From chemistry to cooking, “Lessons in Chemistry” star and executive producer Brie Larson undertook the preparation of several skills, hobbies and other activities for her role as Elizabeth Zott, the main character in the Apple TV+ adaptation of Bonnie Garmus’ popular novel.
Zott, who works as a chemist at Hastings Lab in Commons, California, should have her Ph.D. in chemistry, but the reason she only achieved the master’s level becomes clear in later episodes. Many other unplanned obstacles challenge Zott in her drive to make advances in the field of abiogenesis — also known as spontaneous generation, or the original evolution of life or living organisms from inorganic or inanimate substances. Showrunner Lee Eisenberg and director of the first two episodes Sara Adina Smith described all of the different aspects of Zott that Larson had to prepare for.
“We’re asking of her so much as an actress. There’s giant chunks of scientific jargon that she has to speak as if she’s the foremost expert in it and there’s a love story that we’re contending with,” Eisenberg told TheWrap.
“She has to learn to cook, she had to learn to row,” Smith added.
Larson’s Zott knows her stuff, but of course, the patriarchal field of chemistry doesn’t afford her as many opportunities as her white male colleagues. In a chain of events involving said love story, Zott goes from promising “lab tech” at Hastings to the star of a television cooking show, “Supper at Six.”
“There’s all of these different things that she had to do, and she’s so adept, and you really are able to — her face, her expressiveness, you’re able to feel every single one of those emotions and sometimes it’s from scene to scene,” Eisenberg continued. “The whole idea of the show is that life changes in the blink of an eye, and that’s something that the character and the actress have to be open to, and Brie was just amazing with that.”
From intense intelligence to the throes of romance, Larson takes Zott through the unfairness of her workplace as well as the beginnings of a relationship with Hastings Lab’s own renowned researcher Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman).
“Brie’s a director’s dream, because Brie herself is a filmmaker. She’s her own films, and so she really understands why we’re doing a setup one way or another,” Smith said. “I remember when I first talked to her, she was so intellectually, spiritually, emotionally curious about the love story in particular, and about how a character who is so controlled and has sort of structured her whole life to be predictable can be so blindsided and swept off her feet And so a lot of the work I was doing with Lewis and Bree was to just sort of create the conditions for playfulness and for great accidents to happen and for surprise. It’s what made it such a joy.”
Larson also sat in all the meetings for sets, costumes, props, main titles, soundtrack and more, which had to fit the particular setting of the 1950s. She was present as Eisenberg edited in post as well.
“On an executive producer level, she’s always been the beating heart of this series, really from start to finish,” Smith added. “We were always questioning and trying to dig deeper and look for the most surprising and truthful moments that we could. Brie was very much in an investigative mindset with me [on set] and oftentimes there were new layers that we were always discovering and finding.”
The first two episodes of “Lessons in Chemistry” are now streaming on Apple TV+.