Brie Larson Pulls Some Strings In 'Free Fire' [Interview]

There's more than meets the eye with some of the characters in Free Fire. They can reveal shades of humanity you wouldn't immediately expect at the start of Ben Wheatley's action-comedy. Some characters, on the other hand, like Vernon (Sharlto Copley), can be chalked up to "what you see is what you get."

That's not the case with Justine, played by Academy Award winner Brie Larson (Room), who is calmer than most during Wheatley's 85-minute shootout. Justine tries to keep others from losing their heads as hers remains firmly planted on her shoulders.

Wheatley's movie is contained and set mostly in one location, but it still leaves you with a sense of who the characters are outside of the abandoned warehouse. We recently sat down with Larson and discussed what sort of person Justine is outside of the film, what it's like shooting in chronological order, and more. Spoilers for the film lie ahead.

After I saw the film, I thought it must have been a bit of a continuity nightmare. Was it?

Well, it wasn't really a continuity nightmare, because we shot in order, which eliminates a lot of the pain of trying to figure out what's happening in the crazy timeline.

One costume...actually that's not true, we had two. One was the one I wore most of the time and another one that was a size or two bigger so that I could wear pads or things under it if I was falling to the ground or doing a stunt. As time went on it just got dirtier and more blown up.

Have you had that experience before of working with explosions and shooting in sequence? 

No, I have not done explosions, but yes, Room was mostly in order. Almost totally in order. A little bit out, but mostly in order, so I really like it. When you can do it, it's the best.

Is working with explosions a learning curve?

Yes, a learning curve in not being scared of them and just kind of trusting. It's a very odd thing that someone tapes a little explosive onto your body and then five minutes later they're like, "All right, on the count of three this thing's going to explode." And you're like, "Really? How do I know it's going to explode the right way?" It's just a lesson in trust, and no one got hurt. Everything was fine, but it took me a little bit to get comfortable with that concept of there are just explosions everywhere.

You mentioned Justine's costume, which is great and they all have such personality in the movie. Did you and [costumer designer] Emma Fryer have a lot of discussions over her look?

Yeah, we did. I think for me the main thing was ... What's funny about Justine is that usually with the clothes it's a way of telling you who a person is, and I think that with Justine it's actually a way of telling her who she's not. I think that she doesn't have any money at all, or very little money at that, and doesn't have nice clothes. And she maybe stole, or borrowed, or saved up to have this one kind of mildly cool outfit, but it's still trying to blend in.

It's nothing that's too overtly flashy because her whole motive is to allow all these men to feel like they're the most important and the coolest in the room. So it's not about her. She's not trying to compete with them. She doesn't want to be in the line of fire of that competition. She just wants to be fanning that, so she can play all of them and sneak away.

Yeah, you do think by the end, "How well did I actually get to know that character?" She could be an entirely different person from who we see in the movie.

Totally, and I think that was the fun of playing her, and I still don't have answers about some of those things. In particular with [Chris, Cillian Murphy's] character, did she like him or does she not and she's playing him just like everybody else? Or does it change by the second depending on what she can get out of it? I don't know. I think that everything in the film is almost in real time, right? It's just like it's real time with these people and I think that everyone is just making split-second decisions and a lot of them are not good decisions.

Larson

Do you usually create backstories for the characters you play?

Yeah. No, I do. First of all, I just find it fun. I just think it's a fun thing to think about. It's like why someone chose the job that they have, or why they're doing what they're doing. For me, it quiets a certain part of my brain that will always wonder unless I answer that question.

And then because this film, the way Ben works is it'll be one take scripted, one take improv. One take scripted, one take improv. And everything sort of blends together, and you kind of have to know who your character is or at least have some sort of structure in order to be able to go off of the script.

I did think about it. You have to know what it is that she's hiding, where's she coming from, and why she wants this money. Why is this only option for her?

I'm curious about her relationship with Vernon.

It's complicated.

Did you and Sharlto talk about their past at all?

This is two years ago or something, so I'm trying to remember. To be honest, the way that we discussed them I think was very similar to how the relationship was onscreen, where Sharlto would sort of talk about what he felt the relationship was and I would sort of go like, "Yeah, yeah that's what it is." And in my head, I was like, "Nah, that's not how it's going to go." But that's what I think I needed to get out of that experience was that he can't be let in to know, or be perceptive to what it is that Justine's doing.

I think that a lot of those moments, those little eye rolls or little moments, are just for the audience. No one else in that space sees it. No one else gets where she's coming from or understands her point of view. She's the only one that's clearly, and the audience, are the only ones that are in on what it is that she's doing. And even that is a complicated relationship.

How was Justine described on the page?

From what I remember, Ben doesn't really do descriptives. I actually don't even think it had an age. I think that she was technically supposed to be Swedish, so it might have just said Swedish. I don't know, you should ask him. I'm pretty sensitive to descriptions so he might have just taken them all out.

Why is that?

I just find it to be, as a woman, I just find it to be very odd to be like, "Oh, I'm supposed to be this vision that you have." I think it's way more fun if we collaborate on who that is together, rather than it being fed to me. You can get too boxed in to what it's supposed to be if you see it that way, rather than when it's blank you kind of open it up to explore what it is.

How would you describe Ben Wheatley as a collaborator?

What is incredible about working with Ben is that he trusts you completely to create the character and then doesn't interfere very much. He sets the environment for you to play in, and he does a really good job of doing that, and then he just trusts you completely to just do what you feel like is right. And it's the best feeling in the world to work with a director who just allows you to play and isn't trying to interfere or demand that you do something a certain way.

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Free Fire is now in theaters.