Directing a kidnapping

We spoke to director Lenny Abrahamson and child actor Jacob Tremblay about Room.

Jacob Tremblay
Jacob Tremblay in Room

Jacob Tremblay is poised to become the breakout star of Room; as his co-star Brie Larson pointed out in our interview, he’s not just a kid playing pretend. Tremblay emerges from the film a true talent, but in real life, he’s still just an eight-year-old kid. “Have I shown you my t-shirt? I don’t think I’ve shown you this yet,” he says to Room director Lenny Abrahamson as he enters the junket room. “He’s dressed by Ralph Lauren; I’m dressed by whatever I happen to find at the bottom of my bag,” quips the Irish-born Abrahamson. Tremblay’s t-shirt reads: Books open windows to the world and have the power to transform lives. It’s certainly not a coincidence that Tremblay is wearing this T-shirt while repping one of the most anticipated literary adaptations of the year.

In Room, Tremblay plays Jack, the five-year-old son of the imprisoned kidnap victim played by Brie Larson. Jack doesn’t know a world outside of Room; to him, the sink and rinky old bed hold about as much wonder as anything he sees on the TV (which he pretty much only understands as make believe). As Jack grows, however, he begins to question the veracity of the things his mother have presented as cut-and-dry. For Abrahamson, it was important to keep Tremblay “in the loop” and in the moment as much as possible rather than build his performance in the editing room as tends to be the case with many child performances in otherwise mature material. More challenging than that, however, was making a film in the middle of the Canadian winter.

Room Brie and Jacob
Larson and Tremblay

“We filmed it as much in order as possible, which is very unusual.” explains Abrahamson. “It’s something that you hope to do on every film and something that you never get to do. It would’ve been sensible to shoot the second half first because we were shooting in autumn in Toronto and the first five weeks of the shoot, the weather was pretty good. The second half, it was going to get cold and snowy, but we decided it was more important to do it in order. It was a good decision, wasn’t it Jake? It meant that we started in Room and that you knew what was happening in the story. By the end, we were all dying to get out of Room!”

“It was hot!” adds Tremblay. “It smelled, kind of, in there.”

Shooting in sequence also meant replicating, on some small level, what the characters go through in the film. “When we got out of the five weeks, we thought “Ah, we’ll get out and there’ll be air to breathe, it won’t be ten burly guys in this little tiny space.”,” says Abrahamson. “Then we got out and it was wet, it was cold, there was noise, there were passers-by and we all thought “I wouldn’t mind going back to that little nasty space!”, which is a bit like the story, isn’t it?”

The enclosed spaces of the film also meant getting creative with the sets in order to capture maximum intimacy while still moving copious amounts of film equipment around. “The set was built in a modular way, which meant that every set of four tiles could be removed,” explains Abrahamson. “Whole walls could be removed, parts of walls could be removed, parts of ceiling could be removed, floor could be taken off… it was on a platform so if you needed to get really low, we could get the camera at floor level. Our rule was always that we would never put the lens where they couldn’t physically be if those were the dimensions. We didn’t cheat; we were always filming from inside. We tried to work it so that when we really needed camera movement, we’d get a minimum of crew inside.”

Room wouldn’t work without the chemistry between Larson and Tremblay, one that began before shooting even began. “One big part of rehearsal was just getting Brie and Jake together,” says Abrahamson.

“We celebrated both of our birthdays!” Tremblay chimes in. “I played Lego with her.”

“They were living in the same building, so Brie would go up and they would hang out,” continues Abrahamson. “We made sure that the Room set was finished way before we were shooting, so Brie and Jake were able to spend time together on-set. (…) They kind of did the things that they would do together in Room… and, you and Brie, you’re pretty good friends, aren’t you?”

“Yep,” says Tremblay.

“Is she one of your best friends?”


“I’d say so.” ■

Room opens on Friday, Oct. 30. Watch the trailer here: