Jennifer Lawrence, the 22-year-old star of Silver Linings Playbook and The Hunger Games, has no problem laying it all out there, unlike others in her cohort. Kristen Stewart, also 22, seems perpetually annoyed with media attention. Taylor Swift, 23, is happy to make the rounds, but she plays it safe, which is fitting for someone who does ads for Walgreens and Target. Miley Cyrus, 20, occupies a middle ground: she has worked to project a squeaky-clean image, only to find herself occasionally undone by leaked stories of wild nights.
Lawrence favors another line of attack altogether. She is completely unguarded and uncensored. On a recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, she happily told the host about the time she went to “a dive bar with senior-citizen strippers” while she was in Atlanta filming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which is slated for a November 2013 release. “I got a lap dance from Little Bo Peep, who was very bossy and kept getting on top of me,” she said. “I didn’t really want to reciprocate, but then she goes, ‘I’m gonna bend over and don’t you touch me.’ And I was like, ‘Don’t you worry about it!’ And then she inserted her breast into my mouth!” Awkward laughter rumbled through the audience, which had witnessed something rare—a celebrity who sounded more like a human being than a well-coached witness.
Lawrence’s unwillingness, or inability, to play the role of bland starlet has made her a YouTube sensation. Compilations of clips taken from her press tours and talk-show appearances have gotten more than four million hits. But her charming garrulity should not be mistaken for ditsiness. While shooting Silver Linings Playbook, she spent her downtime reading Anna Karenina. She is also a fan of the Jeannette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle (Lawrence is in talks to co-produce and play the lead in the film version), and Gillian Flynn thrillers are her guilty pleasure.Lawrence was nominated for a best-actress Oscar on the strength of her amazing performance in Debra Granik’s 2010 indie, Winter’s Bone, in the role of a teenage protector of a family trapped in a crystal-meth wasteland. Her stardom began in earnest with the March 23, 2012, release of The Hunger Games, a film that has grossed $686 million and counting worldwide. Box Office Mojo has it listed as the No. 1 all-time moneymaker in the category of action movies with a female lead; it is also the most profitable film in the post-apocalyptic genre. (Take that, The Road.) So Lawrence deserved the raise she got, from $500,000 for the first Hunger Games to a reported $10 million for the sequel.
The only real sign of her newfound fame and fortune, when I met her in Atlanta on one of her days off, was the hovering presence of a large man in a loose-fitting black shirt who had tattoos in the webbing of his fingers. He and I stood in a light rain on the steps of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, waiting for her to arrive. Lawrence wanted to see the museum’s exhibition on Genghis Khan, who is now the third most famous archer of all time, behind Robin Hood and Katniss Everdeen, the sure-shot teenage rebel whom Lawrence will continue to portray as the Hunger Games series, based on the best-selling young-adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins, moves into its second, third, and fourth cinematic installments. Given that she is also part of the X-Men franchise, Lawrence is pretty much strapped into years of fame.
When she pulled into the parking lot, the big fellow went to meet her, umbrella aloft. She stepped out of a rented Chevrolet Volt. She was wearing tight black pants tucked into big black sneakers with Velcro straps. Up top she wore a roomy button-down blouse, with blue and white stripes, and a silver necklace. Her long hair, naturally blond, was dyed black, to give her the Katniss look. She also has dark hair as the widowed sex addict in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, the gritty romantic comedy in which she more than holds her own in scenes with Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper.
She apologized for being late. We strode past a Giganotosaurus skeleton on our way into the Genghis Khan rooms. We stood on top of a map that showed how the 13th-century Mongols conquered Beijing and Baghdad. “I have a hard time imagining the soldier mentality,” she said. “I wonder if they sat around the campfire and said, ‘Dude. We already conquered Baghdad. Do we really have to keep fighting?’ ”
We stepped into a dark corner. There, in a glass case, lay the 700-year-old mummified corpse of a Mongolian woman, desiccated and browned with time. Lawrence gazed awhile. “It looks like turkey skin,” she said.
We got into our rental cars and drove to the foot of the Emory University campus. Lawrence drew stares as we walked toward a taqueria. I said she must be more recognizable with the Katniss-color hair, and she said, “I have to get it dyed every two days, or the blond pokes out.” At the table she ordered a beef burrito. The big fellow took a seat at the counter, nearby but discreet, like a Secret Service agent.
The first Hunger Games was directed by Gary Ross, who made Seabiscuit and Pleasantville. He gave it a classic Hollywood feel that largely avoids the manic quality of other recent blockbusters. But Ross apparently could not reach a deal with the studio, Lionsgate, for the sequels, and has been replaced by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), who is best known for the Will Smith hit I Am Legend. “They’re almost polar opposites,” Lawrence said of the two directors, being quick to add, “and both are completely perfect for these movies. Francis is kind of genius at building different worlds and transporting you into another world. The vibe on set is much quieter. Gary is very energetic. Francis is very laid-back and very calm.”
