was right all the time.
Do you have any kissing scenes with the male leads or intimate scenes?
LARSON: I think you’ll have to watch the movie, I guess, to see what happens there. That seems like a big spoiler.
Do you feel at all like you’re getting that high school experience through the production or does it just feel like a film set?
LARSON: I don’t know. I feel like I lived high school a long time ago or have been living it for awhile in the way that, when people got to get dressed up, I had mine, too. I didn’t get a corsage pinned on me, but maybe had a date with my mom and maybe the event was going to my sister’s, but I definitely had it. I never thought that I missed out on anything. I never really wanted any of that. I wasn’t interested in going to the school dances. I wasn’t interested in going to the football games. What I wanted was to be in my room painting my walls and doing weird stuff. That’s what I wanted and I got to do what I wanted, so that, to me, is my high school experience.
It’s been mentioned that the villains have non-traditional extracurricular activities. Does Molly have any specific interests outside of classes?
LARSON: She wants to be an actress and her parents are not too keen on it. But that’s everything to her. She loves movies and you’ll see hints of that every time you see her wardrobe. You’ll say, “Oh, she’s wearing that!” It’s slightly different than what she was wearing yesterday because we’ve all been victim to getting very into a movie and very into a certain character. The next day, we’re suddenly dressing like them. But she’s a sponge and is young and is trying to learn and find as much as possible. She’s so inspired by this media that she’s watching a lot of movies and changing constantly. One day, maybe, it’s a little more Godard, A Woman Is a Woman, and maybe another day is Klute. Maybe another day is The Lover. Maybe another is Rollergirl. She’s trying to find herself through these strong females that she so adores.
Do we see her watching or talking about those specific movies in the film?
LARSON: That’s more subtext. That’s more something that we kind of created after the fact. The thing is, we’re still our own movie. We want to be modern. It’s not always so cool to just be a throwback to everything else. It’s definitely transcending, but I think it’s an important part of her.
Do you think this movie is even remotely as pop-culturally aware as something like Scott Pilgrim?
LARSON: Oh, this is so different. This is a much more loose form. Scott Pilgrim is so, so intricate and well thought-out. Edgar was very specific about what he wanted from everybody. There was a scene in Scott Pilgrim where I was on the phone. He came to me and I think I had about seven lines in it. He said—and first of all, I don’t blink in the entire movie. I wasn’t allowed to blink. He said it looked weak if I blinked. So I had to stare at this one spot. He said, “You can do one thing per line. Whether that’s raising an eyebrow or turning your head or breathing. Whatever. You can do one. You can only do one per line and you can’t repeat whatever you did.” At first it was really fun and then it became very confusing. It’s like, “Okay, when you put your head down, it worked better when you did it on this line.” It became like an order, like a burger order. “I want a medium rare with lettuce, pickles, no onions.” You start to get confused. “Oh, wait! Was it this one or that last one?” In the end, it all fits together and looks brilliant and was all for a reason. On this, it’s not that nothing’s thought out, but it’s much more fast and loose. You’re catching conversations and capturing more of reality whereas Scott Pilgrim was taking you into a fantastic world.
Did you have any familiarity with the original 21 Jump Street?
LARSON: I had definitely seen it on TV before. There’s reruns that play all the time. But in the process of auditioning for this, I went back and watched it all again. Then since being in the movie, we have the DVD here and we’ll pop them in all the time. But I don’t know if it’s important for us to have watched it and to try and emulate it. How long has it been? Thirty years later? I don’t think we could every replicate the magic that they did. The best thing that we can do is to take it into something that’s new and exciting. If we succeed at that, hopefully we can make people go back and look at the DVD and watch it again and appreciate that, too.
What was the casting process like?
LARSON: The strange thing about this was that I kind of just ran into Jonah and Phil and Chris and had no idea. I just started bantering with them. I met Jonah at a table read for another film and we had, through breakups, gone traveling overseas and realized that, when you’re already afraid of being alone, the worst thing you can possibly do is to go overseas and be very, very alone. We started talking for a little bit and when I was about to go he said, “Can I introduce you to my friends?” I thought, “Oh, okay. Is this show and tell?” So I met these two young guys who had pads of paper in their hands and plaid shirts on. I was like, “Who are these young kids?” And I talked to them for a second. One of them gave me a stick of gum and we kind of bantered around in a circle for a second. They were like, “Okay, it’s time for notes for the script,” and I left. They were like, “Best friends!” And I was like, “Yeah, yeah. Best friends.” I’m thinking to myself, “I’m never going to see these people again.” Shortly after, I got a call that there was 21 Jump Street and I got a call to meet with the directors and with Jonah. I looked at the directors online and thought, “These guys look so familiar. Why do they look so familiar?” I couldn’t figure it out. Then I walked in the room and they were like, “It’s our best friend!” I was like, “Oh my god, I forgot. I can’t believe it. Of course!” “We gave you a stick of gum!” And then it was one of the best auditions I ever had. I’m not saying I even did an amazing job, but by the end of it I was going on vacation with them, we were going to make long-sleeve Hawaiian shirts. We were arguing over what percentage everyone got and what sort of input everyone would have on the shirt. Then there was the question of what you did first: did you go on vacation to research the Hawaiian shirt or did you make it and then go to test them out? After that, it was pretty simple. I went in one more time and improv’d with Jonah for a little bit. The hardest part was that I had to wait a week for everyone to approve. I was so stressed out. I was like, “Oh my god. I love these people so much! I want to do this so bad.” The hardest part is the waiting.
