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Brie Larson: Why She Is One of the World’s Most Charismatic Sought-After Actors
With Kong, Room, Captain Marvel and Free Fire in her filmography, let me tell the story of Brie Larsen - Her journey from struggling bit player to one of the world’s most charismatic sought-after actors.
This is the story how Larson started as most stereotypes in Hollywood. How a piece of clothing can define you, how you keep your identity and what makes her unique among all the pretty girls in Hollywood.
For most young actresses, it starts with a denim mini skirt, matched with a tank top, push up bra and heels, the mini skirt is the uniform for aspiring types heading to Hollywood. They are worn to auditions for low-budget films. They're a fixture of any warehouse or anonymous office. Countless similarly attired women are at the mercy of those who have the power to pluck them from the crowds of mini skirt-dom and, hopefully, into roles with some semblance of identity. It's the damsel in distress look, the wearer left at the disposal of a knight in low-slung Levis. The mini skirt is a piece of clothing that's so one-size-fits-all when it comes to perceived sex appeal, it's no wonder that it's become a mainstay for the type of cattle call auditions that require such objectification.
Larson is anything but one-size-fits-all
Brie Larson once owned the mini skirt. During a Screen Actors Guild Q&A to promote Room in 2015, she joked about the rite of passage of casting off the skirt. It's a metaphorical, invisible graduation from nondescript offices and cheerleaders who won't make it out of the film alive to those supposedly luxuriant upper echelons where you find character development, backstory... and maybe survival? "When did you burn your jean mini skirt?" she says. In other words, when did you graduate from archetypes to roles based on real human beings?
But Larson is anything but one-size-fits-all. She resists stereotypical categorization at every turn. A Sacramento native, she was born on the doorstep of Hollywood, but removed just far enough that there's an outsider quality to her. There's a refreshing absence of Tinseltown glitter. Speaking on CBC's culture programme Q in 2015, she said that, at age seven, she told her mother that she wanted to be in actor, adding drama classes to an already packed roster of activities that included dance and ice skating. She soon moved to LA with her mother and sister, joining the scads of hopefuls who flock to the city every pilot season in the search of that elusive big break.
Hollywood: The categorisation of 'pretty' girl or the 'smart' girl, where names and individualism don't exist.
What came for Larson were bit parts, credits such as Girl Scout and Roadkill Easy Bake Oven and jobs in sketches on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno as well as roles on popular '90s soaps and network dramas like Touched By an Angel, To Have and To Hold and Raising Dad. She played smart-mouthed firecrackers whose identity is replaced by a bunch of one liners. "They're something to tug at the heartstrings," she said in a 2015 interview with critic David Poland. Larson became the youngest student to attend the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and talks of loving classic cinema, finding solace in the Criterion Collection canon and sublime leading ladies such as Gena Rowlands and Barbara Stanwyck. She hungered for personality and emotional arcs. Auditions didn't ask for children to act, casting directors just wanted to see an outgoing personality. But she wanted to cry, she wanted to laugh, she wanted to create something that was about more than homework, friends and sneakers.
If childhood in Hollywood is sentimentalism and disappearing behind adult co-stars, then teendom is worse. It heralds the introduction of the dreaded blue garment and all that comes with it. Childhood at least allows for jeans as well as denim mini skirts. But adolescence is the beginning of the cruel demarcation of young women. The categorization of 'pretty' girl or the 'smart' girl, where names and individualism don't exist. Is it perfectly coiffed hair or glasses, cheerleading or books, self-possession or awkwardness? Will they be quirky or popular, weird or normal? There's a binary here, and one that few creative power brokers have the imagination to break out of.
Glance over Larson's filmography below and you'll notice the reluctant slide when, as a 14 year old, she appeared in extended cameos in a couple of teen-oriented movies from 2014 - Sleepover and 13 Going on 30. She was cast as the sidekick to stereotypical cliquey middle school girls, all headbands and heels and icy glares. Teenagers are defined by their romantic entanglements and mishaps, saddled with being perfect and learning a valuable lesson by the» time the credits roll. But Larson doesn't possess the tall, blonde and glacial look of the stereotypical teen movie lead. She can't suppress the openness of her face, or fit herself into the required mold. In one of the few shots where you can see her in 73 Going on 30, she's positioned in the signature verbal battle-ready semicircle, wearing the uniform topknot and brightly colored basics. She's a prop. Yet there's a rebellious glint in her eye that singles her out from the crowd. You can tell she's the nicer one, the smarter one. You will the camera to turn away so the film would be about her.
Following this, Larson went in for love struck. and wayward teenagers who left parents exasperated and terrified their kids would do the same. She came close to being in Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen as well as Twilight and a variety of other emo teen fare that went to actors like Kristen Stewart and Vanessa Hudgens. But fitting too well tends to be a disservice. The ones that fit are actors who explode in a flurry of teenage obsession, but have to go to great pains to get away from those formative, stereotypical roles that follow them to every audition. Stewart is finally finding engaging roles with French auteur Olivier Assayas in films such as Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper while American directors still struggle to put her to good use. Hudgens, meanwhile, has faded into the realm of forgotten teen stars.
