Make ‘Room’ for Brie Larson

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

After years of sitting on the sidelines, Brie Larson is taking control: The actress has finally jumped head first into the world of social media.

“There were a lot of people pretending to be me on the Internet, and they weren’t doing a very good job,” says Larson, who joined Twitter and Instagram over the summer. “So I thought I might as well show what’s actually going on.”

She picked a pretty good time. Thanks to her role in “Room,” where she plays a woman who has been imprisoned inside a small, shabby garden shed for seven years, Larson has the biggest role of her career and is currently the favorite to take home the Best Actress statue at next year’s Academy Awards.

The Oscar buzz hasn’t alluded Larson, who over the summer was seen playing Amy Schumer’s sister in “Trainwreck” and won the favor of critics with 2013’s “Short Term 12.” Larson retweeted fans cheekily saying what they would give up if Oscar doesn’t come calling for her, with vices from cigarettes to red wine to pizza being offered up in protest.

At last month’s Toronto International Film Festival, the Larson buzz was just beginning. Several days into the fest, the 26-year-old is sitting on her feet in a chair in a fifth-floor suite in the Intercontinental Toronto Centre while publicists and stylists scurry about outside the room. She’s wearing a dainty white dress and a tan headband in her blonde hair, which is considerably lighter than the mousy brown locks her character wears in “Room.”

Larson speaks in a calm, controlled tone when discussing “Room,” based on author Emma Donoghue’s 2010 bestseller. A voracious reader who devours four or five books at a time, Larson had already read the book when she was offered the role.

“You know how some people watch multiple TV shows? I read multiple books,” says Larson, who is currently reading Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” Lewis Hyde’s “Trickster Makes This World” and John Fowles’ “The Collector,” and re-reading Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” “I usually read before I go to bed, or first thing in the morning… little folklore stories like ‘Trickster Makes This World,’ they’re very easy to read one a day, and it kind of permeates in your brain as you go about your day.”

She was similarly focused taking on “Room,” speaking to a trauma specialist at length about what the effects to the mind would be from being kidnapped and trapped inside a room for seven years, and the walls the brain would build to protect itself after such an extended period of distress.

There were other facets she took into consideration: her character’s lack of exposure to sunlight, her dearth of vitamin D, her poor nutrition. But a lot of that became background as the film’s focus became her character’s relationship with Jack (Jacob Tremblay), her 5-year-old son and co-habitant of Room.

“Once Jack is born, it doesn’t become about her sadness, her depression and her loss anymore, it becomes about trying to make the best experience possible for him,” says Larson, born Brianne Desaulniers in Sacramento to two chiropractor parents. “So the two of them together co-create this reality that makes their world within Room seem fun and safe.”

Upon meeting the then-8-year-old Tremblay, they quickly bonded over mutual interests.

“Once he figured out that I knew as much about ‘Star Wars’ as he did, then we could get a conversation of common interests going,” she says.

Following a group outing for pizza he invited her over to play Lego, and for three weeks before shooting began they would hang out on the movie’s set during the day, build toys together (which became some of the props in Room), improv different scenarios with director Lenny Abrahamson and play Lego at night.

Larson can relate to Tremblay being so young in show business; she has been working steadily since age 9 when she appeared in sketches on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” She graduated to roles in films such as 2004’s “13 Going on 30” and 2006’s “Hoot” and flirted with a singing career (her first and only album, “Finally Out of P.E.,” was released 10 years ago this month) before landing a part as Toni Collette’s daughter on “The United States of Tara,” which lasted for three seasons from 2009-2011.

From there she appeared in films such as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (as cool rocker chick Envy Adams), “21 Jump Street” (as Jonah Hill’s love interest) and “Don Jon” (as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s texting-obsessed sister), but things changed when she starred in “Short Term 12.”

In the drama she played Grace, a supervisor at a group home for troubled youth. Her performance was a revelation, earning the praise of critics and changing something within Larson and how she approaches her work.

“ ‘Short Term 12’ was this amazing opportunity that I hadn’t yet had to show all of the colors in my palate,” she says. “I had played a lot of really interesting, different roles in movies, but you get a couple of scenes in one you don’t have as much time to create a full story, a full swoop. So ‘Short Term 12’ was the first time I felt like I was given all of the colors to paint with. When it was received the way that it was and when people had that type of an emotional reaction to it, it changed something in me because I was finally able to have factual evidence that movies have a healing power, and that if done correctly and for the right reasons — and for me I do it as a sense of service — it is a really amazing powerful tool that we can use that is universal.”

“Room” is drawing a similar response, and Larson’s performance is deeply resonating with audiences. During filming, she says she would sometimes sit alone in Room, in silence, to feel the loneliness inside that space.

It may be the last quiet she experiences for the foreseeable future, but it’s given her plenty to tweet about.