Ahead of her Stylist takeover, Brie Larson asked readers of all ages to send in their questions – resulting in a celebrity interview like no other. It was a characteristically open-hearted move from the star of Captain Marvel. Photography by Carly Palmour
There can’t be many A-list celebrities who, at a cover shoot, want to include the team that has made it happen. But when we handed over this issue of Stylist to Brie Larson, she chose a concept and cover image that wasn’t all about her – one that felt inclusive. It’s a move that sums up the spirit – her spirit – that we’re all in this together.
Togetherness has long been at the centre of Larson’s approach to the world. She is deeply immersed in the Time’s Up movement as one of the early organisers and has repeatedly challenged the perception of women throughout her career. When helpful internet commentators criticised her for not smiling in the Captain Marvel posters (more on the film later), she shared reimagined posters of male superheroes that turned their serious faces into smiles.
She has talked frequently about the need for more female film critics and filmmakers and has accepted the 4% challenge from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. (Based on the depressing statistic that only 4% of the top 100 studio films released over the past 10 years have been made by women, the initiative encourages filmmakers to work with female directors, particularly female directors of colour, over the next 18 months.) She has also made the commitment to ensure that the journalists interviewing her at press junkets are more representative.
Those interviews are becoming more and more frequent as she takes on the biggest role of her career in Captain Marvel, the first solo-female superhero movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her character, a Nineties fighter pilot called Carol Danvers, is caught in a galactic war between alien races. Reports speculate that Captain Marvel will break the billion-dollar mark globally.
It’s high praise, but it’s a conversation that isn’t particularly helpful. Because what does it mean if it doesn’t hit those heady heights? That female-centred films aren’t wanted/needed/bankable? We all know that’s not true… It’s also a lot of pressure. Can’t we just celebrate that the film’s been made (and comes out on International Women’s Day, no less)?
This, of course, is not Larson’s first rodeo. She is an Oscar-winning actor – awarded for her brilliant turn as Ma in 2016’s Room. Born in Sacramento, Larson grew up in a studio in Burbank, California, with her mum and sister. She’s been in the business longer than she hasn’t – she was acting in sitcoms from age 12, had a period in her teens when she dabbled in a pop career, then moved back into acting with roles alongside Toni Collette in United States Of Tara, Amy Schumer in Trainwreck and the utterly excellent Short Term 12. She has also turned her hand to directing with Unicorn Store, which comes to Netflix in April.
So with all this in mind, when it came to choosing the first of our 10 guest editors, in the 10th year of Stylist, there was no question who it should be. And we must stress that Larson took the reins and ran with them. She wanted to embrace this platform and create something special and inclusive. She was incredibly hands-on, editing pages while also on a press tour in Singapore.
“I want to claim the idea of power, and of female power,” she told us during our first conversation about her vision for this issue. “As more women are coming into their power, it’s important that we reach out and lift others up. That’s how we’ll really be able to make an impact.”
But it’s how Larson spends her time away from Hollywood that is particularly compelling. Her interests are numerous and include tap dancing, knitting, reading, mushroom foraging, scuba diving, female artists and The Bachelor. Larson is someone who goes full throttle at life.
This energy is evident when we meet her in Los Angeles; she doesn’t seem like someone dealing with the pressure of a gigantic film role. Maybe it’s because she knows her own strength and won’t let other people’s expectations or perceptions crush that. Or because the idea of Hollywood feels a world away, even though we’re only a couple of miles away from that famous sign. Thick, grey rain is coming for us. It’s cold – England cold. The shoot takes place in an empty house with no heating. We even have to bring our own toilet roll…
When it came to the interview, Brie wanted it to be inclusive, like her cover image. She asked Stylist readers to pose their questions. And inspired by the woman who posted a video of her six-year-old daughter watching the Captain Marvel trailer who, upon seeing Brie, said “It’s me!”, she asked us to reach out to the younger generation, too. The result isn’t your typical celebrity profile piece…
Who were the female role models you admired growing up?
I loved the Spice Girls and the Dixie Chicks, along with writers like Sylvia Plath, Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson and the Brontë sisters.
What’s the worst audition rejection you’ve ever had?
