While Brie Larson has long been recognized as a very strong talent–by those who saw Short Term 12 in particular–Room really allows her to show the true extent of her acting chops. Not only did Larson have the physical challenges of portraying a woman abducted and held captive in a confined space for many years (and filming in that tiny space), but she also had to make the then eight year-old Jacob Tremblay into her right-hand man. Tremblay plays Jack, the son of Larson’s character Ma, and somehow the duo created an incredible on-screen connection that caries this film into potential Best Picture territory. With director Lenny Abrahamson crouched in the bathtub of ‘room’ or in a hole in the floor, Larson brought something extraordinary to life. “I didn’t know that I could do what I could do until making this movie,” she says. Currently working on Kong: Skull Island, co-starring Samuel L. Jackson, Larson talks about what went into doing Room.
In Room, Ma is clearly a complex and diverse role–what appealed to you about it?
I read the book in a day, and could not put it down, and just cried at so many points, particularly at the escape sequence, and felt so much anxiety. Although I was reading a hard copy, and it was obvious that there was still another half of the book left in my right hand, but I couldn’t imagine that it was going to keep going, that they were going to get out, and I realized that I cared so much about them. I was so invested in them as these two characters. That was the beginning of it.
How does it feel now you’re getting all this recognition?
The moments that I feel a huge sense of accomplishment are actually the smaller moments, not really the bigger ones, the televised ones. The times that I’ve gotten to speak with people after the screening, and seeing people’s reaction and hearing how the movie has moved them and being reminded how important something is and what a power it holds, and how incredible it is to be part of a film that’s getting people in touch with another part of themselves. So if you keep it in the perspective of that, it’s actually just an extension of getting to share your film with the world. It’s very fun. It’s just like you get to go hang out with your friends and go to some parties, and not really wanting to get caught up in the rest of it because I don’t think that it’s healthy to.
Lenny Abrahamson said you had to work overtime because of coaching Jacob through each moment?
Oh, absolutely. I mean when I agreed to do this movie, I agreed to take responsibility for this child. It wasn’t just going to be that once we yelled ‘cut’ that my job was over. Building a real relationship and a deep friendship with Jacob was incredibly important to the experience of making the movie. So it was important for him so he could feel comfortable, and it was important to me as well that we really had such a close connection, that there was a lot to work with. A lot of space for the two of us to play. And there was a lot of trust. Because I was the one that was closest with him, the one that was doing the scene with him and making eye contact, and it was much easier, and we could create a better sense of flow with certain scenes, I was the one to help guide, or try a line again. But that also meant on my part that, especially for scenes that were two shots, I really had to learn how to command my own emotions. So there was a scene where I’m explaining to him what the world is and then getting increasingly frustrated and upset. I could feel the tears start to fill in my eyes, and I just feel the tears rise, and I have to wait and hold the emotion in myself and then go, ‘okay, Jacob, let’s try that one again.’ And then he would say his line, and then I would let the tears go. And so I was just amazed on the command that I have over my emotions. I didn’t know that I could do what I could do until making this movie. I really love being a generous actor. I think for me it’s the greatest thing, is to be a good listener, and this is just turning the volume up on being a good listener. Some of my own performance and my own preciousness with my performance had to be put aside in order for everything to be for him.
Do you feel that Room has a European sensibility in a way–Abrahamson is Irish– in that it puts artistry before traditional-format story telling?
Absolutely. Yeah, it’s funny. I remember the first time I was watching playback on some of the footage we had shot. I was going over some scene stuff with Lenny, and I remember turning to him so excited and going, ‘oh my gosh, I see it looks just like a European film. My dreams are coming true.’ And then Lenny was laughing and going, ‘oh jeez, and here I thought I was making my first American film.’ I do think it has a sort of rawness to it that we don’t see in most American cinema, and that’s what I love about it. I think the fact that we have such an international group of people that made this movie from the financing down to our production team. We’ve got a Canadian production designer, and an Irish director and screenwriter, and British DP, and I’m an American. We had such a nice group coming from many different backgrounds coming together and looking at the same thing.
How’s the Kong: Skull Island shoot going?
Oh, it’s been amazing. It’s been so much fun. We’re shooting in gorgeous locations, and it’s all outside–just so different from most things that I have done. And it’s very physical, so it’s less cerebral and more about physicality and movement, and I find it really exciting to try and learn more about this medium. I think that with movies that are bigger like this, it gives you a great opportunity to tell the same old stories, but retell them in an accessible way so that they reach more people. I think that we’re doing that. It feels really special.