DivineCaroline: Short Term 12 started off as a short film. What made you want to stretch it out into a full feature?
Destin Cretton: The response to the short was surprisingly good. What was surprising about it was how many people connected with the movie who were not familiar with the world at all. I didn't expect that. I thought it would be a small personal movie that would only connect with people who were in the foster care system or were working there, but that was my first clue into how universal the themes and emotions were. That was the inspiration for wanting to explore it further.
DC: Brie, what attracted you to the role?
Brie Larson: I watched the short first before I even read the script, which helped me really understand what the tone was going to be. I think what attracted me was the fact that it was this very complex female character of someone who's strong and struggling and mothering others. These were themes that I had witnessed in my life. I wanted to explore that. Then there was just the actual structure of the script. It was a really beautifully structured script that had these very intelligently placed holes that were kind of the underlying driving force of the whole thing which is Grace's internal world: her thoughts and fears that are causing a lot of the struggle that you're watching through the film that are never really spoken about except a little bit at the end. It was just kind of a real gift to be able to do that because it's not very often where you get to walk into something knowing that you're protected that and you also have a whole other world that you can explore that's your own.
DC: Were you familiar with the world of foster care? Did you kind of shadow someone before you signed on?
Larson: There's some websites online that talk about it. There's a few people that have done AMAs that were really informative and helpful — and I say a big thank you to the people who did that. I did shadow at a facility and then some of it is just personal feelings.
DC: What was your initial reaction when the movie received the two top awards at the South by Southwest? I am guessing all of you were pretty happy.
Larson: I think we were pretty pissed off. (laughs)
Cretton: We were pretty bummed. (laughs)
Larson: That's one of the craziest surges of emotion I've ever had in my life. They said the name [of the movie] and then there was a big hour's worth of time that I feel like we just kind of cried and jumped around. I don't really remember what happened.
Cretton: I remember when they said the name. I couldn't move, and then people were trying to lift me up.
Larson: We all got so excited that we stood up and then Dustin just sat there slumped in his chair like he couldn't believe it.
DC: Has the reaction for this movie differed with each region you have screened it?
Cretton: I've been so happy by the response. Keith Stanfield's [who plays Marcus] mom came up to me and she was like, "I'm Grace" and I just thought that is so powerful and so incredible and for a strong woman to come up and say that — I hold that compliment very dearly. There's also been people who have Grace's job that have seen the film and the fact that it rings true to them is the ultimate compliment.
DC: How long did it take you to shoot the movie?
Cretton: It was 20 days.
DC: Twenty days? That's a lot to fit in there.
Larson: Whatever. We could have done it in three. (laughs)
DC: The cast is pretty amazing. How did you go about getting such great kids?
Cretton: It was a traditional casting process for all of them. Keith Stanfield is the only one who carried over from the short film. He was just a challenge to find because he dropped off the map and I couldn't reach him by email so it took like a month to find him. Once he came in and auditioned, he just blew everyone's mind. But all the other kids were traditional auditions and I just sat in a chair and waited for a kid to come in and make me cry. (laughs)
DC: What about you, Brie? How was your audition process?
Larson: I was sent the script along with the short and instantly felt like I wanted to do it so badly, but felt I wasn't going to get it because I was underqualified. I asked to meet with (Dustin) or do a Skype call because I was in Georgia at the time. We talked and then…
Cretton: It just happened.
Larson: Yes, he gave me the biggest gift. I couldn't believe it, but I was very paranoid that [the movie] was not going to happen. I was like maybe you're just being nice because he wanted to get off the Skype call and didn't want to do it. (laughs)
Cretton: Did I actually offer it to you like right in that Skype call?
Larson: I don't know if you did…maybe you didn't. I feel like you did though.
Cretton: I mean I know I did in my brain, but I don't know if I did. (laughs)
DC: Did you guys spend time with each other to create the rapport of being in a foster care facility?
Cretton: We had one day where everybody got together and we had a supervisor who had been working at a place like that. We had him come in and tell stories and everyone was able to ask specific questions about their character. He would tell them stories about other kids that might be similar to their characters. Everybody got to play games and we did some improvisation and they learned how to restrain kids. I think that day was sort of our boot camp into not just learning specific things, but also loosening up a bit and building some real friendships.
Short Term 12 is currently playing in select theaters and opens in wider release on Friday, August 30.