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The 23-year-old Sacramento native has been impressing critics time and time again in movies like "Scott Pilgrim," "Rampart" and "21 Jump Street" – not to mention Showtime's "United States of Tara" – but it's the universally hailed SXSW breakout "Short Term" (where Larson leads as a foster care counselor struggling with her own personal demons) that has media folks clamoring for the rest of the world to pay attention.
We talked to the introspective, laid-back Larson for a short while on "Short Term," finding artistic ecstasy in Switzerland, her "type," and more.
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First off, wow, what a movie.
Thanks so much. I was really touched by the reality of it, and really shaken by it… It's too real, and it brought up so much stuff in me that I realized I hadn't dealt with, and I think it's gonna be a long time before I can see the movie. Everyone I know should see this movie. I'm gonna tell everyone about it, but I can't see it again for a long time.
"Short Term 12" is an emotional movie to watch. Was it an emotional movie to make?
It was, but a lot of it was happy emotions. It was definitely this feeling that was happening because we were, as the days went on, growing closer and closer together as a team. And we were working better together and there was such a sense of respect and excitement that was happening. It was the most fun I've ever had on a set. The most I've laughed, the most that I've been hugged, and the most I've hugged others. Most of the photos I have from the set that were taken in between -- there aren't many light scenes in the film -- but they're all of us laughing and having a great time. And I don't think we would've been able to go as dark as we had to at times, if that feeling wasn't there.
From your experiences, does that vibe on set translate to overall product? How easy or hard is it to tell when you're onto something special.
Not generally. It's impossible to tell, I think. You have to just be happy with the process each step of the way, and not ask for any more than what's given to you. 'Cause the film goes through so many kind of "periods" of time. Even if this girl you played, like, "The first time I played her, I did well," then you can't think beyond that. That's gotta be enough in that moment, and then it plays again, and that has to be enough in that moment. We're talking about like, these abstract, intangible feelings and things. It's just not possible.
How much did you know about the foster care system in the U.S. going into this?
I think I knew about as much as most people – that it exists and that it's a terrible thing, and that it's not the best situation for anyone, and that I wanted to help. But I didn't know… And I also didn't know as much about the technical aspect of it.
Also Check Out: 'Short Term 12' Review on Film.com
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The movie has drawn a lot of comparisons to "Half Nelson." Do you see similarities? Were you a fan of that movie?
I was a fan of that movie. I can see that. I think that perhaps the story and the tone are similar, but I would be interested to know if the feeling that the people were left with, the feeling of companionship, that there was a shared experience with others when they watched the film, if that's the same. I don't know.
I guess you're Ryan Gosling in this scenario.
(Laughs) Yeah, yeah, which isn't too bad! Not bad for a girl.
Without the crack, though.
Yeah, without the crack.
It's safe to say that you've "broken out," as the saying goes -- you were a regular on a hit Showtime series and made a big splash in "21 Jump Street" -- yet you insist on working mostly on these small indies. Why do you hate Hollywood, Brie?
(Laughs) I don't hate Hollywood, I just don't like manipulation in any form. There's manipulation, I'm sure, in Utah. I don't hate Utah. I just think movies are incredibly influential to society. I think art is – because it's this abstract form – it has this incredible ability to express things that aren't preachy, and that hits you in many different sensory ways… Film can be a synesthetic experience, and I am very interested in that, in the ability that we can kind of create this bottled up energy that can hit you from every angle. And because of that, I'm just very aware of what kind of messages I'm releasing out into the world, because I sit there on a set and I make this little thing, or I make a big thing, depending on what it is, and then it's taken away from me in the end, you know? And then it goes out, and people watch it, even if it's just one person. I just believe in the collective consciousness.
Well you've been called a "breakout star" for years now. How does that term make you feel?
That's certainly the term that is used. I don't know, I think that it's probably important for me to feel as unobserved as possible. There's a certain point where it's probably best to not pay attention to any of it. I think it's good to feel certain things. I really enjoy going to the ends of these screenings, and people have such incredible things to say, because the film covers so many different things that it's never the same conversation twice.
What's the best or most interesting question you've gotten at these audience Q&As? Anything that stands out?
The most interesting thing that happened just recently that [director] Destin [Cretton] and I are still trying to process – and it still makes us cry when we just think about it – was we screened for the first time internationally a few days ago in Switzerland, and it was for 3,000 people, which was probably about four times bigger than anything that we had ever played in before. I think we were all a little nervous because for a movie that is small, how does it play to a larger audience? Can you still create that small feeling, that we were having a tiny shared experience? And a lot of them don't speak English...
