After winning an Oscar, Brie Larson has been blowing up, big. So big, in fact, that she’s sharing the screen with the biggest – literally – of them all: King Kong.
Before she makes her upcoming entry into the widescreen world of Marvel superheroics as Captain Marvel, Larson’s broadening her game from standout work in acclaimed but small-scale movies to a full-on blockbuster with franchise film ambitions in the form of “Kong: Skull Island.” But her character is still pretty boots-to-the-ground, a courageous Vietnam-era war photographer who accompanies a clandestine military expedition to the giant gorilla’s primeval stomping grounds.
And its not about the bigger paychecks or a higher profile, as the actress explained in a roundtable conversation joined by CBR. No, what she really wants to do is ask even bigger questions about the world around her.
On what interested her about venturing into large-scale filmmaking following her success in more intimate movies:
Brie Larson: I have always been really picky about the films that I make, because I think that they’re such an incredible opportunity to bring up questions. And some of my favorite films that bring up questions are actually the bigger movies, because you have beautiful visuals on the surface and this screen that’s bigger than you and incredible sound design and 3-D glasses, and “blah, blah, blah,” but when you walk away from it, it hits you as something deeper.
It’s a great, fun way to bounce around some of these great concepts in our head. I don’t really want to be a big famous person, so there’s a tradeoff for doing a big movie like this, and it means less privacy. And you give up something every time you do another film, and so I really question myself every time I do it, and I say, “Well, what’s the trade off?”
And for me, with this, it is bringing that message of “Do we really need to control and dominate everything around us, or can we let things be? Can we love something by giving it room to grow?” And so that is exactly why I did this film.
On setting aside the “beauty and the beast” element for this Kong film:
I think the film goes against convention in a lot of ways. You do have the archetypes that are quite normal that you’ve seen in Kong films before, but at the same time, you have more complicated dynamics, like the one I have with Tom in the film where it’s not a traditional romance. It’s two people that do care about each other and would step in front of a bullet for the other, but it’s not because there is anything more than a deep human connection. And Mason is also someone that, in bigger movies and also with smaller films, I don’t think we’ve seen before.
On her familiarity with Kong lore, and her desire to add something fresh to the concept:
Well, the films, I’ve known the films my whole life. I weirdly grew up with the original Kong poster – it was in our living room! So, I’d been around it, but then when this film came, it’s not like I went back and watched then and tried to study them, because I was worried I was going to do something influenced by them.
I was either going to do something, because I’d seen the movie, or because I wanted to do something against what I had seen in those movies, and I think that’s what’s beautiful about this film is that it’s different.
On balancing high-profile career opportunities with her inherent desire not to be especially famous:
Being an introvert and really loving privacy, and because for me being an actor was not easy – I was constantly on the verge of being completely broke and needing to move back in with my parents, up until “Room” came out. I think people think that I’ve had this very consistent, lucrative career, but I got paid like $800.00 for “Short Term Twelve,” and then I spent a year promoting it.
It’s not a glamourous industry. It’s really hard, and you get told all the time that you’re not this, or you’re not that, you’re too much of this. And so you have to find a center, and I spent a lot of time getting knocked down and then collecting myself, going, “Why am I doing this? Why am I collecting myself to go back out there and do it again? And I think I had to naturally go to, “This is bigger than me. This isn’t about myself. And I want to service these stories, and I want to service these characters. And I want more awareness and humanity in the world. And I don’t want this to be about me.”
So when I take on a character, it’s a sacrifice. There’s something that you give up every time, and so I want to play characters, and I want to stay mysterious. Once you know too much about me, it’s not going to be so fun watching me play characters. It’s just going to be me with a mask on, instead of believing what the mask is.
I’m not famous, and I really haven’t had any issue with it. I was a little nervous directing my first film and doing location scouts where I’m walking around Los Angeles all day, and didn’t have one person, not one issue, so I feel really lucky that right now, I have no reason to believe that my life is any different than it was.
On how winning an Academy Award for “Room” affected her:
In my career, I think it definitely changed the perception. I talked with Jen Lawrence about it, and she was like, “It’s kind of our version of like getting a PhD.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s such a good way of putting it.” That way, it doesn’t feel so definitive. It’s not like a thing that you have to keep up. It’s like a thing that you got, and it’s like the PhD at the end of your name and you move on, and that’s it.
It changes some things, I guess, in the career, but I still question if I’m a good actor. I still wake up in the morning and go, “Am I being the best person I can be? Am I doing as much good as I can in the world right now?” I never look at it. It’s not like I look at it and go, “Well, now it’s all good! Now I’m done for the rest of my life!”
On being whisked back and forth from “Skull Island’s” faraway locations to Hollywood for awards ceremonies during the walk-up to the Oscars:
I think the closest thing I can try and describe it as is kind of like that moment in Cinderella where she is in the gown, but she’s running away, and is slowly falling away and the carriage turns into a pumpkin. That’s kind of what it felt like. Where I’d spend my week [on set], my whole routine of getting ready was: not washing my hair, putting dirt under my fingernails, and getting covered in cuts and bruises.
Then when I’d go back for the weekend, it was like, getting a manicure to get out all of the dirt that’s under my fingernails and wiping off remnants of fake, caked on blood and trying to squeeze my feet into heels where I’ve been wearing boots and running around and rolling around in the dirt.
So I loved it, because I find being in the dirt and running around way more natural to me than the other side of it. So it felt like I had something that was very grounding, in nature, in the jungle during the week and then you’d have these weird drop-offs in this other world. “And now I’m at the SAG Awards. I’ve never been here before, and whoa, the lights are really shiny.”
On what appeals to her about stepping into shared movie universes, like playing Captain Marvel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the possibility of more interconnected giant monster films.
I just always loved mythology since I was a kid, and Greek mythology was like – I remember learning about that in fourth grade, and Egypt as well; those were the two I learned about when I was very young, and they clicked with me. I just thought they were so interesting and beautiful.
I like the fact that these characters take a face that is an allegory and it’s less about being a specific. We’re not talking about this world so much, and it’s not about one country against another. It’s about -- we’re dealing with planets, and we’re dealing with a completely different set of terms and words. So I think it becomes a safe place for people to bring up certain questions, because it’s not about pitting anyone against one-another in the real world. It’s safe.
Debuting in theaters on March 10, “Kong: Skull Island” is a production of Legendary Pictures directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and starring Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman and Jing Tian.