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Interview: 'Short Term 12' star Brie Larson on the performance many see as award-worthy

September 09, 2013|Matt Pais, @mattpais | RedEye movie critic

Some six months before the Oscars, nomination forecasters have already asked “Short Term 12” star Brie Larson if she’s picked out her dress.

“I’ve already picked out my wedding dress,” the actress deadpans about the absurdity of these questions. “I’m not currently with anyone, but I definitely have my wedding dress picked out.”

The exuberant line of questioning isn’t surprising, though. Larson’s so good in the SXSW top prize-winning “Short Term 12,” opening Friday, that anyone who sees it will probably think, “This movie is small, but acting this phenomenal can’t be overlooked, can it?” In the year’s best performance so far, Larson (“The Spectacular Now,” “21 Jump Street”) plays Grace, a supervisor at a foster care facility. On top of the challenges of overseeing kids looking for their place in the world, Grace faces both an unexpected pregnancy (with her boyfriend/colleague Mason, played by John Gallagher Jr. of “The Newsroom”) and Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a new resident at Short Term 12 who sparks memories of events Grace has tried to forget.

Having already won Best Actress at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival, Larson’s been doing so much press for the film that when I promise some fresh questions, she responds, “Oh my gosh. You are a god. Thank you. Thank you.” She’s been asked constantly about two narratives that won’t go away: how she grew up in the spotlight (she began acting at 6 and as a kid starred in films including “Sleepover” and “Hoot”) and the impending awards attention.

“Both are pretty exhausted at this point,” the 23-year-old actress says by phone from New York with a laugh. “The awards thing, it’s very nice. I have no idea what to say about it though. I know how to talk about what it was like to be me as a child. I don’t know what it’s like to talk about this magical, intangible thing … all of [the awards questions] are pretty outrageous just because I never in my wildest dreams assumed that that would be a question or a statement for that matter.”

In fact, she says it’s easier to hear that she’s terrible than that she’s great. Somehow, it’s what she expects.

“I’m very hard on myself and I enjoy getting notes. I enjoy refining things and working on things and working toward something,” she says. “So as nice as it is to hear compliments, I wait for the constructive criticism.”

She’s thoughtful in a way feels intelligent, not self-important. She recommends a documentary (“Resurrect the Dead”) about the mysterious, encrypted Toynbee tiles spotted around the country and in South America. She wishes an affecting lead role for a woman that doesn’t hinge on a roughed-up appearance (a la Charlize Theron in “Monster”) were the norm, not the exception. She’s fascinated by the brain’s ability to filter, “much like when you start searching stuff on Amazon and suddenly it pulls up the things that they think you’ll like based on the things you liked before.”

Speaking of past experience: She made a conscious effort not to be consumed by the emotional depths of “Short Term 12.” It was a lesson learned from observing a real-life foster care line staff (about whom she feels uncomfortable telling specific stories) and from a particularly difficult experience during an intense, early-morning scene while working with Woody Harrelson in “Rampart.”

“By the time my scene was done I was back in my car at about noon, and I remember my car being really hot from it being outside all day and sitting there still crying and still upset over this scene that I had done,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what else to do with the rest of my day. I bought myself an ice cream cone. I think even then I was trying to figure out this process that I’ve refined more now. It would take a while to get out of it. You start to stir up all these things in order to get you in this place where your character’s really struggling or fighting, and then it’s hard in those moments for your brain to distinguish between reality and fiction.”

“So instead of it being something that I did when things got too hairy, it just became part of an everyday process … Because there’s just no way you can get through working at a facility like that every day for years unless you know how to separate yourself from it.”

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