Brie Larson On 'Room,' Finding Roles After 'United States Of Tara' And Vacationing With Amy Poehler

The adaptation of Emma Donoghue's novel opens this weekend.

Brie Larson spent so much time with the 8-year-old co-star who plays her son in "Room" that when they weren't together during the shoot, she "felt incapable of not talking about 'Star Wars' and which animal would beat what in a battle." That's among the many charming and insightful revelations Larson and her movie son, Jacob Tremblay, revealed at the Toronto Film Festival, where "Room" screened to critical kudos and walked away with the coveted People's Choice Award. A month later, "Room" is now opening in theaters, a mere stop along its path to potential Oscar glory. Larson is one of the front-runners for Best Actress, and there's a good shot the movie will walk away with a Best Picture nomination, as well. 

The Huffington Post sat down with Larson last week to discuss the movie, which is an adaptation of Emma Donoghue's acclaimed 2010 novel. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson ("Frank"), "Room" opens on a garden shed where Ma (Larson) and her 5-year-old son Jack (Tremblay) have been held captive for years. Jack knows no life outside of what they call Room -- until Ma devises a plan to escape. It's an emotionally searing story that required a great deal of prep for Larson, who participated in a silent retreat, avoided extended sunlight to achieve the requisite paleness and worked with a trainer to lose weight and build muscle. Larson's star is on the rise as a result. But before we could get to the nitty-gritty of making "Room," we had to ask about vacationing with a certain funny lady.

First of all, please tell me about your vacation with Amy Poehler and that human pyramid you guys did.

Oh! I mean, there’s not much to say about it. We were all on vacation together and simultaneously Amy Schumer was on her own vacation and we all saw her and were like, “I think we can respond real strong.” We were all very pleased by how it turned out. We thought it was so awesome. So we posted it and then I think we all went surfing. Something like that. And then by the time we came back, it was like on the front of IMDb and all these things. I had just gotten Twitter and Instagram. I’d only had it a week, so I had no idea about this whole world of people picking it up and it getting this other life outside of being on your little page. I was like, “Whoa!”

Have you been surprised by the Twitter and Instagram worlds? 

No, not really. I had a MySpace back in the day, so it wasn’t a complete shock. It is a wild one, especially something like an Instagram where you can see the comments. It’s been around for five years or something, so I became friends with some of my friends and you can see five years’ worth of photos that I didn’t know about. It’s our own Akashic records. It’s pretty wild.

When you first read for this movie, did you do a scene from inside or outside of Room? There's a different rawness to both halves.

We did both. We did a couple of scenes that would take place inside and then we did the interview scene that’s at the end. I think it was four or five scenes altogether, most of them being in Room.

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson star in a scene from "Room."
Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson star in a scene from "Room."

There is a distinct shift in the second half of the movie. What sort of shift did you experience in making it, since most of it was shot sequentially?

Yeah, we shot pretty much in chronological order. The shift for me was -- and I knew this going into it because I had spoken with a trauma specialist -- is that any of the traumas that were happening to Ma in Room weren’t going to be emotionally dealt with until she was at home and in a safe place because the brain does not have space to deal with it. I had assumed that we would have to put moments inside of Room of her suffering and experiencing pain from this experience, but a trauma specialist said, “Oh no, it wouldn’t happen there at all." It’s shutting certain things down in order to cope with that situation to survive, so for me I knew that Room was probably going to be the easiest the movie was ever going to get for me. Everything outside of it was like the dial was getting turned up more and more each day. 

Because it involves a child suffering, some people might assume this movie is difficult to watch. I feel like I've heard people say they're not sure they can handle it. 

Of course you can handle it! It’s not a scary movie!

I’ve also seen it described as a thriller, which I don’t agree with.

I don’t agree with that. And I don’t agree with “harrowing” either. I find that to be a real downer. I think the thing to get across about it is, from my understanding of people’s experience of watching the movie, the tears that you may express when you're watching the film are not coming from a place of anguish or sadness or fear; it’s coming from the love for the movie. It’s coming from this bond between mother and child -- it’s so tender, and you feel that love and it’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming how it exceeds and transcends beyond their circumstances. That’s why people are having the connection to it that they are; it’s not coming from a scary, fearful, worrisome place. This is not a movie that’s going to give you nightmares.

Does a role like this bring you closer to your own mother? 

No, the only thing I spoke with my mom about personally was what it was like to carry a child and what it was like to give birth. That’s a physical thing that I have no knowledge of, so I wanted to know, from her perspective, what does that mentally and physically make you feel like and what happens when you have a child? What changes for you? 

What was her take? 

It was a lot of what I had read, actually, which is that something clicks in your brain where suddenly this child is a floating piece of yourself that you need to protect. That becomes No. 1 and everything else, including yourself, becomes secondary or less. So everything goes into caring for, protecting, nurturing and creating a safe space for that. It also becomes a time of reflection where suddenly you’re reliving the experience that your mom went through and there are moments of feeling deep love and connection to your mother because you realize what amazing things she did despite the circumstances, and there may also be moments where you feel resentment where you go, “I see that you didn’t do this for me and I’ll make sure I do it for my kid.” I imagine there was quite a bit of that happening inside Room because this is an even heightened situation where Ma has nothing but time to reflect. She’s basically trapped in this time capsule where she’s just constantly looking back on her life and relating to this child as she’s relating to her younger self. 

Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Brie Larson star in a scene from "Room."
Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Brie Larson star in a scene from "Room."

After seeing him speak at the movie's press conference in Toronto, I'm amazed what a professional Jacob seems like.

He is.

I know you hung out and played together before shooting, and surely that informed a lot of what we end up seeing on the screen. But this is a tough role for a youngster. You yell at him a good bit. Did you have to talk him down after doing those scenes?

No, because he had done a couple of movies at that point and this is what he loves to do, so it’s fun for him. He finds it exciting and interesting and a cool experience to let loose and explore, so he never took it personally because he knew what we were doing. He wasn’t a kid who just happened to fall onto a movie set and didn’t know what was going on. To him, it was all great fun.

In looking back at your career since “United States of Tara” ended, do you feel like you’ve had an easy time finding the types of roles you’ve wanted to step into? 

No, it’s never been easy, but that’s sort of the fun of it -- the finding it. When “United States of Tara” was over, it felt like that feeling of graduating high school and wondering which college you were going to. That was my home. That was my place with my people for three years of my life. I was there from 18 to 20, such an important time in my life and such a safe place where I was so loved and understood and nurtured. When that was done, I had to go back out into the world and find myself all over again, so it was such a great thing, in some ways. I still miss it, but it was a great opportunity for me to find myself again and not just stay in a safe place, but to go back out in the world and see what was there for me.

People are banging the “Brie Larson is a star!” gong a lot right now.

Oh, that’s a nice gong!

Do you feel it? I think it’s gotten louder between “Short Term 12” and this.

I mean, people tell me that, but I don’t think that’s a gong that I have the frequency to hear. I don’t think that’s my place to believe or know. I just want to keep telling good stories, but it sounds like a great gong. I love that gong! Keep banging that gong! I just didn’t know if I’m supposed to hear that gong.

It goes back to our conversation about Twitter and Instagram and having a heightened awareness of those conversations.

Yeah, and that’s why it becomes important to take it all with a grain of salt and know that nothing is good and nothing is bad -- it just is.

"Room" is now in theaters.


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