Room, Featuring Brie Larson's Award-Worthy Performance, Plays in Sag Harbor
(from Sag Harbor Express Online December 20, 2015)
By Danny Peary
I look forward to seeing an unusual film with a curious title, Room, which opens Friday at the Sag Harbor Cinema. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul; Frank) from a screenplay by Emma Donahue, which she adapted from her best-selling novel, it features a standout performance by Brie Larson that is receiving awards nominations.
The synopsis from IMDB: “Room tells the extraordinary story of Jack, a spirited 5-year-old who is looked after by his loving and devoted mother. Like any good mother, Ma, dedicates herself to keeping Jack happy and safe, nurturing him with warmth and love and doing typical things like playing games and telling stories. Their life, however, is anything but typical–they are trapped–confined to a windowless, 10-by-10-foot space that Ma has euphemistically named Room. Ma has created a whole universe for Jack within room, and she will stop at nothing to ensure that, even in this treacherous environment, Jack is able to live a complete and fulfilling life. But as Jack’s curiosity about their situation grows, and Ma’s resilience reaches its breaking point, they enact a risky plan to escape, ultimately bringing them face-to-face with what may turn out to be the scariest thing yet: the real Room world.” I became a fan of Brie Larson when she played a damaged but resilient incest victim who works as a supervisor at a group-home for at-risk kids in the indie Short Term 12, so I’m glad she’s being recognized now for being one of our best young dramatic actresses. I didn’t get the chance to talk to her about playing Ma in Room, but I did get to speak to her during a set of the Amy Schumer–Judd Apatow smash-hit comedy Trainwreck for the Australian magazine FilmInk. Here is the brief but, I think, revealing conversation with the smart, genial actress about her thoughts on moving back and forth between comedy and drama and dealing with her increased fame.
Danny Peary: I was told by Barry Mendel, the producer of Trainwreck that you were considered for the role of Amy Schumer’s sister after they saw you in Short Term 12, a serious film. Is there a fine line for you between doing drama and comedy?
Brie Larson: They’re actually pretty much identical, because the way I go about doing both is just being honest and sincere and vulnerable. And the only way to do that is to expose yourself. It takes the exact same thing in comedy and drama. I find the best comedy isn’t about trying to be funny–for the most part when things become humorous it’s because it’s so true.. My favorite comedians are the ones who open up and share with us about the way their mind works and the way they see the world, and then we can all laugh communally at the absurdity of the universe. The planet is so bizarre and upside and topsy-turvy and makes zero sense, we may as well laugh about it.
DP: I saw an interview with you from a couple of years ago in which you said dramatic roles used to take a real toll on you until somebody said, Let it go. Is the reason you do comedy to get away from that sort of thing, or does doing comedy take a toll on you also?
BL: It is still work, and there’s a lot of talking, and it has a lot of emotional stuff in it, and I’m exhausted at the end of the day, but I wouldn’t say it takes a toll on me. The next thing I’m doing [Room] is pretty dramatic, so I’ll be interested to see how much I can let it go. Doing drama or comedy, I feel there’s one story I want to tell and within that there’s a handful of stories, different ways that the one story can be told. Either way, I want to support whatever takes me to that light that I see in my head. I’m very interested in the power of comedy, and in the writing and directing process in making comedies. And in making all movies. The coin flips back and forth, and I’m bouncing between it all.
DP: In that same interview, you talked about how you wanted to be a magician as a kid so really hated the TV special that revealed how all the tricks were done. Similarly, you said that when you are in a movie, you wish everybody who sees it doesn’t know you, Brie Larson, are the actress on the screen and that your identity remains a secret. Do you still feel that way?
BL: Yeah, and I’m realizing more and more that I’m losing something that has been very important to me. Especially being in New York I’m realizing every day that my anonymousness is really rapidly deteriorating. It’s been very hard for me to recognize this and strengthen myself because there’s nothing I love more than being able to walk up and down a street and observe people and be able to engage with them without their having any idea of who I am. I just want to participate as a player in this world who doesn’t have a bunch of movie credits. I am finding new ways to deal with it. The reason why I talk about stuff like that is because for all of us there’s such a sense of wanting to know the answer, of wanting to know why. I totally get why people are that way because I suffer from it, too. The problem is that some people see me in a movie and identity me as being the person in the movie with an answer instead of realizing that I’m just playing a role. If I play a character who exercises freedom and shows viewers that all of us have the ability to make free choices it gets mistaken and people think, “Oh, let’s glorify this actress who’s free. ” It doesn’t always translate as clearly as I would like it to that I’m not the character I play.
DP: So there are expectations of you because of the role you play?
BL: For sure, even more than before. But for me to think people shouldn’t judge me, I can’t judge anyone. I can’t be upset at someone else for doing it because that means I’d be judging them for judging me– it just keeps going on forever.
DP: If viewers sometimes think you are the character you are playing, are you okay with risking playing characters in movies that have powerful messages and themes?
BL: I don’t ever want to shy away from anything, and I’m not one to shy away from exposing vulnerability or exposing darkness. Every set has its own rhythm and its own way of working. And that’s part of what I love about my job, going to different places and working in different ways. I just did a musical in India about genetically-modified rice, and what attracts me to it is that we can talk about something that’s a true issue and strikes very hard, but the movie is not fear-based. It’s not done in a way that makes us sad or scared, but instead it brings us together through laughter and love and heart.
DP: It doesn’t surprise me you’re in a musical because I know that your own music is important to you. Have you had time to be creative musically despite your hectic movie schedule?
BL: It’s hard to do because my thoughts just veer so easily into whatever movie character I’m working on. As I’m walking down the streets, I’m thinking about my character and not about myself. When it comes time to write I want to speak from my heart about me, but my thoughts are all wrapped up in all my character’s experiences in the movie. So I don’t know which thoughts are mine and which are the thoughts of my character. It’s weird.