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Brie Larson on Living Like a Monk and Prepping for The Gambler

Photo: Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic

From 21 Jump Street to The Spectacular Now to Short Term 12, Brie Larson has consistently elected to participate in films she wholeheartedly believes in. Her latest is Rupert Wyatt’s The Gambler, out in wide release this week, a reimagining of the 1974 film of the same name written by James Toback. Larson recently spoke to Vulture about the biggest change in her career, the complexity of William Monahan’s script, and how she lived like a monk in preparation for the role of college student Amy Phillips.

Are you still eating cereal in the shower?
[Laughs.] No, I’m way over that phase.

You’ve matured past that?
I’ve totally matured past that. I tried it. Realized it’s not an efficient use of my time.

For Short Term 12 you shadowed a worker to prepare for your role. What did you do for The Gambler? Did you read The Stranger?
I did read The Stranger. It’s a great book. It’s very depressing, though. I just started mirroring what I thought Amy’s life was like. A lot of why I spend so much time preparing for roles is just to understand the mental head-space of these characters before I begin. That’s where I think it all starts. And you know how to live inside of them if you know what the thoughts are inside of their head. So I imagined that she’s pretty clear and uncomplicated at this point. I’d get up early. I’d go for long walks or runs. I’d meditate. I was reading and writing a lot. I ate very simply and frugally because I just imagined that she didn’t care about money at all and lives this very monkish existence. So I lived like that and was very happy.

Doesn’t that kind of resemble your lifestyle? You sold stuff on eBay for Christmas presents, you don’t take roles in dog-shit movies, and you’re fine with potentially taking a job at the diner down the street of your house.
Yeah, I think that all the characters probably have some pieces of me in them. But I’m certainly not as clear and uncomplicated as Amy. I don’t wake up at the crack of dawn.

According to Mark Wahlberg’s character, Amy is a literary prodigy. You’re writing right now, yes?
Yeah, I’ve written and directed two short films. I enjoy writing very much. My plan is to direct at some point in the future. I’m not sure exactly when that will be. There’s no real rush. I have a couple ideas that I’m working on. It will happen when it does.

It seems your career is starting to take off.
The biggest change is I now have a lot of great scripts at my disposal that people that I love and trust are interested in having me participate in. Before I had to spend so much time auditioning and proving myself. It’s nice now to use more of my time and creative energy toward actually making a product, instead of trying to prove to someone that I can do it.

Are you still taking your Cassavetes box set on every set you work on?
No, I don’t take the box set with me. I did use to do that, though. I wore out that box set. I find all of his films to be so complicated and volatile, although I still reference his films all the time. In the film I’m doing now I wanted a scene where it’s really cold, it’s winter and it’s freezing outside, and I wanted a shot of just a dress on and bare legs. It’s very vulnerable, and it reminded me of A Woman Under the Influence. 

Did you know immediately upon reading William Monahan’s script that this was something you had to do?
It’s such an abstract, complicated, fragmented screenplay that I understood at one level that I kept wanting to go back and reread and learn more about.

The movie has a lot on its mind, and your character is especially interesting in the way she desperately wants to change the trajectory Jim (Wahlberg) is on.
Yeah, I mean the allegory is using gambling as just a tool for him to strip himself away. He’s born into a world of material possessions, and we’re watching him over the course of seven days slowly rid himself of all of them. I think, though, that Amy is the only person in his life and the only one in this film who isn’t going out of her way to change him, but just see him. Recognizing that little bit of authentic self that’s in there, that’s covered in fog and complications. She’s there to guide and support but isn’t requiring him to change for her. It’s something that he has to do for herself. 

She’s kind of like his therapist in a way. She’s there, asks some questions, and then lets him speak. Inspiring introspection, which is something he hasn’t done for a long time.
There’s a lot in the fact that we watch Jim from the very beginning giving this first lecture. This 15-page lecture/monologue, and there are many other times in the film where we see him talk so much and try to explain himself in rants. None of it is really getting to the really real, and the only thing in the film that is that authentic truth is this thing shared between Amy and Jim that isn’t something that can be discussed or spoken about. There are no words for that.

Did you ever question why she may be attracted to him?
It wasn’t so much of a question for me. We watch Jim go through these seven days of letting go of material objects and money and vengeance. And I imagine that Amy went through her own seven days of this kind before the film started. So when she sees him, it’s this recognition of something that hits very close to home. She recognizes who he is and what it is he’s doing, and she finds it amusing that he’s trying to be something else that she sees right through. And he sees her as being this place where he wants to get to.

Brie Larson on Prepping for The Gambler