Academy Award-nominee Mark Wahlberg stars in the dramatic thriller The Gambler, which debuted on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and VOD last week from Paramount Home Media Distribution. Mark Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, a brilliant professor leading a secret double life as a high-stakes gambler. When Jim is forced to borrow money from a notorious gangster, he places the lives of those he loves in mortal danger. With time running out, he must enter the criminal underworld and risk everything to keep from losing it all.
To celebrate the release of The Gambler, we caught up with Mark Wahlberg's co-star and love interest Brie Larson. In the film, she plays a college student by day, cocktail waitress by night who falls for her professor. The actress offers new insight into this thriller, and what it was like watching Mark Wahlberg work. She also talks about her audition for Bridesmaids and how that led into a co-starring role in this summer's Trainwreck playing Amy Schumer's sister. She also reveals how she wound up playing opposite her United States of Tara brother Keir Gilchrist in Just Peck, and how Netflix has helped her become a more recognizable star. Here is our conversation:
What's interesting to me in watching your career is that you're smoothly transitioning back and forth from these really funny lighter roles to these dark, gritty, more dramatic roles. You thrive in both of those worlds. Has it been your goal to tackle different genres in equal measure, so that you're never really known as being just one type of actress?
Brie Larson: Yeah, absolutely. Anything that keeps me off balance is vital. I love going between both.
In this movie, you got to sit in an audience and watch Mark Wahlberg pull off one of the longest, most challenging monologues of his career thus far. What did you learn from being able to sit and watch him work through these scenes in the classroom?
Brie Larson: That scene in particular...Because it was so many pages, we shot it for two days...Each take was about twenty minutes long. Over the course of two days, I watched Mark do this over a hundred times. Each time it was completely different, and dynamic and engaging. And we were on the edge of our seats with each take. It was like we were watching a master at work. It is something I will never forget. Because it's like when you see an incredible performance in a play. You walk away going, 'There are only a few of us that saw that.' There are no takes, it's not recorded in any way. And even if you came on a different day to see the same show, it would never be like how I saw it. It's something so magical.
That scene is interesting in that you are part of this larger group, and you're just there watching him. Even though you are his co-star, this makes you an audience member.
Brie Larson: It was like a stage show. That was the concept. Him being a professor, he is a larger than life persona. In reality, his life is falling apart. He is loosening all of these grandiose conceits from himself to get to something real. To something authentic.
Your character in the movie works in an underground gambling establishment. That seems like a pretty thrilling lifestyle. It also seems like kind of an odd job for a college student to take on. I don't know anybody that has ever done that. Did you know, or get to know anybody that was immersed in this seedy dark underworld? How do you even go about putting your application in for a job like that?
Brie Larson: We talked about this, because the whole gambling world in general is something I knew nothing about. I had no idea about the ins and outs of what a pop-up casino looked like. And that they were actually happening all over. We all sort of talked to someone about it, in terms of what they look like, where they get the girls from...And they get paid really well. They are risking being caught to come and be a cocktail waitress for these very interesting people. I thought, if Amy was going to have a day job, she would pick something that was interesting. She would pick something that was thrilling. We had it where you see her writing things down on cocktail napkins as she's overhearing things, as she is watching people. She is constantly writing and putting it back into her own writing. That was sort of the idea.
I know here in El Sereno they have these big trucks that drive around with gambling going on in the back. When you see a white truck drive down the street with no windows, are you always thinking, 'I bet there's some illegal gambling going on in the back of that thing.' Has this role made you more aware or suspicious of that?
Brie Larson: Oh, whoa...I didn't know that. You just gave me another interesting secret to Los Angeles. I'll have to start keeping an eye out.
I don't think it's as dangerous as you see in the movie.
Brie Larson: Right. That is really interesting. It seems like people have to get their thrills somehow. Riding around in a van playing poker sounds like fun.
Also, if it isn't ventilated, there's that thrill that you could pass out at any moment...
Brie Larson: That sounds hot. Interesting.
I only just recently watched The United States of Tara on Netflix. It's been so many years since you were on that show. Do you find that you get more fans now then before, who have seen it or some of your other work, just from its presence on Netflix?
Brie Larson: That's interesting. Because I do feel that way. And I have never had anyone else ask me that. But that is a weird thing. A lot of work that I did, United States of Tara included in that, because it was on Showtime, a lot of people just didn't have access to it. Netflix gives such access to so many things. It was a weird moment for me. It felt like it did change over night from being an ominous person. Any time I was at Trader Joes, and the person bagging my stuff would be like, 'Did I go to college with you? How do I know you?' Then it took awhile, and suddenly people were like, 'Oh, you are the girl from United States of Tara.' I was like, 'Wow, that was so delayed.' I think between Short Term 12 and United States of Tara, its like people received an access to my work that they didn't have before. So, yeah, it is a very interesting experience. Its such a contemporary thing that is happening. Its different from being in a film that did really well over opening weekend. Publicly your persona changes. But for me, it was through Netflix, which is something you can't really see or understand.
I was one of those people that came to the show late on Netflix. But you know how it says 'If you liked this, you'll want to watch this?' It takes you to Just Peck, which also stars your Tara brother Keir Gilchrist. Its really jarring to see you guys go from a brother sister relationship to an almost boyfriend girlfriend relationship. What's the story behind how that all came about?
Brie Larson: The weird thing about that was, Keir and I both met during the final auditions for United States of Tara. And he was cast and I was not. They cast someone else originally. Then directly after that was Just Peck. And he was cast as the lead. At the time we'd never worked together. But we knew each other because we were at that same audition. Then, while we were shooting that movie, we became best buddies. He was from Canada, he was going to have to move to Los Angeles to do that TV show. So we were sort of sad. He was like, 'Man, I wish we were doing this show together, because I really like hanging out.' And then they ended up recasting. Fortunately they cast me. So we went from doing that little independent film to doing United States of Tara together in a couple months period. And yeah, it is a weird thing that happen.
You also have the Amy Schumer movie coming out. You play her sister in that, right?
Brie Larson: I do. I play Amy Schumer's sister Kim in that. The story is sort of loosely based on Amy's life experiences. The trials and tribulations of a woman who is having a lot of fun, but is afraid of actually putting herself on the line. So she uses all sorts of different armors, like her humor, or her promiscuity, or her drinking...All sorts of things that will shield her from putting her life on the line. Cause that might mean getting hurt. We watch her fall in love for the first time, and change. Throughout, her best friend is her sister, whom I play. She is the exact opposite. She got married really young, she has a family. These are two opposite sisters who, at the end of the day, just love each other and have an incredible and enduring relationship. I was very excited to explore real sisters. Because I'm so different from my real sister, my actual sister. Yet we know each other, we see each other, and we're able to communicate through humor. I wanted to see that on film.
You have infiltrated yourself into this world of comedy quite nicely, and it seems like a lot of the new voices really gravitate towards you. How did you transition into that world so seamlessly?
Brie Larson: I don't know. I think some of it was auditioning. I was brought in for a general Bridesmaids interview years ago. Where they had people come in and do characters they had created. I came in and created a character they thought was really funny. And from there, they wrote a whole sequence in Bridesmaids that was later cut from the film. The audition sort of lived on, and had gone around to Judd Apatow and Nick Stoller. At that time, I didn't know them, so I wouldn't have been able to process. I think I had to do an improv with Kristen Wiig, and they might have all been in the room at that time. After that, they wanted to work with me and find the right thing. It wasn't until now, with Trainwreck, that all the right pieces fell into place. Then before that, with Nick Kroll and Doug Benson...I have no idea. I have mutual friends with them. Doug Benson loves movies and I love movies. And he is friends with Edgar Wright. So we would all go to the movies all the time. We would spend the whole day at the New Beverly or the Silent Movie theaters. And, I don't know, I would make them laugh. And they'd be like, 'Come do my podcast' or 'come do my show'. I would never say no to comedy. So I said yes.