Brie Larson Explains How Her Own Childhood Informed 'Room'

Brie Larson Explains How Her Own Childhood Informed 'Room'
After last year's festival hit Frank, all eyes were on director Lenny Abrahamson's follow-up. Based on Emma Donoghue's novel, Room is getting some serious award-season buzz. That's in part thanks to Brie Larson's stunning performance, owning her role as a young mother living in captivity for seven years in a small room with her young son.

Speaking at a TIFF press conference, Larson explains her complex relationship with the character. "It's an interesting space to imagine being in that place for seven years," she said. "If she had been in there for a week you could imagine this constant intensity, but there's some interesting thing that happens where the brain sort of learns to shut off awareness to certain things so that it can cope because the body just wants to survive. It wants to find the good and whatever it has in front of it."

To get into that space, Larson spent a full month at home without any communication with the outside world. "I had some friends that went on these silent retreats, which includes no eye contact either because that's also considered a form of communication," she said. "A lot of them didn't make it through. You get three days in, and all of your thoughts pop up. I wanted to see what would happen, and some very interesting things happened while I was doing that."

Ultimately, she remembered some pretty significant events from her childhood, which she transparently shared with the TIFF audience. When she was seven years old, Larson, her mom and her little sister moved to Los Angeles from Sacramento.

"We moved into a studio apartment that was a little bit bigger than Room," she said. "We also had a door to a toilet, so there was a little bit of separation there. But the bed came out of the wall — it was a room…. My mom couldn't even afford Happy Meals at that time, we were just eating top ramen for every meal. I remember that time as being one of the greatest times of my life. I was so happy. My mom has this incredible imagination and she instills so much life in that space, but I never felt like I was lacking. And I didn't realize that we didn't have anything."

Her mom also shielded her from real-life grief at the time. "There was one moment that I also remembered in this silence that really struck me and moved me very deeply," she said. "We would all three sleep on that same bed that came out of the wall. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to my mom with her hands over mouth, trying to be quiet but just sobbing uncontrollably. Convulsions, sobbing, shaking. And I didn't know why, and I remember thinking, 'It's like when my toy is taken away from me.' I didn't realize until many years later that my father had asked for a divorce and that's why we had moved to Los Angeles, and she was dealing with it completely alone but had created this world of imagination with me and my sister.

"Sometimes you never really understand why you're attracted to a project until you start getting deeper into it, and that for me — it's giving me chills talking about it — was such a huge part of my life and something that was so palpable to me."

Room will receive a limited release on October 16 and is set to expand on November 6.