Brie Larson, actress
It must be something in the low water reserves. In the last few years, Sacramento has established itself as a breeding ground for world-class actresses like Jessica Chastain, Greta Gerwig and now Brie Larson. Larson has earned acclaim for her role as Toni Collette’s daughter in the 2009-2011 Showtime series The United States of Tara, and in 2013 as a group home supervisor in the indie film Short Term 12. Now she's garnering rave reviews and awards buzz for her performance as the kidnap victim Ma in Lenny Abrahamson's Room, a powerful drama based on the 2010 Emma Donoghue novel by the same name. The film opens Friday, November 20, in Sacramento. Larson talked to SN&R about memories of Sacramento, her bond with Room co-star Jacob Tremblay and her Criterion junkie cinephilia.
You were born in Sacramento but moved away at age 7. What are your memories of the city?
It's the first place where I saw acting. It was in the Music Circus—I saw The Sound of Music, and it just blew my mind. I must have been about 5 or 6, and it knocked my socks off. I couldn't stop talking about it. That was the very beginning of seeing what kind of future I wanted.
Your co-star Jacob Tremblay gives such an amazing performance, and you two are great together. How did your background as a child actor help you create that bond?
What helped me was a kindred feeling of having a passion for acting at a really young age, a pure, real passion for wanting to tell good stories and tell them honestly. Jacob doesn't just want to be some cute kid, he really wants to do interesting, dynamic things, and I related to that. I was never going to talk to him like he was just a kid. … He was always going to be an equal creative force in this process.
We come to understand the plight of Ma, but the film doesn’t give us all the details. How much background did you fill in yourself?
I had to fill in almost all of it. It wasn't just me, it was Lenny as well, and I'm sure that he was using Emma as a sounding board during that process. Lenny and I were talking about it recently, and we were discussing the marvel that we created Ma from the ground up, like creating an A.I. A lot of that came from talking with experts—we spoke with trauma specialists, nutritionists, doctors … anybody who was willing to help us understand what these types of circumstances would do to the human body and mind.
How do you stay grounded when playing tortured characters like the ones in Room and Short Term 12?
Whether you're playing a happy character or a sad character, as long as you know who you are when you go home at the end of every day, that's what's important. With something like Room, I knew that it was going to be a really long, emotional road. Sometimes these characters can feel like mistletoe on a tree. They're almost like an infection—they grab on to you and suck all the life force away, and so it's really important to have an understanding of that appendage, and know how much you're willing to give to it.
You recently tweeted about your love for the Swedish movie A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. I wanted to get your take, because it’s my favorite film of the year.
I love that darkly funny tone that shows the absurdity of the human experience, but in a way that's so deadpan. That movie says everything about the human condition, this idea that we can't let go of our stuff and accept an idea that there's something beyond this that doesn't involve material objects or even our physical bodies. It's just so smart.
Do you get to watch many films?
I try to. Sometimes it ends up being whatever's playing on an airplane, so I'm a couple of months behind, but I try to watch whatever I can. I love knowing what's happened in the past and where we've been, but I think that for much of my life, I've tuned out what's happening in the present. I was stuck on all of my movies from the Criterion Collection.
You’ve taken Room to numerous festivals. How many times have you seen the movie by now?
I've seen it four times, and I wish I could say I've seen it more. I haven't had time because I usually go somewhere and do interviews while the movie's playing. I think that with Short Term 12, by the end of all the press that I did, I had seen it 20 times. It meant different things to me over time, and it's hard to continue to talk about a movie if you're not connected to it. If you don't have that connection, you start to feel like a talking robot giving sound bites. Even just seeing the end of Room gets me every time, and reminds me why I'm still talking about this movie, why it's worth talking about.