Current Best Actress Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence was recognized as Outstanding Performer of the Year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). Whether it was her memorable debut in The Poker House, her first Oscar-nominated role in Winter’s Bone, indies like The Beaver and Like Crazy, or her star-making turns in last year’s The Hunger Games andSilver Linings Playbook (for which she has received her second Oscar nomination), the 22-year-old from Kentucky is proving herself to be one of Hollywood’s most talented young actors. Collider was there to cover and attend the event, and we’ve compiled the highlights of what she had to say, both on the press line and during the Q&A.
While there, Jennifer Lawrence talked about what this past year has been like for her, how she got her start in acting, why she’s never taken any acting lessons, what the experience of making her first feature film The Poker House was like, what spoke to her about the character of Tiffany when she read the script for Silver Linings Playbook, why she doesn’t like to read her scenes ahead of time, working with Bradley Cooper again on the Depression-era drama Serena (due out in theaters in September), what made her hesitate about taking on the role of Katniss Everdeen for The Hunger Games franchise, what it was like to revisit the character for Catching Fire, what she learned from working with Jodie Foster on The Beaver, why she fought for the role of Ree in Winter’s Bone, her desire to direct, and the fact that she’s a bit less terrified of this award season. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Question: What has this year been like for you?
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: Well, it’s good and bad, just like any job. There’s an amazing side of it that feels incredible, and then there’s the side that’s the bad side and you just have to move on. But, it’s been amazing. A lot of things that I didn’t even think could ever be possible for me have happened, all in a year. It’s been really overwhelming, but in a wonderful way.
Are you able to step back, at all, and really enjoy and appreciate all of the opportunities and acclaim that you’re experiencing?
LAWRENCE: Yeah, it’s an incredible feeling! This doesn’t happen very often. It’s very rare. So, I can definitely take a moment to think that it’s amazing.
Do you like where you are, right now, being this famous star?
LAWRENCE: I find that the more I stay in my house, the less I’m overwhelmed by it, so I’ve just been spending a lot of time at my house. It’s overwhelming, but it’s an honor. This is what I want to do. It makes me so happy. It’s like getting a promotion at your job, but when you get that promotion, you can’t leave the house. But, my dreams have come true. It’s always funny because I find that I can enjoy myself for the few hours that it takes to do a red carpet. It lasts for a few hours, and then I’m ready to go home. Then, it’s over and I go back to being normal.
How did you get your start, as an actor?
LAWRENCE: I went to New York on spring break because it’s very close to Louisville, Kentucky, where I’m from. So, my mother and I just went for spring break. I had never really thought of acting because it was never really a possibility. Now, looking back, we know that I was an actress since birth. I was dressing up in different outfits and introduced myself as Lucille Ball. But, I didn’t really discover it until I was 14 and some man asked if he could take my picture, and I was like, “Yeah, sure!” And then, he called and said that all of these agencies wanted to meet us and we were like, “Well, we don’t have anything better to do in New York.” So, we got in the car, and from the car at our hotel to the modeling agency, I decided that I didn’t want to be a model. I was only going to be an actress, and I would only sign with an agency that would let me act. So, I was turning down these modeling agencies and my mom thought I was an idiot. But, she told me all the agencies were lying because they just wanted my money. So, we didn’t sign with anybody. We went back to Kentucky and I just begged, every day, to let me try it, just to have a chance. Weren’t your parents supportive of you?
LAWRENCE: They weren’t, at first. My parents would have never let me go out to New York, but my two older brothers called them and said, “You’ve traveled all over the country with us, for baseball, football and basketball. This is her baseball game. You have to support her.” So, they were forced to, at that point.
Did you ever do any theater, growing up?
LAWRENCE: No. I did church stuff. I was in the choir at church. When I was nine, I had a feather boa and would sing in the church choir.
Did you immediately start to take acting seriously, as a career?
LAWRENCE: Yeah. I tried for a little bit and I got little jobs. It was the first time I was ever good at anything, really. I wasn’t that great at school. I was fine. I got As and Bs, but I felt dumb, every day. We had to do sports, in our family. That was a rule. But, I never really liked sports. I couldn’t find that thing, which is normal for a 14-year-old. But then, when you find it, I felt like it was the only thing that I had ever known that I understood, and I didn’t want to let go of that. I think my mom saw the same thing and didn’t really want to send me back to school, where I wasn’t very happy. She saw how happy I was, living in a rat-infested apartment by myself, just auditioning.
Why didn’t you take any acting lessons?
LAWRENCE: Because my parents weren’t going to pay for classes. They were like, “If you want to be an actor, we’re not going to pay for your lessons.” That was the main reason that I didn’t have lessons. That was actually the only reason. I’m not against them. If you can afford them, go for it.
The Poker House was your first feature film. What was that experience like?
