Destin Cretton‘s Short Term 12 is probably one of the most talked about indie films of the year. Making it’s way around film festivals like SXSW and the LA Film Festival, the film, starring Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. has been winning numerous awards and found a place in audience’s hearts. The film may be opening in limited theaters this week, but strong word of mouth and it’s successful film festival circuit run will allow it to expand into more theaters in the coming weeks. You can read my review here.
We had an opportunity to sit down with the Larson and Gallagher Jr. to talk about what drew them to the script, what they think about the reactions they have been receiving, how Cretton writes a female character so well, and the physical work that was required. Hit the jump for the full interview.
What exactly drew you to this project.
Brie Larson: The script was e-mailed to me, and I read it while shooting [The] Spectacular Now, and it was the best script, I think it is online some where, and if you’re interested, I highly recommend reading it, because it is a great example of when things are very clear and jump out on the page and feel very realized without pushing anything on you what so ever. I was just terrified that Destin Cretton would find me qualified to play the role, because I didn’t have anything that was remotely close to this. I hadn’t even played a woman before. I didn’t even know if I was a woman yet. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I knew that I could do it. I was scared that I knew, and it was a strange feeling to have such a strong intuition and pull that you know that you are the only person that tell the story. It takes trusting yourself and pushing yourself to do it to see what the result is, and if intuition should be trusted, and in this case I guess it should. I applied a bunch for volunteer jobs while I was in Georgia, cause the film was starting quite soon, and I didn’t have a lot of time, and I wanted Destin to understand that I was interested in telling the story accurately, and that I understood the sensitivity of the material. So I applied for three volunteer jobs, and told that to him while we were doing our Skype call, and that was something that impressed him. I didn’t tell him that I was rejected from all three of the jobs, but it wasn’t about me. I didn’t read the script and go “What a great opportunity for me,” I saw it as a story that was so much bigger than me, and I felt like i had the sensitivity to it and that I could bring some justice to it.
How about you John?
John Galliger Jr.: In about 13 years of being sent different scripts to read and different intervals of getting maybe one a year, all the scripts that I have read as an auditioning actor, there is not a doubt in my mind that this was absolutely the best script that I have ever read. It was all there on the page, and it took me about three pages to know that it was something so special and qunite, and that I would’ve jumped through any number of hoops to become involved, because I wanted to be a part of something so amazing. And then I found out that Brie was involved, and I watched the short film that it was based on. And I Skyped with Destin. Every new piece of information I got about it, it was more and more inticing and I tend to read things that I am interested in mostly because it’s something I want to watch, and I knew instantly this is something I would have been a big fan of, and stuff I want to do and be involved in. I just got so lucky that Destin felt that I was the person for the role.
Were either of you aware of the at-risk program prior to shooting the film?
Larson: I think I was aware of it in the same capacity that most people are aware of it. I knew that it existed, and it seemed like a very sad situation, but I didn’t know what it looked like.
How important was it to show the positives of the system and embody the characters in the film?
Larson: That was definitely in the script, and I think that is the beauty of the script. There is something nonjudgemental about Destin, and I think that it what he really brought, and it is something that you will feel when you get into one of these facilities. You feel like you want to fix it, and the more closer and the more you dive into it, the more you realize how complicated it is because every hurt child is not hurt in the same way, that is why we make different bandaids. There is a lot of different pain pills in the world, because nothing is specific. You can’t just do a blanket approach to everything. That’s what makes it so difficult in the film, each kid is an example of what they need from both of us. The way that Grace has to use a much more firm and dry sense of humor and a squirt gun to get Luis out of Bed is much more different from being a mothering figure to Sammy and acknowledging that she is in the room. It becomes complicated because you realize every kid needs a point person, they need somebody, and you need to know them well enough to deal with them. So you have to show the way that the system is structured works great for some kids, and it really lets other kids down. That is kind of the way life is.
Can you tell us about the relationship that you developed between yourself and Katilyn Dever?
Larson: Kaitlyn and I had the time to pal around in Georgia, we didn’t have any scenes together, but we had some time together before shooting started, and there was a lot of cast dinners, and we were staying at the same hotel, and so the ice was broken. We kind of lucked out in that we really identified with each other. I really just love her. She is really just awesome. And I love what she has to say, and I respect her so much as an artist, and I think that made her feel good, that I am older than her and that respect for her made her feel more confident. I saw a lot of myself in her age when I wanted to do what she’s doing, and I wanted to go to these deep dark places, and I wanted to craft, I didn’t really understand why, it was just something I really wanted to do. We just really related. It’s just magic. In a way it’s just chance that just two artist that relate on any sort of level, We just really got along, we still talk all the time. We confide in each other, and that does show. When you have that, it allows both parties to be comfortable to expose themselves, because neither of us felt judged or needs to prove anything to one another. We had already accepted each other.
Are you at all surprised by the reactions you have been getting while taking this film on the festival circuit?
Gallagher Jr.: I think you always take a leap of faith in an independent film. It’s something you really have to believe in, but you never know what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know if a lot of people are going to see it, or if no one is ever going to see it, or if it’s ever going to get released. So going to SXSW, and kicking things off there, and seeing a lot of people respond to it, was really overwhelming. Mostly because I didn’t know what we really had. I had seen it once before we started going to film festivals. We went and watched a cut of it, but it was at a color correcting studio in a room that was not much bigger than this on a small screen and the sound wasn’t very good, and that was the first time I had watched it. So I was feeling all kinds of strange feelings. But then seeing it with an audience and watching it in Austin, and feeling the energy, and seeing the people way people were responding and reacting, and what they were laughing at and what they were getting choked up at, was incredible. It’s been a joy, it doesn’t really work this way, you really have to be thankful and try to enjoy it. Being able to have something that is moving people and touching people, and this moving and touching us. Almost a year after we shot it, sharing it with people is as much of a gift as making it.
