In the first leading role of her career, Brie Larson has been getting rave reviews for playing a teacher working with troubled kids in writer-director Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12. Cinedigm picked up distribution at this year’s South by Southwest festival, where the film won the Grand Jury and Audience Awards, and Larson most recently earned a Gotham Award nomination for best actress. Although Larson also appears in two higher-profile films of the season—Don Jon and The Spectacular Now—it’s her performance in this tiny indie that has everyone talking.
AwardsLine: Did you initially read the script for Short Term 12 with the idea that you would play Grace?
Brie Larson: I didn’t know what the role was or what the movie was about. I just couldn’t believe that what I was reading was a script. I kept thinking that I was reading some sort of transcript. It felt so honest and natural. I had never read dialogue that was so revealing and simple and complicated with no manipulation. I was totally intimidated by the material. It’s never been easy for me to book any job so I couldn’t imagine that something this rich would be easy for me. I tried to apply for a bunch of volunteer jobs before and learn as much as possible so I could have an in-depth, intelligent conversation with Destin about (the role). I wanted to be viewed as a collaborator and someone who was interested in the subject. I didn’t tell him that I had been rejected by all the volunteer jobs. At the end of a very short conversation—20 minutes or something—he asked if I would do it. I was totally and completely shocked. I hadn’t booked a job before where I haven’t had to audition multiple times. I knew at some point that he had seen my reel, but I don’t even know what’s on that thing. But I know there were certain scenes where he thought, “Why did she put this on her reel? She’s not even in this.” Then he’d rewind it and watch it again and see that it was me. The fact that I blend into whatever character I’m playing was interesting to him, that there wasn’t some sort of set thing that I do every single time.
AwardsLine: Of course, that’s a huge compliment for an actor.
Larson: That’s been my goal, and I hope to continue doing that. It was easier before when no one knew who I was or cared about what I was doing. That’s been my fear with getting attention with a role—even though that’s what any actor would want—to be recognized. But also what goes along with it is the feeling that I need to dodge certain things because I don’t want to reveal myself.
AwardsLine: Was there a rehearsal period on the film?
Larson: No, we didn’t have that at all. It all fell together very quickly. I signed on, and it was maybe a couple of weeks before shooting was about to start. Part of that time was eaten up by being in Georgia for The Spectacular Now, so I came back, and I had one dinner with John (Gallagher Jr., who plays Mason, Grace’s boyfriend), more of a “get to know you”-type thing because he doesn’t live in Los Angeles. And as John was leaving to meet me at the restaurant, there was an envelope at his doorstep. When we opened it at the restaurant, it was full of little conversation starters—Destin’s way of getting us moving in the right direction. (He had) us ask each other questions about our childhood, our fears of being a parent, and what Grace and Mason’s first date was like—it was genius. By the end of it, we had created this entire mythology that we could call on at any moment during shooting.
AwardsLine: This really is your first lead role in a film, and you play a leader in it. Did that help you find the right way to play Grace?
Larson: Destin really encouraged John and myself to take on the role of the leader on and off camera. And I’m the oldest of the grandkids and the siblings, so I’ve put in my time babysitting, and I love kids. I was also a child actor, and I know what it feels like to be a kid that takes their craft very seriously at a young age. I saw that in all of these kids. They’re extremely ambitious and focused, and you can tell from their performances because they are nothing like these characters. Most of them have very little to even base it off of. They have parents who are very loving and supportive and are there on set with them. So for them to understand this depth was just incredible.
AwardsLine: You went through the festival circuit for the first time this year, and it seems like there’s so much energy around you—does this year feel different to you?
Larson: It’s mostly strange because I feel the same. I feel like I’m the same person—I have the same concept of what roles I want to play and what kind of trajectory I’m on. My landscape has changed but I’m unaltered in it. Maybe a year or two or five from now, I can look back on it and think, “Wow, that was when something really happened” or “Wow, that wasn’t even anything.” I’m just trying to enjoy the fact that I have gained some respect from some people whom I respect. That leads to thinking that there will be more opportunities, which is what I want because I want to be in this industry. But I don’t know—I’m still on the flight, and I don’t know where I’m going.