“How is it different from making Winter’s Bone?”
“The vibe on that set was exactly what makes me love indies. The only reason we were all out there in the freezing cold was because we loved the project. I love that feeling, that desperate, almost pathetic feeling of ‘Are we actually going to be able to pull this off?’ ”
She was also in The Beaver, an ill-fated but interesting drama directed by Jodie Foster and starring Mel Gibson (with a beaver hand puppet). Lawrence says Foster is “probably the most level person I ever met.” A bowl of queso blanco appeared on the table. “It’s supposed to be orange,” Lawrence said once the waitress was out of earshot. “It’s supposed to have spicy stuff in it. Exciting things.” We dipped chips. “Jodie was very relaxed,” she went on. “I love that movie. I thought the script was so amazing. It’s one of these things that might have been better to read, because the beaver is more of a separate entity. In the movie you can’t see the beaver without seeing Mel, so it becomes more about Mel acting.”
“Did you get the feeling the movie was Jodie Foster’s attempt to rescue Mel Gibson?”
“I never got that feeling, no. I mean, he’s brilliant. I remember, at the table-read, just hearing the words. So good. All of it so perfect.”
“What’s David O. Russell like?”
“He’s such a goofball, I love him so much. If Bradley wasn’t on the set, we never would have finished the movie. Bradley would come and find David and me making videos, pretending to wipe our asses with coffee napkins, and he would be like, ‘We have to finish the day!’ ” She pointed out some stray queso, which had ended up on my chin.
“I have no feeling in my face,” I said, wiping it off. “People are always telling me, ‘You got something there.’ ”
“Wait,” Lawrence said. “Do I not have feeling in my face? Because that happens to me all the time. People are always telling me I have things on my face. Now I’m going to start saying I can’t feel my face.”
“I wonder if it’s related to this,” I said, and I pulled my face skin a few inches away from my jawbone. “Some people have weird stretchy skin. It’s actually a genetic disorder.”
“Oh my God! Are you wearing a Mission: Impossible mask right now?”
“Did you ever go to one of those places in the South where they grow the hottest pepper they can grow and then they feed it to people?”
“They feed it to people? You say that like people are chained up outside! I’m sure I have. I’m sure I didn’t even think twice about being fed the dangerous hot pepper.”
The beef burrito arrived. It was the size of a mailbox. Lawrence bit right in.
I mentioned that she was making her second movie with Woody Harrelson, who is a key member of the Hunger Games cast.
“Woody. I love Woody.”
“Has he taught you anything about acting?”
“Woody and I have never really spoken about acting. We’re very similar. Francis always makes fun of me, because I show up on set and I have no idea what we’re doing or even if I have a line. So he’ll text me in the morning: ‘Do you have any idea what we’re doing? No? O.K., let me tell you.’ And last year Woody goes, ‘Man! I’ve never worked with somebody who makes me feel like I’m workin’ too hard!’ ”
“When did you feel like you could act—like ‘I can do this’?”
“I did a sitcom [The Bill Engvall Show] when I was like 16, and I was like, ‘This is fuuun. This is awesome.’ After I got discovered—”
“Wait. You got discovered?”
“I was in New York, just watching street dancing, and this model scout asked if he could take a picture. I had no idea that was creepy. So I was like, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and I gave him my mom’s phone number. And then he called and said all these agents wanted to meet, and we were like, ‘Might as well.’ I was playing field hockey and cheerleading and wanted to be a doctor—but within 20 minutes, in the cab ride from the hotel room, I decided I didn’t want to be a model, that, in fact, I wanted to be an actress, and I would only sign with an agency if they would let me audition for commercials and act as well. I don’t know where that came from. And one of them gave me a script, to audition the next day, and I read the script and it was the first time I had that feeling like I understand this. This is the first time I’ve ever understood anything. I was 14. And my brothers were star athletes. And one of them was a straight-A student. I always felt like I sucked at everything, that I could never find the thing that I liked. I auditioned and I probably sucked, but I had decided 100 percent that this is what I wanted to do. And, fortunately, my mother and I had fallen in love with New York, so the idea of living there for the summer wasn’t as scary.