LAWRENCE: It was amazing, but at the same time, it was terrifying because it was my first real movie and I loved it so much. I loved being at work, every day, and I loved the director telling me to do something, and then doing it. At the same time, there was this fear because I hadn’t taken classes and I didn’t actually know what I was doing. So, when we would cut and move on, [director Lori Petty] would be like, “Good! Great job!,” I didn’t know what I did. That scared me when we wrapped and I was like, “Well, I might be a one-trick pony. Maybe I did everything she liked, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that again.”
What was it like to work with Lori Petty on The Poker House, especially with the story being autobiographical for her?
LAWRENCE: It was incredible! Lori was so fantastic! She’s such an amazing director and person. I’ve never played a person that was in the room, watching me perform. That’s just such a heartbreaking story, and the more I grew to love Lori, the harder it became to emotionally do those scenes.
What spoke to you about the character of Tiffany, when you read the Silver Linings Playbook script?
LAWRENCE: I loved what she taught Bradley Cooper’s character, and that taught me when I was reading the script. I love how she tells him, “You’re not always going to be able to fix yourself, but just like yourself.” She teaches him to just accept certain things about yourself, and I loved that. I loved her strength and her weaknesses, but her strength is accepting her weaknesses. And I’d also always wanted to work with David O. Russell. There was just something about her. I think it’s probably the same reason that audiences have fallen in love with her.
What made you decide to do a Skype audition and really fight for the role?
LAWRENCE: I had never done that before. I heard that it was David O. Russell and I was like, “Yes!” And then, I read the script and fell in love with it. We know he’s the most brilliant director, but he’s also an unbelievable writer. But, they didn’t want to hire me because I was too young. He was only going to meet with me on Skype, so I was like, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to learn how to use Skype.” I had to fight for Winter’s Bone, as well. When it’s the right one, you’ve gotta fight for it.
Since he was someone you’d always wanted to work with, what was it like to work with David O. Russell?
LAWRENCE: To date, it was probably the best experience of my life because of his passion and spontaneity. It’s really rare that somebody who’s a genius can actually communicate, and he can. A lot of people have these amazing ideas and amazing stories, but they don’t have a way to communicate. He can communicate technically and emotionally, and I’ve seen him tailor himself to whatever an actor needs. Most of my favorite performances from my favorite actors are in his movies. I’ve always wanted to work with him, just to see what that would be like. He’s also one of the warmest, nicest, funniest people that I’ve ever met, in my entire life. He made that experience the best experience.
How was it to work with actors like Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver?
LAWRENCE: It was incredible! Before I flew there, I went to the table read and was going to meet Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver, who are these amazing actors. But then, the second that you meet them, they’re the nicest, warmest, most normal people. By the time we got to the set, they were just so normal. It was weird.
How intimidating was it to take on Robert DeNiro for that one scene in the film?
LAWRENCE: That’s not how it felt that day. I never actually read my lines until I show up, and that was not a good day to do that, with a two-page monologue. I was just focused on memorizing it and trying to get through it, all morning. So, by the time it actually came time to do that scene, it was great. I didn’t realize until mid-way through the monologue, and then I thought, “You are Robert DeNiro, and I am shouting at you,” because I was so busy trying to remember [my lines].
Why don’t you read your scenes ahead of time?
LAWRENCE: Well, it started out as a lazy thing. And then, my friend was over and she was like, “What scene are you doing tomorrow?,” and I was like, “I don’t know. Is that bad? Is there a point in my career where I should start learning my lines for work?” And she was like, “Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So, that’s that. I don’t have a way of doing anything, so I like to just mold to whatever the director likes. And I find that a lot easier to do when I don’t already have something set in my mind and I can just show up. Also, acting is just talking. If I start over-thinking it, then I don’t feel natural. I feel like I can’t change it.
David O. Russell said that he saw some similarities between you and Tiffany. Do you see them?
LAWRENCE: No, but there’s a reason I feel passionately about certain characters. Sometimes that’s because you see a little bit of yourself in them, and sometimes it’s because you see zero part of yourself in them and you’re just fascinated by them as people. So, I find it absolutely possible that that would be true.
Did you know that you had this performance in you, with this character?
LAWRENCE: No. You never really know. It’s just one of those things that develops. It starts with the rehearsal. And then, there’s the collaboration with the other actors, the director, and the costume has a huge part to do with it. It just grows.
Has it been nice to hear feedback about how much this movie is really helping people, on a personal level, because of its subject matter?
LAWRENCE: Of course! We hoped, with everything we could, but with any movie, you never know if anybody is going to see it or like it or care. So, just the idea that people do like it and they care, and that it could help anybody out there, is amazing.
Why were you hesitant about taking on the role of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games?
