Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers (born October 1, 1989), known professionally as Brie Larson, is an American actress and filmmaker. Noted for her supporting work in comedies when a teenager, she has since expanded to leading roles in independent dramas and film franchises, receiving such accolades as an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2019.
Larson has also co-written and co-directed two short films, including The Arm (2012), which received a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. She made her feature film directorial debut in 2017 with the independent comedy-drama Unicorn Store. A gender equality activist and an advocate for sexual assault survivors, Larson is vocal about social and political issues.
Larson was born Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers on October 1, 1989, in Sacramento, California, to Heather and Sylvain Desaulniers. Her parents were homeopathic chiropractors who ran a practice together, and they have another daughter, Milaine. Her father is French Canadian and in her childhood, Larson spoke French as her first language. She was mostly homeschooled, which she believed allowed her to explore innovative and abstract experiences. Describing her early life, Larson has said that she was "straight-laced and square", and that she shared a close bond with her mother but was shy and suffered from social anxiety. During the summer, she would write and direct her own home movies in which she cast her cousins and filmed in her garage. At age six, she expressed interest in becoming an actress, later remarking that the "creative arts was just something that was always in me". That same year, she auditioned for a training program at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where she became the youngest student admitted.
Larson experienced trauma when her parents divorced when she was seven. She had a dysfunctional relationship with her father; she has recalled, "As a kid I tried to understand him and understand the situation. But he didn't do himself any favors. I don't think he ever really wanted to be a parent." Soon after their split, Heather relocated to Los Angeles with her two daughters to fulfill Larson's acting ambition. They had limited financial means and lived in a small apartment near Hollywood studio lots at Burbank. Larson described her experience, "We had a crappy one-room apartment where the bed came out of the wall and we each had three articles of clothing." Even so, Larson has recounted fond memories of that period and has credited her mother for doing the best she could for them.
"I was so insecure and so hard on myself back then. But there was a moment when I started doing the math. It took me two hours to get ready every day--hair and makeup, so many clothes, trying to make sure everything matched really well--and I had this intense epiphany. I realized how much time I was spending getting ready for life--I wasn't actually living it. It was the most terrified I've ever been in my life. So I went in the exact opposite way."
In 2006, Larson was cast alongside Logan Lerman and Cody Linley in the comedy film Hoot, about young vigilantes trying to save a group of owls. It received poor reviews, but Ruthe Stein of San Francisco Chronicle was appreciative of Larson and Linley for bringing "a dash of Indiana Jones to their roles". She had a small part, the following year, in the Amber Heard-starring drama Remember the Daze, and she launched an arts and literature magazine, named Bunnies and Traps, for which she wrote her own opinion columns and accepted submissions from other artists and writers. Larson has said that she frequently considered giving up acting at that time, as she found it difficult to find much work, blaming it on filmmakers' inability to typecast her. She was particularly discouraged when she lost out on key roles in the films Thirteen (2003) and Juno (2007). To support herself, Larson worked as a club DJ.
United States of Tara and film breakthrough (2009-2014)
In 2009, Larson began playing Kate Gregson, the sardonic teenage daughter of Toni Collette's character, coping with her mother's dissociative identity disorder, in the Showtime comedy-drama series United States of Tara. Portia Doubleday was initially cast in the role but was replaced with Larson after filming the pilot episode. Reviewing the first season for The New York Times, Alessandra Stanley took note of how well Larson played a "real teenager" and Tim Goodman of San Francisco Chronicle credited her for finding nuance in her role. Larson has said that her character's journey to find meaning in life mirrored that of her own, and she was upset when the show was canceled after three seasons in 2011. Also in 2009, she starred alongside Rooney Mara in Tanner Hall, a coming-of-age film about four girls in boarding school. Despite disliking the film, Betsy Sharkey of Los Angeles Times commended Larson for providing "one of the film's funniest bits". In her two other film releases that year, she played a scatterbrained cheerleader in House Broken and a popular high schooler in Just Peck.
At the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2010, Larson appeared in a stage production of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town. Directed by Nicholas Martin, it featured her in the role of Emily Webb, a precocious young girl. Reviewing the play for The Boston Globe, Louise Kennedy thought that the production had glossed over the play's darker themes and bemoaned the lack of tragic arc in Larson's character. In film, she featured in Noah Baumbach's comedy-drama Greenberg and Edgar Wright's comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. A journalist for Slant Magazine opined that these films helped raise her profile, and Larson has said that the latter film, in which she played a rock star named Envy, marked a turning point in her career. In it, Larson performed the song "Black Sheep" with the band Metric. Although it did not do well commercially, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has since developed a cult following. She next played the troubled daughter of a corrupt cop (played by Woody Harrelson) in the drama Rampart (2011), an emotionally intense part she found herself unable to detach from. A confrontation scene between Harrelson and her proved upsetting for her; the director was surprised by how well it turned out and tweaked the script to further explore the father-daughter relationship.