“I was going to have to be back for the school year. My dad was sick of the whole thing, and he was ordering us to come home, but my mother was starting to clue in that this is what I was going to do, and she was trying to explain it to my dad, who, of course, didn’t get it. He flew up to bring us home, to physically drag us to the airport, back to Louisville, and the second he got in the apartment and sat down on the couch, my agents called and said they were going to fly my whole family, all of us, except my brothers, to L.A. for a screen test. We had never been to California, and they flew us out, and my dad got to see me act for the first time. The director of the thing said, ‘Is that your daughter?’ And my dad’s like, ‘Yeaaahhhh?’ Like he thought he was in trouble. And the director said, ‘She’s good.’ ”
The money she made soon afterward as the precocious, wisecracking daughter on TBS’s The Bill Engvall Show allowed her to be selective about the movie roles she took during hiatuses. She chose Lori Petty’s indie drama The Poker House, Guillermo Arriaga’s The Burning Plain (alongside Charlize Theron), and had her breakthrough with Winter’s Bone.
“Do you watch dailies when you’re making a movie?”
“I don’t even really watch playback. Not that I’m against it. But I always forget. Every time they call ‘Cut,’ I’m at the craft tables.”
She may seem casual about her work, but in her brief career she has already shown that she is one of the few actors who can excel in drama and comedy while also anchoring an action franchise. She’s a triple threat.
Lawrence has a lot in common with Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen, who is nicknamed “the Girl on Fire” because of the flaming cape she wears in her first public appearance. Like that character, Lawrence went from obscurity to celebrity, and now she must travel far and wide promoting herself and the enterprises that support her. There are certainly major differences. Katniss wins her fame by fighting other teenagers to the death in a sick reality-TV program meant to distract a downtrodden populace, while Lawrence almost stumbled into a less fraught brand of stardom. But still. Both are regularly dolled up and fawned over and trotted out, and they can never return to the simplicity of their earlier lives.
“I read the Hunger Games books when it was Oscar season, so for the first time I was in these dresses which didn’t look like me and didn’t feel like me. I felt like a walking rag doll. I remember sitting there in hair and makeup, listening to the things that they were talking about, and most of the things I didn’t even know. My dad called them the pit crew—they did hair and makeup and nails all at the same time. So I read that and I was like, ‘I know exactly how that feels.’ And then, in the second book, people’s relationships to you suddenly change. You’re aware of people staring at you.”
“Even Katniss’s relationship with her mother.”
“That’s different. I call my mom sobbing all the time. But it’s dealing with the repercussions of having no more anonymity. You lose privacy. And then, the third book, I teared up when I read it, because she finally realizes she can do good with it. Children are in the hospital, and just going and meeting them can lift their spirits and give them hope. As much as this is a curse, as stupid as it sounds, to make as much money as I am by doing something that I love, it’s hard not to regret it when you’re being chased by 15 strangers. All you want to do is rent a house, but then you have to rent one with a gate, and you’re like, What have I done? This is so stupid.”
“Is it worse in California?”
“So much worse. It’s a hornets’ nest. But then we have these children from Make-a-Wish coming to the set. On the first movie I met this girl, and I can’t tell this story without crying.” She hesitated. She was tearing up. “She had scars all over her body—burns—and she was telling me she was always so ashamed of the way she looked and she was so embarrassed, and now she has the nickname the Girl on Fire, but she loves it and wears it proudly. It gives her confidence. That was the first time in my entire career that I actually felt like there was a point in this. Not to sound rude, but it is stupid. Everybody’s like, ‘How can you remain with a level head?’ And I’m like, ‘Why would I ever get cocky? I’m not saving anybody’s life. There are doctors who save lives and firemen who run into burning buildings. I’m making movies. It’s stupid.’ ”
“Are there movies you watch over and over?”
“Yeah, but they’re not artistic movies. Things like Dumb and Dumber. Planes, Trains and Automobiles. That’s a great movie—I won’t make excuses for that one. There’s Something About Mary. I just watched that for the 50th time. Bridget Jones’s Diary is the one that, no matter when it’s on, I will watch it. Anytime.”
“Do you have a home?”
“I’m a nomad. I just looked in New York and I was looking in L.A. and I can’t figure out where I want to live. I think it’s because I’m not ready to own a place yet. I have the money, but I don’t have the maturity.”
The waitress stopped by and described the desserts.
“Do you have Corona?,” Lawrence asked. “You started talking about dessert and I started thinking about beer.”
“We have Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale, which is good.”
“Oh, can I have one of those, please?”
I ordered a beer and asked, “Do you want to keep acting, like Meryl Streep, or morph into being a director, like Jodie Foster?”
“I’ve always wanted to direct. Ever since the first movie. Lori Petty was directing, and I was imagining being a director. I love filmmaking. I love acting, but I don’t feel married to being just in front of the camera.”
The drinks came. We moved into the lightning round.
“What movie makes you cry?”
“Do you do yoga?”
“Hot or regular?”
“I used to do hot but realized it was all an illusion and wasn’t worth the heat.”
“Is the red carpet torture or fun?”
“More torture. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s uncomfortable having to pose when people are shouting at you and the next day you just get slaughtered. You walk out there and go, ‘Hate me!’”
