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How Brie Larson went from Roadkill Easy Bake Oven girl to Captain Marvel

We still don't know much about the Captain Marvel movie — but we do know this '90s-set superhero adventure will star Oscar winner Brie Larson as the title character, the first female in the Marvel Universe to lead her own standalone film.

We all know Larson's name now, but up until fairly recently, she was still one of those faces that had audiences asking, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" As it turns out, you know her from a lot of places — Larson has been hard at work in Hollywood since she was just a kid, perfecting her craft and diligently working her way up through a series of roles that prove she's got comedic chops and serious dramatic range. Offscreen, she's known for being candidly outspoken and endearingly down to earth, and her real-life story is just as fascinating as those of the characters she portrays. Here's a look back at how Brie Larson went from child actor to Oscar winner and silver screen superhero.

Humble beginnings

Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers was only six when she announced that it was her "dharma" to be an actress. Her parents, a pair of homeopathic chiropractors, were about as un-Hollywood as one can get, but they took their daughter's ambitions seriously, and it's easy to understand why: that year, she became the youngest student ever accepted at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. Larson's mother soon relocated the aspiring actress and her younger sister to Los Angeles, where the trio squeezed into a tiny furnished studio apartment and Larson started auditioning. Money was tight for the family — think ramen noodles for dinner and sharing a Murphy bed — plus Larson's parents were divorcing. Still, they persevered together.

"My mom always felt like she was a creative person and her parents wouldn't allow her to have that kind of life," Larson told Elle. "So when I got interested in acting, she was like, 'Okay, let's make this happen.'"

And things did start to happen: At the age of seven, she filmed commercial parodies for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. After taping bits for "Malibu Mudslide Barbie" and "Roadkill Easy Bake Oven," Larson started to book small parts on TV shows including Popular and Touched By an Angel; by the time she was halfway through her teens, she'd branched out to the big screen, where her early roles included appearances in 13 Going On 30 and Hoot.

Awkward teen years

Despite Larson's early successes, her career wasn't a straight climb to the top. She faced plenty of rejection while trying to land her breakout role, finding herself on the shortlist for parts in Thirteen (which ultimately went to Evan Rachel Wood) and Juno (which catapulted Ellen Page into the limelight). It was emotionally taxing.

"I'd hit the point where I'd go, 'OK, that's it. That's the last dollar. I've got to quit or go to college or whatever,'" Larson told the Guardian. "But that day or the next day, something would happen that would make it strangely apparent I'm supposed to keep doing this a bit longer. It's never failed that the second I hit the last dollar, something turns around."

For Larson, the turnaround started when she was cast as Kate, Toni Collette's daughter on the HBO dramedy United States of Tara, and drew critical praise for her performance as the sardonic teenager. By the time the show was canceled after three seasons, Larson's star was on the rise and casting directors had started taking note.

Brie Larson vs. the World

Of all the movies she's made, Larson has said there's only one she re-watches: Edgar Wright's wacky action comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Unfortunately, her turn as cool (but ultimately super evil) ex-girlfriend Envy Adams went largely unnoticed by theatergoers during its 2010 release: the film bombed at the box office, though it's gained a cult following in the years since. Still, things were slowly picking up for Larson.

She had better luck in her supporting role as Jonah Hill's love interest in 2012's 21 Jump Street, which was not only critically well-received, it was a hit at the box office as well, taking in more than $200 million worldwide. Again, Larson garnered praise from critics as a standout who brought nuance and depth to a supporting character that could have been totally unmemorable. "She's not only beautiful but funny," wrote Dana Evans at Slate. "And unlike the usual female in a buddy movie, she comes across as a real person you might actually enjoy knowing."

A dramatic breakthrough

She may have only been 23 when she stepped into her first leading role as troubled youth care worker Grace in writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton's 2013 indie drama Short Term 12, but Larson had been working hard for more than 15 years by the time she got her first major big-screen break.

Shot over 20 days at a real care facility, the film follows Grace as she navigates a relationship with a co-worker and struggles with the responsibility of taking care of kids not much younger than herself. Larson shadowed real workers and researched extensively to capture the subtle shifts in Grace's emotions with depth and accuracy.

"I was terrified," she told New York magazine of her first leading role. "And excited. It was confusing: When we screened the film at the South by Southwest festival for the first time, I had never had people look at me that way before." The film won the Narrative Feature award at SXSW and Larson took home a Gotham Award at the end of the year, when she hit another "and now you've made it" milestone — an invite to the glamorous Met Gala.

The lighter side

Larson isn't all about drama all the time. 2013 not only saw the release of Short Term 12, but also a pair of rom-com supporting roles in The Spectacular Now and Don Jon, and in 2015, she charmed audiences with her comedic chops yet again in Amy Schumer's Trainwreck. Larson played a fictionalized version of Schumer's sister Kim, and endured a very unusual audition process to land the part.