In 2012, Larson expanded into filmmaking by co-writing and co-directing the short film The Arm with Jessie Ennis and Sarah Ramos. The film, about societal expectations in the near future, won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. She featured as a seductive teenager in the critically panned drama The Trouble with Bliss, after which she played Molly, a high school student, in 21 Jump Street, an adaptation of the 1980s police procedural television series, co-starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Larson found her acting style to be more rigid than Hill's approach and was challenged by scenes that required her to improvise with him. Dana Stevens of Slate labeled Larson "a find of major proportions", adding that "she's not only beautiful but funny, with a scratchy contralto voice, and unlike the usual female in a buddy movie, she comes across as a real person". With worldwide earnings of over $200 million, 21 Jump Street proved to be Larson's most widely seen film to that point.
Following an appearance in the sitcom Community, Larson collaborated with Dustin Bowser to co-write and co-direct Weighting (2013), a short film about a strained relationship, which was screened at South by Southwest. Larson's breakthrough came in the same year when she starred in Destin Daniel Cretton's critically acclaimed independent drama Short Term 12, which marked the first leading role of her career. Set in a foster-care home for troubled teenagers, the film featured her as Grace, the emotionally distressed supervisor of the institution. To prepare, Larson interacted with staff in a children's home and watched online interviews of people with similar jobs. The film had a production budget of under $1 million, and she was pleased with its intimate and collaborative work environment. Larson's performance was acclaimed.Manohla Dargis of The New York Times found her "terrific" and "completely persuasive", and Ian Freer felt that she "builds into a whirling dervish of a performance, making Grace strong but scarred, damaged but compassionate". Jenny McCartney of The Daily Telegraph predicted that it would "[mark] her out for a stellar career". Larson received a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead; she later remarked that the film prompted directors to offer her a wide variety of parts, but she turned down roles of the unidimensional love interest.
Also in 2013, Larson had supporting roles in two romantic dramas, Don Jon and The Spectacular Now. In the former, written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, she played the sister of Don Jon (played by Gordon-Levitt). Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised the film's exploration of sexual themes and considered Larson to be "terrific" in it. In The Spectacular Now, starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, she was cast as Cassidy, the ex-girlfriend of Teller's character. Larson was drawn to the project due to the realism she found in its depiction of high school experiences. Writing for New York magazine, David Edelstein called upon viewers to admire "the shading and intelligence she brings to Cassidy". The 2014 crime drama The Gambler, based on the 1974 film of the same name, featured Larson as a literature student who has an affair with her professor (played by Mark Wahlberg), a gambling addict. The director Rupert Wyatt felt that the role was underwritten and cast Larson to lend heft to it. Even so, Claudia Puig of USA Today wrote that the "talented Larson is given little to do, other than react".
Larson had three film releases in 2015. Her first appearance was in Digging for Fire, a largely improvised ensemble comedy-drama featuring Jake Johnson in the lead role. Filming took place without a script and Larson made several on-set decisions regarding her character's choices, including the removal of a planned romantic subplot involving her and Johnson. She next played the sister of Amy Schumer's character in the comedy Trainwreck, which was loosely based on Schumer's own life. Larson modeled her role on Schumer's sister, who served as an associate producer on the film. Tim Grierson of Screen International labeled the film "a deft blend of laughs, romance and poignancy" and found Larson to be "lively, [but] slightly underused".Trainwreck earned over $140 million against a $35 million budget.
Larson next starred in Room, a film adapted from the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue. It featured her as Ma, a young woman held in captivity, who bears a child of rape. The role was physically and emotionally taxing for her, and she modeled it on her mother's struggle as a single parent. A large portion of the film was shot inside a 10 ft × 10 ft shed created in a studio, and Larson prepared herself by spending a month isolated in her apartment. She interacted with specialists on sexual abuse and researched the lack of nutrition that a person in captivity would suffer. To achieve the look, she stayed away from sunlight, modified her diet, and exercised extensively to lose weight. Larson collaborated closely with Jacob Tremblay, who played her son, and spent time performing activities that mirrored those of their characters.Room received acclaim, particularly for Larson and Tremblay's work.Los Angeles Timess Kenneth Turan called her performance "astonishing", adding that the "reality and preternatural commitment she brings to Ma is piercingly honest from start to finish, as scaldingly emotional a performance as anyone could wish for". She won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actress, as well as a Golden Globe and BAFTA in the same category.
Following the success of Room, Larson played a leading role in Free Fire (2016), an action-comedy about a shootout in a warehouse. She agreed to the project to bring attention to gun violence. Eric Kohn of IndieWire remarked on how different Larson's role was from that of Room and added that her "businesslike demeanor once again proves her ability to command a scene with a single glare". Commercially, the film failed to recoup its $7 million investment. She had filmed a part in Todd Solondz's comedy Wiener-Dog, but it was cut out when Solondz found her character inessential to the story. The following year, Larson starred in the second installment of the MonsterVerse franchise, entitled Kong: Skull Island, co-starring Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson. Filmed in Vietnam, the film featured her as a photojournalist in the 1970s. It marked her first big-budget project, and though she was glad to play a role not defined by her looks, she bemoaned the lack of female co-stars.Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post praised the film's visual effects and thought that "Larson manages to hold her own with very little to do".Kong: Skull Island was a commercial success, earning over $566 million worldwide.