This is a passion project for Destin, how does that impact your performance as an actor?
Larson: I think that because he had spent so much time in that world, he had an awareness of what kind of subject we were dealing with, he knew very clearly what not to do, and what it didn’t look like. But I never felt I was told not to do anything. There were times where he’d maybe pose a question, and I was able to think about it and I was able to come to a conclusion on my own, and think that I had done it all on my own, when in reality he had been the spark for all of it. He cast us because he believed we were the experts on these characters, so we were allowed to be the experts on it. So he would come to us with things, and ultimately we had the decision on what we wanted to do. There were a few situations where we openly understood, that he had experienced those things. We had such relationship, we laughed about it, granted it was going to be terrible, then you go into it and it’s not. A little bit of humor goes pretty far.
Gallagher Jr: For someone who has a specific hand and is in control, he is not a control freak, like there was never a feeling like “This is my vision. This is his personal story where everyone has to get it right.” He never claimed to be the one that knew it all. I remember there were times where “I know that is the way I wrote the line, but if that doesn’t feel good coming out of your mouth, and if you think you have a better idea of something to say, try it, and if it doesn’t work we can do another take and restore the original on it.” It’s very collaborative in a way that starts feeling like you had ownership over things, and feel that we were all in it together, and there was no authority. There was no one right way or wrong of trying things.
Can you compare that to your experience on television?
Gallagher Jr.: This is such a joy to be able to have 20 days on something you really believe in and really amamazing people to work with and an enviroment that feels really free and easy. Its gets heated, especially in Brie’s case, you’re being asked to do a tremendous thing on screen and going into some really intense and dark places. One thing that always blew my mind was that for all of the intense subject matter, it was really a fun set to be on. We all had a good time shooting it, and it really felt like this labor of love, and family, and we didn’t have the luxury of doing a million takes of everything, we were all on a pretty tight schedule, and we had to keep things moving, and we got a lot done.
Larson: We were actually two days ahead of schedule for a very a long time. We made up for it by having the luxury of shooting more.
Gallagher jr.: That’s another thing that you have to enjoy when you get it, because it always doesn’t have that kind of ease, and collaborative feeling to it. I’m new to television to, that’s much more everything has to stay on schedule and it’s really quick and there is not a lot of room for being able to do rehearsals, sit around talking about motivations and things, it moves very fast, and something’s you just have to give yourself over to that, and keep up with the pace of it. But it’s great to have both, it was just a joy. The way that this movie was made, it would be the way I do almost everything. They can’t be all happen that way, because its very specific to what you have budget wise, time wise, and material wise, and who you are working with. But it really was kind of a perfect storm of talent and good karma.
Brie, can you tell us about the script, it really speaks from a feminine point of view without it polarizing it.
Larson: It was all already there when I received it, which was incredible. I think he could probably say that great moment when writers say you don’t write gender specific, you write a person. I guess other than the fact that she’s pregnant; Grace could have been easily a male character. And I think I like that about it, I found her to be unspecific in many ways. I’ve been so impressed and so proud, that I’ve had every shape, size, and gender say “I’m Grace.” It’s shocking when a male says it. One that really moved me was Keith who plays Marcus’ mom, went up to me and said “I’m Grace,” and I felt so moved from somebody as a mother and completely different walk of life than me, and to feel connected in that way, and for people to identify with her, not because she is a girl, but because she is has these feeling and internal struggle, and feels scared to try and doesn’t want to try anymore or ask for help. I think that’s really incredible.
There is a lot of bike riding and running, how much do you think you actually biked?
Larson: I biked a lot, and Destin laughs because I didn’t do it very well. It’s my one flaw, was that I cannot ride a bike up hill. I also found out after the fact that they had it on a bad gear. So it was partially that. But that was a part of the expression of the character. Finding ways to express things without using the obvious form, which would be words, using these metaphors that we understand that, and having that bike was an important part of, I think, creating that character, of understanding that for her, and I can relate to this, that sometimes these emotions get so much we have to physically move, we have to do something, and whether we have to sit in a warrior pose for 20 minutes and try to figure it out, and for her it was really digging into this bike. I enjoyed all the different ways that he allowed me to explore these different emotions.
And how about the running?
Gallagher Jr.: We did that for a while. You know the opening scene of the film when he takes off and we go running after him, that was like the second day. It was pretty early on, and we did it in order where I did that big story about following the kid on the bus, and that involved a lot of coverage, and I had to do that monoluge over and over again, and I had to smoke through the whole thing, and the character smokes, and I had smoked on and off before, and I had been off it for a little while, and they were like “Do you want herbal cigarettes?” And I’m all “No way man, I’m smoking, I’m going to do this.” I smoked about a pack and a half for that monologue, and they were like “Great, on to the next scene where you run across this huge field ten times” to catch up with this very limber 13 year old boy, who was really fast.” I remember the first couple of takes I wasn’t catching up with him, because I thought it should look like I am having a hard time keeping up with him, and Destin was like “Are you going to be able to catch him?” And I was like “Watch this,” and I almost passed out, but I did end up catching him, and I think that was the take they actually used.
Short Term 12 opens in limited theaters on August 23