"Everyone tells me I look like their cousin's best friend," Brie Larson shrugs as she tucks into a chair in a suite at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons. "That's what I get in the Trader Joe's checkout line. Like, 'Do I know you? Are you my cousin's friend?'"
It's an oddly specific comparison and one only made more odd considering the cashier only needs to look over to the magazine rack to see Larson's face smoldering on the cover of this month's Vanity Fair. But I get it. Despite any trappings of fame -- how many Oscars has your cousin's friend won? -- Larson is still disarmingly approachable, warmly greeting me with a toothy smile and mistakenly thinking we'd met before. She has an earnestness that radiates from her, one that tinges everything from her Academy Award acceptance speech ("Thank you to the moviegoers. Thank you for going to the theater.") to her social media presence, where she recently shared a series of photos of the DJ job that "floated" her while she was auditioning for movie roles. "I'm grateful for where I am now, but want to give a toast to the life I lived before," she wrote. "To all the dreamers with day jobs, I see you, don't give up. There is beauty in your journey."
"I just went by my name," Larson tells me of her days on the ones and twos. "I didn't have any cool name. I've never been cool. It just truly was a day job, which happened to usually take place at night. But it was the way that I was able to survive for a really long time."
Now, at age 27, life is different. Or it isn't. Despite an Oscar and having recently returned from a global press tour for Kong: Skull Island, Larson has trouble explaining how she is adjusting to this new phase of her career. "I don't have, like, a really definitive answer for that," she admits after a thoughtful sigh. "I don't feel like I've processed it yet and I think part of why I haven't processed it yet is that I don't feel any different in my body. I think that I've had some surreal experiences and things around me -- external things -- have changed, but most of my day-to-day is pretty normal still. My friends are the same. I eat the same foods. I still question if I'm a good actor. I know that I'm doing a fancy interview and so it seems like I should be, like, 'It's amazing! The world's so new!' It's not. It's exactly the same."
With Kong still circling the box office, Larson is switching her focus to a second onscreen offering this year: Free Fire, a '70s-set satire from director Ben Wheatley (High-Rise). The movie, out now, revolves around a black market gun deal gone awry, with Larson playing an arms dealer caught in the crossfire. "You get really comfortable with being dirty," the actress says of the shoot. "Between Kong and this, I've gotten very comfortable with just, like, being covered in stuff. But I like that. I don't like being too precious with hair and makeup and spending a bunch of time getting ready. I personally really enjoy films where I get to be, like, totally torn down."
Larson is also the sole female in the cast, surrounded by the likes of Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley. "I was, like, everyone's little sister," she recalls. "I felt protected. I've never had brothers. This was the closest I've felt to having a bunch of brothers with me all the time." With Free Fire, playing a representative for her entire gender is baked into the very subtext of the film, though it meant the feminist advocate was the only woman working on a male-dominated project. "On one hand, it's a compliment, right? For Ben to be like, 'I think that she can represent all women in this film.' That's really cool," Larson laughs good-naturedly.
"I mean, if you wanna go through my, like, IMDb, I'd say the majority, if not all of the films I've done, have been male-driven," she adds, excusing herself as she reaches over me for a pot of coffee. "But seeing females in movies is, like, my favorite thing, and we just need more representation across the board. And the conversation doesn't just end with females. The conversation is widening in this really positive way, I think, where we're talking about intersectionality, that we just need representation across the board. And even though I'm a woman, I'm a white woman. So, me being in more movies doesn't answer that question. We just need more opportunities."
Which brings us back to the Oscar. In discussing how becoming "Academy Award Winner Brie Larson" has changed her life, she'll often talk of what she can do for others. "Creating more opportunities for different types of people, that feels really exciting to me and gives my life meaning. I have more of a say in not just the things that I'm acting in, but [in] these other projects that I want to develop. These are the people that I would love to see on screen. These are the opportunities that I'd love to give to others," Larson says. "I remember specifically all of the people who took a chance on me and helped me get to where I am, and I'm super excited to be able to do that for other people."
For herself, though an Oscar win offers her increased opportunities to "explore myself," as she phrases it, Larson will continue bouncing between indie baubles and studio tent poles. She next stars in an adaptation of Jeannette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle, before top-lining Marvel's first standalone female superhero movie, Captain Marvel. Of the latter, she's unwilling to say much, though I try. ("Oh my god, those are very good questions. But you're not going to get anything out of me. But I know you had to try. And it was a very good try.")
"As long as I continue to stay sort of uncomfortable and unsure, and as long as when I'm on set there is a part of me that's going, 'I don't think I can do this!'" Larson, who will also make her feature directorial debut on the coming-of-age comedy, Unicorn Store, explains. "That's usually when I'm in the right place."
For the time being, that instinct is all Larson has to go on. "I don't have, like, some master plan," she says, equally adamant that winning an Oscar didn't solve any of life's problems for her. She will continue being mistaken for your cousin's friend. She'll keep questioning whether she's even any good at this. "I don't, you know, sit on a hammock in my backyard and go, 'Gosh, I'm just so amazing.' And I'm not going to become that person, I don't think. And if I do, then I should probably take a really long break and go, like, dig a well or go do hard labor somewhere," she jokes before adding earnestly, "My job is to tell stories. I want to be connected to being a human."