At a recent visit to the set of Marvel’s highly anticipated Captain Marvel, Fandango had a chance to discover from star Brie Larson what it is like playing Carol Danvers, one of Marvel’s most powerful superheroes and, arguably, the mightiest Avenger.
Acting since the age of six, when she became the youngest student ever admitted to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Larson eventually moved with her mother and sister to Los Angeles. Primarily homeschooled, she remained focused on acting, and by the time she was nine, she was a working actress. The following years were filled with an eclectic mix of roles, including co-starring in the Showtime series The United States of Tara as Tara’s daughter, as a young mother in her Oscar-winning role in Room, as a photojournalist in the film Kong: Skull Island, and that of songstress and heartbreaker Envy Adams, in the offbeat Scott Pilgrim vs the World. (Fun fact: future Avenger “Captain America”, Chris Evans, also appears in that one.)
Larson is known by those who have worked with her as a likeable, principled and hard-working actor. She’s also known as a person who stands up against injustice where she finds it, adding her voice to the calls for more inclusion in the industry and championing women’s issues. Maybe it was that rather heroic quality, in addition to her skills, that caught the attention of Marvel producers.
Whatever the deciding factor, it is the Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers as reimagined by comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick that producers asked Larson to portray. Her powers listed on Marvel.com include “flight, energy blasts, superhuman durability, superhuman strength”. In other words, she’s a badass. And during our on-set Q & A with Larson, we got the feeling she’s pretty badass herself.
According to Larson, she started training to do her own stunt work for the film because she “didn't realize that you don't actually do your own, that most people don't do their own stunts in these movies. I thought you did, and I've never been a particularly elegant or athletic person. I'm just an introvert with asthma, and felt like I needed to be able to do that. I just thought, ‘I don't wanna be on set, and they ask me to do things, and I don't know how to do it."
So, Larson starting nine months of intense training with Jason Walsh and three months of stunt training with the stunt team. Two hours every day, five days a week. Then came the confession.
“Everyone just went along with it. It wasn't until we started shooting, and I started doing all my own wire work stunts, and flips and stuff that people were like, ‘You know nobody actually does this. We just didn't want you to stop. But now that you've kind of accomplished this thing, we don't normally do this.’ And I was like, huh.”
“But I love it. I mean it definitely makes things more complicated in certain ways, because I could be taking a lot more naps than I am. I could just be like, ‘Renee and Joanna got it, I'm gonna go eat some cake.’ But instead it's really become a huge part of how I learned more about [Carol Danvers], and became her, and embodied her was through that - was through discovering my own strength. Pretty amazing thing.”
Amazing, indeed. You can find several of Larson’s training sessions on YouTube, and they are INTENSE. But there’s one you’re not going to see anytime soon, if ever (but believe me, it’s totally real). It was shared with us by her cast-mate and friend, Samuel L. Jackson, who has nothing but praise and admiration for Larson’s dedication.
“I think about a year ago Brie started working out, and the girl that I did Kong and Unicorn Store with is not this person. She's got like five percent body fat now, and she used to send me workout videos, which are like crazy dope workout videos. The first one she sent me, she was lifting, lifting like a hundred pounds. She was doing this thing with a waist lift about 100 pounds. The last one she sent me was 350. She's, you know, she does chin-ups.” As he spoke, Jackson had been searching through the videos on his phone, finally settling on the one he was looking for. “She sent me a video of her pushing a jeep up a hill. Um, it's, it's pretty amazing.” He showed it to us with a big smile on his face. And yes, it’s of Brie Larson pushing a jeep up a hill. And it’s spectacular.
"She's made a distinct transformation that I don't think a lot of people would be willing to do. It's a huge commitment to do stuff like that."
“When I was doing Tarzan with Alexander [Skarsgård], he would come to work at like four in the morning, and go work out. Then he would eat, and then he would do his cardio, and then we would start to shoot. And every time they said 'cut,' somebody was putting a weight in his hand. He was doing curls, or he was doing push-ups."
