‘Lessons in Chemistry’: Brie Larson on Bringing Bestselling Book to TV

Brie Larson didn’t know she’d embark on a clandestine operation when she first got her hands on a yet-to-be-published novel some three years ago that would become the premise of the new Apple TV+ limited series, Lessons in Chemistry.

While speaking to ET on the set of Lessons in Chemistry (and prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike), the 34-year-old actress recalled the experience that washed over her as she flew past page after page reading Bonnie Garmus’ debut novel of the same name, which was first published on April 5, 2022. The novel tells the story of Elizabeth Zott, the chemist-turned-feminist-chef who deftly maneuvers the political game and misogyny that’s rampant in the U.S. — and around the world — during the 1950s.

“Well, initially it was the book that drew me to it,” Larson explains. “I was given an advanced copy of it two or almost three years ago now and it felt like a little secret ’cause nobody else had the book at the time, and I just flew through it and was just immediately taken by this character Elizabeth Zott.”

When the trailer first dropped nearly a month ago, fans got a first look at Zott’s moxie and wittiness as she forcefully pushes back against sexist stereotypes. Her dream of becoming a scientist evaporates after she’s fired as a chemist. But just then, Zott almost quite literally stumbles into another career — as a chef and TV host of the cooking show, Supper at Six — that will propel her to stardom and afford her the platform to challenge the status quo.

“I relate to her in so many different ways but one of the things is just her resilience and how much life she goes through,” Larson says. “And so the show gets to explore that and it kind of goes into everything — life as a whole, love, loss, chemistry, what it means to be alive on this planet. It goes through a lot, but does it in a way that is so sweet and buoyant and that is what I loved about the book because you kind of were caught off guard by how many weighty topics were in it because you always felt like it was buoyant and never got too self-serious.”

As Larson tells it, there’s nothing about life that’s off the table in Lessons in Chemistry — the show also tackles topics like unplanned pregnancy and racial equality.

“Yes, it’s about science and chemistry but also about the inexplicable connection of chemistry you can have when you fall in love, the chemistry inside of our bodies and the chemistry that makes us up and makes life happen in the world as well as inside our human bodies,” Larson explains. “So there is a lot and it’s also about the way that life can surprise you. The way that you can’t always predict and plan out.”

Larson stars and executive produces the series. She stars alongside Lewis Pullman (Top Gun: MaverickOuter Range), NAACP Image Award winner Aja Naomi King (How to Get Away With MurderThe Birth of a Nation), Stephanie Koenig (The Flight AttendantThe Offer), Kevin Sussman (The Big Bang TheoryThe Dropout), Patrick Walker (GaslitThe Last Days of Ptolemy Grey), and Thomas Mann (Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers DynastyMe and Earl and the Dying Girl).

Lee Eisenberg is the showrunner. Also executive producing alongside Larson is Eisenberg, Susannah Grant, Jason Bateman, Michael Costigan, Natalie Sandy and Louise Shore. For Larson, Lessons in Chemistry offers the opportunity to fully embed herself into a project in front of and behind the camera, from start to finish.

Lewis Pullman and Brie Larson in episode 1 of Lessons in Chemistry. – Apple TV+

“This is the first scripted series that I have developed from the beginning and will be through until the end,” she says. “So being part of this collaboration and given the opportunity to have a voice besides just showing up and knowing my lines and doing the acting part of the job but getting to talk more about the script and the series as a whole, being on the edit when I’m not here on set, getting to be a part of all of it.”

She continues, “I love the teamwork of the job and I like seeing it through so it works for me, that’s kind of how my brain works is I want to be able to be there from the very beginning to go, ‘OK, let’s work on the script because this is where I want to go with this character,’ and to have a team that’s open to that.”

Lessons in Chemistry premieres Oct. 13 on Apple TV+.


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