"I didn't even know I got the job for a while. Basically, [director Judd Apatow] called me… and said 'Do you know Amy Schumer? Would you come over and get lunch with us?'" she recounted to Jimmy Kimmel. "I have a long history of being cast in movies that I think are dramas that I later find out when the movie comes out are comedies… This was another case where that happened. I hung out with [Schumer and Apatow] and made them laugh… afterwards, Judd was like 'That was great, do you want to come back tomorrow?'"

As she tells it, Larson came back for lunch every day, and soon Bill Hader showed up too. Apatow, who'd seen Larson in action when she auditioned for a Bridesmaids role that was later cut, eventually filled the actors in on his plans, using the get-togethers as part of his unorthodox casting process.

An Oscar-worthy performance in Room

After reading Emma Donoghue's book Room in a single day, Larson knew she wanted to play the part of Ma, the kidnapped teen turned long-term captive and mother trapped in the titular room. But she wasn't alone: Rooney Mara, Mia Wasikowska, Emma Watson, and even Larson's friend Shailene Woodley were all considered for the part.

After landing the part, Larson dove into the role with a massive amount of prep work. She avoided the sun to achieve a pallid complexion, packed on 15 pounds of lean muscle and even stayed home for a month, an experience she admitted was intensely draining both physically and emotionally.

"The main thing was just trying to get to the mental space…I started seeing all these parallels in my own life," she said in an interview on CBC's Q, reflecting on how her preparation reminded her of the earliest days of her career in the studio apartment with her mom and sister. "We had very few things and it was the time of my life. There was never a time where I felt like I was lacking in any way…And my mom has this incredible imagination, so everything was a game. Everything was interesting and everything was fun."

Larson's emotionally raw performance in Room was met with near-universal acclaim, and earned her the biggest Hollywood accolade of them all: an Oscar.

Raising the stakes with a blockbuster role

The claustrophobic confines and eerily tense mood of Ma's shed in Room was followed with a complete 180 for Larson when she landed a main role in 2017's Kong: Skull Island. Shot in Vietnam and Hawaii, her first tentpole production was full of big everything — big budget, big A-list co-stars, big special effects, and of course one very big gorilla.

It was a change of pace for Larson, but one that made sense to Kong's creator. "She weaves and slaloms between comedy and drama in a seamless way," director Jordan Vogt-Roberts told the Hollywood Reporter of his decision to cast Larson as photojournalist Mason Weave opposite Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson.

While her first post-Oscar performance wasn't received with quite the glowing critical praise as past roles, she was was credited with turning the franchise's traditionally fainting female lead (hello, Fay Wray!) into a more modern, empowered (and totally badass) counterpart to Hiddleston's explorer. More importantly, Kong: Skull Island proved Larson had the star power to carry a popcorn flick: it was her most successful box office outing to date, taking in $566 million worldwide.

Basmati blunders

2017 also saw the release of perhaps the oddest entry in Larson's filmography — Basmati Blues. The Bollywood-style musical stars Larson as a scientist on a quest to bring her genetically modified super-rice to rural farmers in India. She sings, she dances, she rides a white horse… and the whole thing ended up being one of the worst-reviewed releases of the year.

How did a formidable actress and star on the rise like Larson end up as the lead in a movie that had people asking "how was this made"? It makes a little more sense when you find out the movie was shot in 2013 and sat in limbo for almost five years — and when she signed on, she saw something of value in the unorthodox script. 

"With something like GMOs and these farmers, we could all rally together and make a documentary about it and scare the living s*** out of people," she pointed out to BuzzFeed. "Or we can do it in this way that has a song tied to it that you're singing to yourself that ends up being some weird, positive mantra and is the opposite, flip side of it."

Meet Captain Marvel

At Comic-Con 2016, the cast of the Marvel Universe assembled on stage for a family photo, and then came a special announcement: Brie Larson was introduced as Captain Marvel.

"Captain Marvel has powers that far surpass many of her heroic counterparts, and in order to bring this superhero to life and make her relatable and disarming we needed an actress with both range and humanity," Feige told Vanity Fair. "Brie possesses the depth and energy that can fuse firepower, guts, and a great story."

Larson weighed in on her decision, telling the magazine, "I had to sit with myself, think about my life and what I want out of it. Ultimately, I couldn't deny the fact that this movie is everything I care about, everything that's progressive and important and meaningful, and a symbol I wished I would've had growing up."

That's an awful lot of responsibility for one movie — even one about the most powerful character in the MCU — but Larson seems eager to step up to the challenge. "I'm really proud of what it is that we're making," she told reporters in June of 2018. "I think all the hype and anticipation will be worth it."