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Brie Larson

Taking the Lead

Oct 09, 2013 Brie Larson
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“I’ve always been creatively inclined, and I’ve wanted to work since I was a kid,” actress Brie Larson says, recalling how she drew approximately 300 pages of scenes based on The Lion King—essentially her own storyboardswhen she was six years old. “I just like to work. I like to keep carving away at different artistic processes.”

Larson’s acting career, which began when she was a child growing up in Sacramento, has been building steadily toward 2013, a year in which she appears in three festival buzz films out this summer and fall: The Spectacular Now, Short Term 12, and Don Jon. After playing numerous supporting roles through the yearssuch as the rebellious daughter of Toni Collette’s character on Showtime’s United States of Tara and Envy Adams in Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldLarson, now 23, took on her first lead film role with Short Term 12, an indie that won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards at SXSW this year. She plays Grace, a strong-willed but emotionally burdened supervisor at a group home for at-risk teens. It’s a weighty, dramatic part realized by the actress with equal doses of toughness, empathy, and vulnerability. Prior to shooting, Larson saw the prospect of carrying the film as “terrifying.”

“I had no idea what that was like,” she says. “I didn’t know if I would crumble under the pressure of it. But I think what worked in my favor was that I had put in many years13 years or something ridiculous like thatof watching others be in that position, and I knew very clearly what worked and what didn’t work. I also was playing a character who was putting on a strength even though she was unsure inside.”

Short Term 12 is partly based on writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton’s two years of working in a facility for troubled teens. To prepare for her role, Larson shadowed “line staff” at a facility in Los Angeles.

“I had a lot of emotion and I learned a lot from it,” she says. “The main thing for me personally to overcome was learning how to speak with a firm, strong voice, and that even though you’re speaking firmly, you’re still speaking lovingly. I am an older sister, and I’m the oldest of all the grandkids, so I’m very used to dealing with kids. I’ve babysat most of my life, but I had never dealt with such wounded children, and I didn’t understand the different ways that love could be shown. And in my life, I hadn’t quite learned how to speak up for myself. That was the thing I had to practice in the mirror a little bit, learning to speak with force and not sounding like a whiny child.”

By contrast, for her supporting part in Don Jon, the feature-length directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larson had to get used to working without dialogue. She plays the sister of Gordon-Levitt’s title character, and in scenes where he shares the ups and downs of his love life at the family dinner table, the volatile discussions are repeatedly met by her blank stares and disinterest.

“I felt so much anxiety,” Larson says of playing the part, “because I’m such an over-preparer, and I usually stay up the night before and practice my linesand there was nothing. I had nothing to practice, and so I felt so guilty. I’d have panic attacks on my way to set thinking that I had forgotten to do my homework.”

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s August/September 2013 print issue.]


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