Brie Larson and Andrew Scott Get Honest About Playing Iconic Characters and Struggling Through ‘Lessons of Chemistry’: ‘I Felt Very Lost With It’

Andrew Scott and Brie Larson
Photographs By Mary Ellen Matthews

Halfway through their Actors on Actors conversation, Brie Larson and Andrew Scott discover something they have in common: Neither of them is a trained actor. Larson brings up the subject almost hesitantly, to explain why she has difficulty talking about her craft. “I didn’t go to school for it,” she says. “No! I didn’t either!” Scott replies. Excitedly, Larson says: “I knew I liked you!” Despite any self-professed deficiencies about discussing acting, Larson and Scott insightfully talk about how they each got their start at a young age, and then dive into their current television projects: his remake of “Ripley” on Netflix and her Apple TV+ limited series “Lessons in Chemistry,” which Larson also developed as an executive producer. Both shows originate from books — Patricia Highsmith’s classic thriller and Bonnie Garmus’ 2022 bestseller, respectively — and though their characters are very different (Tom Ripley is a grifter turned murderer; Elizabeth Zott is a thwarted physicist), both stand apart from society, looking in from the outside.

ANDREW SCOTT: I was reading that you were shy as a kid.

BRIE LARSON: Not anymore. I’m totally fine now. I’m totally confident and cool.

SCOTT: I really related to you when I was reading that, because that’s why I started as a kid. I think there’s a slight myth about actors — that they’re very outgoing or sort of precocious. So did you ask to start acting?

LARSON: Yeah. My parents were chiropractors, and I was super shy. I wouldn’t let it go. Of course, it’s changed the course of my life in so many ways. But at a time when I was so shy and had such a hard time expressing myself, at 6 years old, I was basically given, like, “OK, here’s a script for how you have a conversation.” The actual fiber of how I understand how to have pleasant conversations with people is based upon weekly acting sessions.

SCOTT: I used to go to these drama classes on a Saturday, and I would be fully shaking before you go in. And then you’d have to get up in front of your other 7-, 8-year-olds, and do an improvisation, or say a poem or something. I don’t feel like it’s an overstatement to say that I think it’s completely changed my life — not just my career. I had a really bad lisp when I was a kid, so I had to do elocution lessons. I had to go, “He sees seashells by the seashore,” and I just completely got rid of it.

Do you feel shy now?

LARSON: I had to face myself in so many different ways; that’s part of the thing that I actually seek now. I mean, I’m so grateful that I had so much rejection growing up. It’s wild! I very much had a slow burn in my career. I’d get close to things, so I knew that I had something, but I wasn’t booking, or I’d book one job a year or something — just enough to give me hope. It gave me so much experience so that when I was given the opportunities, I was truly ready for it. I never had a time on set where I was like, “Oh, gosh. This is bigger than what I understand.” It was always, like, well paced.

SCOTT: Absolutely. People who get an awful lot of scrutiny at an early age, I think, find it harder to experiment a little bit. So it’s good that I was unemployed for so long.

LARSON: It turns out I’m so happy that it seemed like it wasn’t working out for me! Look at us now! But, yeah, when I was stalking you online, I was like, “Wow, it feels similar.”

SCOTT: Just to wrap that shyness thing up, somebody said a really brilliant thing to me, which was, like, “There’s nothing wrong with being shy. Be shy. It’s a nice thing you go a little bit red.”

LARSON: I blush very easily. It’s horrible.

SCOTT: So “Lessons in Chemistry.”

LARSON: Let’s talk about our shows.

SCOTT: She’s singular, but it’s not shyness. She’s actually quite forthright. It’s beautiful stuff. And you’ve been involved with it for …?

LARSON: I think it took two years. Maybe longer. But I think it was about two years when we started working on it to then actually filming it.

SCOTT: Are you so proud of this?

LARSON: Yeah, I think so. I’m proud of what we achieved in the time that we did. I don’t have a connection to when it goes out in the world; it just feels like then it’s not about me anymore — it’s just images and feelings. I am proud of how much we said in the show. I felt like we got a lot in it, and a really amazing group of people that worked on it. And I loved playing her.

SCOTT: Were you looking at the edit and all that kind of stuff?

LARSON: All the time. And nonstop.

SCOTT: Did you find that you were able to…

LARSON: … detach? You have to. I’m just like, “Of course I didn’t do it all right.”

SCOTT: I think there’s maybe a fear that people are going to say, “We need another close-up of me, please.”

LARSON: I felt very committed to finding what things weren’t working. Especially with a character that I also felt was very different from me, and how little she emotionally expresses.

SCOTT: I love that about it.

LARSON: I struggled with it a lot, and I felt very lost with it. I am just very used to my understanding of when something’s working — when it feels very true and I’m just in it. And I would be in it with her, but I felt like the part of me that would want to cry, for example, was being pushed. She’s always twisting the knot inside, and won’t give it to anybody.

When you’re playing Tom Ripley, what does it feel like to lie when he’s lying?

SCOTT: Well, I tried to make him lie as little as he could get away with, so that he lies in order to get himself out of a situation. And he murders to get himself out of a situation. He’s not bloodthirsty. I mean, he could have not murdered, I suppose.


SCOTT: We all make that decision.

LARSON: Yeah, no, it’s a choice you make every day.

SCOTT: I suppose any of those things about him being a liar or sociopath, I found unhelpful. The kind of stuff that Tom Ripley, I suppose, is famous for as an iconic literary character — “Is he a psychopath?” or “Is he a murderer?” or whatever. But the murder-y parts — we shot it for nearly a year, and they only took up a few weeks.

LARSON: He’s mostly not murdering. I have a question about playing a character that has existed in many different iterations and forms. I feel like you have experience with that, because you do theater as well. Do you have the same approach every time, in terms of researching and watching previous versions of it? Or do you just block it out?

SCOTT: Absolutely, I block it. Because, No. 1, I adored the film “The Talented Mr. Ripley” — the Minghella movie with Matt Damon and Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow and all those amazing people. But mercifully, I hadn’t seen it in a very long time. One of the first conversations I had with Steven Zaillian, our writer-director, was “Why?” And he had such a singular vision for it. He wanted it a very particular way. I was worried that I was too old and blah, blah, blah — I had just a very specific idea that was based on the film.

I had to remind myself that that film was also a reiteration of something: There was another version with Alain Delon before. There were loads of different ones. So it has been reinterpreted a lot. And I feel like it’s very important that he said, “We want to age the characters up.” And he was talking about this very particular kind of noirish black-and-white vision that he had. And that made me feel very comfortable. And I always think that it’s important, because it happens in the theater so much — if it was a Shakespeare character, thousands of people have played one character. I always find that really interesting. I think the response, I suppose, is to be respectful, but not too reverent. What’s the point of doing it if you’re going to do it exactly the same way? So I didn’t look.

LARSON: What do you think about some sort of Ripley universe — into the Ripley-verse? Just all the Ripleys.

SCOTT: Like Marvel? Sort of like the Fantastic Four? Is that a thing? Oh, and they all get together?

LARSON: Yeah, Ripleys together. I’m just curious. I got a couple studios interested, so I just …

SCOTT: You do? So kind of you! You make things happen. Are you not tired? You’ve been setting up projects for me? God, you’re kind.

LARSON: No, I’m writing a part for myself as well.

SCOTT: You’d be a good Tom Ripley!

Production Design: Keith Raywood

From Variety US