- 1999 Special Delivery
- 2004 13 Going on 30, Sleepover
- 2005 Madison
- 2006 Hoot
- 2007 Farce of the Penguins
- 2008 Remember the Daze, The Babysitter
- 2009 House Broken
- Just Peck
- Tanner Hall
- 2010 Greenberg
- Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
- 2011 Treatment,Weighting, Smorgasbord, Rampart
- 2012 21 Jump Street, The Trouble with Bliss, The Arm
- 2013 Bitter Orange, Don Jon,Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now
- 2014 The Gambler
- 2015 Digging for Fire, Trainwreck, Room
- 2016 Free Fire
- 2017 Kong: Skull Island, The Glass Castle, Unicorn Store, Basmati Blues
- 2020 Untitled Marvel project, according to Where You Watch and iMDB.
”Kate exists away from the homogeneous huddle of her peers. She speaks her mind. She is unapologetically herself.”
Lanson didn't fit, and didn't want to either. In a 2015 Hollywood Reporter round table, she talks about this realization. It came after auditions where her interpretation of a girl was sometimes surplus to conventional requirement Casting agents would encourage Her to, "try these sides", referring to different character cliches, but nothing would work, "I'd go, . 'That's what they want?!'" she says, referring to this blankness and vapidity. A venture into music, which produced an album of bubblegum, scholastically-themed pop-rock anthems, titled 'Finally Out of PE' provided little difference.
Finally, she struck gold in the form of Showtime television series The United States of Tara. Toni Collette plays the title character, who suffers from dissociate identity disorder, and Larson steps up as her sarcastic daughter, Kate, who's on an identity search of her own. Kate exists away from the homogeneous huddle of her peers. She speaks her mind. She is unapologetically herself. One of Larson's star-making moments on the show comes in the second episode, where she has a bathroom confrontation with Alice, Tara's 1950s housewife personality, that sees her go toe-to-toe with Collette. "I'm not a hardship. I'm awesome," she says in a defiant, confident voice. Was it destiny that Larson got the part? She auditioned during the initial casting process, convinced the role was the one she'd waited a decade for. She originally lost it to Portia Doubleday. She was dejected. She felt like the passion she mainlined into her work was all for sought. It was time to explore a new identity for herself. She almost packed up end headed to college. Then Doubleday dropped out.
The success of Tara allowed Larson to explore more projects that were on her idiosyncratic wavelength.
There were roles like rocker Envy Adams in comic book-movie Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, a girl who sports a shock of brightly colored hair, but .is still unfortunately at the mercy of male fantasy. She hung around for more blink-and-you'll-miss-it parts: a rebellious schoolgirl in the little-seen film Tanner Half opposite Rooney Mara; mute (or deliberately silenced) girlfriends and sisters in 21 Jump Street, The Spectacular Now and Don Jon, glowering from the end of dinner tables with a mobile phone, or wearing that cursed short piece of blue fabric, waiting for someone to decide that it was time for her to move on.
She is untethered from everything apart from herself.
Larson's long, long, long awaited skirt-burning ceremony came with Destin Daniel Cretton's emotionally combustible independent drama Short Term 12, where she plays devoted social worker Grace. The film was based on Cretton's days working at a group home for teenagers, and was shot in 20 days for under $1 million. In a 2015 interview on MTVs 'Happy Sad Confused' podcast, Larson said that it was a shoot that had her "down to the limit", allowing for an urgency and intensity that is right there on the screen. Grace spends her days at a group home that lies under the harsh California sun, all the while trying to deal with her own tumultuous past. She's barely older than the people she cares for. Grace is not beholden to anyone's ideas of herself, she would never, ever wear the anonymous, perfect construction of the mini skirt, for she wouldn't be able to live her everyday life in it. How would the be able chase her teenage charges to the gate,
Am I trying to convince them not to leave? How would she be able to ride her bike home from work and cldar her head? Her complex past and how it motivates her reveals itself throughout the film, where she's allowed to be impulsive 2nd messy. It's a role where Larson is allowed to sweat, to bleed, to ay. to fully inhabit herself. In one scene, she's even able to climb atop a car to smash the windscreen. It's a moment of rage that is shorn of fear or objectification. She is untethered from everything apart from herself. Grace has to fight her own battles. The knights in low-slung Levis only do her bad.
For many, an Oscar win is a kind of confirmation. When Larson collected the Best Actress gong (at 26, she's one of the youngest winners of the award) in 2016 for Room, where she plays another character who is allowed to be complex and free of expectations, it felt like a culmination of what she'd been through over the past 20 years. It was Larson who created one of the most shattering moments of the film, where she screams, "I'm sorry I'm not nice anymore!" during an argument with her mother. In that moment, the true gravity of her character's trauma, guilt, and an ugly, unspoken truth, comes crashing to down to Earth.
Whether Larson will continue to design her own destiny is anyone's guess.
There are hints of the call of the anonymous and engineered mainstream that more and more actors seem captivated by. She stars in big-budget monster movie, Kong: Skull Island, and also slated to play Marvel heroine in Captain Marvel, according to Where You Watch. Both projects reveal a desire to move down a path she resisted for a long time. But look at more of her upcoming work, and the possibility of maintaining the carefully sculpted identity reveals itself. There's a biopic about the unconventional upbringing of journalist Jeannette Walls (which marks a reunion with Short Term 12 director Cretton), Ben Wheatley's trigger-happy comedy Free Fire, the long-gestating musical, Basmati Blues (which is, well, about what it says on the box). And there's also her directorial debut, a comedy with the intriguing title The Unicorn Store about a young woman who "receives a mysterious invitation that would fulfill her childhood dreams". But for now, the threads of Larson's mini skirt are well and truly gone, burnt up in the fire. Now, she's comfortable and ready to take on the world.
Favorite Brie Larson movie?
© 2018 Bruce Donners