Georgia and Rudy, 16
I’ve had SO MANY. But I auditioned for a big movie once when I was younger and the casting director said I was so bad that she would never bring me in for anything ever again.
What was your biggest fear about taking on the role of Captain Marvel?
Most of my fear was with the public nature of the role. Knowing that this film would mean my face was on billboards all over the world seemed overwhelming. I still have fears about not being able to do things I love, like walking around the airport alone and people-watching, but I think the power the film holds is more important than my fears.
What is your favourite colour?
Blue! Specifically, International Klein Blue [a deep blue first mixed by the French artist Yves Klein in 1959].
McDonald’s or KFC?
McDonald’s! I like fries more than mashed potatoes.
How does it feel to be the first female lead of a Marvel Cinematic Universe film?
It’s hard to comprehend. I’ve watched so many great female characters in MCU films, I just see it as furthering the already ongoing conversation about representation.
Would you rather be a skeleton or a zombie?
A skeleton! Zombies are crazy!
Do you read comics? If so, what are some of your favourites?
I read comics growing up. I loved Wonder Woman and Anya Corazon from Spider-Girl. Recently I’ve been reading Ms Marvel.
If you weren’t an actor, what profession would you choose?
I love architecture and art. I would probably study those. Or I would be a gardener.
The real question is… what’s in your bag?
Oooh. Chapstick. Airwaves gum. My notebook and Staedtler fineliner pens. Maybe a book. Headphones. A small bag of chips [crisps].
What is your favourite football team?
The… Golden…Receivers? I don’t know football.
What was the best part of hosting Saturday Night Live [Brie hosted the comedy show in 2016] and would you do it again?
I’d love to do it again! I loved the pace. Everything moves really fast. There is no time to spare. It’s a rush to get to be silly on live TV!
What are you reading at the moment?
The Seas by Samantha Hunt [a complex debut novel about a small-town girl falling in love as she becomes a young woman].
What inspired you to become an actor?
I’ve got no idea. I was six when I told my mom I wanted to be an actor. I think it helped me with my super shyness as a kid. It taught me how to hold a conversation and make eye contact.
Which superpower would you like to have?
What’s your favourite Netflix show?
Chef’s Table. Every episode makes me cry!
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Do you watch the movies you’ve acted in? How does it feel to see yourself on screen and do you ever spot any errors or things that aren’t supposed to be there?
I will watch the film I’m in once, before I do press, so I know what I’m talking about. But I prefer to watch it on a phone or an iPad. Seeing my own face bigger than how I see it in the mirror makes me feel weird.
What did you have for lunch? Do you always choose the healthy option?
I do not always choose the healthy option. Balance is key! It really depends on what I’m doing. On days where we were doing fight sequences, I’d eat a huge breakfast and then stick to smoothies for lunch because you’re so active you don’t want stuff in your stomach. Other days I’ll have a burger, or on weekends, mozzarella sticks. Mmmmmm.
What inspires you?
Nature. If I feel unsure, I go outside or look out of a window.
Who is your dream dinner guest?
Anyone who is curious and adventurous.
What was your weirdest dream about?
Recently I dreamt I was at Disneyland and Mickey Mouse was hugging me and I cried.
Did you find it challenging to play a female superhero?
It’s hard to be a superhero! It’s a lot of work. Usually my job is just talking, but this role added a physical element so you have to push yourself to the limit.
What were your favourite sweets as a child?
Mounds [the American version of a Bounty] and Reese’s! I love the egg-shaped ones that come out around Easter. They have extra peanut butter.
Which Hogwarts house would you be in?
What would you like female viewers specifically to take away from the Captain Marvel movie?
I think the world already puts too many unnecessary pressures on females on how they should think or feel, so I don’t need to add that. Whatever female viewers take from it is awesome!
Captain Marvel is in cinemas nationwide on 8 March
Fashion: Samantha McMillen at The Wall Group. Hair: Bryce Scarlett at The Wall Group for Moroccan Oil. Make-up: Nina Park for Chanel at Forward Artists. Nails: Natasha Ray at Ken Barboza Agency using Step Right Up! by OPI.
Photography assistants: Lynn Torres, Wallis Barton. With thanks to imagelocations.com. Additional imagery: Getty Images