Oscar-Nominated Actress on the Adaptation of Renowned Sci-Fi Novel ‘The Hunger Games’
Jennifer Lawrence first caught our attention with Winter’s Bone — a harrowing performance that earned her an Oscar nomination. Since then, she has played a rebellious mutant in X-Men: First Class and a sultry love interest in Like Crazy. With The Hunger Games, Lawrence takes the tumultuous and thrilling task of immortalizing a beloved fictional character — Katniss. The post-apocalyptic series of novels by Suzanne Collins has fans of all ages worldwide. It’s been compared to both Harry Potter and Twilight as the next big book-to-film adaptation series. Along with young actors Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, Lawrence plays a teen thrown into a battle to the death. With The Hunger Game‘s release just around the corner, Jennifer Lawrence sat down with Izumi Hasegawa to discuss the game-changing novels, climbing trees, and playing such a strong heroine.
Izumi Hasegawa: It was really nice to see a heroine character that a lot of women and girls can look up to. Was that part of why you wanted to take the role?
JL: Absolutely. That’s what I loved about the character. I loved that young girls, and our generation, not just young girls, were getting a role model and a hero that was an amazing example of a person.
IH: It’s not in films a lot, I feel.
JL: No, it isn’t, and especially not in films that reach this amount of people, that become this big.
IH: You’ve said, in the past, that you were hesitant to take the role because you’d lose all your privacy, and that kind of has happened. You’ve obviously blown up — people are more interested in your private life. Was it worth taking the role, in retrospect?
JL: Yeah, because that wasn’t my biggest fear. The private life thing, that’s something that, when you become an actor, you take into account. It was more just the speed of it, knowing that, from the time I say yes, a year later, my life will become completely different, and I don’t know if for the better or for the worse, and being scared that I’ll only be seen as this when anybody sees me in another movie. But I wanted to make the movie, and it’s this character that’s incredible. She’s iconic, she’s this hero, this Joan of Arc, and if you’re going to be typecast for one character, it should be the best character you’ve ever read, and that’s what she was for me.
IH: How have you handled the swarms of paparazzi and all that stuff?
JL: I haven’t actually had any swarms. I get the creepy ones that hide in the bushes outside of my house that I don’t see. I don’t know how I get to trade them. I’d much rather walk through a wall of people than see horrible pictures of me show up that I had no idea were being taken.
IH: You’ve done this movie and, of course, X-Men: First Class – do you like science-fiction movies?
JL: Yeah. I mean, I’ve never thought that I’ve liked any particular genre; I just love good scripts. I’m like anybody. I’ll watch a Will Ferrell movie if it’s good – Step Brothers is one of my favorite movies. I saw it four times in theaters! So it really didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t looking for a science-fiction movie. I was looking for what I look for in any script before I go make it: is it a good story, is it a story I care about telling, is it a character that I care about, is it a director that I want to work with? And those things happened for X-Men, and those things happened for this, and they both did happen to be science-fiction. But I did also do a lot of things that were dramas or dark comedies and things like that.
IH: Unless I’m confused, you haven’t done comedy…
JL: Oh, well I just finished one with David O. Russell, sorry. No, you haven’t seen me in one, that’s true.
IH: Is there something in your personality that tends toward more dramatic roles, even in science-fiction?
JL: I don’t know if it has to do with my personality. I don’t know what it is. I mean, these characters do happen to have a lot in common, and they’re just a couple of years apart from each other. I make the movies that I want to see, and when I read those scripts, I wanted to see both of those movies. They got to me and I cared about them. Those are the things that I want to make, and I think lately, those have happened to be more dramas.
IH: Can you talk about the audition process? You were one of the first people cast, and then you read with Josh and Liam. What was it about them — the chemistry — that really resonated with you, and why did you want them in those characters?
JL: They were amazing. Gary (Ross) kept saying that before Josh read, “He’s Peeta. He’s Peeta. He’s Peeta.” You’re like, “Gary, there are 20 people outside. Stop, give everybody the fair chance.” And then Josh walked in and we were like, “Yup, that’s Peeta.”
IH: Was there one thing that stuck out?
JL: Only that he absolutely is 100 percent Peeta. He’s nice, he’s charming, he’s not afraid of anybody. He’s just the nicest, most charming…he didn’t even need to act, there was no difference. He could do that so easily. Then Liam walked in, and every woman in the room, it was just like, woooooof! That, unfortunately, was against him in the beginning – we were like, all right, he’s just a hunk and hot. And then he started to read, and he was absolutely incredible. He was unbelievable. He was real, he was authentic, he listened. He was an incredible actor. They were both the best. There were a lot of people that were really great, but the two of them, as far as those roles go, were the best.
IH: How do you see this movie as describing violence but also the modern publicity and reality TV and entertainment aspect as well?
JL: It’s kind of the same thing about paparazzi and tabloids. It’s disgusting. I wish we could get away and get rid of it, but it’s what people want. It’s what makes money. We can bash the paparazzi as much as we want, but they’re getting paid by the tabloids because the tabloids are making money because we are buying those magazines. We can bash reality television as much as we want, but the reason they’re airing and the reason they’re on is because we’re all watching them and they’re all making money. So I don’t think the problem is reality television or tabloids; I think the problem is us. That’s what we want. And as much as we bash it, that’s where most of our money is going.
