“It’s about leaving the mythologies of childhood behind…” hmv.com talks to Room's director, star Brie Larson
It earned rave reviews, $35 million at the box office and an Oscar for its star Brie Larson. It's hard-hitting drama Room.
The movie is based on Emma Donaghue's best-selling novel and tells the story of Jack and Ma, a mother and son trapped in a 10 by 10 tiny room after she was kidnapped seven years earlier. It's a heartswelling drama, full of wonder and power, and it comes to DVD on Monday (May 9th). Back when the movie was hitting cinemas we sat down with Larson, Tremblay and director Lenny Abrahamson to find out all about making the film...
Lenny, why did you want to make this film?
“When I read the novel I had a little boy of 4 and a tiny little baby. So I was very much involved in parenthood. What drew me to it was it seemed to speak to all the tensions and challenges of parenthood - and childhood, and what it means to grow up. Those are very fundamental and deep things, and it really resonated with me.
“Also the challenge of the novel; trying to translate something so specific and, on the surface, really difficult, into something that works. It just really got my blood flowing and I really wanted to do it. Plus I loved the [character] Jack. Ultimately I think that’s what got me. I could see it so vividly.”
Lenny, talk about the letter you wrote to Emma Donaghue to convince her to give you the job.
“I knew it would be a longshot to get to make the film because it was a very successful book, and a lot of quite established people people wanted to make the film. So I thought, ‘Well, all I can do is tell her what I think it is, what the book is, why I think I understand her book in order to make it into a film.’
“I wrote her this long, long letter saying ‘People will suggest that you do the following, but this is why it is wrong.’ My view was that any attempt to directly translate that first-person boy’s point of view would be a mistake; that you would end up with a very stylized film that would be magical and all that stuff but in the wrong way.
“The key to this is to believe the situation so that you really feel that the emotional catharsis of the film is earned and is based on something true, because there are fairy tale and allegorical elements to the story. It’s about growing up and leaving the mythologies of childhood behind and entering a kind of colder world which is adulthood.
“But to upfront any of that would be to take the power away. So I talked about how we could do an adaptation that kept the essential quality of Jack’s point of view but didn’t overburden the film with stylized technique. Plus, because she’s Irish-Canadian I didn’t flatter her. Irish people don’t do that to each other.”
Lenny, talk about shooting in Room.
“We had a great production designer, Ethan Tobeman, who is Canadian, and director of photography Danny Cohen who did The King’s Speech. Artistically [we talked] about how the patterns of wear and tear would work. We knew which direction the shed was facing. We decided how that would be so we knew in which direction the sun would move every day, the path the sun would take; those tiles would be more faded than elsewhere. The level of where he would have made marks and what sort of marks [Jack] would make as he grew up. All that stuff had to be planned.
“And then the set was built in a modular way. So every section of four tiles could be removed. Whole walls could be removed, parts of walls could be removed. Ceiling could be removed, floor could be removed in case we needed to shoot at floor level.
“But our rule was we would never put the lens where it could never physically be. So we didn’t cheat; we were always filming from inside. In the beginning we worried. ‘Hmm, what’s that going to be like for an hour?’ But I think, in film, story trumps everything. Once there is an unfolding series of events and a kind of movement of story [then] that fills your head. If I film you in the corner of this room, it’s just two walls and a face, and we don’t know if this is a football stadium or a small room. So you’re not forcing the audience to think about the dimensions of the place all the time, unless you really want to.”
Brie, what was your initial reaction to the book?
“I just devoured it. I think I read it in a day. I read the whole thing fast, but I remember reading the escape really fast. There was so much anxiety. I remember pacing my bedroom. I was in tears. I hadn’t cried over a book since I read Where the Wild Fern Grows in 4th Grade. And I was convinced that they weren’t going to make it out, which is so silly because I’m holding half of the book in my right hand; obviously it was going to go on. I completely suspended my disbelief for those couple of minutes, and I actually had to go back and re-read the escape and actually read it because I was so worried about it that I wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible.”
Brie, it’s no spoiler to say that the second half of Room takes place in the outside world, after the escape. How much of a challenge was acting that second half of the movie compared to the first?
“While we were shooting the movie, mostly because we were shooting in chronological order, everyone on the crew was like ‘Once we get to the escape it’s going to be so much easier,’ which of course it wasn’t. In Room she’s actually not in a safe place so the brain does this incredible thing because it wants to survive: it just shuts off. It shuts off a certain point of awareness. It’s what we do all the time. We shut off our awareness of the terrors and the wars that are going on in the world so we can have this nice conversation right now about a film. We do it all the time.
“So she’s doing that in Room. She’s not dealing with what’s actually happening there. It’s not until she’s in the safe place, being back home, where everything starts to come to the surface. And that was actually harder for me because she’s dealing with trauma, she’s dealing with panic attacks. She’s actually finally dealing with the amount of physical abuse she was going through, that she had numbed herself to for seven years. Plus it was freezing. We’re shooting in different locations. It’s a lot more work than when you’re on a soundstage in the same place every day."