"Short Term 12," the only U.S. film in Locarno's competition.
SXSW "Short Term 12," the only U.S. film in Locarno's competition.

Twenty-three-year-old California bred Brie Larson has mined an impressive career as a stellar supporting player with memorable performances in "Rampart," "21 Jump Street" and Diablo Cody's HBO show "The United States of Tara" as Toni Collette's rebellious daughter. In the SXSW Narrative Competition entry "Short Term 12," the second feature from "I Am Not a Hipster" director Destin Daniel Cretton, the actress moves up to leading lady status to anchor the indie drama as Grace, a  20-something supervisor at a foster-care facility, pregnant with the child of her co-worker boyfriend (John Gallagher Jr.), and weighed down by one dark secret she's harboring.

The film premiered yesterday to rave notices in Austin, with many critics singling out Larson's performance as the highlight of the Cretton's feature (Indiewire's Eric Kohn praised her turn as "tremendously involving"). Larson sat down with Indiewire to discuss the pressure of carrying the drama, her fresh outlook on her career, and why she's more comfortable expressing herself in front of a camera than in her personal life.

Do you feel like you've reached a new stage in your career with this film?

Yeah, I feel like I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember and every since as long as I can remember I’ve always had, maybe it’s just from my mother or whatever, but I’ve realized very quickly that it feels terrible to be on set of something that you don’t believe in. So I’ve started following the rule that if there’s a script that had lines that I didn’t believe that I could say honestly, that I wouldn’t do it. You try to talk with the director to see if something’s workable then you try and deal with it that way. But generally I stick to that rule. It was harder and there were times that I felt like my pace was at a slower one than some of my contemporaries, but I feel like right now and this last year, it’s really exciting to me and it feels really good to be able to stand behind all of the projects that I’ve done.

I enjoy this industry so much and I think that it’s such a privilege to be able to be an artist -- and to be able to be financially okay as an artist is really difficult and with that opportunity I think, if there’s people that are going to pay attention to what I’m doing, I want to have a good standing with those people and have them continue to believe that I’m not ripping any body off or trying to cheat anybody out of 10 dollars. It just doesn’t feel right to me. So that’s kind of where I’m at right now.

"21 Jump Street"
Sony "21 Jump Street"

Well you’re doing a pretty good job navigating both the indie and studio worlds. “21 Jump Street” was the rare studio comedy that was actually funny and surprising in all the right ways.

Right and that just is a testament to these directors and the people involved in it. The reason why I felt so strongly about going for that one was because it was the rare opportunity where the female lead is not this sexed up object. She has a voice. I was also excited and impressed by that. And I think that’s another thing that I’m interested in exploring, getting out of these kind of cliches that we have in film right now and learning to embrace the oddities of ourselves, and seeing human beings be human beings, which is really beautiful and also not beautiful sometimes.

It’s kind of perfect in a way that both "21 Jump Street" and "Short Term 12" made their world premieres at SXSW. Kind of sums up where you're at in your career right now -- straddling the two worlds rather successfully.

Yeah I didn’t even think about that because I didn’t go to that [the "21 Jump Street" premiere]. This is my first SXSW.

It's actually an interesting period of time for me... I got back from Sundance which was also like a new experience. I went the year prior, but I went as a filmmaker, and it’s so interesting going into that world straight out the gate as a filmmaker not as an actor because  it’s a different kind of good. I mean I think that that festival is great and I always leave feeling really excited about being in this industry. But I feel like the filmmaker side, it’s much more about meeting other filmmakers and watching movies. When you’re an actor, you become this strange sort of political figure, especially at Sundance. I found that the best way for me to do it was, my mom gave me a bunch of sweaters for Christmas and I have one pair of jeans and I didn’t brush my hair and I just kind of went just as myself. And that was the only way I could feel I could honestly talk about it, you know in a way to sell this thing. Just being a person, I don’t want it to seem like I’m doing a Diet Coke ad.

You've never been asked to carry a film like you do in "Short Term 12." Was the challenge daunting?

When you do [carry something], you really have to understand it very well, especially when it’s a whole very intimate intense journey with one person. But I thought the script was so incredible that at first I thought there was no way I’d get this because it’s so good. And then when it came my way I just went, okay this is the universe and many people that I respect and find very intelligent believing that I can do this, I have to believe it too. I took my ego out of it and my fears out of it and just kind of fell into it in a way that felt really comfortable. And I found that I really thrived in having that much work on my plate.