IH: How did you prepare, both mentally and physically, for a role like this?
JL: Physically, it was a lot of training – running, free running which is like agility, combat, climbing, archery, and yoga. And then emotionally, I don’t really emotionally prepare for anything, except going to the mall last night for the signing. But that’s just showing up to set with your lines memorized and just talking. I didn’t really emotionally prepare too much.
IH: Was there one scene that was the most difficult to get through?
JL: No, the difficult scenes were always the physical ones because of the heat. Running through the Cornucopia in the middle of the movie to get the backpack, it was over 105 degrees that day, and there was no shade anywhere, and I’m in full jacket, pants, sprinting 10, 15 times all day. It was brutal.
IH: You’re in trees for a long time in this movie! It’s part of the character, right? She’s trying to protect herself. How was that?
JL: I love trees! It was great. The worst part about tree-climbing is the spiders. My biggest fear. I mean, we had bears, we had wolves, snakes, poison ivy, everything. Nothing got to me as much as spiders. And like daddy longlegs – it doesn’t matter how harmless they are, I’m terrified. So they used to clean the spiders off the tree before I got up there. They’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, we’ve got a spider killer up there.” And they would just lie to me and I’d be like, “Okay.”
IH: It seems like all your movies, including the science-fiction ones, have something to do with social commentaries. Do you like that kind of stuff?
JL: Yeah. I think, before you do a movie and send a message, it’s important to understand what message you’re sending, and is that important? Do you care about sending a message? Do you care about telling that story? In those movies, I did – I did care about telling those stories and sending those messages.
IH: What message do you hope to be sending with this movie?
JL: This is a generation that is obsessed with reality television, and we watch other people’s lives fall apart while we eat popcorn, and the more tragic it gets, the more ratings it gets, and the more we watch it, the more we love it. We live in a world where, in the past and present and possibly future, our governments, in certain countries, are controlling their people by keeping them separate and weak and hungry so that they’re not strong enough to fight back. I think there are a lot of messages about history repeating itself and what happens when something is wrong and you stay quiet, and how we are the new generation. We are the generation that can change things and that can stand up.
IH: Given what you’ve said about what’s clearly happening in the world today, are you inclined to use your celebrity to draw attention to real world issues?
JL: Absolutely. As much as people can bash fame, and it’s very easy to, at the same time, you have this amazing opportunity to use your spotlight to shine light on part of the world that people don’t know about, and to help a lot of people.
IH: What are some of the issues that concern you?
JL: I’ve been wanting to get involved with charities working with orphanages in third world countries and other things like that. I haven’t signed on to a particular charity or anything like that.
IH: Do you think some young people might get this wrong and enjoy the violence and try to emulate this?
JL: That’s the thing about violence in movies — it’s so easy to point your finger. But let’s not pretend that we live in a violence-free world and bringing in movies with violence is going to all of a sudden put violence in our kids’ faces. I mean, look at the news, look at the streets, look at television, commercials – it’s everywhere. So as much as we love to pretend that every violent movie is affecting our kids in some way, this isn’t the first time they’re seeing it. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time they’re seeing somebody die in a movie, on TV…it’s literally everywhere. I think we’ve become a lot more desensitized to violence and to everything — to sex, to everything on movies and television. So yes, I think kids will see violence, and I’m not one to predict what they’ll do when they see it, but at the same time, you can’t leave your TV on, and you can’t leave the news on if you’re afraid a kid is going to emulate everything they see onscreen.
IH: There were a lot of people that were very opposed to you playing Katniss. How aware are and were you of the naysayers, and how do you handle them directly attacking your looks and your body and stuff like that in relation to the role?
JL: You don’t read it. That wouldn’t be a good idea. I think the biggest one at the beginning was my hair, which I just thought was funny. Did they think I’m just going to be blonde as Katniss? But it’s not going to do any good for me to read it, so I don’t.
IH: When did you read the book, and how much did you do your own stunts?
JL: I read the books…I don’t even remember. I think it was summer or fall — it was a few months before I found out about them being a movie. I did a lot of my own stunts, but I also had an amazing stunt double who did the falling out of trees and falling down mountains.
IH: But you climbed the trees?
JL: I did climb all the trees, yeah.
IH: One of my favorite scenes was when they showed District 11 after Rue died. Was there anything from the book that you thought was left out by adding some new scenes in?
JL: No, because the thing about making movies from books is, if you turn the pages of a book into a script, you’re not going to have a good movie. Things are going to have to change, things are going to have to move around. I thought the riot scene was so powerful, and the things that we took out… We were all fans of the book, and we weren’t going to make a watered-down version of the book. None of us took out any of the book’s strengths, anything that strikes anybody or changes character relationships. The things we took out were time, really.
IH: Was there one scene that you’re really excited for fans to see?
JL: The Cornucopia scene at the very beginning of the arena, because Gary does something that was so beautiful and unexpected that really got to me.
Lionsgate’s ‘The Hunger Games’ is released in theaters Friday, March 23, 2012.