Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence suits up for X-Men First Class and lands the most coveted role in Hollywood: the lead of The Hunger Games.
It’s 20 days before she’ll slink into a sleek crimson Calvin Klein sheath and get strangely excited to see Al Roker on the Oscars’ red carpet, and Jennifer Lawrence—who garnered a Best Actress nomination for her stunning turn as a backwoods teen chasing down her meth-addicted father in Winter’s Bone—is sitting in a booth at a greasy spoon in Santa Monica, California. She just added another dash of cinnamon to her coffee (from the emergency bottle in her bag) and is eating rye toast off my plate and extolling the virtues of Spanx when she looks at her phone, sees the time, and jumps up.
Sorry, I want to stay and talk more, but I have to go do this Hunger Games thing,” the 20-year-old says. Hunger Games thing? Surely, Jennifer realizes that as the entertainment director at a major teen magazine, I can’t even pretend to be blasé about this. Every young actress in town—fan-favorite Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Emma Roberts, Emily Browning . . . even complete unknowns—has been auditioning for the part of Katniss, the brash lead in the film based on the überpopular series of novels. I call her out on it; she smirks, shrugs, and sends the rest of this juicy conversation off the record before she races out the door.
The Hunger Games is Suzanne Collins’s searing trilogy of young-adult books that has sold millions of copies in the United States alone. It’s also the heir to the Twilight throne and the hottest property in Hollywood right now. A few weeks later it’s announced that Jennifer has landed the lead. And though many die-hard Hunger Games readers (Gamers? Hunger-ites? There has to be something à la Twi-hards) balked at her casting—she’s too old, too sexy, too pretty, too blonde—the backlash against the backlash has earned her fervent praise. “The cool thing about Katniss is that every fan has such a personal relationship with her, and they understand and know her in a singular way,” Jennifer says. “I’m a massive fan too, so I get it.” The film’s director, Gary Ross, has said that choosing Jennifer was “the easiest casting decision I’ve ever made in my life.” And Collins calls her incredible, noting, “I never thought we’d find somebody this perfect for the role.”
The character of Katniss is fierce and determined. At sixteen, she may be young, but she knows what she wants and what she has to do to get it. “She’s incredibly powerful, brave, and tough—and yet she has a tenderness and complexity,” Jennifer says. “It was very humbling hearing that Suzanne and Gary feel that I embody those traits.” But it wasn’t exactly surprising: At the age of fourteen, the Louisville, Kentucky, native decided that acting was her passion and convinced her parents to take her to New York to find an agent, graduating high school early to pursue her career. “Some people think I missed out, but if I had the choice of being in class or moving to New York . . .” she says. “I got the childhood of my dreams.”
When Teen Vogue first shot Jennifer for our 2008 Young Hollywood portfolio, she was an eighteen-year-old ingenue balancing an appearance alongside Charlize Theron in the indie The Burning Plain with her role as a teen in the TBS comedy The Bill Engvall Show. Even then she had presence: a strange combination of Angelina Jolie, Michelle Williams, and a sprinkle of . . . Johnny Depp? Obviously people will want to compare Jennifer to Kristen Stewart, aka Twilight‘s Bella Swan, but there’s no aura of awkwardness. To the contrary: Jennifer is super self-assured, and despite the help of Prabal Gurung and Oscar de la Renta dresses and beach-waved blonde hair, she’s equal parts badass and glamorous. To borrow from her favorite movie, The Big Lebowski (if you look back at footage from the Oscars, as Jeff Bridges is introducing her, she’s sporting a huge adoring grin), Jennifer’s sort of the dude next door. A dude who happens to look chic in high fashion, but a dude nonetheless.
And she’s not afraid to flaunt it. “I was a cheerleader for six years, but I also have this totally competitive side. I’ll wrestle anyone at any time,” Jennifer says. Though she’s gorgeous, she doesn’t exactly scream Glee Cheerio. “I was the manliest cheerleader. I had the lowest voice.” Growing up, she was a good kid: The biggest thing she got in trouble for was sticking gum under the living-room table. “I didn’t sneak out or drink. Once I told my parents to ground me because I was going to a party with alcohol. It’s kind of disgusting.”
Jennifer’s still not a huge partier. “I have fun when I go out—I mean, who wouldn’t have fun with me?” she says. “Sometimes I get anxiety about not staying up late enough. I’m not the one in the corner, but if anyone was like, ‘I want to go home and watch The Big Lebowski,’ I’d be right there with my hand up.” Jennifer shakes her head. “I’m not proud of it.” (It seems like, maybe a little, she is.) Not that she has much free time anyway. The actress has spent the majority of her career on the cinematic dark side, following Winter’s Bone with Sundance hit Like Crazy and the Jodie Foster–directed The Beaver. Incidentally, in both movies Jennifer gets to make out with adorable actor Anton Yelchin—but even that’s not enough to keep her characters from being tortured souls. “I want people to say, ‘I’m in a really bad mood, let’s go see a Jennifer Lawrence movie,'” she says, laughing.
This summer she lightens up with her first mainstream blockbuster, X-Men First Class. “It’s easy to get pigeonholed, so I think it’s important that when one thing gets really big—it’s a wise decision to do the opposite,” Jennifer says. “I had a blast. I was living in London for five months, and the whole cast . . . we all legitimately love each other. We got addicted to hanging out.” Not to mention, she got to spend time with British actor Nicholas Hoult, whom she’s rumored to be dating. How could that not be fun?
In the movie she plays Raven Darkholme/Mystique, the morphing mutant made popular by Rebecca Romijn in the original. To say that Jennifer’s past few films have required total transformation is an understatement: She was painted head-to-toe blue for X-Men and still found errant paint smudges on her body days after shooting ended. For Winter’s Bone, director Debra Granik thought Jennifer was too pretty, so the actress hopped a red-eye and showed up disheveled, sans makeup, for another audition. And we all know how well that worked out.
She’s more than happy to hustle for the best roles, but after years of perseverance, the offers are piling up. “I have a choice of really good things, not a bad movie versus a good movie,” Jennifer notes. “But if I say yes to everything, I won’t have a day off for, like, the next four years.” Life could be worse.
Edited for teenvogue.com. For the complete story pick up the May 2011 issue of Teen Vogue
Source: Teen Vogue