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'Short Term 12's' Brie Larson: Winning at SXSW Was My 'Bring It On' Moment (Video)

The actress and co-star John Gallagher Jr. tell THR that they felt significant pressure to "do right by" the people living and working in the foster care system with their performances.

Short Term 12, the breakout hit of this year's SXSW film festival, has already received rave reviews from Hollywood critics (scoring a whopping 96 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- 100 percent among top critics). On Friday, the foster care drama goes nationwide as Cinedigm releases Short Term 12 to select markets across the country. 

In The Hollywood Reporter's review of the film, critic John DeFore praises director Destin Daniel Cretton's ability to create an "effortlessly balanced film" and to "produce the kind of hold-your-breath moments more ostentatiously serious films shoot for often but achieve rarely." DeFore has even more kind words for star Brie Larson, who delivers a "breakthrough performance that should open doors to bigger dramas."

PHOTOS: 2013 Festival Winners (So Far)

For both Larson and co-star John Gallagher Jr., the pressure to deliver strong performances was unavoidable.

"Both of us, when we signed on, understood the responsibility that we were taking and the sensitivity that we needed to take in order to approach the material accurately," Larson tells THR. "That ended up being the thing that drove us to make these performances that I'm really proud of, because you want to do right by these people."

The people to which Larson is referring are the men, women and children who live and work in the foster care system. In Short Term 12, Larson and Gallagher play young adult staffers of a live-in waystation for troubled children. Outside of work, their characters are involved in a loving relationship that grows complicated when Larson's Grace discovers she is pregnant.

At a recent screening, Gallagher was humbled by one viewer's opinion.

"There was a young man in the audience who raised his hand and said as someone who has spent a good part of his life in and out of that system, he said it rang very, very true and it felt entirely authentic to him," says Gallagher, "which is always nice to hear."

VIDEO: 'Short Term 12' Trailer: Take a Look at the Breakout Hit of SXSW

The film went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW -- the festival's top honor -- but Larson reveals she almost skipped the ceremony all together.

"I was having a margarita a couple miles away and then I started getting all these phone calls, I had my phone on silent, and then I realized it was the awards," she recalls. "I was like, 'Oh, I'm not gonna go.'"

But a friend who had seen the film pushed Larson to leave, suspecting that she would receive some sort of recognition.

"But I couldn't find a ride," the actress says. "I started walking there and I found this dive bar with a bunch of motorcyclists and tried to get some guy on my hog to take me. I tried to convince him, 'There's this award thing,' but I didn't know where it was. I was like, 'It's at the convention center,' he was like, 'Girl, I don't know what you're talking about. This is my town!' and I ended up getting there right on time, right as the award was happening.

"I was shocked and of course very happy that I had been there, especially because they needed a couple people to lift Destin up because he didn't move. They called the name and he just sat there, I think he was just in shock."

The moment drew tears and pop culture nostalgia from Larson, who compares the moment to the ending of Kirsten Dunst's 2000 teen cheerleading drama.

"It feels like Bring it On!" Larson recalls saying, "Because it's the team you love, the team you root for and they don't win first place, but they win a prize and through all the trials and tribulations -- it's so good."

Then she learned that she had, in fact, come in first place.

"It was like, 'WHAT?!' And then it was a whole new thing of tears," she says. "I was completely unaware of what any of it meant. It was life affirming in some ways."

For more from Larson and Gallagher, including the unusual way that director Cretton urged them to break the ice, watch the video above.

Email: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com
Twitter: @SophieSchillaci