As the first female headliner of a Marvel Studios film in Captain Marvel, which smashed its way past the $1 billion mark in global sales — and with Avengers: Endgame on the horizon — Brie Larson’s star is one of the brightest in Hollywood. But despite her success, the self-described introvert doesn’t feel like her superhuman box-office strength should be seen as something extraordinary.
“We put an unnecessary pressure on ourselves,” she told Vanity Fair Editor-in-Chief Radhika Jones at the 10th annual Women in the World summit. She pointed to women’s crucial roles in film history to debunk the notion that a woman can’t headline a bankable franchise. “The weird idea that women can’t do movies or the female story isn’t high art, it’s bogus, and I don’t for a second buy into it.”
Now that she’s debunked that theory, Larson wants to talk about money. Her superhero salary set a new precedent—and she says most women don’t ask for raises because of the inculcated belief that talking about money is wrong. “That’s the trap, they make you feel icky about it so you don’t ask for what you deserve,” she said, pointing out that her pay bump came because “it’s all a game” and every other woman who asked for a raise helped her cause. “I’m the next step in that, and we will keep going,” she said, adding that even if you don’t want to ask for yourself, do it for the future you or do it for women who come after you.
As a risk-taker in an era when women are stepping forward to take the lead, “There’s a lot of fear right now that, if I fail, it’s on behalf of all women.” Not true, said Larson. “We are made by our failures. I sit here today because I failed one billion times.” She said that as a struggling actor, she was broke seven times, and that her strength and commitment now is because of those failures.
Directly after winning an Oscar in 2016 for her heralded role as Ma in Room, she was on a plane back to Vietnam and woke up in the foreign country alone, with no WiFi, and she asked herself: Did I just dream that? Then: “I had this sinking feeling that I was still myself,” she says. “I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t feel exceptional or that I was even a better actor—I just felt like I was going to be late for work.”
She is using her global platform now as a force for good, and after noticing a lack of diversity in the media surrounding her on press days, she decided to do something about it. Larson went to Dr. Stacy Smith at the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, who conducted a study confirming the diversity in entertainment media was, shall we say, lacking.
“I was curious what it would be like to have a more intersectional and diverse experience,” Larson said. The solution? Bringing more chairs to the table and adding more time to her press days to lift up more voices. This inclusive attitude has reached down to her style, and she tries to reach parity between the female to male designers she wears.
But all this seems very much in line with the legend of Captain Brie. She dreams, then does. After deciding at six years old that she wanted to be an actor, she convinced her single mother to move from Sacramento to Los Angeles. (The monumental nature of this wasn’t lost on Jones, who joked, “My son is four and a half and wants to be an astronaut, but I’m not moving to Houston.”)
A traditional junior high experience was replaced by one that involved managing other people’s—usually men’s—expectations of who she should be. Larson would go on auditions and “it very quickly turned into what their idea of confidence was and not my own idea of confidence.” Larson learned she had to choose herself.
Now, with the rise of the #MeToo movement over the last two years, Larson remains grateful for the “tidal wave of conversation that won’t stop anytime soon.”
She’s also stepping into new territories. Unicorn Store, her directorial debut available now on Netflix, has been called a love letter to everyone’s inner child. Part of the courage she found to try something new wasn’t born out of self-possessiveness, but generosity. “If I’m the one directing a film and I’m female and it’s bad, it’s like, okay, who’s next?”
“If I have any sort of privilege, I want to spend it immediately,” says Larson. “I’m not afraid of falling on my face because I’ve done it my whole life, so I’m like, bring it.”
Additional reporting by Nicole Savini.