She may be an Oscar winner, a recent Golden Globe nominee, and one of the most in-demand female stars in the world, but the 23-year-old actress has so far managed to remain enchantingly natural and down-to-earth. She has just flown in from Atlanta, where she is filming the two-part The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, and has brought her parents with her.
“It’s kind of like when your parents come to school and all of a sudden school is more it’s exciting,” she says with a laugh. “I wanted to bring them along because I do this stuff all the time and they don’t really see it.”
“This stuff” is a round of promotion for her latest film, American Hustle, loosely based on the FBI’s notorious Abscam “sting” operation in the Seventies which involved a convicted con man, his seductive girlfriend, fake Arab sheiks, stolen artwork and payoffs for casino licences. The convoluted scam snared seven members of Congress and a veteran US Senator along with other government officials for taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes. The scandal rocked America, generated worldwide headlines and set off political shockwaves for years afterwards. Even now, 35 years later, enraged defense lawyers say it was a blatant case of entrapment and it was slammed by a judge who accused the government of using “outrageous” tactics.
Lawrence did little research or preparation for the role, relying as she usually does, on instinct. “I don’t really think about work until I read the script for the first time and I don’t start the process until I show up on the set and start speaking,” she explains. “I work so much that if I thought about work when I wasn’t working, I don’t know what kind of a mess I would be in.
“I had all the knowledge I needed from just watching television and movies and I knew Rosalyn’s type. I got the script and called David O. Russell up and said, ‘I’m in, but let’s change her up a little bit. Let’s talk about some things.’ So we rewrote the dialogue and once things like the costume and the hair and the physicality come in, a lot of times the words follow. Much like real life: You walk differently in heels than in flats or you carry yourself differently when you’re in sweatpants or dressed up nicely. So a lot of it started from physical changes.”
Jennifer Lawrence is bubbly and outgoing, cheerfully saying things most actresses would keep to themselves. She is wearing a tight white sweater with Marc Jacobs black pants and crystal-encrusted black heels. A diamond pendant hangs around her neck and a large ring shines on her finger. “None of this is mine,” she says. “I have to give it back.” Then she adds, with a laugh: “Make as much news of the jewellery as you can and then maybe I’ll get it for free. And the clothes? I looked at my options, tried this on and it was comfortable and covered up my stomach roll when I sat down. So I went with it.”
She still lives in the same two-bedroom rented apartment in Los Angeles where she has lived ever since she received her first Oscar nomination for 2010’s Winter’s Bone, and her idea of a good night is having girlfriends over to watch television and sleep over.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Lawrence performed in local theatre productions before heading to New York at the age of 14 to become a professional actress. “I got discovered or whatever you want to call it and I loved acting and knew it was what I was supposed to be doing and thought I could be good at it,” she recalls. “Then I was flown out to Los Angeles and it all just kind of started.”
Unlike many young actresses who begin their acting careers in romantic comedies, Lawrence was cast in more harrowing fare, playing a teen who was raped by her mother’s pimp in The Poker House, a young woman in search of reasons for her parents’ fractured lives in The Burning Plain and then, in what proved to be her breakthrough role, in Winter’s Bone as a teenager forced to play surrogate parent in a grim, backwoods drug-fuelled world.
Scripts began to pour in and then came The Hunger Games and the role of the warrior girl Katniss Everdeen which vaulted her into the big league of Hollywood money earners and won her a massive fan following of teenage girls.
“The day the first Hunger Games came out was a kind of bizarre day for me because I wasn’t famous 24 hours earlier and I got up to go about my day as usual and went to the grocery store,” she says. “All of a sudden there were like 25 paparazzi following me and there was a three-car pile up. I was really terrified and I went home and locked myself in the house. I couldn’t really process anything. Then my doorbell rang and all of my friends were there with wine and vodka and the things I needed. They came in and we all just kind of watched TV and had a normal day, so that was nice.”
She is still finding it difficult to deal with the attention that follows her into the most unlikely places. “Because I feel normal I expect to be treated normally and I’m trying to be being patient with the fact that that’s not exactly how everybody else feels. When I’m at the dentist getting my teeth cleaned people are standing looking through the door. And I’m like, ‘What would you do if someone was staring at you while you were getting your teeth cleaned?’ So it’s a work in progress. When I meet young fans I understand them because I was like that too, but it’s the real life day-to-day run-ins with people who sometimes don’t really know how to act that make me feel weird, and I don’t like it.”
With X-Men Days of Future Past, in which she returns as Mystique, awaiting release and filming of Mockingjay nearly complete, she feels it could be time to take a break.
“2013 has been kind of a blur,” says Lawrence, who has been dating British actor Nicholas Hoult since they met on the set of X-Men: First Class in 2012. “There’s been a lot of good and some bad. It’s been a whirlwind and I think I will always remember being very tired but excited. In 2014 I’m looking forward to peace and rest. I’d like to slow down; I’d like a little less attention; I’d like to buy a house and have a home. So 2013 was a really exciting whirlwind and I’d like 2014 to be kind of an unwinding, peaceful time.”