Since Short Term 12 began making the festival circuit rounds, the film has generated some much-deserved buzz. The poignant drama centers on Grace (Brie Larson), a supervisor at a facility for at-risk teenagers who has managed to burry her horrific past. When a talented but emotionally broken teenage girl arrives, Grace recognizes that the two have endured similar struggles. With the unwavering support of her boyfriend and co-worker (John Gallagher Jr.), she goes to great lengths to help her, and in the process confronts her own harrowing secrets.
Written and directed by Destin Cretton, the film is not only one of the best to hit theaters this year, it also has one of the most well-developed female leads in some time. It doesn’t hurt that Larson, who’s had memorable turns in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 21 Jump Street, gives a riveting and heartbreaking performance.
Last week I had the chance to discuss the film with Larson in an exclusive 1 on 1 interview. Among other things, she discussed why she thinks characters like Grace are so rare and why she chose John Gallagher to be her co-star.
You can check out what she had to say below.
Short Term 12 is based on a short film, in which the lead character was male. The director Destin Cretton said that when he turned the character into a woman for the feature, it was “frightening” for him to write. Do you think that’s why a lot of writers and directors, particularly male writers and directors, stay away from these types of female characters?
Brie Larson: Yeah, I also wonder how often they see someone like a Grace in real life to be able to draw upon it. There aren’t a lot, I don’t think. Unless you’ve grown up having a really strong mother figure. We’re coming into a new generation of women where there’s the submissive woman, and then our reaction to it is ‘no, I’m a man too and I’m masculine’, and then we fight against it, which isn’t the answer either.
It’s not so much equality as that we’re trying to be top dog. I just don’t know if it is something that is a fully realized concept in the female, therefore it’s hard for a male to be able to write it. The key, and I’m sure Destin will realize this as well, is you just write for a woman as you’d write for a man, because they’re both human beings. It’s not really a hard thing, but in film, we think that a female character has to be for the woman, and what the woman wants is a movie that’s about how wonderful shoes are. And we really are across the board I think, craving something more. And it’s important for women, if they don’t understand that, to realize there’s more than that.
Do you think that it’s going to take writing characters as men and then just switching the name to a woman’s to get better female roles?
Brie Larson: I don’t know what it will take for anybody’s personal creative process but I think that it’s a chicken or egg situation, with females, where we don’t know anything and we can’t get upset about it if we don’t have enough women infiltrating this media and saying ‘hey, you know what? There’s no such thing as trendy nail-polish, that’s made up.’ It’s not real, none of that stuff is real. Trends are not real, they are for the consumer and once we can get enough of us to free ourselves from it and realize that it’s not about strong-arming our way through, it’s about understanding that we are so needed for the balance of this planet, then I think we can start having changes.
Women perpetuate those stereotypes from time to time because we feel comfortable using our sexuality as a form of power because that’s what we have been trained to do, that’s where our worth is and that’s how we get things done. And by using our assets as a distraction, or a diversion to get through, we’re paving a really bad road for women. We’re also talking about an industry that’s about money, and boobs and butts really sell.
You and Destin had talked about casting John Gallagher, before he had gotten the script. I’m curious what was it about him as an actor that you thought ‘ok, he is perfect for the role’?
Brie Larson: I’m pretty tough and picky when it comes to actors that I admire. I’m really not interested in acting as a facade, I’m interested in it as an emotional expression and as a transcendent experience for an individual. I find that a lot of people, a lot of young actors, haven’t gotten to the point where they’re comfortable being stripped down. They’re still interested in ornate jackets.
With John, I had seen Spring Awakening and always admired his work, and he’s always taken on very complex roles. And also having a lot of theater experience is really awesome because you know how to explore something and you’re very willing to expose yourself and give out to a lot of people. And he’s just like, a real person. So I think that’s why the relationship works, and that’s why the movie works, because it’s a real person. And he’s like a strong man but not in the typical football player strong man term, but he’s a real complex, feeling, individual.
You’re talking about not wanting to make it about your vanity and I think it’s very rare to find actresses who don’t mind being stripped down emotionally, and not playing the glamorous roles. Are there some out there that you admire especially for that reason?
Brie Larson: We’ve got a lot of greats. Michelle Williams, Toni Colette, Diane Keaton, Julie Christie, and these are all beautiful women, these are women who are comfortable with the beauty that they have when they wake up in the morning, not the beauty that happens after two hours having your hair tugged and your eyelashes curled. Gena Rowlands. Even I think Goldie Hawn is in her own way, she’s great at making fun of herself and making fun of her vanity. There’s power in that too. There’s power in recognizing that you enjoy getting your hair done.
This year you have Short Term 12 and The Spectacular Now, it feels like a new chapter, a new phase in your career, different than the things that we’ve seen you in. Was this a conscious effort to enter into a new realm of films?
Brie Larson: Yeah. It’s as conscious as, starting to question yourself more and more of really feeling your mortality and that bit of morbidity inside of you that goes, ‘as nice as it is to be on this planet, I won’t always be here and I’m inside a body that will one day not be here any longer and I really want to enjoy my time, and express myself in a way that feels good and isn’t destructive, so how do I do that and how is my life structured around that?’ And you do what you do. You schedule your life.
We’d like to thank Brie for taking the time to chat with us. Be sure to check out Short Term 12 when it hits selects theaters on August 23.