The movie ended, and it got this insane standing ovation, but it wasn't that they just stood up and looked to the screen and kind of clapped and then all left. They also were coming down from their seats, and kind of circled around Destin and I, all 3,000 people. And there was all this crying and clapping, and it went on for so long. I don't even know how to explain what that emotion was because there were so many different things happening to me that I felt – I'm going to cry just thinking about it – it felt really beyond me. It was even, in a lot of ways, beyond language, what was happening.
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Is it true that this movie didn't get into Sundance?
It's true. We were rejected from Sundance.
Any words you'd like to have with the programmers?
Sundance has been so good to me, and I love the programmers so much. Who knows what happened? But I'm such a believer that everything happens for a reason, and I had never been to SXSW and really loved that experience. And there's a lot more films at Sundance, and perhaps we wouldn't have gotten the audience that we needed in order to get some attention and more eyes put on it. You can't knock the process.
So is there nothing we can do to get you on board for "22 Jump Street"?
No. It's not my decision. I've spoken with those boys. They're gearing up and starting very soon… We're trying to have dinner before everyone goes, to send them off… They gotta go to another school, as do I. (Laughs)
You can also currently be seen in "The Spectacular Now," which is a beautiful, lovely film and one that did play Sundance this year. These two could make a really nice double billing. Do you have a type, and is this it?
No, I hope not. I mean, after those two films, I did a musical in India, so I would hope to never have a type and just continue to confuse people.
Are you still pursuing a musical career?
Sure. I mean, I write all the time. It's how I understand how I'm feeling. I don't think that that's something I need to pursue quite as I had done before, but I'm not opposed to anything. Who knows with me?
What's your go-to karaoke song?
Oh gosh. Stevie Nicks' "Dreams."
What freaks you out?
What geeks you out?
All Nintendos. I just got the Wii U, but I got it the day that I had to leave, so it's just sitting in my house, calling my name.
What's your favorite word?
I just like the word "pontificate." It has a nice sound to it.
Do you use it often?
No. I think it's reserved for special occasions, 'cause I love it so much. Words like that you can't use all the time, because you say it once and people think, "Oh, that's a nice word," and then you use it again, and they say, "Oh, that's just their word." One smart word.
What's a movie that you regretted watching with one of your parents?
Well, it's… I don't wanna say what I was gonna say.
Well, it's not the same now. They re-edited it, so it's not the same. The beginning of "Don Jon" was all of these clips of porn, and I went and saw it with my parents at the opening at Sundance, and they were so shocked. I think I might still stick with that. But it's not like that anymore.
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What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?
Oh, these are difficult. If there was a zombie apocalypse, I'd probably try and be friends with them first, to try and communicate and then when all else fails, you just try and dig a hole to China.
What movie makes you cry?
I saw a film recently called "Gabrielle" that I just cried through the whole thing. It's a new film. It's a Canadian film, filmed in Quebec, I think. It's fantastic. I hope it comes out here soon.
What is your second favorite website after NextMovie?
Did you see the report recently that showed that the overwhelming majority of Reddit users are males between the ages of 18 and 29?
Oh really? No wonder my mentality is the same.
What was your first screen name?
"The1Cheese." The number one cheese at AOL.com.
Ha, because of Brie. How often do you look at your IMDb profile?
Never. Never looked at it, never want to.
What's your favorite Bill Murray movie?
Ooooh. Oh, the one that's been in my head recently, just because I've rediscovered the film, is "Coffee and Cigarettes." I just love him that movie. It's so good.
What is your spirit animal?
I think it's a fox. I think that's actually what it is. I think it is a fox, but it's tough to say. I really personally, beyond any sort of Joseph Campbell mythology, I have a really very deep connection with the fish, especially the fish that are in the very deep sea. The ones that look like they're having a Daft Punk concert at the bottom of the ocean. I love those little guys. I think that they're really up to something. If I was given millions of dollars, I would put it towards trying to understand the conscious mind of the fish. I think that they are doing something… I don't know. I know it sounds crazy. My boyfriend's like, "They're just doing their thing. There's nothing big happening in there." But I think they are organizing something.
What is your porn star name, if you take the names of your first pet and street you grew up on?
It's kind of strange. Speedy Derby Park.
Lastly, would you take a selfie for us?
How does that work? Oh, the thing flips around. Okay.