Do you find yourself drawn, as an actor, to these young filmmakers? Like Edgar Wright, Phil and Chris, or Diablo Cody?
LARSON: Yeah, but I wouldn’t say that I would choose one over the other. I think that usually I’m just drawn to something that’s different from something that I’ve done previously. Whatever makes me feel something. Whatever makes me excited and connected to it. There’s obviously something that feels very good about being with a new filmmaker who’s very excited, but I also think there’s something very comforting in a director who’s been around a few times. Both have their pros and cons.
Do you get to have fun with picking your own wardrobe?
LARSON: It was a long process of getting the wardrobe right because everybody was very—we were trying to find something that didn’t seem like she was trying. It was effortless and, at the same time, different and stand out. But that didn’t look like she was trying to show off or that she was asking for attention. With that, it was mostly just—it was fairly easy. I think that fashion is very important for me and I think that it’s a wonderful means of self-expression. It’s the most personal thing that you can do, because it’s actually physically on your body. It’s different if you, say, paint something that’s literally separate from you. Instead of sitting on a table or hanging on a wall, this is actually hanging off of me. It’s important and it makes you feel different. You know how it is when you put on your best friend’s shirt. You feel weird, even if everyone tells you that it looks good. You know that it isn’t right. That’s usually what the process is.
What’s the outfit you’re wearing now? Is that A Woman Is a Woman?
LARSON: This, to me, felt like Contempt, which I was really interested in having a piece of in the movie. There are few women who, at 18 years old, was able to embody such a womanly presence and isn’t what we see now as the typical kind of body. She carries herself in such a strong way. Contempt was not the first film I saw of hers. It was And God Created Woman. She’s so amazing in it. The second I saw that, I felt like it changed me. There’s a sense of knowing and maturity with her and there’s obviously a comfortability with her sexuality. I felt like Bardot would have been someone who opened that door for her.
Is that something you’re deciding or does it come from the costume designer or the directors?
LARSON: Well, working with a costume designer, it all goes hand in hand. But I remembered movies that were really important to me and I put together a big long list and let her put in what she thought. There’s other movies for her that gave her the same feeling and I really wanted her to be able to put in some of her influences as well.
Is your character the reason why Jonah is in the play in the movie?
LARSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m Wendy in the play. I guess in his way, to get closer to me, he becomes Peter.
That’s a musical. Are you singing?
LARSON: No, there’s no singing. Or, at least we don’t see the musical part of it. I don’t sing in this.
Was the improv ever so much that you couldn’t stand it and just started laughing?
LARSON: A lot. A lot of the time. That’s the hardest part. Usually, though, for most of scenes that we have together, it’s fine if I laugh. I’m supposed to find him very funny and charming, which I do. If that comes out, that’s perfect. I’m exactly where I should be. It’s harder when I get to the end of the movie and am held hostage and am supposed to be very upset and the funniest things I’ve ever heard in my life are coming out. All I can do is pretend there’s something really important behind me to hide my face from it. I’m being held at gunpoint by Rob Riggle, who’s one of the funniest people on the planet. He’s made me need to run to the bathroom many, many times. He’s holding me at gunpoint and he just goes on this ten-minute run, which Jonah said was the best run he’s ever seen. You can see everyone back stage with hands over their mouth and tears coming up. I can’t do anything! If I laugh, I screw this up for everybody. It’s like life or death in those moments and afterwards you just fall on the ground and you’re just a wiggle worm. You can’t stop. I have a few videos of the second a take is done and there’s a very quiet set. You can’t laugh. It ruins everything. And the second it cuts, it’s just [roar]. And we’re on these very public streets. I can’t imagine being from Timbuktu and visiting New Orleans. It’s very quiet around 11am and suddenly you hear [roar]. It’s people rolling over. It’s probably a strange thing.
Is this a movie where you’re allowed to react however you want?
LARSON: Well, it’s all about whether you’d actually laugh. That’s the argument we always go back to: whether you’d laugh in real life. How would you wear your bag in real life? How would you walk? How you would hang on your friends? Who would you sit with? Even extras in the school allow themselves to be paired up. You put 150 people in a room and certain people are going to gravitate towards one another. Why would you want to separate that? You want it to be real. You say, “Hey, kids. Whatever you’re doing over here, do it in front of the camera. That would be great.” Then you fit other things in around.
Have you been able to explore New Orleans?
LARSON: Oh yeah. It’s my first time here and I feel total domination. I feel like I came and saw and conquered. My agenda was maybe different than most people. I did have a hand grenade. I did have that. But my main thing was the restaurants. They’ve got amazing chefs here and I care alot about cooking. I didn’t have a kitchen so my only way was through them. I hit every single good restaurant here. Then realized that we only have two weeks left and going every night, “Well, I’ve got to do the seven-course tasting menu! I’m not going to be back here for awhile!” I’m stuffed to the brim.
For more coverage from the set:
- 21 Things to Know About 21 JUMP STREET from Our Set Visit
- Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview
- Dave Franco 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview
- Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview
- Producer Neal Moritz 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview