THE FIRST RULE IS THAT YOU WILL GET STUCK
Brianne Desaulniers was born in Sacramento, California, in 1989. She was homeschooled by her French-Canadian father and American mother and was drawn to Egyptology and magic—but most of all to acting. At age six, she enrolled as the youngest student at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, and three years later appeared in a skit on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.' That brief appearance inspired other TV roles, beginning with guest appearances, then minor recurring roles, and eventually starring roles on popular TV shows. Reviewers praised her TV acting, which paved the way for film acting, directing, and writing.
A couple of years later, Desaulniers—now known as Brie Larson— became the seventy-fourth woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, the highest award in acting, for her role in Room. In addition to her Oscar, Larson has won more than seventy other acting awards, and the blockbuster title role in Marvel's 'Captain Marvel.' Larson's trajectory is the stuff of fairy tales: a precocious start followed by dozens of small steps that culminated in towering success.
The problem with this account of Larson's career path is that it ignores decades of frustration. Like many actors, Larson was stuck for years before she broke through. She struggled with rejection and body-image concerns and admitted to "feeling ugly" for most of her life. On the home front, her parents divorced, and her mother moved with Larson and her sister, Milaine, to Los Angeles, to be closer to Hollywood. "We had a crappy one-room apartment," Larson recalled. "The bed came out of the wall and we each had three articles of clothing." She auditioned hundreds of times for dozens of roles that eluded her, from commercial work to TV gigs.
What makes Larson different from most A-list actors is that she's transparent about her struggles. On August 13, 2020, she uploaded a fourteen-minute YouTube video titled "Audition Storytime! (pt. 1)." "I thought I'd talk a little bit about my process," Larson says to the camera, "because I think a lot of the time there's been a lot of focus on my successes, and not on how hard it was, how much I was rejected; and you never know all of the jobs I didn't get. So I thought it might be interesting to talk about that."
The video and its sequel cataloged twenty years of disappointment, beginning with Larson's first audition for a commercial role at age seven. Jammed into a room with other young hopefuls, Larson was dismissed after spending just a few seconds with the casting director. She sobbed because he didn't ask her to perform her rehearsed monologue. "Later," Larson said, "one casting director told my agent I was so bad she'd never bring me in for anything ever again. And she didn't." From there, Larson lists the roles she didn't get: 'Gossip Girl, The Hunger Games, Tomorrowland', the 'Star Wars' movies, 'Smart House, Spy Kids', and 'The Big Bang Theory.' Larson punctuates each title with a laugh, but if you pause at the right moments, you see micro-expressions of pain. These aren't happy memories, and they remain despite her subsequent success.
In the second part of "Audition Storytime," Larson hits her stride, rattling off dozens of failed auditions. "I got down to the final round," she says, "on 'Juno, 13, Brink, Smart House, Tomorrowland, Pitch Perfect, Into the Woods, Youth in Revolt, Peter Pan, Halt and Catch Fire, The Big Bang Theory.' Oh my gosh. That's a lot of heartbreak, folks. Here I am still standing." The numbers aren't pretty, Larson admits, but she ends with a note of hope: "I got told no ninety-eight to ninety-nine percent of the time. I know that's hard to fully wrap your brain around—to think I've been on thousands and thousands and thousands of auditions."
Larson is the embodiment of acting success. She has the awards, the fame, the money, the critical acclaim, and the list of credits. But even she hit walls, by her account, 99 percent of the time. Larson's YouTube videos attracted hundreds of thousands of views and inspired dozens of media pieces. It was notable because it was so unusual in revealing the wrinkles beneath a journey that from afar appeared unbroken. Getting stuck isn't a topic that celebrated actors and successes in other fields routinely discuss in such agonizing detail, so we're often left feeling lonely and isolated when our own paths seem so much bumpier.
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People get stuck in every imaginable area of life. They get stuck in jobs they'd prefer to leave, and in relationships that leave them unfulfilled. They get stuck as writers, artists, composers, athletes, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Sometimes they're stuck for days, and other times for decades. Sometimes they stumble on breakthroughs, and other times they remain mired for life. We hear relatively little about these stubborn cases of stuckness because we're bombarded by popular success stories. These successes lead us to believe that other people face fewer barriers than we do. Every now and then a star like Brie Larson will dispel that myth, but most of the time the experience of being stuck seems like a glitch that plagues us more than it does other people. In truth, we all face roadblocks—and being stuck is a feature rather than a bug on the path to success. So why is it so much easier to recognize our own barriers than those that face other people?