If you’ve never heard of Brie Larson, join the club.
She made a bit of a splash two years ago when she starred in a highly acclaimed but little seen independent movie (Short Term 12). But she followed that with low-key parts in equally unnoticed movies.
She did play Amy Schumer’s sister in Trainwreck but who noticed her?
Now, suddenly, she’s the talk of the industry. Her performance in Room has won unanimous acclaim, and against formidable competitors Cate Blanchett and Saoirse Ronan, she won both the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice awards, and nominated for the Oscar, it’s hers to lose.
Only 26, she’s been acting for 20 years and was in fact, the youngest person accepted by the prestigious San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater when she was only six.
A year later she landed her first commercial, and soon thereafter, when she moved with her mother to Los Angeles, she was cast in a string of small roles in failed sitcoms.
By the age of 16, she had had enough of acting, and switched to music, releasing an album Finally Out Of P.E. that didn’t take off.
Two years later she was back to acting, landing the role of Toni Collette’s daughter in The United States Of Tara, which led to Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and her breakthrough role in Short Term 12, which brought her to the attention of Lenny Abrahamson, the director of Room.
Room tells the story of Joy (Larson), a 24-year-old woman who, together with her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) are held captive in a small room by the boy’s father.
What was your first reaction after reading the book?
I am an avid reader, I love to read, I am one of those people who reads four books at once. I read books like people watch TV switching channels.
Room was sent to me maybe a year before it was turned into a film. I was told that it had been optioned, and I should just enjoy the book because I would never get cast since I was a nobody.
But I absolutely fell in love with the book. I fell in love with Jack and Ma and that story, and when the escape sequence happens in the book, I was crying so hard.
I went back and read it again, and it’s a testament to the beauty of Emma’s (Donoghue, the author) writing, that by telling it from Jack’s perspective, we could see that there was beauty around, even in the most depressing situations.
So how did the part fall into your lap?
Lenny had seen Short Term 12, and he asked for a coffee meeting with me. It was just supposed to be a short 30-minute meeting, and instead it turned into this four-hour long epic crying and laughing, showing each other pictures of our dogs.
He showed me pictures of his children. He knows a lot about storytelling and mythology, as do I, and we were able to immediately identify the different themes in the movie.
Still I had to audition, I was one of many others that came in and read for him.
Did you do other research?
I spent a lot of time speaking with a trauma counsellor, and I spent a lot of time with women who were sexually abused. They were able to articulate what it was that they were going through.
But what I think makes this movie powerful is the universal nature of it. I myself have not had a life of puppies and ice cream; I have had my own struggles and my own difficult childhood.
I too have been left with many bumps and bruises and scars and broken arms along the way.
Even though I haven’t had this exact situation, I have felt that feeling, and I wanted to represent it.
You seem to have an old soul. What’s your philosophy?
I have learned to trust even though that’s a very difficult word for me to say out loud. I am not quite sure in what, but my main guide in this world is nature.
Any time I lose sight of things, the second I look at a plant and see the way that a plant can grow, and when it’s in shade it will sort of twist and turn and find the light … that to me is how I live my life.
How prepared are you for fame?
Although the world’s perception of me might be different, I am the same. The way I feel about myself and my connection to myself is exactly the same, and I will continue to go home and take out my trash and pick up my dog’s poo. It’s not going to be any different.
How many dogs do you have?
I have two. They are Papillons, and they are the best. Their names are Bowie and Jonathan.
Have you ever experienced the claustrophobia depicted in the movie?
Actually in preparation for this movie, I spent a month at home, and I invited some friends that had gone on these silent retreats where you are not allowed to talk to anybody or even make eye contact because even that is seen as a form of communication.
So, I wanted to see what would happen, especially for someone like me who enjoys being alone. A lot of memories came up, and I was able to just be still with myself.
One thing that immediately came back to me was a memory of my childhood, of being seven years old – my sister was three or four – and my mum had moved us from Sacramento to Los Angeles.
We moved into a studio apartment that was small, maybe twice the size of Room. We had a stove and countertop, and one tiny room that you opened, and there was a toilet. I had two pairs of jeans, two shirts, a headband, and my orange Converse.
My sister had the same thing, and I remember that period of time as being the greatest time of my life.
The reason why it was so much fun was that my mum had the greatest imagination of anyone I have ever met; she turned anything into a game and everything was fun. And there was never a moment where I felt like I couldn’t have something.
I had completely forgotten about that, but through the stillness of being at home, I remembered how we would all three sleep in this one bed that came out of the wall, and I remembered hearing my mum covering her mouth and having these choking sobs.
It wasn’t until many, many years later that I found out that my father had asked for a divorce, and that’s why we had made this sudden move to Los Angeles. Me and my sister had no idea what my mum was coping with, all on her own, knowing nobody in Los Angeles. But she had created this space of imagination, this space of fun.
You have a home in Los Angeles. Do you have a favourite room?
So strange that you ask because I built it before we made this movie.
I have one very small room which is like my sanctuary, it’s covered in cork, and it looks a lot like Room, and it’s where I draw and I can pin anything I want on the walls, and it’s where I explore my imagination.
How do you get over bad times?
Forgiveness. Forgiveness from what has happened before. Life is a series of getting close to something, and then losing it, and then taking a step to try and get close again.
It’s miraculous to me that we as human beings can be in loving relationships. We continue to trudge forward and become close to people despite all of the pains that we go through.
Strength can come from many things; it can come from a good night’s rest, it can come from a delicious meal, and it can come from laughter, and it can come from forgiveness.
I feel really grateful that I have incredible friends, and I have a lovely family, and I have a partner who I love very much. So there are many ways your strength can come from, and none are mutually exclusive.
Philip Berk, eight-time president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, hobnobs with celebrities to report exclusively from Los Angeles.