It took seven people eight hours to dress Jennifer Lawrence for her latest film role. ‘I just got tired thinking about it,’ Lawrence says. ‘It was a long process.’
She plays Mystique, who as anyone familiar with the Marvel Comics series X-Men will know is a mutant with blue skin. Her whole body had to be shaved, rubbed down with alcohol, coated with five layers of paint and topped with silicone scales. Lawrence’s skin blistered after her first day on set. ‘I have scars,’ she says, leaning forward and tugging at her blouse to reveal the marks on her décolletage.
The fifth film in the franchise, X-Men: First Class is a prequel to the primary X-Men trilogy and the spin-off movie Wolverine, all of which collectively grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, First Class charts the beginning of the saga: mutant powers are being discovered and the conflict between Professor Xavier’s X-Men and Magneto’s evil Brotherhood has yet to begin.
This is a superhero film on the same scale as Spider-Man. It is the first time the Kentucky-born actress has worked on such a colossal production and the first time she has had to endure the publicity juggernaut that comes with it. Lawrence has previously made independent films, and, at 20 years old, secured her status as a formidable new talent by receiving a best actress Oscar nomination for her performance as Ree, the fearless teenage daughter of an absent meth-cooking father, in Winter’s Bone.
Lawrence grew up in Louisville, the youngest of three and the only girl. She was a tomboy into her teens ‘because I didn’t have anybody to teach me how to put on make-up or wear a dress. I wanted to be a girl, I just didn’t know how.’ Her brothers are five and 10 years older than her; they called the shots at home.
‘I always understood I couldn’t ride in the front seat, choose what we watched on TV, or pick which restaurants we went to,’ she says. Her father owned a construction company, which he has since sold, and her parents now run a children’s summer day camp on the farm where they brought up their own (one of Lawrence’s brothers works for the camp business and the other is a Louisville-based web designer). They have always kept horses.
Busy playing hockey, basketball and softball, and making something of an effort to be girly in the cheerleading squad at school, Lawrence had little time left for drama class. Her only acting experience was playing Desdemona in a five-minute sketch of Othello when she was 13.A year later, during a summer trip to New York with her mother, a photographer stopped her on the street and asked to take her picture. She was later called by a talent agency and invited to audition for commercials. After making a promo for MTV’s reality drama series My Super Sweet 16, in which she had to blow out candles on a birthday cake – ‘but a disco ball falls and I get cake sprayed on my face’ – she was flown out to Los Angeles to do a screen test.
She didn’t go back to school after that summer and upped sticks to New York, aged 14, taking her mother with her, where she began auditioning for further television and film roles. She finished her schooling online, and Lawrence says it was the first time her mother didn’t have to hassle her to study.
‘She was on my butt all through regular school, but as soon as I started acting, I knew I couldn’t do it unless I graduated with a 3.9 [equivalent to a grade A]. That was my incentive and I locked myself in my room and just got through it. It was actually the first time my mum didn’t have to be on my ass.’
Her parents were wary about their daughter pursuing a life in film, Lawrence says. ‘It was foreign to all of us, the idea of Hollywood and movies and acting. They were going to support me until I failed, and then they were going to bring me home, but fortunately I didn’t fail.’
In 2008 Lawrence starred with Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger in The Burning Plain, playing the younger Theron. Written and directed by Guillermo Arriaga (who wrote Amores Perros and Babel ), the film received high praise but was little seen, so Lawrence remained relatively unknown until the success of Winter’s Bone last year.
The director Debra Granik says that she could tell Lawrence had a rigorous work ethic as soon as they started the project together. ‘This young woman came with a certain stamina and knowledge,’ Granik says. ‘It wasn’t something she promenaded in the audition, but it became clear to me on set. There was nothing green about her.
‘Her family has been a very supportive nexus from which she operates,’ Granik continues. ‘Her mum and dad are by no means stage parents and they were probably just as surprised as she was about how fast things can change. Her mother has a really sensible quality though, like it is still going to be important for her to bark at Jennifer and tell her to go and clean her room. Just remember all the normalcy is what makes someone feel sane.’
Lawrence says she will never forget the experience of filming X-Men: First Class.
‘It is just a very cool thing to be a part of,’ she says. Where Winter’s Bone was shot over 24 days on a budget of $2 million, 100-plus days were given to shooting X-Men with its budget of $120 million. What surprised her most when she arrived on the set of First Class was the size of the production team. ‘There are so many jobs – three times as many as there were on Winter’s Bone.’
The idea that someone was employed to document and write down a minute-by-minute analysis of her daily routine on set fascinated her. ‘One morning I came in and one of the [make-up] girls held up a finger and she had an engagement ring on it,’ Lawrence remembers. ‘We were jumping up and down and then we were crying.’ That day’s record ended up with the line: ‘Three minutes, 19 seconds – cries and shaved.’ ‘They gave me the piece of paper so I could frame it,’ she adds.
The film’s story opens in the 1960s, before mutants have revealed themselves to the world, so Lawrence had to endure the full process of turning into Mystique on only a few occasions. She spent an equal amount of time on set as Mystique’s previous incarnation, Raven Darkhölme, ‘who wears clothes and doesn’t take as much time to get ready at all.’ Matthew Vaughn says he cast Lawrence because ‘she could pull off the challenging dichotomy that Raven faces as she transforms into Mystique; that vulnerability that shields a powerful inner strength.’ He adds that she brought ‘a sense of fun’ and ‘always an opinion’ to the role.
Lawrence wasn’t familiar with the other X-Men films when she first auditioned for the part. ‘I am ashamed to say I auditioned three times before I even watched any of the movies,’ she says. ‘And then after I watched the movies, I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve been doing it all wrong, why are they calling me back?” I was doing her all sweet and naive. I saw Rebecca Romijn [who played Raven/Mystique in the X-Men trilogy] and she’s sultry and mean. I know this is an origin story, but I was definitely doing it all wrong.’
Part of the reason Lawrence said yes to the project was because she knew the film’s two leading men were to be James McAvoy (Professor Xavier, who was played by Patrick Stewart in the trilogy) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto, played previously by Ian McKellen). ‘Getting to know them was the best experience of my life,’ she says. ‘They are just the nicest, funniest, down-to-earth guys.’ But the idea that she may have learnt something from working on a film with them is dismissed: ‘It was mostly just fun. I don’t remember us working, I just remember us cracking up on set.’
It is the morning after Lawrence presented the award for special visual effects at the Baftas. She was wearing a Stella McCartney dress and says she was quite nervous on stage, but ‘totally freaked’ when faced with meeting McCartney’s father after the ceremony. ‘I was three feet away from Paul McCartney and I didn’t know what to say. I was like, “Ah, he’s a Beatle.” My publicist was going to introduce me, but I just couldn’t. I grabbed her arm and I said, “I’m not ready, I’m not old enough, I’m not cool enough.” Then Hailee Steinfeld [the 14-year-old star of True Grit] came over and said, “I met him, I met him.” I was like, “No, you didn’t, I wasn’t mature enough to meet him yet.”’
Lawrence now lives in Santa Monica, California. ‘It was like pulling teeth trying to get me to LA,’ Lawrence says. ‘I hated it for so long, but now I’ve got this great life here.’ Speaking to her on another occasion when the X-Men publicity tour is over and she is at home, I had expected her to be less hectic, but it seems there is little time for relaxation.
Aside from starring in two other films out this year – Jodie Foster’s dark comedy The Beaver, starring Foster and Mel Gibson, and the long-distance romance drama Like Crazy, winner of the Sundance grand jury prize in January – she is on to the next thing: learning how to shoot arrows with a bow for the lead role in the big-screen adaptation of the science fiction novel The Hunger Games, which she is about to start filming. ‘As hard as it is and as tired as I am,’ Lawrence says, ‘I force myself to get dinner at least once a week with my girlfriends, or have a sleepover. Otherwise my life is just work.’
‘X-Men: First Class’ is out on June 1
Source: Telegraph UK