LAWRENCE: Because it’s really rare in your life that saying yes to something will completely change your life. I was happy with my life and I just didn’t know if I wanted it to change. I’ve always had this imaginary future in mind where I would be a soccer mom that drove a mini-van and my kids were normal and I had the same family that I grew up with. That just didn’t fit with taking on a giant franchise. So, I took three days, and each day was a different answer. I finally talked to my mom. I had only really done indies before that, and she said, “Every time people ask you why you don’t do studio movies, you always say that it’s because you don’t care about the size of the movie, you care about the story and the character. But, you’re a hypocrite because now you have a story and a character that you love, but you’re not saying yes to it because of the size of it.” So, I said yes, and I haven’t regretted it. I expected to, but I haven’t, so far.
How do you feel about so many young women looking up to you now, since having taken that role?
LAWRENCE: It’s exciting! It’s really nice. And I’m so happy that I don’t have a secret life because that would be so stressful.
What was it like to revisit the character for the second film, Catching Fire?
LAWRENCE: If possible, there’s even less preparation because I was like, “I’ve done this before.” It was incredible because it was like going back to high school. We had a lot of the same crew, and obviously Josh [Hutcherson] and Liam [Hemsworth] were there. Normally, when I do a movie, I’m meeting people for the first time, so it was just amazing to be able to have the same group of people. It was so fun. And it’s a character that I love, and a story and message that I’m passionate about, so I haven’t managed to get bored. That’s a pretty hard character to get bored with, though.
When you’re acting, you seem to naturally be able to tap into any emotion. Does that just come easily for you?
LAWRENCE: I guess, but I feel like everybody has that. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t take pictures. I’m a horrible photographer. There are people who are just so visual. My friend can write the most beautiful songs you’ve ever heard in your entire life, in 10 minutes. I could never do something like that. Everybody has their gifts. Fortunately, mine is very lucrative.
Are you going to continue to pursue indie films?
LAWRENCE: I still think of myself as an indie actress. The only actual studio movies I’ve done are The X-Men and The Hunger Games. There’s a feeling when you do indies, when you’re on your 20th hour into overtime and everyone else is too, and everybody is freezing cold, and the only reason that you’re there is because of this passion for this tiny little thing that you love and you believe in, but you don’t even know if anybody in the world is going to see it or care as much as you do. You know that 100 people have the same feeling about this tiny little thing, and you can’t get that on a studio film. You can get different feelings from better food and bigger trailers, though.
Jodie Foster was a child actress who grew up in front of the camera. What was it like to work with her, as your director for The Beaver? What did you learn from her?
LAWRENCE: It was amazing! She actually gave me so much hope. There are so many people that are famous and they’re really nice, but they’re not normal. And I met her, and it was like she just had no idea that she was famous. She’s someone who’s been working since she was two. It just gave me so much hope. I was like, “Okay, I can do this. I can be a normal person.” That was probably the biggest gift that she could have given me. But, she’s also very brilliant, very free and obviously gives wonderful acting advice. What I like about working with an actress, as a director, is that she’s not afraid of actors. People tip-toe around actors like they’re emotional land mines, which is probably right, but I always find that annoying because I grew up with sports and I just want someone to tell me what I’m doing wrong. That’s just so much easier. She was very blunt about things like that. She would just be like, “Talk louder. Do this.” I like that a lot.
You’ve worked with Anton Yelchin on both The Beaver and Like Crazy, and now you’ve worked with Bradley Cooper on both Silver Linings Playbook and Serena (due out in theaters in September). What’s it like to get to work with the same actor on different relationships?
LAWRENCE: It was wonderful. It happened the same way. We did a movie together, and we were like, “This was awesome! We should totally do another movie together!” And then, another movie came along. Bradley and I were on the set of Silver Linings, and I was attached to a movie called Serena. We were both saying, “This was really fun! We should do this again!” They were looking for a male lead on Serena, so I was like, “Do you want to read this?” And then, a few months later, he was cast. Now, it feels weird to do a movie without him.
What was it about the character of Ree in Winter’s Bone that made you fight for that role?
LAWRENCE: I just loved that movie, I loved that script, I loved her. Really amazing scripts, unfortunately, are very rare. It was amazing and I knew it wasn’t going to come around a lot, so I went in and auditioned in L.A., a few times. My agent kept calling and saying that they didn’t think I looked right. They moved the casting to New York, and I took a red eye and didn’t shower or wash my face. I was like, “If I don’t look right now, what is it going to take?” I walked there in February and had snot frozen on my face. I walked in, and then the audition was two hours long.
Was Tiffany far more of an acting challenge than Ree, who you received your first Oscar nomination for playing?