“Brie's sort of like that, at this point in her development, that she can actually do all of that stuff. It's kind of crazy.”
For her part, Larson seemed amused and a little embarrassed when we told her that Jackson had shared the video with us. Turns out he has been showing it around like a proud papa, much to her chagrin.
“I can't believe it,” she laughed. “I feel like close to a hundred people have come up to me and been like, ‘I saw this video that you sent Sam.’ It's so embarrassing. I sent that to him in private. He actually showed the person that was next to him on a plane, too. Which I found out later. ‘Oh, I sat next to Sam who you sent that video and he showed it to me.’ I was like, ‘Why?’ I know, I know. He knows I came from humble beginnings.”
As to how and why the jeep pushing came about, Larson says it started out as a joke between her and Walsh. "I spent nine months training with him ahead of time, and I was getting super strong. And I was like, ‘Well, she can move planets, the least I could do is move a car.’ And I just showed up in the gym one day and he was like, ‘All right, let's do it.’ And I pushed the car, yeah. And it wasn't as hard as I thought, which was kind of crazy. The car's in neutral, but it's going uphill and I pushed it for a minute. Someone was in the car waiting to put their foot on the brake in case I like, crapped out, so it wouldn't run me over.”
You got that, right? Someone was in the car. When we pointed that out to Larson, how that fact made it even more awesome, she was surprised. "It does? Oh, because it's more weight! I didn't get that. Totally didn't think about that."
She went to warn us against trying it at home. “It’s really probably not a safe thing to do, but it felt super satisfying, and I felt really crazy afterwards. Because I had never lifted weights, or done things until this movie like that. So, you get these crazy highs, and then you just kind of collapse onto the floor.”
Besides physical training, Larson spent a lot of time finding out what made Carol Danvers tick and discovering the various aspects of her personality. Larson admits that playing this complex character has challenged her in every way.
“I mean, I think she has an ego, but in a healthy way,” she clarified, “She doesn't have an unrealistic expectation of herself - she just owns that she's really good and really skilled, which feels good to play. She also has an incredible sense of humor, makes fun of herself, makes fun of other people. Has no issue if someone makes fun of her.”
Hmmm, sounds like someone we know…
Larson continued, “I will say that this character is probably the most dynamic character that I've ever played, with the most range. I've had to go through every emotion possible with her. And a lot of this movie, although it has great comedy in it, there's also real depth to it and emotion. Which for me, that's what I want. I wanna see complicated female characters. I wanna see myself. I surprise myself constantly by what's happening and what's coming up. So, hopefully, that's what comes out on screen."
Between the physical and acting requirements, Larson doesn’t find one or the other of the aspects of being playing Captain Marvel more or less challenging.
“Just getting through a movie like this is a real challenge of everything - of mind, body, and spirit. Because it's a long one, and because I added in the physical side to it, it's like doing a triathlon or something. There are some days where I'm doing a fight sequence for three days, and then at the end of the third day, after I've been punching and kicking, then it's like, ‘Okay, now we're gonna do this one piece where you're crying, and it's emotional,’ and you're like, whoa. It moves so fast, and there's so much that at a certain point you have to sort of trust your instincts.”
MARVEL-OUS KELLY SUE DECONNICK
An exciting aspect of the production was that DeConnick consulted on the movie. Larson shared that it was a very special experience for her, meeting and being able to speak with DeConnick about the character.
“I have to admit that talking with her was so surreal. I feel like I just blacked out. I felt really nervous, because it's this thing that, this woman that she created, that I feel very certain she knows way better than I do. I just was so honored to receive her blessing, and to see how excited she was. It was a relief to me because she pushed this forward, you know? We wouldn't be here without her. I'm so grateful for that character that she created, and now we're just kind of following the breadcrumb trail that she made."
MARVEL-OUS MARIA AND MONICA
Marvel fans know of Monica Rambeau, who in Marvel lore was an Avenger who at one point took on the mantle of Captain Marvel herself, and of her mother Maria. But how they figure into the film is still a bit of a mystery and one that Larson was unable to fully comment on. What we do know is that in the film, Maria and Carol are friends and fellow pilots and that their relationship is an important and critical one.
