Jennifer Lawrence is poised for Hollywood superstardom with the role of Katniss Everdeen, the badass heroine of The Hunger Games, this spring’s inevitable blockbuster. But while she may be beautiful, don’t expect Lawrence to take it easy. This is a woman who can climb a tree with the best of the boy scouts.
On screen, whether she’s combing the Arkansas backwoods for her meth-cooking father in Winter’s Bone or fighting child warriors in a futuristic battle royale in the upcoming The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence exudes qualities we associate less with nubile Hollywood ingénues and more with NFL linebackers, war correspondents and soldiers of fortune: ferocity, focus, courage, grit.
But back in real life, Lawrence is a 21-year-old girl surrounded by paisley carpeting and wallpaper in a stuffy conference room at the Four Seasons in West Hollywood. She’s wrapped tightly in a form-fitting black dress, with big gray streaks of eye shadow that only Tyra Banks would label “fierce.” She’s been doing interviews all day forThe Hunger Games, and with her arms crossed and her bare feet propped up on one of the hotel’s sturdy stuffed chairs, she seems like she would rather be back in the Ozarks, or in the woods bow-hunting for quail. Basically, anywhere but here, confronted by yet another reporter’s tape recorder, discussing a subject she’s obviously exhausted: herself.
“Yeah, it’s kind of like going to a dinner party and then the whole night everybody only talks to you,” she says. “And midway through, you’re like, ‘Oh, my god, I’m so sick of talking to myself and hearing myself talk.’ Nobody is supposed to talk about themselves this much. You just get bored hearing your own voice. And then you assume that other people are getting bored hearing you.”
“I’m having to suck in all day,” she continues, in her steady, deepish voice. “And I’m walking around barefoot because my feet hurt.” It’s 3 p.m., and she says she ditched her high heels just before our interview—this is the first stop on the ambitious press campaign for The Hunger Games, and it’s already been a long day. The hotel is swarming with the movie’s publicists, all of them sporting faux-brass mockingjay lapel pins inspired by Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy. In the series, the United States has become the ruthless dictatorship of Panem, a future dystopia that sees North America parceled into 12 “districts” in the aftermath of a devastating civil war between the 1 percenters and the 99 percenters (the 99 percenters wind up with the short end of the stick, naturally).
Lawrence is already signed up for the entire trilogy, along with her young costars Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth. And the movie is studded with more established names: Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland and even rocker Lenny Kravitz (who plays the role of Lawrence’s personal stylist). It’s a sure tent-pole hit with a built-in audience, and Lawrence will blow up as inevitably as her young Hollywood predecessors did—whether Harry Potter’s adolescent wizards or Twilight’s teen vampires.
Sitting with Lawrence in the half hour of her discontent at the Four Seasons, it’s not difficult to draw parallels between Lawrence and the character she’s playing, Katniss Everdeen, who is forced to endure a sartorial transformation of her own at the hands of Panem’s fashionistas. “It’s the way that it has to go,” Lawrence says about her real-life predicament. “You have to make the designers happy.” I ask her if she knows who designed her dress. “I can look,” she says, before awkwardly grabbing the back of her collar and wrenching it toward her face. “Oh, see, they’re not that smart—they didn’t even put a label on here. I don’t know. It’s black.”
Lawrence isn’t exactly a naive interloper in the Hollywood world of high heels that cost more than a car payment and gowns worth more than a down payment on a house. Her performance in Winter’s Bone earned her a tour through last year’s award season, culminating in the smokin’ red dress she wore to the Oscars—a dress that belied her background as a Kentucky tomboy. In fact, Lawrence is the only girl in her family—she has two older brothers—and she still maintains that she’s more comfortable in a man’s world: “There’s sort of a no-bull**** approach with men,” she says. “I like life a lot better that way. I would prefer somebody calling me a b**** and punching me in the face than to whisper it behind my back.”
After the Oscars, where she was nominated for best actress for her role in Winter’s Bone, she made the gossip blogs by revealing that she defiantly treated herself to a Philly cheesesteak hours before the ceremony. She further established herself as a heroine to normal girls everywhere when she explained to one magazine, “I’d rather look a little chubby on camera and look like a person in real life, than to look great onscreen and look like a scarecrow in real life.”
There are more easy similarities between Katniss and Ree, her character in Winter’s Bone: They both have mentally ill mothers, and they’re both babies taking care of babies, forced to put their lives in danger for the sake of what’s left of their families. “Katniss is basically Ree without an accent,” she says. But what drew Lawrence to this character wasn’t necessarily familiar territory or even the chance to leverage a critically acclaimed career playing young rebels in indie movies such as Bone, Burning Plain or The Beaver into mainstream stardom. (Lawrence says she’s never met Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, but she has done a photo shoot with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara. “She’s nice. And, no, we weren’t like, ‘Hey! You’re going to become super famous!’”) Rather, she wanted the chance to play a rebel who becomes a symbol for an entire nation. “I see her as a latter-day Joan of Arc,” she says. “I loved her as a symbol of revolt and hope and freedom. And I just thought that it was so important for my generation to read something like that. To read what happens when humanity becomes desensitized to traumatic events and history while paying more attention to reality television.”
Like everybody else, Hunger Games’ director Gary Ross thinks Lawrence is perfect for the part. Ross says Lawrence prepared by undergoing an intense regimen of tomboy training that included lessons in archery and climbing trees. “Directors are not unlike basketball coaches, in that we see a million people walk into the gym,” he says. “But when you see Michael Jordan walk into your gym, you know who that is. It’s very similar with Jen: When you see somebody that talented, you immediately know it.” He says Lawrence possesses courage that goes beyond the physical: “I just think she’s naturally that brave. Jen has the strength and the fierceness to her. She doesn’t censor herself. She dives right into every situation.”
Aristotle wrote that courage, one of the oldest analyzed virtues, lies perfectly between recklessness and fear, and that the only way to acquire it is through diligent practice. So how did a self-proclaimed “total daddy’s girl” and a bit of a bookworm (Her favorite heroine of fiction? Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “She was a real ballbuster, just a beast for her time”) find the time to practice courage? Lawrence has been in showbiz since the age of 14, when she was discovered on a sightseeing trip to New York with her mother. Not surprisingly, Lawrence quickly entertains and then abruptly brushes off my high falutin’ line of inquiry quicker than you can say “Pass the potatoes” at a boring dinner party.
“Look, Katniss never would have known that she was capable of that if she wasn’t faced with it,” she says. “So I don’t think we really understand what we are capable of until our survival is dependent on it.” Hemingway called this “grace under pressure,” his definition of courage. But Lawrence isn’t one of the Hemingwayesque characters she plays in her movies; she understands that she’s never had to run through the woods risking her life, like Ree or Katniss—she’s just playing a part, and she wants us to understand this, too. “It’s just acting,” she says. “It’s so stupid that that’s the answer, but it’s just acting.”
Source: Sky Delta