Brie Larson’s now at a crossroads in her career. She’s done indie films like Greenberg and Rampart, had a supporting role on The United States of Tara and had a juicy supporting turn in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. But with 21 Jump Street, she’s now in a big blockbuster comedy. Larson holds her own against Jonah Hill in what is normally a thankless role, and makes a great impression. We recently spoke to her about the new film and her other movies in general. Check it out below!
Note: I would normally cut this introduction, but it segued into the greater conversation. It’s fair to say Larson is a film geek of the highest order.
I have to say that I met you after a screening of The Driver and Duel at the New Beverly and we were both geeking out about The Super Cops.
Brie Larson: Oh my god, Super Cops is one of my favorite movies. I f*cking love that movie. I feel like that’s such an important movie for males to see.
Did you know it came out on DVD?
No! But I’m so I’m excited to hear that. That’s awesome.
You have to get it through Warner Archive.
I’m going to have to go buy that today. I’m going to have to buy like twenty copies.
So, (laughs) did you think about The Super Cops when you were doing 21 Jump Street?
One hundred percent. My references for this movie were The Super Cops and Freebie and the Bean. Those were the two. And part of the reason I was so excited about Super Cops was because I knew I was doing Jump Street, and I go to the New Beverly all the time with Michael Bacall, and that was one movie we both talked about as such a solid reference. And even Walter Hill Movies as well, those are such awesome references for super bad ass but also funny movies.
It’s action defines character, I mean, in The Driver, I bet the Driver has less than hundred lines of dialogue in that film.
But how amazing is that movie? That’s a definitive film.
It’s one of those movies I love throwing on late at night.
That makes sense.
Kind of a different aesthetic these days, but I love Walter Hill. What did you take out of Freebie and the Bean?
Have you seen the trailer for Freebie and the Bean, it’s one of the greatest trailers ever made! I saw it at The New Beverly and just about fell over. It’s all about the dynamic between the two heroes, and the banter back and forth. And also the push and pull of the two heroes being opposites.
It’s unfortunate that Freebie and the Bean is a little homophobic. I think that’s why Warner Brothers is a little ashamed of it, but it’s one of the great buddy cop films.
The role of the love interest is – I don’t want to say arbitrary in a film like this – but it’s undervalued, and I thought you brought a lot of to the role, what were your references, and how did you find your way into it?
My main reference was Billy Liar. That was a really important film tonally and character-wise. There’s one scene in which she’s swinging her purse and she’s swinging her purse so freely and that’s what they had in their head in terms of a free, open spirit, and once I saw that I understood who I was to play and why they wanted me to be a part of it. I was so confused through the whole process.
I had just seen Drive Angry for the first time, and that was my impression of what girls are in action movies. And I saw that and thought “am I going to have to get a personal trainer? Am I going to have to wear booty shorts? Am I going to have to wear heels to school? I don’t want to have to do that.” And I had a panic attack and I went to lunch with Phil and Chris and said “I can’t wear jean shorts, I can’t do it, I don’t work out!” And they said “We want you to wear sneakers and be yourself, you crazy person.” And I was like “Oooh, I get it.”
Have you been offered the, let’s just call them “booty shorts” roles?
I’ve never been offered anything like that, but I’ve certainly auditioned for it. I just don’t carry myself in a way that’s appropriate for that. I’m just goofy, lanky and awkward, and not some sort of voluptuous and comfortable with it sexual human being, so there’s no way I’d even get one of those roles, because it just doesn’t work.
Well, you do stylish very well in Scott Pilgrim as Envy Adams.
Oh, yeah, you’re right, you’re right. But that’s a rock star, and it’s not her, it’s a persona that she’s putting on.
I’m curious did you do any work with Emily Haines of Metric?
No, but we did record in their studio.
Some of your moves seem informed by her.
Oh, I did study her stage movements, mainly with the keyboard, because the keyboard is a strange thing to move with.
On the Scott Pilgrim front, could you see a through-line between Michael Bacall’s work on it and 21 Jump Street?
Yeah, he is one of our most important screenwriters we have right now, I’m so happy he’s my friend. His main style is this action packed script, every script is a page turner, you can see it in both, and get so much so quickly and then ultimately have heart.
Was the script how you found your way in?
It all happened in a roundabout way. I knew that Bacall was working on the script – which I thought was bizarre, I didn’t even know they were making it a comedy, I was like “what? That’s such a strange choice?” And for Jonah (Hill) and Bacall to be writing something together it seems liked something that I wanted to read, the combination of all three of those things together., and I was doing the table read for The Five year Engagement, the Nick Stoller film, and I met Jonah at the table, and he came up and talked to me for a little bit, and we had some major break ups, and how we both went to Europe alone, and how that’s a terrible, terrible thing to do when you break up with someone is to go far away from your friends and family and no cell service, and we were laughing about it.
And as were done talking about it, he said “can I introduce you to my friends?” And I’m like “what is this: show and tell?” and he introduced me to these two young guys. We sat there and talked for a while, and they gave me a piece of gum, and after I left they were like “best friends forever” and I’m like “best friends forever!” thinking in my head I’m never going to see them again. And the next week I had an audition for 21 Jump Street, and lo and behold those two young guys were the directors of this film. And they were like “Brie” and I was like “oh my god it’s you!” And they were like “Brie we gave you gum, I thought we were best friends.” And it was one of those incredible things, it was this hour-long audition of just super-bonding and laughing and having a great time. It never felt like an audition, it felt like I was going to go hang out with my friends.
That’s interesting because I was curious if it was a long audition process.
No it was two auditions, one with the directors and once with Jonah.
And then how was the shoot, it sounds like it was a lot of fun?
It was, it was in New Orleans, which is one of the most fantastic places I’ve ever lived in, and we got to do a lot. The cool thing about it was it was one of the first times I was on set for the entire run of the picture and you go on this crazy journey with it. First you do all this school stuff – Chris Parnell comes in play and Jake Johnson comes in to play – and then we move on to the freeway stuff, and then dealing with closing down the entire freeway, and then you get into the prom stuff, and you’ve got DeRay (Davis) , we’ve got Rob Riggle, and we’re doing two weeks of night shoots. It was three months of going on all these different journeys, and all these other amazing comedians that came into it. It was really fun.
How would categorize the differences between Phil and Chris or do they work as a hive mind?
At the end of the day, they balance one another. And I know it’s always great to have a sounding board when you’re writing, and I’ve directed with my two best friends and it’s a lovely process because you’ve got another brain. And there’s so much to do on a movie, it’s a wonder there’s not more directing teams because it’s such a bottomless pit of tasks. They both have their strong suits, and they both talk different aspects of filmmaking and make for an incredible super-team.
You’ve directed a couple of shorts, do you want to move into directing a feature at some point?
Definitely. But not until I can do it the way I want to do it. I don’t want to a film where I have people breathing down my neck, so I’m going to keep doing shorts until financiers or studios would be comfortable with me doing a film the way I want to do it. It could be now, it could be a year from now it could be ten years from now, I’m not really sure.
Do you then view your time on a set as homework?
It always has been for me. When I was young I thought my calling was to be a director of photography, so I always ended up hanging out by the monitors, and chatting up the DP, trying to make him my buddy so I could understand what they were doing. I think that filmmaking is very Oz-like in its way. All the stuff that happens behind the scenes is absolutely fascinating to me. It’s incredible that we ever get anything done. To think of the hundred people making decisions coming together so we can make this one large art piece is so fascinating. There’s music, but music is like one-one hundredth of what it’s like on a movie set. So you get to know people and get to question and learn about the different aspect of filmmaking and all of the pieces of the larger whole, and you can’t help but want to get in there and get dirty yourself.
You strike me as being a huge cinephile.
Oh my god, yes. Yes. I go to the movies at least once a week. The New Beverly and the Silent Movie Theater are pretty much where I live. I’m at the point where everyone who works there know me, and I can usually finagle my way into getting a couch at the Silent Movie Theater, which is pretty cool.
You always want the couch.
Yeah you want that couch. You can get that middle couch second row, you are golden.
And Julia is always a charmer over at the New Beverly
And her hair is always the best. I’m always so stoked to see what color her hair is going to be. And New Beverly has the Scott Pilgrim screenings, which are so awesome and fun. I really want to take over one of them, and do a double feature. I was kind of thinking of doing a double feature of Metropolitan by Whit Stilman and Kicking and Screaming by Noah Baumbach, I think they cross over in a really weird way. They’re both similar in tone and actors.
Chris Eigleman specifically. They definitely feel similar then, Baumbach matured into something else, though he spent some time in the wilderness as it were. (Damon has a thought bubble) F*ck, you were in Baumbach’s Greenberg, which I loved.
I loved it too, I thought it was a great movie. But I want to start a campaign to do a double feature.
I don’t think you’ll have a problem with it. What have you seen lately that you’ve fallen in love with?
Last night I saw a fantastic film The Sound of Noise. It was so cool, and then they did a drum-off with the director and the drummer from the Melvins. It was there LA premiere, and it was sold out, which is cool. That seems to be happening more and more, and that’s exciting for the Silent Movie Theater – people are really starting to trust (curator) Hadrian (Belove)’s taste, which is great. I’m trying to think of the last movie I saw, but they’ve all been at the Silent Movie Theater. I’ve been working, which sucks.
21 Jump Street hits theaters March 16. Check it out!