“I think the Maria dynamic is really important in this movie. She is the representation of love in this film. And it is something that I'm very proud of, that the love relationship, and it is a deep love relationship, is not by the same lustful definition that we usually attribute to movies of this size. It's more complex, and more meaningful than most love relationships that I see in films like this."
“Maria as a character is an incredible badass in her own way. They are equals, and I think seeing two women that have a playful competitiveness while also mutual respect and care, and have gone through so much together, there's a lot of history, and are just best friends is something that I'm excited to see. Because uncomplicated sorts of female friendships are sort of rare to see. I have a lot of them in my life, so to be able to bring that on screen with someone who's just so crazy talented, and smart, and beautiful, and wonderful, and is doing her own part to make sure that there are revolutions in a movie that are her own, that she's creating, is just awesome.”
MARVEL-OUS ROLE MODEL AND MORE
Shortly after getting cast in the role, Larson stated that she’s hopeful that Captain Marvel will be a role model for young girls. Her hopes in that area have evolved to include of a hope that the industry and the audiences can drop the emphasis on a character or actor’s gender and just enjoy the work. When asked how it feels to be the star of the first female-led Marvel film, she chose her words carefully.
“I don’t know. I don’t know how it’s any different. To be honest, I don't want it to feel different. I’m kind of over the, ‘First female blah blah blah,’ and ‘Wow, maybe women can actually do the same things that dudes can do. Like, what a crazy concept.’ You know what I mean? I feel like the more we talk about it, the more we perpetuate the myth that it's an impossible task. No, if it wasn't like that before, it's because it was wrong. That was just wrong. Now we're just doing what's natural.”
On the same subject, when asked if there was anything that she wants the female audience, in particular, to come away with or anything she is excited from them to see, Larson was definite.
“No It doesn't matter what I make, I feel really firmly that art is made to be enjoyed and interpreted, and you get what you need out of it. My favorite books are ones I've read multiple times in my life, and they mean something totally different to me every time I read them. Art isn't made to be processed and labeled and organized in the way that we do it now. I even have a hard time with the idea of genre, and that we place value based off of, ‘Well, it's really good for this kind of movie.’ What does that even mean? I don't understand."
“It'll be what it is, and I think there's gonna be lot there for people to digest and feel. Hopefully it'll be the movie that you wanna revisit again and again, and as life goes on, it'll have more to it. I just wanna make art that lasts. I wanna make art that you grow with. That's all.”
Larson is clearly trying to avoid being caught up in the hype of being in a potential box office powerhouse and simply wants to the movie to be good. Asked whether she was excited or ready for the reaction that Captain Marvel is going to gett, she answered, laughing, “I'm not ready.” Then, more seriously, she addressed the problem with movies that become less a film and more an event.
“I hope I'm not ready. Because I wanna be, if it is something, then I wanna be surprised, and I don't want to have expectation, because I'm not in it for that. I didn't make this movie for any of those things, so that I couldn’t attach a numerical value to it.”
But Larson seemed not particularly comfortable discussing the possibility of the more altruistic impact, like inspiring women and girls who will see it, that will no doubt come with the film’s release.
“Even that is not up to me, you know? You don't get to decide if you're an inspiration to people or not. Since I've agreed to do this role, people have said, ‘Oh, well you'll be a role model.’ I'm just gonna do what feels true to me, and if people wanna tag along, they can, and if they don't, they can bounce, and that's cool. I'm not gonna go out of my way to do things in order to be something to people."
“All of my heroes were just unapologetically themselves. And they were flawed at times, and that's okay. And it's part of who Carol is too. She's flawed. She's not perfect. So, in order for me to feel comfortable stepping into this position, I have to accept my humanity, and remind everybody that I'm a human, and I’m an artist. And I just want to make art, and that's really it.”