But what she’s always wanted to do is direct. For Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson, moving behind the camera wasn’t the sort of career change she envisioned only after years in the business — it was something she grew up doing. Her own opportunities just had to catch up to her first.
“I’ve just made movies my whole life,” Larson recently told IndieWire. “Every summer, I would write and direct a film that I would direct my cousins in. It mostly took place in the garage, and I would just hang up different sheets and use our storage containers as different heights for things. I had a disco ball that I put outside the garage door, and when I turned it on, it meant we were rolling.”
She added, “I guess this has been part of my way of expressing myself for a very long time.”
Larson also stars in the charming new feature as recent college grad Kit, a failed artist who believes the only way to succeed is to shed her creative dreams and become an entirely different person in the process. While her parents (Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack) are heartened by what they perceive as perennial kid Kit finally growing up, she suffers — in often drily amusing fashion — to discover the kind of person she really wants to be. Oh, and then Samuel L. Jackson shows up and offers Kit her very own unicorn, as long as the conflicted character can prove herself worthy. Straitlaced Kit? That’s not going to cut it.
The film is Larson’s third trip behind the camera, having previously co-directed the shorts “The Arm” and “Weighting,” which bowed at Sundance and SXSW, respectively. Those films helped fuel not just Larson’s relentlessly creative expression, but her sense of self. It seems only right that “Unicorn Store” tackles those same themes.
Taking Back Control
“Doing shorts was part of my way of taking control back from waiting around to get the next job,” she said. “Anything that I could do to make me feel like I had a life outside of acting, so that when I didn’t get jobs, it didn’t feel like my whole world was over. It just felt like one piece was kind of ending.”
Larson initially auditioned to star in the film about five years ago, but the production, later set to star Rebel Wilson and be directed by Miguel Arteta, never got off the ground — and the actress never really got it out of her head. When it was offered up to her after her big Oscar win for her turn in “Room,” complete with a directing gig too, she knew it was finally right.
“I always felt like I was supposed to tell that story,” she said.
She worked on the script for a year alongside scribe Samantha McIntyre, further fleshing out characters and readying it to share with potential producers. Larson, who has worked in the industry since she was a kid, was prepared for a long wait when it came to financing. “I thought, ‘well, we’ll put it out there, it could be years before I actually end up doing it and start wrapping my head around this,’” she said.
24 hours later, it sold. (Larson produced the project alongside the District’s David Bernad and Ruben Fleischer, Paris Kasidokostas-Latsis, Terry Dougas, and Lynette Howell Taylor.) Larson worked on the earliest pieces of pre-production while filming Destin Daniel Cretton’s “The Glass Castle,” a process made easier by the fact that both films shared a number of department heads, indie synergy at its finest. That doesn’t mean that she was quickly able to shake off first-time nerves.
“There’s a real vulnerability that comes with directing a film, that comes with saying, ‘This is my point of view, this is how I view the world, and it’s meaningful to me and I hope it’s meaningful to other people,’” Larson said.
Assembling the Team
While she acknowledges the creative process that goes into her acting, directing “Unicorn Store” tapped into something deeper, and perhaps something scarier. “I do understand why we don’t have a ton of new voices,” she said. “Because it’s really hard for new voices to get through this process, getting a financier, getting the right cast, getting the right team, selling it, getting it into a festival. It’s a very difficult process. It’s a very hard on you mentally.”
But plenty of good things happened along the way.
Larson’s starry cast came together with surprising ease, and co-stars like Whitford and Cusack were “the perfect people for it” and signed on after early offers. Jackson actually approached her first, while they were filming “Kong: Skull Island,” offering her a point of view and passion that Larson wanted to see reflected in the final film.
“The hardest part for me was wondering if people would trust me to do this,” Larson said. “And realizing how much as an actor, it’s an act of trust to sign on to any film.”
Another actor who trusted Larson from the jump: Mamoudou Athie, best known for his work on the series “The Get Down” and the recent Sundance hit “Patti Cake$.” For the role of Virgil, a hardware store employee first roped into Kit’s getting-ready-for-unicorn process who becomes someone even more important to her, Larson wanted to snag a fresh face to portray a different sort of masculinity.
Athie sent in a tape after hearing about the part from fellow “Get Down” star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (who had already recommended him for his “Patti Cake$” performance), one that was apparently good enough to get him a Skype interview with Larson.
“I was a little bit nervous about how it would go,” Athie admitted. “She had just won an Oscar! And she was so cool. Immediately, I was like, ‘Oh, this is one of my people.’ We had a conversation. I feel like we went through the gamut, we talked about stereotypes and the industry, hope and humanity. We talked for like 45 minutes.”
