In Lynn Hirschberg's New York magazine cover story about the actresses Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson, Hirschberg writes that they are "allies in their unique quest to raise Hollywood’s consciousness." But both women grew up in the machine of the entertainment world before they went public with their defiance of it. Hirschberg's article sets up a new archetype for a young female movie star: Larson and Woodley are anti-Eve Harringtons. They are supportive of one another, have New Age-y interests in health and the environment, and balk at some on-screen representations of women. They both also grew up in the industry, and were nearly moved to reject it.
Since she's arguably the bigger star, Woodley's path from young Kaitlin Cooper on The O.C. toABC Family star on The Secret Life of the American Teenager to the talk of the town thanks to The Descendants is oft-discussed, and Hirschberg explains that Woodley thought about leaving the business before The Spectacular Now came along. Larson's history hasn't been picked over in the same way. Hirschberg doesn't even mention that she was a regular on The United States of Tara or that she made an attempt at an Avril Lavigne-esque pop punk career.
Larson tells Hirschberg about getting passed over for roles that went to other stars ranging from Megan Fox to Evan Rachel Wood to Ellen Page. Hirschberg writes:
Again and again, Larson thought about leaving acting behind, but she was inexorably drawn to the job. “It was all I knew,” Larson continued. “My identity was tangled up in the parts that I had played since I was a child. I would go through my closet and only see audition clothes: Brie looking older, Brie looking ’60s, Brie looking ’40s, Brie looking younger in the future. I realized that if you’ve been acting since you were 7, there are a lot of stories inside you that are not actually yours. It’s a blessing to play all these different characters, but it’s also confusing. And overwhelming. I can’t tell you how many times I quit only to realize that when the work has been your life, you don’t really have a life without it.”
It's unclear how much Woodley and Larson are actually changing Hollywood, outside of the fact that they are doing really great work in a bunch of films. But if they are, it's because they aren't outsiders. Hirschberg writes: "Since the days of the studio system, the movie business has thirsted for outsize personalities, and Woodley represents a new breed: the stunning free spirit who understands the rules of the game." (One might even call her resistance to calling herself a feminist an adherence to those rules. Though it's a more complicated issue than that.)
Larson and Woodley grew up as working actresses, earning their stripes in parts both small and large, and, especially in Larson's case, encountering failure. They were both child actors who were never really child stars, meaning their success is a triumph of persistence, a result of seeing how the industry can chew people up and spit people out. If their ideas seem fresh, it's only because they are old pros.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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