Entertainment - Film
Why The Chance To Get Strong For Captain Marvel Changed How Brie Larson Saw Herself
Brie Larson is returning as Captain Marvel in 2023, in the standalone follow up to 2019’s debut and is set to be one of the faces that defines the future of the Marvel franchise. As she tells RSNG in this new interview, the training she was required to do for the role has transformed how she sees herself, and her own potential. She also reveals the secret she brings to every role, and why Samuel L. Jackson is her acting Sensei.
Larson has always demonstrated her commitment to playing Captain Marvel (AKA Carol Danvers), performing her own stunts and immersing herself in the arts of judo and boxing in order to bring more impact to her on-screen persona. In fact, filming the fight scenes has become her favorite part of the job…
RSNG Each time the subject of a new superhero project comes up, surely one of the first things on your mind is the need to get into the shape of your life, again?
BRIE LARSON, MARVEL A-LISTER “Well for the first Captain Marvel standalone we did I ended up spending nine months training, which was basically the only thing that I did – it was like a full-time job. For six months, it was an hour-and-a-half a day, and in the three months leading up to it I was training twice a day, and that was around four hours.
“Because I am a woman, parts of my body did not want to be part of the conversation. I wished that my body would just disappear. I didn’t want it to be an object that was up for discussion or thought of, or looked at.
“But the opportunity to get strong for this role changed my perception, and I realized that I was not allowing myself to fully utilize the vessel that I have been given. My body is a tool, my body is this incredible thing that can do so many things. In contrast, my brain is plastic, and I can retrain it and remold it to do incredible things.
“So, it was a big change for me and it’s also something that I am still doing. I am still studying judo and boxing because it’s really changed my life, changed my mind and I think that you can see it… you can tell on screen who Carol [Danvers] is, the persona.”
RSNG And your commitment came right down to doing most of your own stunts?
BRIE LARSON “That’s correct. I think if you are in, you are in. I also believe it’s possible to tell when someone is doing their own stunts, and when they’re not; and I wanted to remove that doubt as much as possible.
“The fight sequences were my favorite part, because you’re just in your body doing something primal, and because you’re not actually kicking or punching anyone you don’t feel like you’re risking or hurting anyone.
“So, it’s more like a dance, it’s like spending your day dancing – which is just joyful and fun.”
RSNG When you put your costume back on, how does that feel knowing you are coming back?
BRIE LARSON “My first thought is always, ‘I am going to be a character at Disneyland’, haha! Then, ‘How am I going to go to the bathroom?’. That one always follows right behind!”
RSNG Carol Danvers seems to occupy a bit part of the conversation for female empowerment. Is that important right now?
BRIE LARSON “Well it’s always important, let’s be truthful. Is it more important now? Possibly. But these conversations that centre in on the question ‘what is a woman?’, are things we should broach, and I am lucky enough to have a vehicle by which I can, and we can do that. It’s as simple as that for me.”
RSNG You’ve spoken in the past, too, about strengthening the perception of women in film?
BRIE LARSON “It's exciting that more opportunities are opening up to play intelligent, dynamic, raw, and complex kinds of women as opposed to the ‘girlfriend’ kinds of characters we're used to seeing. I've turned down some roles where I just couldn't see myself playing the girl who is waiting for her husband to come home.
“I don't think that's a representative image of women today, and that's why I'm glad to see that a lot of films being made today are more reflective of what women are really like. I think that opens up so much more interesting territory for audiences as well as writers, directors, and actors.
“European films have a much more complete and convincing way of presenting relationships between men and women, and giving more depth to the way women are shown. I would love to see more of that in mainstream American films.”
RSNG Some of the effects in the films are mind-blowing. What does it feel like being in these surroundings every day on set?
BRIE LARSON “It is so surreal – like you are going into a dream every day that you can’t talk about. You can’t tell anybody about what it is that you’re doing. I mean, you can kind of talk about it in fake terms.
“People will ask how your day was… ‘Well, you have no idea how many aliens I fought today!’ But you can’t really get into the details of it, so it feels like living in a parallel or alternate reality.”
RSNG You’ve worked with Samuel L. Jackson a few times and I know you have a really good friendship, and he was talking about how you would wait for him to give you advice way back in Kong: Skull Island. How is it to work with him as Nick Fury?
BRIE LARSON “It’s an honor. I felt like I was part of history, and this Nick Fury character is a legend, so to be seen as partners with him as he’s laying down the foundations for every other film that we have ever seen, was such a treat.
“He’s my family – beyond the film work that we have done together he will always have a piece of my heart. So, to be on this journey with him again… to have my pal with me. He is like my acting Sensei.
“He’s just the best, he’s the best support system and definitely, you want him on your team.”
RSNG When it comes to retaining the secrecy that permeates through these projects, be they big-budget superhero releases or small, independent movies, do you get special training from the relevant team to make sure you don’t give any spoilers?
BRIE LARSON “No, no I don’t… but you think that they would, actually. No, they just assume that you’re an adult and that you’re not going to spill the beans. Of course there will always be some people out there that routinely spill the beans when they shouldn’t – Mark Ruffalo and Tom Holland are always the two who spring to mind, for me haha! Much of it is just excitement spilling over.