The connection between the pair was immediate, and once Athie got the part, he was pleased to see that their bond carried over on set. “It just felt kind of innate,” he said. “Just, ‘Oh, we understand what this is.’”
“Unique and Different”
As an actress, Larson was struck by Kit’s “uniqueness, and her inability to let go of her uniqueness.” The film follows Kit’s early attempts to live the kind of straitlaced life she believes is expected of her – complete with office job and buttoned up suit – but it never quite sticks, and the film is as much about Kit’s coming of age as it is about her staying herself. Larson loved that, but she also related to it.
“I know that the film isn’t for every person,” she said. “But I hope that for the people that I did make it for, it resonates with them as a way of saying, ‘We need these voices that are unique and different.’”
But Athie didn’t mince words about his experience on set with the fledgling director. “She is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with,” the actor said. “Just extraordinarily generous, but also so clear, so succinct with her directions…I don’t know how she actually, how? Just insane. I didn’t understand how she was able to vacillate from being so vulnerable and emotionally available [while acting], to being so precise [as a director].”
Larson, who has long been outspoken about the need for diversity and respect in the industry, is eager for the film to inspire others, though perhaps in not the exact way most would expect. “My hope was, whether the movie is good or not, it’s another piece on the board,” she said. “People can look at and either go, ‘This movie is amazing, I want to do that,’ or you can go, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen, if she can do this, then I can definitely make a movie.’”
She added, “Through that, my hope is that we have more women, more people of color, people of different sexual orientations telling their stories, because that’s what we need. We need just more. We need more of different.“
Larson understands that audiences might be tempted to dismiss the film as something quirky or whimsical, but she knows there’s more to it. “Obviously, the film is a little off-kilter, and a little surreal, but I think that the world we live in is surreal,” Larson said. (Athie compared its outlook and tone to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”) The unicorn store might be metaphorical — or not — but Larson sees it as emblematic as the biggest and best of dreams.
As she put it, “We should all be allowed to have our dreams, even if they make us look a little crazy.”
“Unicorn Store” had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.
Brie Larson has added “film director” to her growing resume.
The Oscar winner is making her directorial debut with Unicorn Store, a film about a young artist who achieves the impossible when she has the chance to own a real-life unicorn.
Larson tells PEOPLE she was drawn to the story’s optimism in aspiring to dream.
“The idea of doing a film that deals with inspiration and positivity spoke to me,” Larson says. “It’s not an easy time in the world right now so I hope that, in the old tradition of films being a form of escapism and a way to dream, this film can do that for its viewers.”
Larson stars as Kit, a young artist who is kicked out of art school and has to work at a temp agency. Once there, the artist is given the chance to own a real-life unicorn — she just has to prove she’s worth it. The film also stars Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusak and Bradley Whitford.
The Room actress says she originally auditioned for the project “about five years ago” and ultimately didn’t get the part. Then the call came for her to act as director and she took the opportunity to tell the story.
“I love that this story is about dreaming the impossible dream and I’m hopeful it inspires others to keep going on their path, whatever their unicorn is,” the actress says.
Unicorn Store will have its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, two years after Room took the Audience Award and Larson started getting major buzz for the performance that would win her the Best Actress Oscar.
“Having this film premiere at Toronto was my unicorn,” Larson admits. “It’s a dream come true.”
Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson on navigating fame, playing dynamic but vulnerable roles and how her new film, The Glass Castle, helped her move on from her past.
When journalist Jeannette Walls’s acclaimed 2005 memoir The Glass Castle was released, Paramount snapped up the film rights. Yet, even though it has taken more than a decade to get this vibrant drama about a dysfunctional family made, Walls doesn’t seem disheartened. In fact, this lengthy period enabled film-makers to employ the person she believes is the ideal embodiment of herself: the talented Brie Larson; an actress who, serendipitously, would not have landed the coveted role when the book was released.
‘I wanted Brie Larson to play this part even before I knew who she was,’ Walls said in an interview.* ‘She understandshow to be strong and vulnerable at the same time… she knows what it’s like to fight and be scared.’
Emotionally charged and highly topical, the film explores a poverty-stricken upbringing with deeply troubled parents(Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson), expanding into a more conventional and glamorous adulthood. It highlights the thrilling highs and devastating lows that come from growing up in an unstable environment… a father, for instance, who would disappear for days at a time, returning on a whim to uproot his brood, always hiding the brutal reality of his problems from his children by promising one day to build them a glass castle – the blueprints of which he has on hand.
Walls eventually ran away from her family and became a successful journalist in New York. Larson, too, experienced hardship in her youth: following her parents’ divorce, aged seven, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother and sister. The actress has said in the past how the three of them would sleep in one bed in a studio apartment but, in spite of the challenges, it was a happy time, thanks to her mother’s fierce desire to protect her children from the pain of poverty.
