Brie Larson Studied at Home to Play a ’21 Jump Street’ High Schooler

Brie Larson got her start in children’s films, broke into television, and even had a short music career. The 22-year-old actress has transitioned into more grown-up roles, but she still gets cast in a high school student (even though, ironically, she was home schooled for her high school years). Her most recent role was in this spring’s hit comedy 21 Jump Street, based on the television series that ran on Fox from 1987 until 1991.

The film comes out on Blu-ray and DVD this week, so Larson took some time to chat with Film School Rejects about her various roles, including the upcoming films James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now and Peter Bogdanovich’s Squirrel to the Nuts.

Did you watch the original 21 Jump Street?

I did watch the original show. It was on reruns on TV for many years, so I’m familiar.

And were you a fan?

I was. That’s the beginning of beautiful Johnny Depp.

Even though it plays a bit silly now, it was made to be serious in the 80s and 90s. What did you think about the film being a comedy?

I was stoked. I mean, Michael Bacall I think is a genius, and I love his take on screenwriting. I thought it was one of the funniest scripts I’ve ever read. I think it was a smart move to not try and emulate the show because the show is awesome for what it is, and we could never recreate the magic that they had. So it was an awesome thing to be able to come and take it to another place.

In 21 Jump Street, you play a high school student again. Do you like playing high schoolers, or is it getting a little tiresome?

Not necessarily tiresome. I would be if I was doing the same sort of subject matter or the same role all the time. But it seems to be taking shape in different ways. I was home schooled for high school, so I kind of get a little thrill out of reliving it over and over again as different people.

So you didn’t know anyone like the characters in the film? Normally drug dealers are thugs, but they were shown as more preppy kids as the school criminals.

Well, like I said, I didn’t go to high school, so I don’t know at all. But my sister went to high school, and I could definitely see some of these kids going to her school. It’s a new generation of people. We’ve got so much information at our fingertips that we’re a much more socially aware generation, and I think it’s funny and interesting to have them be the criminals.

Social media is a key element in the film. Do you get wrapped up in it?

No, I don’t have any of those things. I mean I text message, and I have email. But that’s it. I don’t have any of the other ones.

You’ll be playing a high schooler again in The Spectacular Now, right?

Oh yeah. I’m really excited about it. I think James Ponsoldt is an incredible up-and-coming director, and I’m such a huge fan of his film Smashed, which I had the pleasure of seeing at Sundance. I’m really excited. I’m playing a girl who is struggling with the man that she loves being an alcoholic, and being young and not knowing how to deal with it and wanting more and money and a future and knowing that the person you love can’t give it to you.

As someone who was home schooled, how do you prepare for a high school role?

Well most of the time I can kinda of place it in my own way. I was that age at one time. I do understand the general emotions that go into it. I don’t know if like me not doing regular homework, you know, staying up until 6 a.m. writing essays will affect he performance at all. But I doubt it will. I think that for me, most of it is having the script and character early enough before starting a project that I have the time to kind of go through my life and live it and pull from the things that have been happening in my life and things that I’ve seen others and bringing that to the work I’m doing to create a seamless thing between my life and the life in this movie.

And then we’re also filming in Athens, Georgia, and a huge thing for me is getting to Georgia early and feeling that place and understanding what type of people they are.

You’ve done a lot of movies and television. Which medium do you prefer?

Oh, no preference at all. I think they’re both fantastic. I like to use all the different muscles, so I’m just more interested in interesting parts and working with interesting people, wherever that takes me. If someone told me that around the corner of Fairfax there was a stage with interesting people, I’d probably join them, whichever level that’s at.

Actually, some of your television roles have been edgier than the movies you have done, like the au pair in The League. Do you prefer edgy material, or something more in the squeaky-clean territory?

Yeah, I do. I just like knowing that I can do what I want to do and say what I want to say, even if that doesn’t mean I like talking like a sailor. I really loved the freedom of The United States of Tara being able to speak freely the way I wanted to, knowing I wasn’t going to get censored. it think that’s a nice luxury. But I have younger cousins, and I don’t have a problem with doing things that are a little bit cleaner as well. I don’t think that edgier necessarily equate to better or more real.

What do you get recognized most for?

Um, probably Scott Pilgrim.



That surprises me because you have all that make-up and the hair. I’m sure you don’t walk down the street looking like that.

No. [laughs] I never look like that. Ever. Not even in my dreams do I look like that. I don’t know. It’s a strange thing but that seems to be the one. Because as far as I can tell, people who love Scott Pilgrim really love Scott Pilgrim and haven’t watched it one time, they’ve watched two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten times, so they know those people like the back of their hand. So I think we’ve become a little easier to spot.

Does that make you want to return to music?

No, not necessarily. I mean, I play music and write it all the time and love it, but I’m just not interested in exposing myself in that way.

That’s fair. And you have plenty of other projects coming up.

Yeah. [laughs] Yeah. I’m doing this movie with Peter Bogdanovich and Owen Wilson early next year that I’m really excited about. I mean, Peter Bogdanovich is my hero, so it’s an honor to have an opportunity to work with him. Other than that, I just hope people will grab the [21 Jump Street] DVD. There should be some juicy bits on there.

I imagine there’ll be some good deleted scenes.

There isn’t that much that I remember that actuality was cut from the movie. I think things were shortened because they had a lot of comedy and a lot of story in a short amount of time they had to tell it. So I would look more for extended scenes and a lot of improv that didn’t get to make it in the movie.

Since you’re not necessarily known for improv, was it intimidating to work with someone like Jonah Hill, who is known for that?

No. If you think about it that you’re working with your friends. And especially when you’re auditioning for jobs, you get put through the wringer before you actually show up on your first day on set. You have to trust that by the time you’re there in the costume with cameras rolling that you’re supposed to be there. You have to just trust yourself.


21 Jump Street is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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