To actresses, Hollywood is often their church. Under the city’s mutated skyline, neon lights glow along the horizon. One would be remiss to not see the sign, a cultural icon resonant atop steep mountains, coined after the city’s namesake. When embarking on a career in a town dominantly characterized by flash, fame, and fortune, it’s tempting for any dreamer to be driven by a lust for luxury and decadence.
Brie Larson is the exception to that assumption. When I greet her over the phone for our interview, she says she just finished a casual lunch with her mom. On break from shooting films, she likes to read and tend to her gardens. She speaks with a humble and quiet grace; her personality is both friendly and forthright, as though we’ve been friends for years.
But even if Larson wanted to flex her credentials, she would have every right. She recently received one of the most prestigious honors in the independent film circuit—the Gotham Award for Best Actress— for her performance in Short Term 12. The Critics’ Choice and Independent Spirit Awards also recently nominated her for "Best Actress."
As Oscar season rolls around early next year, Larson’s career has potential to blossom as fully as spring orchids in a flowerbed. I spoke to the 24-year-old actress about her role as the formidable foster-care supervisor Grace in this year’s Short Term 12 and next year’s romantic musical comedy Basmati Blues, her burgeoning talent as a screenwriter and director, and the nexus between actors’ chemistry in real life and on screen.
What was it about the script of Short Term 12 that made you want to portray Grace?
The script itself was told honestly and simply but was filled with complexity. It deals with all the different hopes and fears humans of any age struggle with in a setting we don't know much about. Grace, for me, stood as an example of a strong woman struggling to keep herself and the people she loves together.
Were you surprised by the positive response to the film and your performance, or did you have a sense from the get-go that this would be something special?
I was surprised. I didn't go into the project thinking anyone was watching. It was a story I loved, and I worked with people I loved and I did it for my parents. I usually anticipate that they will be the only ones to see the movies I'm making. To watch the film take on a life of its own has been exciting.
A significant part of Short Term 12 was the romance between Grace and her boyfriend, Mason. How did you and actor John Gallagher Jr. work together to create that chemistry?
Well, we didn't have very much time. John got in to town a few days before shooting so all we could afford to do was meet for dinner. Destin found out about it and dropped off an envelope on John's doorstep that said, "Do not open until you get to the restaurant." When we met for the first time and opened it we found it was filled with conversation starters. "What are your hopes and fears of being a parent?" "What's your favorite childhood memory?" "What was Grace and Mason's first date like?" It was brilliant. We never had to feel the awkwardness of stale conversation and at the same time we were creating an entire mythology of our characters that we could reference whenever needed on set.
A similar question: how did you, Kaitlyn Dever, and Keith Stanfield work together to strengthen Grace’s on-screen bond between their characters?
Like I said, we didn't have time to rehearse. The only time I had was a few minutes with each kid where I was given the time to ask if they had created any backstory that Grace would know about. Every kid was encouraged to keep their characters secrets to themselves but if there was something that would have realistically been in their "file" it was important that I knew it. That informed how Grace spoke to each kid and what her expectations were for them .
You stated in a previous interview regarding Short Term 12 that you believe females are underwritten, and that the business side of the industry believes that women have to do things that are beautiful, catchy on a poster and sexual. What can women do more to get on screen that doesn’t involve them catering to the business side of the industry?
That’s tough. I certainly can't tell anyone what the "right" thing is to do. But I will say, as a hint - the sooner that women stop allowing themselves to be portrayed as sex objects the sooner we can make a more balanced history.
Without giving too much away, what was it about the story Basmati Blues that made you want to be a part of it?
The only way I can feel comfortable being an actor is if I can find stories that I believe are important to be shared. The less about "me" it is, the better. Basmati Blues deals with a great social issue - GMOs - but it's told through love and song and dance. I love discussing social issues but I'm not interested in scare tactics. I believe there is a way to bring awareness in tandem with forgiveness and love.
You’re heading to the Baja film festival in Mexico. How do international audiences receive your films compared to American ones?
They do! I feel each individual has their own experience and those from different cultures make the interpretations even more across the board. I love hearing the thoughts of audience members who don't speak English. I've found their experience with the movie to be much more metaphorical. It's beautiful to hear.
When making Weighting and The Arm, was it a difficult transition to go back and forth from acting to directing the short films? Will we see more of your writing and directing in the future?
I don't find it difficult. Both take a lot of preparation and confidence. Different things are required for directing versus acting but I find the balance to be necessary for my brain. And yes - more writing and directing to come!
The pace of Weighting moves quickly, and a lot of events happen over a span of just a few minutes. What made you want to make it a short film, as opposed to a longer one?
I love trying to see how much information can be said with as little dialogue and time as possible. Weighting in particular was a way to portray an experience that seems to go by so quick; it's gone before the characters even know what has truly happened.
What future projects are you looking forward to?
I'm excited to finish writing songs for an album that will hopefully be completed very soon. Along with a screenplay and then all the other good stuff. Hikes. Cooking. Watching good movies. Coffee.