“I’ve been there a couple of times when I’ve said something I shouldn’t have. Another part of me quite likes the separation between what can be said and what can’t. It helps me retain a healthy work/ life balance because the two should stay separate.”
RSNG It must feel good being back in this space but no longer being the new kid?
BRIE LARSON “Yeah, being the new kid can be difficult, I won’t lie.
“Naturally it helps having what amounts to a playground of people who have been through it before. In between takes I would ask people questions and be very open about being the new kid and be treated like the new kid, so that I could learn as much as I could and take in as much information.
“There will always be things that you just don’t think about, and you don’t know who to ask, such as when you start the movie, when do you train? Do you train in the morning, do you train at lunch? Do you do training, do you not train? What kind of snacks do you eat? What happens when you realize that you’re in the suit? Would you rather have a smoothie or a burger… except, obviously I ate a lot of burgers too because obviously, I can’t help myself!
“You start to learn different things through people in their past experiences, and it is nice coming back when you are the one being asked those questions instead.”
RSNG You must have now come to terms with the Marvel universe from the fan perspective, which is incredibly intense, right?
BRIE LARSON “A few years ago at Halloween I was passing out candy and a girl walked up in the Captain Marvel costume, and I was asking her who she was, and she said to me: ‘Captain Marvel’. I was in a full wig, so she didn’t recognise me at all.
“That affected me a bit, because so much of film feels a little distant and we make the movie separate from all of the fans who watch it, and it’s going to play in theaters all over the world and I won’t be there. It feels like you are on the screen, but not there at all.
“Then you see those moments of connection, where you get to experience, first-hand, what it means to people and how this or that character is representative of them – it feels really good and very grounding.”
RSNG Do you still audition?
BRIE LARSON “I don't need to audition in the traditional sense, which is a relief. That means I can focus more on the work itself and taking that process to the next level.
“Around a decade ago I was very frustrated and disillusioned about my career and didn't really know what I was going to do. But I decided to hang in there and things eventually started coming together for me when I did United States of Tara and got to work with Toni Collette, who was my idol even before I found out I was going to be doing that series. She, like Samuel, helped me a lot and has been a great friend and supporter.”
RSNG You've said in past interviews that it's important that you keep some of your character's essence hidden?
BRIE LARSON “A lot of what fascinates me about human nature is that there are certain things that are unknowable about people. There are secrets to everyone that are part of their identity and yet we can't always see what that is.
“When I play a character, I like to invent a secret that only I know, and that I don't explain or reveal to anyone else. It's that sense of mystery or hidden element to someone which makes them interesting and that's what I like to be able to build into every character I play. It’s a quality, a thing, that drives the character but you're not sure exactly what that is.”
RSNG You've been working as a professional actress since you were a child. Does it seem like it's been a very long journey to get to where you are now?
BRIE LARSON “Often in the past I have felt disoriented and confused because I was not sure I was getting to where I wanted to be, and the work wasn’t that satisfying.
“It's a strange feeling when suddenly things do begin to fall in place because there's this disconnect with the way you've been experiencing things previously. I've tried to stay calm and cool through all of this by appreciating how interesting life can be and how I've been able to learn a lot about myself, even when it's felt like a huge struggle at times. It also feels good to know that I hung in there, I didn't give up on myself.”
RSNG So were big movies on your radar?
BRIE LARSON “When I was younger, I wanted to be in Star Trek, I wanted to be in Star Wars, I wanted to be in Indiana Jones. I wanted to be Indiana Jones! I love these huge blockbuster adventures, I was enchanted and absorbed by their power.
“Those films were my life. I was in those worlds. They were so important to me.”
RSNG What effect did the Oscar for Room have on your life?
BRIE LARSON “The Oscar is so majorly powerful - you can't say it doesn't change your life… that's not possible. I probably wouldn't have gotten Captain Marvel without it, it's a really unrivaled honor to receive. It has a lot of power.
“My day to day, that has nothing to do with it. It hasn't changed who I am as a person, it hasn't changed how I feel about life, about work. I still have anxiety about my next job. You're only as good as your next job and I still have to think about how I'm going to get the next job.”
RSNG Even with the Oscar?
BRIE LARSON “It isn't a 'get past go' free card. It is in some respects but it's something that happened, one time, a few years ago. That doesn't mean you don't still have to prove yourself and show that you can do the job.
“Honestly, I'll always be hard on myself, that's how I'm wired. I question if I'm good enough for the job. And that's okay.”
RSNG Is that a remnant of struggling in the early days, the memory of that?
BRIE LARSON “Probably, yes. I threw in the towel a lot. A lot. I couldn't take the 'nos’ over and over. I have been acting since I was seven years old, and a recurring problem was never fitting the mold of what they were after.
“I was never fully right, I was never that desired package, I wasn't pretty enough, I wasn't plain enough, and I found myself so many times, getting so close and hitting that wall repeatedly.
“It was exhausting. I thought I was kidding myself; I was delusional to keep going. To keep fighting, to keep getting pulled back in, because I had this passion, but this passion was extinguishing the flame… it was all very much like it fed into the other.”
RSNG Where do you keep the Oscar?
BRIE LARSON “You know, I get asked this and I kinda like to keep that to myself. It makes it more personal and special to me…”