LAWRENCE: No, not necessarily. There were different challenges to both. Winter’s Bone was a very hard schedule. It was 25 days, and it was freezing. Physically, it was just really hard. I ate Golden Corral, every day. That was our only catering, and I was so puffy. And then, with Silver Linings, the dancing was the hardest part. Also, what I love about David’s movies is that each of his characters are their own story, and they’re unlike anyone you’ve ever seen. I remember wrapping Silver Linings and sitting in the airport thinking, “Oh, god, I blew it!” I would think back on the scenes and the choices that I made, and it just seemed like a very bizarre person that I had created. I thought it was too much. But then, I saw the whole movie and saw this world that David created, where all of the characters were too much, in this beautiful way.
Was Tiffany a scary character to play?
LAWRENCE: She’s just an enigma. She’s very stubborn and bull-headed, but at the same time, she’s full of insecurities. For every flaw, she has a reason for why it’s okay. She has a lot of different parts to her.
What was it like working with writer/director Guillermo Arriaga on The Burning Plain?
LAWRENCE: When we first started, he hardly spoke any English, but somehow we fully understood each other. He totally adopted me into his family. He was so wonderful, and he’s so brilliant. He’s a beautiful writer. He also wrote 21 Grams and Amores Perros, which are amazing movies. And we had Robert Elswit as a cinematographer, and the film is just stunningly beautiful. We shot it in New Mexico and some of the cinematography was just out of this world. Working with Guillermo was amazing because I feel like we both taught each other stuff. It was his directing debut and it was my second movie, so we were both just totally clueless, figuring it out together.
Do you see a pattern in the type of roles you’ve played and that you’re attracted to?
LAWRENCE: I think that good stories follow really strong characters. I remember Jodie Foster telling me that, one day, I was going to look back and see a pattern in the movies that I was doing, and that it would reflect something that was going on in my life that I didn’t really know about. I don’t know yet. When I look back at them now, it’s like I was a young person with way too much responsibility, and then I turned into an ex-sex addict. Hopefully, a few more movies will help give me a better perspective about what’s going on in my life and what that means.
Of all the characters that you’ve played so far, which is the one that feels closest to who you are?
LAWRENCE: I don’t know. I think it’s dangerous to compare your characters to you, or try to make something about them come from you. I feel like it’s important for them to be a different person and a different entity. Tiffany didn’t react to anything the way that I would have reacted to it, and I would have never been able to do half the things that Ree or Katniss have done. So, I don’t know. I don’t ever really feel like I have anything in common with characters. It takes other people saying it. David O. Russell always calls me stubborn and tells me I have that in common with Tiffany. It takes other people to point it out. I don’t really know because I never really felt like, personally, I had a lot in common with any of my characters. When David wrote Tiffany, he had no idea who I was. One of my favorite parts of making a movie is creating this person, at the very beginning, and watching it evolve with the director and other actors, and then the costumes. They just kind of form.
Do you have any interest in directing?
LAWRENCE: Yeah, I would love to direct. I’ve wanted to direct since I was 16 and I saw Lori [Petty] directing. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the best directors in the world that I can hopefully learn something from, but I don’t think I’m ready. I try to soak up and learn, as much as I can. I just don’t want to annoy anybody.
If you were to direct a movie, what would it be like?
LAWRENCE: It would be like Step Brothers. I’m serious! I saw Step Brothers and I was like, “Why didn’t I direct that?!”
Why do you think you’re attracted to such dark dramas?
LAWRENCE: I don’t know. I would hope that every actor who does a dark, intense movie isn’t dark and intense, all the time. I’m not. When I was younger, I loved sitcoms. I wanted to be Lucille Ball. I loved all sitcoms. I loved The Cosby Show. But, Lucille Ball was my hero. It wasn’t really until I started reading scripts that I started gravitating towards those roles. I was still auditioning for other things, but The Poker House was the first job that I got. That was when I felt like I knew what I wanted to do and was passionate about. And I was in a sitcom when I was 16. I feel like there are a million different sides to people. I have a serious, intense side, I guess, but I also like to watchStep Brothers.
How does the Oscar nomination feel, the second time around? Are you enjoying it more, this time?
LAWRENCE: I think I am, yeah. The first time, it was just terrifying. I was so new to the industry that it was my introduction into this business, which was terrifying. I felt like I didn’t really get a chance to enjoy it because I was so scared. Now, I’m still scared, but I know more people. And I know that I made it through the first time, so if I did it once, I can do it again. It’s an incredible honor. The first nomination hasn’t really set in. I’m afraid I’m going to go my whole life, just being scared like a Chihuahua. It’s not my comfort zone. Making movies is where I belong. I don’t belong on a stage. I shouldn’t be heard, just talking. So, when I’m doing movies, I’m really happy. That’s where I’m comfortable. That’s my home. When you put me on a red carpet or on a stage, I turn into Chihuahua Jennifer, so awards season is always terrifying for me.