INTRODUCING... Brie Larson. She's enjoying rave reviews for her current film even as she puzzles over the label that some in Hollywood have pinned on her. Here's Tracy Smith.
She's been called the "It Girl." What does Brie Larson think of that phrase?
"What is 'it'? Larson said.
"I guess it means the girl of the moment."
"But what is "it'? There is no 'it'! And who was 'it' before 'it'? And when does 'it' go away? When did I get 'it'? Who's gonna take 'it'?
"It's so weird. I think it's a really funny term. I'm just a person. I'm not anything!"
She may not like the label, but whatever in the world "It" really is, Brie Larson has it to burn.
This past summer she held her own with Amy Schumer in "Trainwreck."
But the movie "Room" is what all the buzz is about. Larson plays a young woman kidnapped by a deranged rapist and held prisoner for years in a tiny shed.
Her son, Jack, was born in captivity, and has a hard time getting his five-year-old mind around an outside world he's never set foot in.
Smith asked, "How did you prepare for this movie?"
"I went on a very small, rigid diet," Larson said. "Started working out with a trainer, in order to wear out my body and gain muscle. I had to stay out of the sun for, like, three months before we started shooting. And every day, I just felt like I was getting closer and closer, to her."
She got close, all right. On the strength of this performance, Larson is more than just the "It Girl" of the moment; she's a legitimate contender.
Does she allow herself to think about the Oscar buzz?
"Uh-uh. I can't. It's just not even something that your brain can wrap itself around."
"No? I think I would be like, you know, standing in the shower, thinking about, "Ooh, here's what I might say --'" said Smith.
"But isn't it sort of like planning your fantasy wedding, and you don't even have a boyfriend?" said Larson.
"It's a little premature, you think?"
"Yeah. Yeah. I think you can think about it when you have the nomination. You go, 'Wow, I'm gonna be there. I wonder what it'll be like!' But you can't imagine something that hasn't existed yet. And I feel like that's dangerous. That's dangerous magical thinking."
But magical thinking might be what got her here.
Even as a kid in Sacramento, California, Brie Larson saw acting as her destiny.
"When I was seven, I had been very vocal about wanting to be an actor. And my mom decided that we would try it out for a couple weeks and come to L.A. from Sacramento."
Brie, her mother and sister found a place near Hollywood. They were chasing a dream, but for mom, there was more to it than that.
"The three of us would all sleep in the same bed," Larson said. "And I remembered waking up to my mom having these real guttural sort of choking sobs. But she was covering her mouth so that we couldn't hear her.
"And it's not until now that I've been able to put all the pieces together and realize that right before we were gonna make this trip out to Los Angeles, my father had asked for a divorce. And so this was a much bigger move than my mother had anticipated, and a much bigger move than I and my sister knew about at all."
Still, Larson managed to find work. By the time she was 12, she'd been in a series of TV shows, and showed up in a few movies, like 2004's "13 Going on 30."
Eventually, the roles got bigger (as in "21 Jump Street"), but for every part Larson won, there were a hundred more she lost.
"You said you're very competitive about this stuff, right?" said Smith.
"I'm competitive with myself," she replied.
Larson's always been an artsy type, and once even considered a career in graphic design, so at her suggestion Smith joined her at Color Me Mine in Los Angeles, where she painted a mug as carefully as she creates her characters.
"Is this gonna be the best mug that Brie has ever made?" Smith asked.
"Is this the best I can do? Or could I have done better?" said Larson.
For years, whenever she auditioned, directors would always find flaws. "It all felt very personal," she said.
"When someone says, 'Your eyes aren't blue,' or 'Not the right tone,' it's really hard to see that as something that's not personal."
At 26, it still hurts; at 18 it was devastating. "'No, you're too tall.' 'No, you are not pretty enough.' 'No, you're too pretty.' It's all of these nos. And it becomes very confusing, especially when you're growing into your womanhood to constantly be told what you're not. And it always felt like such a blow to me. It was like, 'Oh yeah, I don't have blue eyes.' And then you cry all night, thinking, 'Oh, if only I had blue eyes, my life would be different, you know?'"
But after what seemed like the millionth rejection, she had an epiphany.
"I remember at 18 finally hitting this point where I went, 'I don't have blue eyes. I have brown eyes. I am myself! And if you don't want to take it, that's okay, but I don't need you to.'"
She kept at it, and now there are plenty of takers. Larson may not know, or care, what being the "It Girl" really means. But she does know how to appreciate it.
"So you had to get rejected to get to where you are now?"
"I think it's always the moments that are the trials that end up making you become a hero in the end," she said. "You're not a hero unless you've gone through the trials. And it makes these moments so much sweeter, so much better. I don't believe in 'deserved,' but I might believe in 'earned.'"
To watch a trailer for "Room" click on the player below.
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