In Short Term 12, Brie Larson plays a seasoned, twentysomething supervisor at a group home for troubled teens. In The Spectacular Now, she's the hot girlfriend who dumps Miles Teller because his character has no interest in his future. Both films, out this week on Blu-ray & DVD, display Larson's true versatility as an actor (she truly enjoys having people say, "You were in that movie? I didn't realize that!"), and finally give the 24-year-old star the true attention she deserves.
In this special Q&A with ETonline, Brie reveals how prepping for Short Term 12 almost made her quit acting; teases details about her next film with Mark Wahlberg; ponders if her face could not be in a movie and yet still be an actor; and explains how anything she preps for is done "to the extreme."
ETonline: Short Term 12 has been very good to you. You're winning awards, you're up for awards. When you got involved in the project, did any of that cross your mind? Or was it really the character that hooked you?
Brie Larson: I didn't think that anybody would see the movie. I just did it for myself and mostly for my parents. I kind of just go into anything I do thinking that only my parents are going to see it. So it's very surprising -- especially with a film like Short Term 12 and a character like Grace, who's so internal, and it's such a struggle for her to outwardly communicate. I felt so strongly that what we were doing felt right and special and honest all the way through, but I didn't know if any of that would translate onto the screen, and it's just been wonderful to see how moved people are by these characters.
ETonline: I have a personal connection to the film in that a friend of mine did the exact same job that Grace does in the film, and she kind of had that thousand-yard stare sometimes when she would think about some of the experiences she had. It was definitely tough for her.
Larson: Oh wow, that's amazing.
ETonline: What kind of research did you do for the role, and what did you learn from taking this on?
Larson: I started first just researching online, just to get familiar with the world and understanding the rules. There was a wealth of information on Reddit continually … and there was a facility that let me and John [Gallagher Jr.] shadow there, so I had the opportunity to actually be there and talk to people in that field and pick their brain about what that day-to-day was like.
ETonline: How did that affect your performance?
Larson: It affected not just the performance but me. My life and belief system really changed a lot through it because I felt helpless. I thought that if I was there with those kids I could turn some stuff around, and I really couldn't. And I felt completely heartbroken, and I wanted to get to the actual seed of the problem and I couldn't find it. It's a horrible thing that's happening to these kids and there's no way to save everybody, and I wanted to just not be an actor anymore. It made everything seem miniscule. And then I had the most incredible epiphany where I realized that I was being given this incredible opportunity to tell a story, and if I could do it in the most honest and realistic way that I felt possible and do right by these people, that perhaps the movie would get out and it could go to places that were way beyond where I could physically be. And that's proven to be true, and it's very exciting to me that people are interested in real people and real stories and learning something and feeling something, and there is a power that comes with the cinesthetic experience of watching a film.
ETonline: There's always the danger of treading into after-school special territory with projects like this, and what's remarkable about Short Term 12 and The Spectacular Now is that they really manage to capture the reality of these people in these situations, and it's believable, as opposed to drama for the sake of drama. How do you manage to land these projects? Do you pick them, or do they pick you?
Larson: I guess it's a combination of both, especially when it's an audition process. They pick you, in a way, because the audition process is totally maddening and makes very little sense when you boil it down to the essence of it. … But you start to believe, I guess, that the stories that you're meant to tell kind of happen in a way in a way that's beyond your control. … I believe in what movies say, and I'm not an actor because I want things to be about me. I have no interest – if there was any way for my face to not be in a movie and still be an actor, I would do it.
ETonline: I think you are doing it to a certain degree. You definitely have demonstrated versatility in the roles you've chosen. I'm a big fan of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but believe it or not I didn't know you were in it until I made the connection later. I think that's a testament to your capabilities.
Larson: That's great! That's exactly what I want. I want it to seem like different people because they are different people. … I look at something like Short Term 12 and that character has a lot of pain, and I wouldn't have known how to portray that if I hadn't experienced pain myself. It's a huge part of the burden of being an actor who wants to be people and wants to reach people. I don't want my life to just be this, like, easy thing, because then I'm just going to make movies about how easy life is? It's not true. It's okay for it to be hard. It's okay for me to get roughed around in the process. I'm cool with it. … I want to get better and better at my craft.
ETonline: Now that you're working that much more and can actually pick between projects, what do you fill your down time with?
Larson: I love to cook, and I've just gotten more and more into it over the years, just because it's the best way to stay creative. I think that the fact that things grow on trees and in the ground and they're so beautiful, I love taking the time to look at things that are so obviously in front of us. I find a lot of inspiration in stuff like that. I cut open an avocado yesterday, and was like, 'This is the coolest thing ever! It's like real nature paint!' And I love music. I've been obsessed with the new Arcade Fire record, can't stop listening to it. Even if I wanted to stop listening to it, I can't! I actually cannot stop. And I love being outside – hiking, running, my fat dog – they make me really happy. And I'm reading a lot. I have a lot of time on planes, and I'm a pretty tactile person, so I'm always carrying around books, reading new things. Plus, I'm always prepping for something in my subconscious. I'm never just like mindlessly doing something. It's usually in preparation for something else, and if I'm going to do something, I kind of do it to the extreme.
ETonline: So you're prepping to shoot The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg. What can you tell us about the project?
Larson: I've read the script so many times, and every time, there's something -- it's a really magical script, but it's about so much stuff I can't even explain it to you. If you're expecting to see a perfect remake, it's not. But it's just incredibly thought-provoking and beautifully well-written and I think what it's about is going to change for me, but right now it seems like, perhaps, a person who is confused by the material world. Confused by the things that people care about or cling onto, and why money even exists in the first place. But that's just totally my interpretation of it. You could watch it and be like, 'You're a crazy person, it has nothing to do with that.' But that's what it means to me right now.
ETonline: Well, with a script by Oscar-winning The Departed writer William Monaghan, I think you've got a pretty good head start.
Larson: Yeah, it's good.
ETonline: Well, thanks for all of your insight and for taking the time to talk, and best of luck with the well-deserved accolades of Short Term 12 as well as your upcoming projects!