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10 Actors to Watch: Brie Larson Breaks Out With ‘Short Term 12’

Versatile young actress earns fresh respect for lead role in festival favorite.

The youngest student ever to attend the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Brie Larson has been performing nearly her entire life, as a singer, on TV (“United States of Tara”) and in film (“21 Jump Street”). But her revelatory performance as a wounded foster-care supervisor in “Short Term 12” represented a big step forward, attracting fresh attention and respect for the actress, who credits the dynamic on Destin Daniel Cretton’s production with buoying her.

“It’s the most loving set that I’ve ever been a part of,” she says. “You just realize how important that is to doing good work. I don’t think I could be as honest as I was with Grace in this film if I didn’t just feel the stripped-down essence of myself — no makeup, no hair, no nothing, just a raw human being that’s struggling.”

In addition to her impressive lead turn in “Short Term 12,” Larson delivered strong supporting work in “The Spectacular Now” and “Don Jon” this year. Going forward, Larson will continue on the acting front — she’s particularly excited about India-set “Basmati Blues,” which she says is “strange and musical and funny and thought-provoking and action-packed” — as well as writing and directing. Her short film, “The Arm,” written and directed with Jessie Ennis and Sarah Ramos, won a special jury prize for comedic storytelling at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

“It’s difficult to be an actress,” Larson admits, “because it requires me to reveal myself in a way that (contradicts) the reason I want to be an actor in the first place. I don’t want to take the mask off. I think the mystery is the most exciting aspect of it. We all enjoy a magic show, but we don’t demand a Q&A afterward explaining how it was done.”

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