Talking to Brie Larson, the Oscars' Newest Best Actress, About 'Room'
At tonight's Oscars ceremony, 26-year-old Brie Larson accepted the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Room, one of our favorite movies from last year. A few months before winning her first Oscar, Larson accepted... a few questions from me, including the extremely pressing: "Do you ever have to go to meetings?"
That nonsequitur isn't what anyone would be inspired to ask after watching Room, the harrowing story of a woman and son who escape a seven-year imprisonment only to discover that post-kidnap life is also turbulent, but Larson rose to the occasion. "Are you kidding me?" said the 26-year-old actress, who also co-starred in Trainwreck. "I have to go to meetings all the time! We're just like you. Haven't you seen that? 'They're just like us!'"
Larson isn't really like us, though, because she makes high-profile movies (like her upcoming King Kong film) for a living. But the actress is a lot like us, a nice person with interests, ambitions, and weird quirks. After that meeting-centric question, Larson gamely fielded a few more queries and proved she's both totally down to earth and totally deserving of that Best Actress prize.
Room was an intense viewing experience. But I'll admit that, when your character, Ma, reenters the world and visits her old bedroom, my attention went to the decorations. Were the pink walls and boy band posters true to your own life?
Ethan Tobman was our production designer. He's a genius. I spent so much time with him. We were just talking about that, actually. He said, "The room was the hardest set I had to build." And I said, "Yeah, makes sense." You know? That's the whole movie. And he's like, "Oh no, not that room -- Ma's bedroom." I was like, "Wait a second. That's just not possible. How is that possible?" [But] in one shot, in one frame, you have to understand an entire life of somebody. It's the only way we really get to know her. It's the only explanation we have of her.
What was in her bedroom?
Tons of stuff. [For posters], I was just like constantly emailing him with the music that I was listening to at that age. I also found my old iPod -- like my old, huge iPod from when I was 15 -- and gave it to him, so he would listen to it while he was decorating the bedroom.
Now you have to admit what was on 15-year-old Brie's iPod.
It's so all over the place. It's like, Rolling Stones -- like bad Rolling Stones remixes mixed with like, Aaliyah and like Big Star. And the Zombies. Like a combination of all sorts of things. I'm sure there was Spice Girls on there as well. I don't want to make myself sound like I had great music taste at 15 because I'm not sure that I did.
No one did.
I did make a collage in my bedroom at 15 like the collage on the wall. I gave Ethan photos and he actually found specific things that were in my bedroom and put them in -- but I didn't know. I was just constantly sending him ideas and references and I let him arrange it all, and I didn't want to see any of it until we shot it.
What was in your collage?
Things that I liked in magazines. It could have been a picture of a hamburger, it could have been a shoe. It could have been a lipstick. It was just things that I thought were cool. I hung out in my bedroom as a teenager and collaged.
Were you able to isolate yourself in preparation for Room?
I stayed at my house. I mean, it's not as bad as Room. But I feel like people think it's sooooo traumatizing [to stay in] -- but, like, have you not stayed at home? Have you not felt the need to, like, not go anywhere for awhile? I don't have phone signal at home anyways, and I'm kind of a homebody, so it wasn't like a huge leap. Why don't I explore silence for more of my day than I do now?
There's a big difference between staying in for the weekend and being trapped inside a shed for seven years. I think.
Seven years was harder for me to understand. I spoke with the trauma specialist about that, about the effects of sexual abuse and the effects of being in a space like that, what that would do, and he was able to explain to me very beautifully that our brains are constantly shutting off awarenesses of things. So right now, to shut off, I wonder what people are doing out there or why people are honking in their cars, and it helps me to focus on this conversation or not think about a war that's happening how many countries over.
We can do that in bigger aspects of our lives. So say you're trapped in a room where, in order to survive and basically cope with the situation, your brain shuts off the part that would be constantly wondering or fighting to get out. It starts to accept the reality and sort of craft itself around that. The big piece I got from that was: none of the deep, emotional stuff in regards to the trauma of Room would be expressed while we were in Room. It wouldn't be until she's back at home and in a safe place where she's not constantly living in survival mode, where she'd be able to really take a step back and look at all of it and go, "Whoa, that happened to me?" And that's why it becomes more emotional in the second half.
Yeah, there's something grander in play when the movie segues out of the terror of being captured and into normalcy.
The movie is far more metaphorical than we can even touch upon. But I think Jack [Tremblay's] role, especially in the second half of the film, is no matter how hard Ma will try to be Joy and to be separate from Room and to kind of close the door on that and put it away, her son will always be a living, breathing, growing reminder of that place, and there is no escape from the pain of what happened in the past.
Is that something you connect to on a personal level?
The one I've been thinking about a lot is... I don't even want to know how many times I've auditioned for things. Like, I'm sure it's close to tens of thousands of auditions since I was seven until now. And if you look at my IMDb, I didn't get ten thousand jobs, so imagine all of those no's and how many times that really hurt, being told that I was too tall or I was too short or I didn't have blue eyes. All of these things that accumulated in me as a huge sense of pain and rejection, just constant, constant, constant everyday rejection.
When I saw how upset my sister was that when she didn't get into a college that she liked, it reminded me of that same sense of rejection. Of feeling like the place that you felt that you were supposed to go and the place you're going to be and the people you're going to be accepted by weren't accepting you. You feel a sense of displacement and loss. But now that I'm in a different place now in my life, I look back at all those nos and, whereas before I never wanted to think about it, because it hurt and made me feel self-doubt, feel like I couldn't go on anymore and maybe this is not what I'm supposed to do, now I look at all of them and I think, I am so grateful for every one of them. I want to get closer to them. I want to know about them more.
All of those pains, all of those times that it took me through some sort of dark night of the soul, are the reasons why I can do a Room, the reason why I can do a Short Term 12. If I was some person who had never experienced pain in their life, imagine how confusing it would be to play a dramatic role.
Did you at any point leading up to Room feel like, "I'm going to fucking own this movie!"
No, I didn't feel like that at all. I felt like humbled every day, of like, "I am not worthy of all that needs to be done in order to keep this thing together."
Well, if you're feeling too good about yourself, you have a Twitter account.
[Laughs] I can always go back to that.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Matt Patches is Thrillist’s Entertainment Editor. He previously wrote for Grantland, Esquire.com, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Guardian. Goodbye, wardrobe. Find him on Twitter @misterpatches.