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Brie Larson Channeled Own Childhood Experience Into Oscar-Nominated Role


[**NEW STORY**Brie Larson is up tonight for the best actress Oscar. She was nominated for her role in the film "Room," where she plays a young woman who was kidnapped at the age of 17 and held captive in a garden shed. After two years, the character gives birth to a baby boy Jack. And when the film opens, he is 5. The single room they share is the only reality Jack has ever know. I spoke with Brie Larson when the film opened back in October, and we wanted to play parts of that conversation we weren't able to hear the first time around. I asked her about the scene where her character, Ma, is trying to explain the outside world to Jack, who has never been past the walls that imprison him.

BRIE LARSON: The relationship between Ma and Jack is rather complicated because there's the mother and son aspect of it, which is complicated in itself. But then there's the fact that, really, the only person that Ma has is Jack, and so she can't completely shatter him. She has to continue to protect him, and so there's this real push-pull in this scene of feeling these moments of absolute hitting her limit in frustration and then needing to restrain and pull back and make sure that he still feels that love and protection and that she's trying to take it easy, but really wants to move fast.

But how do you explain the world to someone who's never seen it? When you're in a space with so few tools, in order to express the complexity and the bigness of the outside world, it can become like playing a game of charades, where you're trying so urgently to explain something and you know that the person could get it if you could just use these words, but you can't. You're just given these few tools.


LARSON: (As Ma) And I lived in a house with my mom and my dad. You would call them Grandma and Grandpa.

JACOB TREMBLAY: (As Jack) What house?

LARSON: (As Ma) A house. It was in the world. And there was a backyard, and we had a hammock. And we would swing in the hammock, and we would eat ice cream.

TREMBLAY: (As Jack) A TV house?

LARSON: (As Ma) No, Jack, a real house - not TV. Are you even listening to me?

MARTIN: Jack, her son - he is also her lifeline. He is her chance for escape.

LARSON: Yeah. Well, he saves her many times over the course of this film. It's discussed in the book and is sort of briefly touched upon in the film that there's two years where Ma is in Room completely alone before Jack comes along.

And I think it's a very dark and depressing and sort of empty time for her. It's - once she goes through this pregnancy and there's this life - this piece of her that's outside of her - that's growing and learning, that, then, this thing clicks into her where she has to find a way to live and to survive and to make a life out of this. And then she has to have the courage to set him free and give him up in this rather tense escape sequence in the hopes that he can get through it.

MARTIN: I have to tell you - that escape sequence - that scene - I've watched a lot of sad movies in my time - a lot of emotionally wrenching films - and that scene is unlike anything I'd ever witnessed before.

MARTIN: It was hard to watch.

LARSON: I find it - now that I've watched the movie about four times, I don't find it tense anymore. I find it so beautiful. It really is - it's a birth. That moment that you see him wiggle out of that rug and pull it open see the sky for the first time - I think it's so moving to us because it's an experience that's so relatable to our own lives. We've all recognized the moment when the world has handed us a situation that is bigger than our youth can handle, and we have to grow up in a second. And when you do get to the other side, all it does is take us to this new level of existence that is more beautiful and more complex and, in some ways, more painful.

MARTIN: I read that you had an experience with your own mom, when you were a kid, that helped you connect this character. Is that something you would share with us?

LARSON: I took this month of silence at home because Ma has two years of silence where she's just alone in this room. And I was reminded of an aspect of my childhood that I remembered, but I was able to see it as an adult instead of through the eyes of the 7-year-old that I was. And I remembered my mom packing up our Mercedes with whatever we could fit in it. And we drove from Sacramento to Los Angeles and stayed in a studio apartment that was maybe twice the size of Room, and we didn't have much. We lived off of instant noodles. But I remembered it so fondly as being one of the greatest times of my life. My mom has an incredible imagination, and so everything that happened in the space of those four walls was so exciting. It was filled with freedom and liberation. And we were there because I wanted to be an actor, and it's a full-time job driving your daughter around to auditions, so I got to hang out with her all day.

And it wasn't until I took this month of silence that I remembered that there was a piece of this that I had forgotten, that I had woken up in the middle of the night to my mom sobbing these choking sobs. And she had - was covering her mouth so that we couldn't hear, and I never made a peep. It was this moment that was hers that I knew was not mine to know about. And it wasn't until many years later that I realized that what had happened was my father had asked for a divorce. And so remembering this time that, for me, was just, as Jack says in the movie, Room went on in every direction and it never stopped. That's how I felt that space was, and I never noticed that there was the parallel of my mother trying to come to terms with her life that had split in half and figuring out who she was again and all the while, not placing that loss on us.


MARTIN: That was Brie Larson from our interview with her back in October. She's up for best actress at this year's Academy Awards. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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