At 14, Brie Larson Had A Small Role In Your Favorite Aughts Rom-Com
But her teenage years weren’t all razzle-dazzle, she tells Bustle.
At 14, Brie Larson was an emo girl — and I mean that literally. Sure, she was feeling everything all it once, but she was also partaking in emo culture: ceremonially painting her eyelids black, cutting up magazines on her bedroom floor, and listening to “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” (Banger.) She felt, unequivocally, that no one understood her. She wasn’t the archetype of the quirky next door neighbor, the manic pixie dream girl, or the Regina George of high school. No, she was just Brie, a daydreamer obsessed with creating art who had a seemingly unachievable goal of becoming a big-time actor. Everything felt out of reach.
And then the impossible happened: She was cast in 13 Going on 30, as a member of the Six Chicks. But Larson was living a double life, so to speak. On screen, she played the member of a clique. Off, she longed for community.
Nearly 20 years later, Larson has taken that longing and channeled it into her craft. She’s learned to give into her emotions, an act she sees as both freeing and “honoring her younger self.” At 32, she’s the Oscar-winning actor she once dreamed of becoming, leading films from Room to Captain Marvel. This fall, she’s also executive producing Growing Up, a Disney+ docuseries, which premieres on Sept. 8 and follows a cast of real-life teenagers navigate adolescence through a deeply vulnerable and confessional lens.
“Teenhood is so incredibly cinematic,” she tells Bustle. “You not only feel things, but you allow yourself to feel things in a way that adults don’t think is OK.” She thinks many adults could take lessons from today’s teens. “You don’t need to hold everything inside of you,” she says. “You’re free.”
Below, Larson talks about feeling like an outsider, hormones, and Death Cab for Cutie.
“I felt like I was the only person in the world who didn’t fit in.”
Take me back to when you were 14. How would you describe your adolescence?
When I was 14, I felt different from everybody else. I was a loner. I felt completely misunderstood, so I isolated myself. I struggled with being insecure about how I looked. I had anxiety and depression. I felt like I was the only person in the world who didn’t fit in, but I learned to channel [all of those feelings] into creating art.
So as a teen, you already felt like acting gave your life more meaning?
Always. Art was always my way through. I wrote songs. I acted. I made collages. Art helped me make sense of what was happening inside of me.
At 14, you also appeared in 13 Going on 30. Did you identify more with Jenna Rink or a Six Chick?
I didn’t identify as anything at that time. I think that was part of the struggle. I was auditioning to play kids in high school and junior high, and they were cliche roles. The girl next door, who is messy and misunderstood, or the popular girl. And I’d always end up auditioning for both, but [felt like] neither.
Do you believe “mean girls” are often misunderstood?
It doesn’t matter who you are: No one escapes this period of time. We all have to go through [growing up]. The question is how quickly you can metabolize that process. The hormones come in, then the thoughts, and you just get taken on this ride.
What do you do in your everyday life to connect with your inner teen?
I’m so lucky [because] my job is to emote. I told my mom I wanted to be an actor when I was really little. I started auditioning when I was 7. So if I’m on set and acting, I’m honoring that 7-year-old.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 8 years old! Every time I sit down to write, I’m writing for that 8-year-old. What do you think 14-year-old Brie would think if she saw you today?
I don’t think she’d be able to comprehend my life. I mean, it felt so impossible. All of it! I wanted to be an artist, an actor, so badly. There were so many reasons for me to believe it was never going to happen, and I’ve gone beyond, beyond, beyond what I thought was possible. And I still have more time.
Everything seems so impossible when you’re a teenager. You feel everything so potently. Every day is the end of the world or the greatest day of your life. As you’ve gotten older, have those emotions begun to feel more muted?
No. My intuition has only gotten stronger as I’ve gotten older. It’s a huge part of my job: to be in tune with a scene partner, to be in tune with my needs. I just feel all day! But the ripeness of those emotions is part of what makes Growing Up so vulnerable to watch.
Was there an age you were obsessed with turning when you were a teen?
No, but I obsessed a lot about turning 30. It felt like a huge threshold to cross, [and] I didn’t have good feelings about leaving my 20s. I had so many people telling me, “Oh, your 30s are the best,” and I was like, “How? They seem terrible.” I wanted to keep holding on to my 20s. I wanted to identify with [my youth]. But I’ve realized now that time is good. If you can be present in it, enjoy it, and see it for what it is, time can be a wonderful thing.
Is there a song that instantly transports you back to your teen years?
There are a bunch of Arcade Fire songs. Or Death Cab for Cutie. I was a super moody teenager. I was, like, in my room, drawing my eye liner on, listening to Bright Eyes, scrapbooking.
What about the posters on your walls?
I had their posters. I made collages. I was painting all over my walls. Lyrics from songs I connected with. But I don’t now. I’m not there anymore.
Do you still listen to that music at all?
Now I’m like, “I’d much rather listen to Harry Styles.”
It’s so nice that teenagers today have Harry Styles.
Right? I don’t need to go back to that dark place.
What do you think teenagers primarily care about in 2022? What do they want adults to know?
Pressure. College pressure. Pressure to be perfect. Pressure to act a certain way. Pressure to know who they want to be. And they’re being told what classes to take, what grades to get, which extracurriculars and public service to do, all in order to have the perfect resume, to go to the best college, and be set up for the rest of their lives.
But when you’re a teen, you’re too young to know your desires. You’re barely learning how to deal with what’s going on internally and at school. So I think we need to cut our young people some slack.
You’re always growing up. At any age.
They look at us, thinking we’re walking around like, “I know what’s going on.” But I don’t have a clue what’s going on! It never ends. So if we can be as clear as possible that we’re still figuring it out, and that it’s a journey, and that the best you can do is just be your honest self, we’d be doing a lot of good.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.