Later in 2017, Larson portrayed Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle, an adaptation of Walls' memoir, which reunited her with Destin Daniel Cretton. It tells the story of a young woman's relationship with her nonconformist parents (played by Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts). Larson was attracted to the complex depiction of a parent-child relationship and identified with its theme of forgiveness. She collaborated closely with Walls and her siblings and observed their mannerisms.Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian disliked the film's sentimentality but noted that "it is saved, just a little, by the robustness of Brie Larson's presence". Also poorly received was the India-set musical romance Basmati Blues, a project she had filmed back in 2013, which received criticism on social media for its white savior narrative. The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival marked the release of Larson's feature film directorial debut, the comedy-drama Unicorn Store, in which she also starred. It was later picked for digital distribution by Netflix in 2019. She played a disillusioned art student fascinated with unicorns. Larson had unsuccessfully auditioned in 2012 to star in the film when Miguel Arteta was attached to direct. After the production was stalled, Larson was offered to direct and star in it. She was drawn towards the fanciful narrative and found a connection between her character's journey and her experience as a director. David Ehrlich of IndieWire disliked the film but took note of Larson's potential as a filmmaker.
Larson has three upcoming projects for streaming television. She will serve as the producer and star as Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate in American history, in an eponymous biopic produced by Amazon Studios. Larson has also committed to star in an Apple TV+ drama series based on the life of CIA agent Amaryllis Fox, and the Netflix film Lady Business, about challenges faced by female entrepreneurs.
Larson is a gender equality activist and an advocate for sexual assault survivors. She uses her celebrity to speak on political and social issues, saying, "I'd put it all on the line and be an activist for the rest of my life because it doesn't feel right to me to be quiet". Following a performance by Lady Gaga at the 88th Academy Awards, in which several survivors of sexual abuse appeared with the singer, Larson hugged all of them as they exited the stage. At the following year's ceremony, Larson presented Casey Affleck with the Best Actor Award, but due to sexual harassment allegations against him in the past, she did not clap for him during a standing ovation from the audience; however, she did hug him; she later stated that her action spoke for itself. In 2018, she collaborated with 300 women in Hollywood to set up the Time's Up initiative to protect women from harassment and discrimination. In the same year, she became one of the first actors to incorporate an inclusion rider provision in her film and press tour contracts. In an interview with Marie Claire, Larson spoke about diversity among film critics and journalists as she found them to be "overwhelmingly white male" and supported inclusivity. This comment led to trolling and review bombing of the Captain Marvel page on Rotten Tomatoes.
Larson is reticent about discussing her personal life and declines to answer questions in interviews that make her uncomfortable. When asked about her desire to be private, she has said that she fears being judged for her flaws and has added that the privacy allows her to play a wide variety of parts without being typecast. Larson began dating Alex Greenwald, a musician and lead singer of the band Phantom Planet, in 2013, and they were engaged from 2016 to 2019. The couple cohabited in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles. She had credited Greenwald for creating a safe space for her and for empowering her to take risks in her work.
Describing Larson's off-screen persona, Holly Millea of Elle wrote in 2016 that she "carries herself like an athlete, lean and solid, surefooted [and] yet her energy is warm and familial, literally embracing". Anne Helen Petersen of BuzzFeed considers her to be "incredibly warm" and adds that she is "a serious nerd, with the endlessly tunneling knowledge of a homeschooler". Jennifer Dickison of Porter writes that Larson's "fully formed" personality made it difficult to categorize her into a conventional slot.
Larson has said that she is interested in films that illustrate the "human condition" and which "make people feel more connected to themselves [and] the rest of the world". She is drawn to parts that differ from her own personality and which involve themes of social activism. The journalist Fan Zhong of W has identified a theme of "sex appeal, inner torment, and a quick, playful wit" in her characters. Her Room director Lenny Abrahamson believes that her craft has "none of that showy intensity that sometimes gets all the attention" and has said that her "awareness of tougher lives" empowers her performances. Destin Daniel Cretton, who directed her in Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle, has praised her ability to improvise, saying, "I never know what's going to happen, and often she doesn't know what's going to happen."
According to the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes and the box-office site Box Office Mojo, Larson's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films are Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), 21 Jump Street (2012), Short Term 12 (2013), Don Jon (2013), The Spectacular Now (2013), Trainwreck (2015), Room (2015), Kong: Skull Island (2017), Captain Marvel (2019), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). She has received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a British Academy Film Award, among other accolades, for her performance in Room.