It’s a week before the 2017 Oscars, and almost a full year since Brie Larson won the award for Best Actress for her breakout role in Room. This year, Larson will be presenting the Best Actor prize, and odds are on her friend, Emma Stone, to scoop up the award for her performance in La La Land. Speaking with Larson by phone from Los Angeles, she is clearly excited for the event, not least because her friend is nominated in the category. “Last year was my first time going, and it was very overwhelming, so I’m excited to go and celebrate my friends,” she says.
Asked whether she’s given Stone any advice during the lengthy awards season: “She’s given me more advice than I have given to her,” she says. “[Stone] was such a huge support and a really great friend through my whole journey during the award season and it feels really great to return the favour, and be there to make sure she’s supported and feels excited, but she doesn’t really need me.” After Stone accepted the award, Larson posted a touching photo on Instagram of herself and Stone in an emotional embrace with the caption: “You know what’s better than winning? Watching your friends win.”
Since her own victory, it’s been a big year for Larson, who stars in the big-budget Kong: Skull Island and has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actors. What may have felt like an overnight success with Room, though, was more like 20 years in the making, as Larson has been acting nearly all her life. “I started acting when I was seven,” she says. “This was a dream I had since I was a kid and it hasn’t been easy; it’s been more noes and doors slammed in my face than it has been yesses.” After nearly 20 years of garnering minor but notable television and film roles, the 27-year-old achieved a sweeping success in 2016: racking up a string of awards, including the Oscar. Since then, her career has exploded, with a slate of meaty projects set for release this year and next, including The Glass Castle and the much buzzed-about lead role as feminist superhero Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel in Captain Marvel. “It’s been surreal,” she says. “The past year, it’s turned around, and it’s the first time in my life where I really feel like I get to be an actor for a living and that’s a dream come true.”
It’s a dream that Larson clearly doesn’t take lightly and one for which she feels a sense of responsibility. For her recent turn as journalist Mason Weaver in Kong: Skull Island alongside Tom Hiddleston, Larson spoke with multiple journalists in preparation for the role, an experience that impacted her greatly. She made note of the importance of journalists in the current climate in a post on her Instagram account prior to the movie’s release. “I think filmmaking is a form of activism and whenever I play any character in any profession, I feel like it’s important to tell the truth and to try to express it the best you can,” she says. “Obviously, this is an IMAX Kong movie, so I’m not getting fully into the eccentricities of what it means to be a journalist, but in my conversations with them I get to learn how they are risking their lives at every moment. You never know what is going to happen and you’re doing it for the fact that you have a burn in your stomach and because you know this is the story people need to know about and that is incredibly honourable.”
For someone who has been notoriously shy about her private life (she’s engaged to musician Alex Greenwald), Larson has been quite vocal on social media about supporting causes and issues she believes in, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and promoting black history. While the reaction from her followers hasn’t always been positive, she continues to use her platform to create an ongoing dialogue. “People aren’t nice on social media, no matter what you post, to be totally fair,” she says. “Mainly my focus right now is passing on information. This isn’t about my opinion on a certain thing–it’s just passing on things that I’ve read so that we can better understand certain complicated situations and issues we are facing right now. There have been people who disagree, but I am very active in talking with those people about why they don’t understand or why they disagree, because I am here to learn as well.”
That desire to learn from and share new perspectives also informed her aspiration to become an actress. “I get a lot of enjoyment from the films that I make, but more importantly for me, it’s about transforming myself into characters and being able to share those stories with others. It’s about creating more empathy and understanding about all the different ways you can be a human and also helping people who can’t travel to other parts of the world to be able to see the world through those films.”
In one of her most anticipated films to be released this year, The Glass Castle, based on the best-selling memoir of the same name, Larson plays the role of the author, Jeannette Walls. As the daughter of dysfunctional parents who choose to live their lives in virtual poverty and homelessness, Walls and her three siblings are left to fend for themselves. “It’s an incredible true story, about a very complicated family and I love anything that is dynamic and complicated,” says Larson. “It’s very rare to follow a character from childhood to adulthood, and I was very fascinated by that aspect of it: the things that happen in your childhood that make you the person that you are when you are an adult yourself.” Larson had the chance to meet Walls during filming, and initially felt the pressure of portraying a real-life person. “Walls was like: ‘I don’t need you to do a perfect impersonation of me, I just need you to tell the truth and whatever that means to you, however the story is truthful for you.’ So once I got her blessing to take this in a direction that was honest for me, I felt like I was free.”
And then there’s Captain Marvel. For those not in the know, Captain Marvel features Carol Danvers, aka feminist icon superhero Captain Marvel, a fighter pilot with alien DNA, and the first female-led film in the Marvel Studios universe. Larson will appear as Marvel in Avengers: Infinity War in 2018 and then her own dedicated film in 2019. It’s quite an undertaking, but the casting choice has been met with enthusiastic reviews online and Larson is more than up to the task: “All the films I take on, I feel like they have to take on a deeper message but I also think it’s so great when they are also entertaining and fun to watch on top of having a message,” says Larson. “I knew I could do that with independent films, but I was not sure if I could still explore those same values in the studio world, but I feel lucky that I have been. When Captain Marvel was brought to me, it just felt like such an incredible opportunity. I get to make a movie that is a feminist film but on this platform, that is so large and exciting to watch.”