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SXSW: Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. Get Intimate in New Dramedy (Exclusive Photo)

In director Destin Cretton's "Short Term 12," the young stars play employees of a halfway house for troubled teens, while dealing with their own life-or-death issues.

Short Term Brie Larson John Gallagher Jr Still - H 2013
Brett Pawlak

Brie Larson is steeling herself for a busy 2013, which could prove to be a breakout for the young actress. First up, the SXSW dramedy Short Term 12.

The second feature from director Destin Cretton sees Larson -- who co-starred in 21 Jump Street, United States of Tara and Scott Pilgrim -- as the nominal leader of a short-term home for troubled kids with nowhere else to go. She has a troubled past of her own, which she hides from her boyfriend and fellow employee Mason (The Newsroom's John Gallagher, Jr.) until a young girl (Kaitlyn Dever) enters the house with problems that hit far too close to home.

"I shadowed at a place, which was really informative. If I hadn’t done that I don’t think that Grace would look the same way on screen. It’s not as simple as you think, negotiating with these kids that are very wounded and very smart," Larson tells The Hollywood Reporter. "You want to be as aware as possible of yourself and of what they need and you also have to save yourself. I noticed with everyone I was shadowing, they are loving and caring and there for those kids. But they’re also a separate human being. They can’t be cracked. ... Because at the end of the day, they’re pressing your buttons to see if you’re going to bail on them too."

A look at secrecy, emotional damage and trust, the film took 20 days to shoot and cast a band of unknown child and teenage actors alongside Larson and Gallagher. It is actually based on a short Cretton premiered to acclaim at Sundance in 2009.

Larson also will appear in this year's Sundance hits The Spectacular Now and Don Jon's Addiction, which served as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut. Her fourth film is also star-studded, as she plays a role in the Olivia Wilde-Jason Sudeikis starrer Relanxious.