Brie Larson went from TIFF to Oscar last year with her phenomenal performance in Room, but at the premiere of her latest film Free Fire last night, she told me that in spite of the "complete whirlwind" of her past 12 months, she's "still the same person." In fact, she insisted her fame has not changed her.
Before she hit the press line, Brie took multiple photos with fans and signed a ton of autographs. She also offered to take retakes with those who were waiting to meet her, and pose for a number of Snapchats. When Brie went inside with the rest of the cast to introduce the film, which kickstarts the festival's Midnight Madness (R-rated action, horror or comedy) series, she received almost triple the applause of everybody else. The crowd was so pumped to see her - likely because the genre-centric audience was itching to see the future Captain Marvel in person.
With Free Fire, Brie goes from being trapped in a Room to being trapped in a warehouse, where she fights for her life. She plays Justine: the only woman (or only "bird") involved in a late-70s gun deal gone horribly, horribly awry. It's filmmaker Ben Wheatley's follow-up to High Rise, which is much more weird. This film is just pure R-rated fun. Guns, drugs, wisecracks and polyester suiting.
Set in Boston, Justine's squad of misfits brokers a deal for M-16s from Vernon (Sharlto Copley). He's a shady character who is all talk, and is suggested to have a relationship with Justine. When her associate Ord (Armie Hammer) asks her what Vernon's deal is, she says he was "misdiagnosed as a child genius, and never got over it." The deal goes wrong almost instantly, when Jack Reynor's character, the getaway driver discovers that part of Justine's crew had assaulted his cousin earlier in the week. Oh, and of course, both sides brought some sort of backup plan to make sure the transaction went their way.
Within about 20 minutes, everybody is ducking for cover and dodging bullets as John Denver plays in the background. The crews forget which sides they're on, but not before insulting each other like crazy. Armie Hammer gets all the best lines, because he's playing into his looks: the tall, attractive know-it-all, and it's the perfect amount of comic relief. He's "too handsome to get shot." Free Fire has all the mania of Goodfellas with Lebowski-esque one-liners, while still delivering on the gore and the action. And it all plays out in less than 90 minutes, making it the perfect Midnight Madness movie.
Brie's Justine is more than simply "one of the boys" in the deal, she's the smartest one of all, and knows exactly how to play the room and manipulate the men into protecting her until she is able to strike out on her own. It's pure popcorn fun.
When I asked Brie about being the only girl in the movie and channeling her inner badass, she talked about how much she loved the cast, working with Ben Wheatley and the role. But she also made it a teachable moment.
"Isn't it crazy? Doesn't it always feel like I'm the only one [in the room]?"
Then, she talked about how she wants girls who can kick ass and tell these kind of stories for other women. What if it was a women-centric arms deal gone awry, with a Kill Bill-level of action? I tried to parlay her answer into Captain Marvel talk, and whether or not we can look forward to seeing more women-centric stories in that, and she said, emphatically, "Yes we can!"
Armie Hammer appears to be looking forward to it too. Armie has three movies at TIFF, but told me this one was one of the "most fun movie[s] he's ever had the pleasure of making." When asked about Brie's x-factor, he said something along the lines of:
"Brie is fantastic, she's just the greatest person to work with. She's a talented professional. This (shooting Free Fire) was obviously before Room... but all of her success and even Captain Marvel... it's incredibly well-deserved."
The Oscar class of 2016 now has two bonafide action actresses on the roster: Alicia Vikander and Brie Larson. AKA Lara Croft and and Captain Marvel.