It’s several hours before the Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon is set to begin at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and Brie Larson rolls into her suite wearing dark jeans, a black sweater, ankle boots and zero makeup. She could be any pretty young woman arriving at the hotel from the airport; she did in fact just step off a 14-hour flight from Australia, one of the many far-flung locations where she’s been shooting “Kong: Skull Island” for the last four months.
This crazy juxtaposition of worlds — the Hollywood glamour surrounding a first-time Best Actress nominee; the dark indie film “Room” that showcased her talent and set her on the Oscar campaign trail (she’s already nabbed Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild trophies); and the big-budget, CGI-laden “King Kong” reboot that she’s currently filming, would be enough to send any 26-year-old into momentary shock. Instead, Larson is extremely present, taking it all in as it comes, journal in hand and bright-eyed — even though she’s had precious little sleep for the last month.
This story first appeared in the February 24, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I got vitamins from a nutritionist that helped me sleep on the plane,” she says, settling into a chair with a breakfast smoothie and submitting to the efforts of her makeup artist, Rachel Goodwin, and hairstylist, Mara Roszak. “I feel good, and this tastes like chocolate milk. It’s amazing.”
She recounts the previous weekend spent shuttling back and forth between continents. “I had worked a crazy week on set, then got on a plane to fly overnight to the SAG Awards. I knew I was landing at 6 a.m., had to figure out which dress to wear, go to the ceremony until late and get back on a plane. So I felt all this pressure to sleep on the way there, knowing I wouldn’t get to for the next 24 hours, but instead I was counting sheep. I thought, this could potentially be a disaster or one of the most fun and hilarious nights of my life. I should not ruin it because I didn’t get a restful flight. The entire night of the SAG Awards was like living in a weird hallucination.”
This short trip was no less packed. After sitting for her WWD portrait, putting on her luncheon outfit and doing a Q&A with a room full of reporters before sharing a meal with her fellow nominees, she did more press rounds by the pool, then went to tape “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and was back on a plane before the show aired that night.
While she says “it’s kind of cool to live outside dates and times,” she does recall the Oscar lunch clearly. “Not until the luncheon, when I was physically there, did it really hit me that I’m nominated. I was home-schooled so I didn’t have a proper graduation, and when they put us up on the risers for the ‘Class of 2016’ photo, that’s when I cried. There are a lot of people who work their whole lives and don’t get this. Yeah, I’ve been working almost 20 years, but I see how rare this is, and I’m grateful.”
Larson says the contrast between her weekdays on set and her weekends in Hollywood has helped her stay grounded. “I bounce between polar opposites. On my weekends, I’m wearing designer clothes, getting my nails painted and living a polished lifestyle, then I come back here and I’m climbing mountains covered in dirt. Until this movie comes out [in March 2017], no one gets that. It’s like having two best friends you never invite to the same dinner. But that balance has been helpful because I’ve had zero time to process any of this. Because I’m not in L.A., I can’t gauge how life has changed. I’m still myself.”
Surely being in the Oscar spotlight has opened new doors for her? “That you have access to higher-profile projects — it’s too soon to tell. I’m constantly asked, ‘How do you feel?’ and I have no reference point for this. Your brain doesn’t know where to file these things. I just try to be present. You have to be easily adaptable and ready to be in whatever is happening.”
After the awards marathon is over, she plans to take a long vacation. “Once I emerge from that, I will have some great perspective on what it means to me. No matter what happens [on Oscar Sunday], win, lose, best dressed, the next day I’ll be climbing a mountain for 10 hours with a giant monkey and no one’s the wiser.”
There are greater things awaiting Larson post-Oscars. She’s already squeezed in some power appointments. “I had a really wonderful meeting with Aaron Sorkin the morning after SAG Awards. He said, ‘I’m so excited to know the best work of your career you haven’t even done yet.’ It blew my mind. It keeps going? That’s what I keep tripping out over.”
The fashion frenzy is also new for Larson, who says at the beginning of the press tour for “Room” last August, she was steadfastly against going glam. “I felt really stubborn, like ‘I want my jeans and T-shirts forever and I refuse to wear fancy clothes or heels.'” That changed once she realized her identity could evolve alongside her style. “As I have had to meet different challenges, I realize I am coming into myself and whatever I’m wearing is another chance for me to explore a new version of myself.”
Says her stylist, Cristina Ehrlich, with whom Larson has worked since the Met Ball last May, “Brie is such a trained character actress and an avid reader; she’s a real thinker. She’s very porous and very open, but you have to present your case to her.”
Larson notes, “I watch clothes on other people, and it’s like having a conversation before opening your mouth. For me, clothes come from the mind. They represent what’s happening inside, and as long as they feel honestly like what I’m thinking about and going toward, I’m happy to bounce around and experience different things.”
While she’s shown an affinity for a only handful of designers by wearing them more than once, Larson has played the field in everything from Valentino, Versace and Giambattista Valli to Rodarte, Jason Wu, Céline and Gucci (which she’s rumored to be wearing Sunday). She points out two collaborative efforts that she called “a chance to express myself and create a new work, not just a body selling clothes.”
“The first time I went to the Met Ball [in 2014] with Miu Miu, I had no idea what it was all about, so I was like, ‘I want to wear a suit of armor,’ and I sent over all these reference photos. They were super into it and were like, ‘We will totally make you one,’ and I was so moved. I had the best time because I was wearing what I wanted to wear,” she says.
The second instance was her Golden Globes gown by Calvin Klein Collection. “That dress was similar in talking about where I was at. When we talked about the combination of Hollywood and Beyoncé, I was like, ‘Done.’ For my Oscar dress, it’s similar. I really want it to be special and encompass colors and visions that are meaningful to me.”
At the end of the day, she doesn’t overthink it. “Really, it’s like, there’s so many beautiful things to wear, so it ultimately comes down to what I’m feeling and what’s appropriate for what I’m doing.
“The cool thing about designers is they have very specific points of view, and because my inspiration is always changing, it’s easy to go, ‘This feels right.’ But just because I wear fancy dresses on weekends doesn’t mean in my heart of hearts I’m not a jeans and T-shirt person.”
It’s a good thing, because her next “Kong” shoot location is in the jungle of a Third World country. “I’m packing tank tops I stole from my best friend five years ago and all my clothes are still ratty and cheap. Part of me wants to keep it that way. My whole world doesn’t need to change just yet.”