Actress Brie Larson: Blazing a trail for women

Actress Brie Larson is making her directorial debut this year.
Actress Brie Larson is making her directorial debut this year.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Actress Brie Larson, a vocal feminist, is hoping to change the way audiences see women with her roles

It will be two years before audiences get to see Brie Larson save the day in Captain Marvel, the first female-led superhero movie from Marvel Studios.

But the 27-year-old has already hit a few other milestones. Last year, she swept all the major Best Actress awards - the Oscar, Golden Globe and British Academy of Film and Television Arts award - for her portrayal of Ma, a kidnap victim raising her child in captivity in the thriller Room (2015).

And in the new movie Kong: Skull Island, her first action blockbuster, she plays a take-charge war photographer who goes against the grain of the shrieking damsels of earlier King Kong films (1933 to 2005).

Larson was speaking to The Straits Times at a recent Los Angeles press day for the film, which co-stars Tom Hiddleston and is in cinemas now.

Her character was one way in which the film-makers "wanted to twist the genre a little" with this reboot of the giant ape franchise.

And it is about time that such films "explore different ways for women to be".

"We've explored the cliches and now we can move outside those into complexity," says the star, whose breakout role was as the supervisor of a group home for troubled teens in the indie drama Short Term 12 (2013).

She believes it was no coincidence that she, a vocal feminist, landed the plum role of Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel, which is based on the Ms Marvel comics and due to hit screens in early 2019.

"I think that's part of why Marvel wanted to collaborate with me on this. Because I'm not a soft-spoken person when it comes to what changes I'd like to see in our industry," says Larson who, on social media, has advocated for issues such as intersectional feminism, or the idea that experiences of sexism are affected by factors such as ethnicity, class or sexual orientation.

Superhero movies are not exactly known for their social commentary, but she has high hopes for how Captain Marvel could change the way audiences see women.

"I think there's a lot of opportunity not just for that character, but also for the characters around her to shape the way that we view the world we live in and what we consider to be heroes."

On top of this, Larson has just finished directing, producing and starring in Unicorn Store, an indie comedy that features her Kong co-star Samuel L. Jackson and will be released sometime this year.

It is her first stab at directing, which remains one of the most male-dominated professions in Hollywood - a recent report revealed that women made up just 7 per cent of directors working on the 250 highest-grossing American films last year, down two percentage points from 2015.

Stepping behind the camera was daunting, she says. "It's scary to do. It's scarier than being an actor because not only was I acting and saying, 'This is how I see this character', but I was also saying, 'This is how I see the world.' And that's a lot."

She hopes to inspire more women to direct.

"There's no reason they can't," she adds. "I feel so strongly about this because we have these phones in our pockets that are actually of good quality. Tangerine is one of my favourite movies and that was shot on an iPhone," she says of the acclaimed 2015 drama about a transgender sex worker.

"I feel like we have so much available to us now that we need to get over that fear and understand that we need different voices.

"And it's not just women - we need more intersectional voices across the board, we need people telling their truth and telling their story," says the star, who is engaged to pop singer Alex Greenwald, 37. She had a brief music career herself when she released a pop album in 2005.

Yet Larson admits that she, like other women, still struggles with society's sexist attitudes, some of which she has internalised.

"I don't mean to place this as being any more or less hard than it is for any other type of person in the world, but I feel like as a woman, I was born into a certain level of understanding of how far I was allowed to go in this world.

"And I don't know why I thought that because it's not like anyone in my life told me, 'No, you can't do this because you're a woman.' I just sensed it from all around me."

Larson has been reflecting on this more as she gets older and becomes more established in her career.

"I still put myself down and feel like I can't do certain things, but I've become much more aware of it now that I'm older and I want to make art that reflects the world that I live in.

"And when I have to go out and be a public person, I think it's worth it to take the time to go, 'How do I want to represent what it's like to be a woman?' There are lots of different ways to do it, but I think it's worth thinking about."

• Kong: Skull Island is showing in cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2017, with the headline 'Blazing a trail for women'. Print Edition | Subscribe