“Have you ever been someone’s fan?”
“I had the basic ’NSync obsession. And Leonardo DiCaprio. But when kids do weird things to me, I’m like, ‘I never did that when I was little.’ … I went nuts over Harry Potter and read it four times and pretended I was a witch, but I don’t think I would have done some of the—actually, that’s not true. I saw Daniel Radcliffe when I was doing David Letterman and I flipped out. I was screaming. So never mind. I take back everything I said.”
“Have you been to college?”
“I didn’t go to high school. I am vastly uneducated.”
“Would you like to go back to school?”
“Have you ever been to a party that was actually enjoyable?”
“If it’s with my friends. Like the Woody party. We started a thing called Sanchez, which is where you snap your finger and swipe it across somebody’s face. We were licking our fingers and swiping it. So somebody invited his wife over, and she came in with a friend, and they were both in dresses and high heels. When they walked in, I was chasing Woody over a couch. We flipped the couch over and he was shoving a sock down my throat. So we had fun. And then we went to this amazing mansion and started doing cartwheels.”
“Do you like Wes Anderson movies?”
“I love Wes Anderson.”
She whipped out her iPhone and showed me a picture someone had sent her: a $5 bill with Abraham Lincoln’s face drawn over to look like Bill Murray’s. “I saw him at this awards show. My agent knows how obsessed I am with Bill Murray. Once I’m obsessed with somebody, I’m terrified of them instantly. I’m not scared of them—I’m scared of me and how I will react. Like, for instance, one time someone was introducing me to Bill Maher, and I saw Meryl Streep walk into the room, and I literally put my hand right in Bill Maher’s face and said, ‘Not now, Bill!,’ and I just stared at Meryl Streep.”
“Did you meet her?”
“Of course not. I just creepily stared at her.”
“Do you like Lost in Translation?”
“Yes, of course. Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors. I just love that she allows for time in her movies.”
“Would you ever become a hermit?”
“A hermit? Yes.”
“Do you own your own bow and arrow?”
“I do. One time I actually used it for defense. I pulled into my garage and I heard men in my house. And I was like, ‘I’m not letting them take my stuff.’ I had just gotten back from training, so I had the bow and arrows in the back of my car. I went to my car and I put this quiver on me and I had my bow and I loaded it and I’m walking up the stairs. And I look, and my patio doors were open, and there were guys working right there, and I was like, ‘Heyyy, how you doin’?’ ”
“It would be a huge story, if you shot somebody with an arrow.”
“That’s what all my friends said. They were like, ‘We’ve got to stage someone to break into your house and you can kill them!’ That would be the funniest news ever. Katniss Everdeen actually kills someone with a bow and arrow!”
The waitress returned, saying, “This is a gift from the kitchen. They are lamb meatballs.” After she was gone, Lawrence said, “I can’t stand it. I don’t eat lamb. I think it tastes like feet.” I said I didn’t like lamb, either. Surreptitiously, we hid the meatballs in napkins while discussing her upcoming job, filming the next X-Men, in which she plays the blue-bodied, shape-shifting mutant, Mystique. “When I first signed on to that, I was in New York and I came out of my hotel and there were all these creepy—I won’t say creepy—all these interesting people outside the hotel. A flash went off and somebody said, ‘Don’t take pictures of Mystique when she’s in her natural form!’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, what have I done? What am I getting into?’ But Bryan Singer’s going to direct it, so the tiny fanboy in me is jumping up and down.”
The waitress was back: “Did you like ’em?” She meant the meatballs.
Lawrence turned on the acting: “They were delicious. They were awesome.”
The waitress left. For the first time Lawrence seemed unhappy. “I’m feeling ill,” she said. “Look at my leg. I’m shaking my leg because I knew she was going to ask. I get the weirdest anxiety. I swear to God, I blame my mom. When I was in elementary school, I told everyone I had a leg problem and it required a lot of attention, my imaginary leg problem, and I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. And my mother comes to school, and one of my classmates is like, ‘How is Jennifer’s leg?’ And my mom looks at me and she knows I’ve been lying and she made me purge. I was on the floor and she drew all the lies out of me that I had ever told. She made me tell every single lie, and I was, like, crying. It was horrible! I swear, I blame her. Even the smallest thing, like ‘How’s your day?’ If I’m having a bad day and I say, ‘It was good,’ I’m like, Oh, God!, and I have to purge.”
As Lawrence made her way out of the restaurant, the woman behind the bar said, “You were great in Winter’s Bone.” Lawrence thanked her. Outside, on the sidewalk, she said, “I don’t hear that very much. That’s going to put a kick in my step.” In her hand was a napkin loaded with lamb meatballs.
Source: Vanity Fair