Simply Complicated

Actress Brie Larson talks the allegory and honesty of The Gambler

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Brie Larson is as open and candid as the characters she’s portrayed on television (Community, United States of Tara) and in film (21 Jump Street). As an actress, Larson admits championing projects that are rooted in truth isn’t the easiest thing to do. “For many years that was the reason why I was super broke,” she says. “I refused to give up on the things I believed in.” That conviction has guided Larson throughout her career, whether it’s playing a wordless observer in Don Jon or a foster care counselor in crisis in Short Term 12.

Larson’s latest project, The Gambler, lands her opposite Mark Wahlberg. In the remake of the 1974 film starring James Caan, the 25-year-old actress plays Amy Phillips, a curious student in Jim Bennett’s (Wahlberg) class who quickly sniffs out her professor’s facade of having it all together.

Paste sat down with Larson to get underneath Amy, and Larson’s own thoughts about what makes film so appealing.

Paste : You play characters that have a true layer of honesty. What do you look for in a character?
Brie Larson: I guess I do look for honesty. I’d rather someone that’s honestly a liar, or honestly ignorant, or honestly smart, and complicated. I don’t think anyone is as simple as we see in movies; granted, we don’t have that much time to express all of these different ways of being. I like creating characters that are dynamic and contradictory because that’s what we are.

Paste : How did The Gambler come to be?
Larson: I was just sent the script and I loved it. It’s a very simple and old allegory of Greek mythology. Over the course of seven days you get to the truth of yourself, but it was told in a way that was really abstract and fragmented. All of the scenes started in places where I didn’t expect them to start in, and nothing was fully explained. I just loved what Amy represented in the film. I imagined what she had gone through in those seven days before the movie started.

Paste : The film touches on some of Amy’s history and the issues that she might have going on. To expand on that, did you create a backstory?
Larson: I imagine she came from a pretty unique and dark background, or an unsupportive parental background, and might have had many trials and tribulations along the way. I found in my own life if you keep going down, down, down until you hit that bottom, the bottom ends up being the best place because that’s where you kick up from. I imagine she went through those seven days, maybe even multiple times, and has hit this point of clarity where she finds the world rather humorous in the way that people create complications for themselves. She’s kind of been there, done that, and that’s the beauty of having a complicated life when you’re younger.

Paste : What do you think she sees in Jim?
Larson: I think what she sees is not necessarily anything that can be described in words, but she sees through the complication and knows that person. She knows what he’s doing to himself and she finds that rather amusing.

Paste : You’ve done both studio and independent films. Do you ever feel like you have to do a studio film to service someone else?
Larson: No, it’s usually all for me, I suppose [laughs]. I’ve never really felt that way. I’ve been lucky at this point in the last year that now I’m in the position to do studio films, [and] that there’s been a lot of really great scripts. I’m very surprised and impressed by the material that’s available.

Paste : It seems like there’s a swell of material that cracks past the veneer of what women represent.
Larson: Yeah. I agree with that. I think that movies are one of the most interesting mediums for art because it can be international, it’s accessible and it’s large. I find it really important to understand what it is and what’s being said. What is that journey that I’m taking people on? How am I representing women? So much of what I’ve learned about myself is through movies. Especially if you don’t have the luxury to travel, it’s the opportunity to see all the different ways to be. If we don’t have a diverse way to see women, if we don’t have moments where we can go, “Oh my gosh, I felt that way,” it’s very lonely.

Niki Cruz is a Freelance Entertainment Journalist based out of New
York. With a passion for Film/TV she often contributes to Paste, amNew
York and Interview Magazine. Niki spends her time off learning life
lessons by binge-watching Dawson’s Creek. You can follow her on