Actress Brie Larson has garnered quite a bit of recognition for her role in the indie drama Short Term 12, as Grace, a supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility who is learning to cope with pain of her own. It’s no surprise that she was honored for her performance with a Virtuosos Award at SBIFF, and Collider was there to cover and attend the event, compiling the highlights of what she had to say, both on the press line and during the Q&A.
While there, Brie Larson talked about what it’s been like to be a part of awards season, how she approached bringing this character to life, the music that got her into the needed headspace, that this was one of the best experiences she’s ever had, playing the duality of emotions, and the response she’s gotten from people who have had similar experiences to the characters. She also talked about her unusual character in Don Jon, how she’s currently working on a remake of The Gambler, which she says isn’t really a remake, and what it’s been like to work with director Rupert Wyatt on that film. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
BRIE LARSON: I was home-schooled ‘cause I wanted to be an actor. I would spend all day watching movies, trying to get through calculus. So, to be a part of that is just weird. I wish I had a better answer, other than just that it’s a strange thing. I think that’s something you appreciate more, 10 years from now. Right now, I just don’t understand it. It’s cool!
In the very early scenes of the movie, even though Grace is trying to just go about her day, you could see that she was a troubled young woman. How did you go about bringing her to life?
LARSON: It was just the contradiction. She’s a huge contradiction for a lot of the movie, and that was the challenge of it. What I really loved about playing it was that it wasn’t about what was happening on the surface. It was everything that was happening behind it. I got into my own weird routine. I was listening to a lot of Norwegian black metal and death metal. There’s a great history to Norwegian black metal. That music is very dark and violent, but it’s also beautiful. There’s a range to it. So, I’d listen to that, and I could feel the emotion within that. I’d listen to it, up until the moment we’d start shooting. Especially for scenes with the kids, and the group scenes, those kids could pick up on the smallest little off-ness because they’re so smart. They need love, constantly. The slightest thing will set them off. So, that’s how I did it. And I drank a lot of coffee. That was the fun balance that we played. It was about bringing myself up, and then suppressing it, as much as possible.
Did you enjoy this kind of no frills, fly by the seat of your pants production?
LARSON: Oh, yeah, I absolutely loved it. It just weeds out a certain type of person. There are people that do jobs because you get money for them. And when there’s no money involved, a lot of people are like, “Well, I’m not going to do it.” You’d look around the room and there would be 20 people, who were people that believed this was a story that was important to tell. We all wanted to be there, every day. It was one of the most wonderful, loving, exciting, inspiring experiences that I’ve ever had.
Was it interesting to play this character’s duality, as someone who seems to know when to hold back, like when she’s with these kids, but who can also lose her cool?
LARSON: Yeah. It’s really important to that job, quite simply. I got to shadow at a facility and I was blown away. I actually called my mom afterwards and said, “I understand.” I feel like I had some insight into what it is to be a parent and putting someone else before yourself. It’s not about these moods and emotions. It’s about really trying to nurture and push these children, in order to get them to this next spot. That’s what these men and women in the field are doing. That’s what I was trying to do on camera, and I also believe in carrying that on, off camera. These are kid actors, so it was important to me to show them an example, in that way.
This movie really takes people into the mind-set of a cutter and what can cause someone to self-mutilate. What kind of response have you had, from people who have gone through that themselves?
LARSON: We’ve actually had a lot of line staff, from all over, even in Switzerland, that have come forward, and kids that have aged out of foster care. The reaction is visceral and hard. Sometimes it’s a very therapeutic experience for people, and sometimes it’s too much. (Writer/director) Destin [Cretton] and I have been waiting in the wings to do a Q&A, and we’ve seen women in their 60s leaving the theater heaving because they were sexually abused and never talked about it. It’s a movie that I feel like, when you get passed the idea that it’s foster care and you start to see them as human beings that are struggling with emotion, conversation, family, identity and love, which is the biggest one, as far as loving another person and the fear of being unlovable, it cuts deep. It goes beyond even the dialogue in the film because we’re dealing with people who have a really hard time talking about their emotions and voicing that they need help and saying, “I’m a human and I’ve been hurt, and it’s hard.” That transcends, even in countries where English isn’t the first language. It’s the metaphor and the feeling that goes along with it. They might not know what foster care is, but that feeling resonates with them.
You were also in Don Jon, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s sister, who is a character that literally doesn’t speak throughout the entire movie, until the one scene at the end where she decides to spew out this one speech that is the greatest truth of the entire film. What was that character like to play?
LARSON: My job was great. I go to just sit there and watch everyone do great stuff. I’m so used to having lines ‘cause usually what actors do is talk. So, I had this weird feeling when I’d go to work every morning and go, “I didn’t memorize my lines!,” but I didn’t have anything to do. And it’s the same scene, over and over again. It’s this dinner table scene that happens multiple times, and you start to see the progression of this family. I just got to watch and make faces that were like, “Are you serious?! What are they doing?!” It wasn’t until I watched the movie that I realized I was making the same faces in my sit, as I was in the movie. It was like being an audience member, sitting there at the table.
What are you excited to do, in the next couple of years? Have you set any goals for the next phase of your career?
What are you working on now?
LARSON: I’m doing a film right now with Mark Wahlberg, called The Gambler. It’s tough to talk about. It’s technically a remake of a James Caan film, but it’s not really like that, at all. It’s very existential. It deals with gambling, but in my mind, it’s not really about gambling. It’s more about the material world.
How has Rupert Wyatt been to work with, as a director?
LARSON: He’s the best! He’s just the most thoughtful and smart guy. It’s been such a great time. We all sit around in a room and intellectually question each other. It’s great!