‘It’s great when films represent a sort of a homecoming in terms of the timing of the role and the poignancy of the story,’ says Larson. ‘You always want something that feels accessible from within.’
These days, Larson’s life couldn’t be more different. She lives in the Hollywood Hills with fiancé Alex Greenwald – former front man for the rock band Phantom Planet – and her spectacular rise continues with the upcoming Captain Marvel production, along with her first foray into feature-length directing in the comedy Unicorn Store. Although she’s had to work hard and wait a long time for success, struggling to get noticed has awarded Larson a wealth of experience to draw on as a performer. It’s also made her gracious, fearless and confident enough to head up her own stand-alone film franchise in Captain Marvel, plus a potential second Oscar for The Glass Castle.
You’ve been travelling the world a lot lately with your jungle epic Kong: Skull Island [Hawaii, Australia and Vietnam], then shooting Free Fire In Brighton in England, and The Glass Castle in Montreal.
That’s just how it goes. It’s usually a couple of months in one spot, which is enough to get a handle on a place. I love that I’ve worked in so many locations. But, because we are always moving around, there are certain moments, like attending a banquet or an awards ceremony, that are amazing. It’s like having a reunion.
Apparently, you had a pleasant surprise while filming The Glass Castle in Montreal.
Yes, Jennifer Lawrence was also shooting there, so we spent our weekends together. We were like, ‘How could we be so lucky?’ You get used to being on your own and meeting new people all the time, so it’s such a treat when there’s a friend there.
Has success changed you in any significant way?
I’m quite a private person; so much of my day-to-day is the same. The beauty of being a 20-year ‘overnight’ success is that I’ve had a lot of time to have a very clear understanding of what I’m interested in and why it fulfils me.
You’re going to be the star of your own superhero franchise in Captain Marvel. Is it important to be part of a major studio film like that?
I think it’s vital that women are presented in a more positive and serious way. Society has changed dramatically and women are finding their way into all levels of business, and becoming leaders in so many fields. Movies need to reflect this, as well as the skills we have that set us apart from men. Playing Captain Marvel gave me a chance to portray a dynamic and powerful woman, who will inspire people in the same way that male superheroes have done in the past.
In Kong: Skull Island, you also play a rather determined woman.
It goes beyond being tough; it’s about relating to women in an unusual way and not simply replacing a male character with a female one. You need to get into the sensibility and sensitivity that women bring with their way of seeing the world, and that’s one of the things I loved about Mason [in Kong] and what I’d like to bring to Captain Marvel.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you had a challenging time while promoting Room, – and with all the publicity that came from winning the Oscar.
This job can be really draining on one side, because you have to give so much. You’re giving emotionally when you’re playing a character, and you’re giving emotionally when you are doing interviews, and meeting fans. It’s an act of service. You have to find a way to balance it with things that are for you and that fi ll you back up again. I feel as if I’m still learning aboutthat balance, because the output is more than it used to be – however, my overall life is the same.
Like many actors who fi nd success, there must be a sense of relief in not having to worry about paying the bills and being able to work regularly?
It makes your life much easier on a practical level. Not that I’ve changed my spending habits dramatically or live differently now from the way I used to, but at least I don’t have to worry about money any more. It’s not pleasant having to live under that pressure when you’re trying to find good roles and wanting to prove yourself. I guess that, on an artistic level, I still worry about the kind of work that I’m doing and whether I’m living up to my own ambitions. I don’t think that will ever change when it comes to how I approach things.
Room resonated deeply with audiences. Do you still think about the experience and emotions that came with telling that story [about a kidnapped woman and her son]?
While we were shooting it, I felt more connected to my past. We had a pretty tough time after my mother, my little sister and I moved to Los Angeles. I remember calling my mum in tears and telling her that I understood at last how many sacrifices she had made for me. She was crying, too, during our conversation, and she apologised for all the difficulties that we went through. It taught me how we all need to be more forgiving of ourselves.
How do feel about your life these days?
I feel extremely lucky to have some wonderful friends anda good partner. And I love my dogs
‘Unicorn Store’ was announced today to be part of TIFF Special Presentation/Gala line-up. The movie is the directorial debut of Academy Oscar Winner Brie Larson, who’s also starring in the movie alongside with Samuel L. Jackson, Whitford Bradley, Mamoudou Athle and Hamish Linkater.
Brie Larson stars in her directorial debut about a dreamer reluctant to abandon her childish wonder who is offered the most magical gift she can imagine, with Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, and Bradley Whitford.
— TIFF (@TIFF_NET) August 15, 2017
A new featurette was released by Lionsgate this week. Brie, alongside with her co-stars & Jeannette Walls, talks about her upcoming move The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle, based on the best-seller of the same title, got a new trailer. Watch below: