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Brie Larson: My mom’s suffering attracted me to ‘Room’

She's already won Best Actress at the Golden Globe Awards but will Brie Larson also take out the Oscars title for her role as Ma in 'Room'?
Brie Larson actress

For the lucky few who have already seen early screenings of Room, the film has had a huge impact. Critically praised, it has touched people in many different ways, says Brie Larson, whose brilliant performance as a young woman imprisoned in a tiny room with her young son has already created a huge awards buzz.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, with a screenplay by Emma Donoghue from her own best selling novel, Room received glowing reviews when it premiered at the Telluride Film Festival before screening at both Toronto and London Film Festivals.

Ms Larson is Ma who was kidnapped by a man she calls ‘Old Nick’ seven years earlier and held in an 11 x 11 garden shed. Her son, five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) knows nothing of the outside world and indeed of the details of the terrible ordeal that his mother has suffered.

Both a riveting thriller – Ma meticulously plans an escape that will save their lives – and an uplifting story about the incredible bond between a mother and her son, Room was initially inspired by the Josef Fritzl case in Austria. Fritzl imprisoned one of his daughters for 24 years in a basement dungeon where she bore him seven children.

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The author herself has said that, at its heart, her story was about motherhood but she is delighted that readers have taken many different meanings from it themselves. And Ms Larson agrees – the film has spoken to its audience in different ways, too. After Ma and Jack escape, they must adjust to the outside world that Jack has never known while a voracious media wants to know all about their story.

“People see it as a love story, a bond between a mother and a son; love conquers all. Some people talk about how much it hit them that they had a depressed parent or a suicidal parent,” she says.

“Some people watched it entirely as a meditation on depression. I’ve had some people saying that the moment where Jack meets his friend is what the movie is all about – about friendship and closeness and it reminded them of being a kid and finally connecting with the world for the first time.

“A lot of birth and womb like references because of the room and outside of the room where it’s like a second birth in a way. And then there’s the metaphor of it all and the mythological references and some people strongly get the Plato references or Bluebird.

“Some people see it as a full crime story and some journalists really focus on the interview sequences being the most important aspects of it and feel uncomfortable interviewing me after seeing that.

“So it really depends on your background and what it is that you are looking for. And you know, I think it says a lot about the power of this story because it does touch people in so many different ways.”

Ms Larson read the novel soon after it was first published in 2010. “I absolutely loved it and devoured it in a day and it was the first time I’d cried while reading a novel since reading Where The Red Fern Grows (by Wilson Rawls) in the fourth grade,” she says.

“I fell in love with these people, Ma and Jack. And then I found out that there was a film happening. It was like, ‘this is a very special project and you will never be cast in it,’” she laughs.

“But I ended up working as hard as I possibly could, first in my meeting with Lenny, which was supposed to be a 15 minute coffee meeting and turned into a four hour talkathon and by the end of it I felt one step closer to really falling head over heels for it. Sometime later Lenny asked any girl who was interested in the project to audition and I auditioned and I got it.”

To prepare for the role, she met trauma specialists and to try and imagine what it would be like to be trapped in a small room, decided to stay inside her apartment, alone, for a month, with minimum contact with the outside world.

“The whole thing that my character is going through is not anything you would normally know how to tackle. It’s not a typical story so I had to reach out and find specialists in these fields to try and help me figure this out because you can’t just Google ‘what does it feel like to be trapped in a room for seven years?’

“You have to talk with somebody who has dealt with it. So I spoke with a trauma specialist for many hours over many days talking about the mental things that would happen to somebody after you had been stuck in this room for seven years.”

Her self-imposed month alone brought back memories of her own childhood, she says. And, perhaps, provided a clue as to why she was so drawn to the role of Ma.

“I wanted to see what would happen and some very interesting things happened to me while I was doing that. A lot of old memories resurfaced; I remembered a lot about my childhood that I forgot about.

“And one thing in particular that I remembered stayed with me. I was born in Sacramento and I moved to Los Angeles with my Mom and my little sister when I was 7 and my sister was like 3 or 4 and we moved into a studio apartment that was a little bit bigger than room and we also had a door to a toilet so there was a little bit of separation there.

“But the bed came out of the wall – it was a ‘room.’ And I had about two pairs of jeans and a couple of shirts and a pair of shoes, my sister the same and my Mom the same and we had maybe a handful of toys, not much.

“My Mom couldn’t even afford happy meals at that time. And I remember that time as being one of the greatest times of my life. I was so happy. My Mom has this incredible imagination and she instilled so much life in that space that I never felt that I was lacking and I didn’t realise that we didn’t have anything.

“And then there was one moment that I also remembered in this silence that really struck me and moved me very deeply – I remembered where we would all three sleep in that same bed that came out from the wall.

“And I remember waking up in the middle of the night with my Mom with her hands over her mouth trying to be quiet but just sobbing uncontrollably – convulsions, sobbing, shaking – and I didn’t know why and I remembered thinking, ‘it’s like when my toy is taken away from me.’

“And I didn’t realise until many years later that my father had asked for a divorce and that’s why we had moved to Los Angeles and she was dealing with it completely alone but I had created this world of imagination with me and my sister.

“Sometimes you never fully understand why you are attracted to a project until you get deeper into it and that for me – and it’s giving me chills talking about it – was such a huge part of my life and something so palpable to me to bring to this film.”

Both on screen and off, she developed a deep bond with Jacob Tremblay, who plays her son Jack.

“I think all the adults had this understanding that the main core of the movie was that love between mother and son and that was the necessary momentum that was going to keep the story moving and believable.

“But how we were going to get that between myself and Jacob was not anything we really planned because you can’t. It’s a natural thing that happens when you meet a person, some people you get on with and others you don’t.

“Jacob was 7 when I met him and it wouldn’t be right to push me or anything on him. It had to always be his choice, his decision and on his terms. So the only thing that we talked about was having a lunch where it would be me and him and his Mom and Lenny and the producers.

“It would be more of a group setting so it didn’t have to feel like this intimidating one-on-one first meeting and it allowed Jacob and I to interact a little bit but also interact with others so the focus wasn’t on us and that was kind of how it all began.

“It was putting us in situations like the production designer has got all this trash and all the tools that we would have had in the room and allowed to build the toys in the room.

“It was things like that where we could play quietly but maybe every now and then we could talk and connect with one another and use our imaginations together. And that became the way we could slowly get to know each other in a way that wasn’t forced or manipulated.”

Ms Larson is an actress and musician. Her films include Sleepover, Hoot, Remember The Daze, Greenberg, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Trouble With Bliss, Rampart, Treatment, 21 Jump Street, Don Jon, Short Term 12 and The Gambler.

We have five double passes to Room to giveaway. To be in to win, enter the competition here.

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