with Brie Larson & director Destin Cretton
By Adam D'Ambrosi | August 30, 2013
In Short Term 12, Grace (Brie Larson) must mitigate the emotional balance of supervising a short term care facility for displaced youths while allowing herself to open up to her long-term boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). This balance is heavily disrupted when Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a new youth at the facility, forces Grace to think about her own troubled childhood. What follows is a dramatic, touching exploration of Grace’s struggle to let go of her past and accept what the present has to offer.
Larsen’s performance is rich, and convincingly paints the image of a woman who desperately wants to be happy, but doesn’t know how. She plays the role with a subtle, inescapable introversion that sets her performance far apart from her most known role as Kate Gregson in Showtime’s United States of Tara.
Having worked in a similar facility, I found Writer/ Director Destin Cretton’s depiction of a group home setting to be very accurate. Situations that start out as mundane quickly shift towards Intense and dramatic, and Cretton didn’t pull any punches in depicting these drastic swings. Outside of Grace and Jayden, Short Term 12’s script touches on the lives of other youths in the facility. These characters’ arcs range from touching to curious in realistic and captivating ways.
Adam D’Ambrosi: Destin, you wrote Short Term 12 as a short film in 2008…
Destin Cretton: Yeah we filmed in 2008, premiered in 2009.
AD: Why did you feel the need to come back to it?
Cretton: I didn’t feel a need to come back to it, I felt a desire to come back to it.
Cretton: There is enough material in this world to, you know, last… I mean you could film 20 movies from material that I just have in my head from working there for two years…Compiled with the other content from interviews that I have with people… It’s just so much. So emotional. It’s an extraordinary world with stakes that are incredibly high. As a filmmaker it’s a very interesting world to explore. I was really excited by the response to the short film, that it was really connecting with people who had no idea what this world was about, had no ties to the foster care system, but they’re still able to relate to the short and be moved by it. That was a great inspiration for me to continue to explore it as a feature.
Brie Larsen: I did get the short along with the script. I’m a big fan of material-supplementary material- along with the script. If there’s past work I watch that before I read the script so that I kind of understand… otherwise I’m just babbling my own imagination. I think about it sometimes, I’m like: “I turned movies down… or say I’m not going to on them because I say I don’t like it, but it’s not even been made yet, it’s just my imagination and I’m deciding I don’t like that movie or I like that movie.” But I’m not directing it so that did inform a lot because I am not familiar with that world.
AD: Did watching that short get you to say, “Oh, this is the tone of the part I’m going into….”?
Larsen: Yeah you understand the feeling of it and what it looks like and what it feels like, but it was also pretty clear from the script as well. It was a really well written script.
Cretton: Aw, that’s nice.
Larsen: I think the main thing that informed it for me was shadowing at the facility.
AD: How long did you do that for?
Larsen: (narrowing her eyes) I don’t think I’m allowed to tell you that.
AD: I understand
Larsen: But it really shaped me, and shaped how I saw Grace and how I viewed how I was supposed to play it. I learned what kind of strength I needed and that was the main thing that I felt I needed to work on, because I wasn’t used to commanding people. I had to learn how to do that and not sound like a kid going “Don’t do that!”. I had to find a strength in myself that I didn’t… I hadn’t tapped into yet. So that was really exciting and a really good growing experience for me.
AD: Yeah, the character, Grace, is strong, but also has her vulnerabilities. Throughout the film I noticed that she kind of bounces between being very affectionate with the kids, and then very emotionally distant from people in her life. What do you guys think keeps her from sticking to either end of that polarity?
Larsen: For me… The way I related to it was the feeling like you’re already too far gone. Instead of looking at yourself, you put it towards everybody else, and think: “these are brand new lives, these can be saved, I cannot. Maybe through fixing these other people I will then feel the gratitude and love that I so deeply want,” but that takes [Grace] further and further away from herself, and also closer to herself…She throws herself towards these kids in order to separate herself from herself, and in the process she ends up seeing herself in everyone of them.
AD: I think I understand what you’re saying.
Larsen: I want to keep it abstract, I think it’s best for people to put their own interpretation on it.
AD: Yeah, no I mean it’s abstract subject matter.
AD: I was reading some notes for this interview and you [Cretton] said that Brie always… That she never did the same thing twice when filming. That every take was different and everything was new and fresh, which was good for the character… Did you ever want it to be the same? Did you ever see her do something and say “Oh, do it like that again”.
Cretton: Well, I should probably put that statement into context. (laughing)
AD: If you want to clarify that statement that would be great.
Cretton: I’m not saying that Brie is incapable-
(Brie laughs more loudly)
of a consistent performance.
Larsen: I didn’t take it that way
Cretton: Brie is definitely not just some wild woman-
Larsen: I was trying different accents every take!
Cretton: What I mean by that is: it’s not the same take twice. It’s exciting for me because she is in the moment, you know, and if another actor does something differently in that take, she’ll do something differently in that take. I think for any director is what you want. Sure, there were times where we had to just replicate things. I feel like that’s somewhat easy to do. The difficult thing is the inexplicable way that she is able to convincingly say words on a page and make it feel like it’s happening right now, you know, spontaneously coming out of her. It was something that I think sometimes we were both surprised by. There were a couple of times at the beginning of scenes where she and I both didn’t know how we were going to get through it. Like, we looked at the words on the page and were like, “This could be really bad”, and then she would say let’s just try it. You know, there are so many scenes in the movie where it’s… something that could come across as very melodramatic and unrealistic. There’s one in particular.. We talked about it for a while and were just like, “Eh, whatever, let’s just try it”, and then she went and did it and I was like, “ Oh that’s how Grace would have done it, it’s just perfect,” we only had to do that take twice, I think.
AD: Do you remember what take he’s talking about?
Larsen: Oh, I Know exactly what he’s talking about, because I was shocked. That was part of this really amazing experience that I was going through, which I kind of promised myself in the beginning… I felt like the only way that I was going to be able to do this and feel good about myself in the end… [was to] just kind of go, “you know what, at this Tuesday at 2 o’clock, this is what I’ve got, and this is what feels honest, and that’s what going to be good, and will last”. Sitting at my desk and saying “at this point 3 tears need to squeeze out…” It just became the process of letting go… It seemed to always feel right and work out in the end… Instead of over-thinking it, you just actually think about it less, just try it, see where it’s at and don’t knock something before you try it. It all seems obvious, but sometimes we all get in the way of ourselves, especially with someone that you care about.
AD: Do you think you could do the job that Grace does?
Larsen: I think yes and no. I think I could if that was really what I wanted to do. It’s really hard. It’s really exhausting. I really have so much love for the people that do do it, have done it for most of their lives. I think it’s a wonderful thing.
Be sure to check out our 3 review for Short Term 12 below: