Indeed, in preparation for The Hunger Games, she was given media training — how to make more eye contact, regulate the volume of her voice and rein in the nervous laughter — and during the Oscars someone (she won’t say who) told her to tone it down. “Other people are getting up and owning the stage and you sound like a stuttering idiot. Pull it together.” And I said, “I’m not doing it on purpose, I’m uncomfortable and when people get uncomfortable they resort to their shit. I make awkward jokes and stutter.”’ She winces a little. ‘That was actually a moment when I really wanted it to be special. That was not the time I wanted to be the Down-Home Girl. I wanted to be graceful.”
Psychopaths, on the other hand, don’t worry her so much. ‘At least that makes sense. It’s here. I sleep with a bow and arrow under my bed. I have pink mace in my bag. I’m like, “You just wait, you’re walking into a world of pain.”
Today her handbag has no mace — she has a bodyguard these days — but it does contain a bottle of perfume, an iPhone, some multi-vitamins (unopened), a silicone bra insert from a recent photo-shoot and her diary, the first entry of which reads: ‘Keeping journals always makes me nervous people are going to find it, so if you’re reading this, just stop. Don’t be a journal reader. Those people suck.’ The picture on her iPhone is of her nephew. ‘Are you in for a world of cute?’ she asks. ‘Isn’t he precious? Do you want to see him count really fast?’ and shows me a video of a curly-haired toddler counting from one to 10.
Ten seconds also happens to be the rough length of time it takes for an average human being to fall in love with Jennifer Lawrence like she’s your sister. She’s very funny, with something of the compulsive honesty and ability to warm up a room of the great comedians — Seth Rogen, only prettier. When I ask her what she most likes about her new life, she doesn’t miss a heat. ‘The money,’ she says, in her husky. Bacall-esque voice.
‘I’m joking. The work, the work…’
She puts so little store by the usual pieties that prop up the celebrity interview — the love of the work, the importance of craft, the dedication to one’s art, the method behind one’s madness — that at times the whole structure threatens to come crashing down with one push. She could be the most radical talent currently working in Hollywood — a pure natural, a slob genius in the tradition of great slob geniuses that includes the young Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis, with the same hold on the audience’s emotions, the same ruby-like glint of trashiness in her soul. She never even intended to be an actress, but her first break in the business came when she was spotted in New York’s Union Square. ‘I was offered a number of modelling contracts soon after but turned them down, I was like, “Actually, l think l’m going to be an actor.” That was an incredibly dumb thing to do at 14 but was probably the one time when my self-assuredness paid off.’ She has never had an acting lesson. She doesn’t rehearse or research her roles and only commits her lines to memory the night before each take, she is normally to be found eating crisps and joking around with the crew.
‘It’s normally chips. My bodyguard Gilbert, right before they call “action” I’m like, If there aren’t Cheez-It’s here by the time they call “cut” just go home. And he’ll start running. It cracks me up how seriously he takes it. l’m just lazy. Whenever DPs [directors of photography] are like, “ I’m so sorry to do this, but would you mind not saying that one line?” I’m like, “Dude. I don’t want to say any of it. Whatever is easiest. Believe me It’s not my performance that is motivating me. I want to get the on-set catering.”
And then, just when her director is starting to sweat a little, she knocks it out of the park. ‘She’s one of the least neurotic people I’ve ever met,’ says David O. Russell who directed her to her Oscar in Silver Linings Playbook. ‘She came onto the set like some gee-whiz kid, “What’s it like to have people ask for your autograph, Mr. De Niro?” And then she jumped in and took over the whole scene from every actor in the room. De Niro turned to me and nodded, like: “Wow, this kid is really bringing it.” He loved it. She’s like Michael Jordan. Her jaw doesn’t get set. That’s how top sportsmen can go in under pressure, because they’re so loose.’
If you want the moment when Lawrence won her Oscar, that scene with De Niro — reversing the flow of his superstitious sports ju-ju with one magnificently delivered speech — was it. She says she didn’t understand a word of what she was saving. For her new film with Russell, American Hustle, about a famous FBI sting operation in the 1970s, she plays the hard-drinking wife of a con man, played by Christian Bale. She got in to dress up in boob tube, furs and actylic nails – playing it big and crazy, ‘but this hilarious kind of crazy that just cracks me up,’ she says. ‘I had the most fun I have ever had as an actor doing it. Ever. I would get so out of hand so fast that when David called “cut” it was like waking up out of a dream. That was exactly how it felt: like waking up. Now if there is a movie l’m looking at, I’m like, “Can I do it with Christian Bale? Christian Bale? Christian ? Christian? Christian?’”
Suddenly she sounds all of seven years old — the little sister nagging her big brothers to let her play with them. One of the reasons her work with Russell rings so true is the fidelity with which it recreates the boisterous, fond dynamic of her family back in Kentucky. ‘We’re very loud, but as soon as one of us calls you an asshole, we like you,’ she says of her family, who still run a children’s camp with barns and horses. She was always trying to hangout with her two older brothers, spying on them. hiding under their beds, ‘to jump out and mess with them’ or pouring their cologne down the sink when they refused to play. They would sometimes fight over ‘who could bully me. So if Blaine beat me up, Ben would beat Blaine up and then come and mess with me. It was fun. It was a good deal that we had.’
The relations she had with her female cousins were another matter — ‘because the insults are so much deeper. Ben and Blaine and I would do really jacked-up stuff but we knew never to take it to the parents, but the first thing girls do, because they want to make your life as miserable as possible, is instantly bring the parents in — long emotional letters that the parents read, painting this person as the victim, a really well-thought-out war strategy. With the brothers it was like, “I hate you and I hope that you rot but I don’t want you to get in trouble,” We would punish each other.’
She’s very observant, particularly of her fellow females. At one point. she stops me to gaze at a teenage girl on the other side of the lobby: hair down to her waist, in full Eighties gear, about 12. Lawrence is mesmerized. “To be that bold at that age,’ she wonders, ‘You can just grow hair like that overnight. She’s been committed to that took for a really long time. That’s how adults are dressing when they’re trying to dress, like, unique and different, and she’s like 12.’
I ask if there’s an element of self-recognition there.
‘No,’ she says, ‘Admiration.’
am reminded of something Francis Lawrence, the director of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, told me. ‘She picks up on the nuances of people’s body language instantly — in a blink or a wink. While we were filming, she knew in a second when I was anxious or upset. And I don’t show emotion that easily. There’s no fooling her. The Jen that went into the machine is pretty much the Jen who came out.’
The biggest sacrifice she has had to make in the Last year, at least for such a student of naturalism, is this: people acting naturally around her. Or. as she puts it: My bullshit detector is going off aIl the time,’ Her agent and publicist know not to try any of the ‘You’re wonderful’ stuff and when I try to compliment her acting she cuts me short, She can hear dead air in an instant. The only thing she can’t pick up on is passive hostility. ‘I’m totally blind to it,’ she says. ‘Somebody could be totally hostile and I’m like, “Great! See you later!” It’s not until someone is really blatant that I notice. “Wow, you hate me.’’’
I ask her the last time someone made her cry. She thinks for a bit, then tells me about something that happened right at the beginning of her career. ‘I was young. It was just the kind of shit that actresses have to go through. Somebody told me I was fat, that I was going to get fired if I didn’t lose a certain amount of weight. They brought in pictures of me where I was basically naked, and told me to use them as motivation for my diet. It was just that.’ Someone brought it uprecently. ‘They thought that because of the way my career had gone, it wouldn’t still hurt me. That somehow, after I won an Oscar, I’m above it all. “You really still care about that?” Yeah. I was a little girl. I was hurt. It doesn’t matter what accolades you get.’
She pauses, ‘l know it’ll never happen to me again. If anybody even tries to whisper the word diet, I’m like, “You can go fuck yourself.”’
‘Just whip out your Oscar,’ I tell her.
‘Yeah, right. Is he too fat, motherfuckers?’ She folds in laughter.
I’ve been interviewing Hollywood actresses for almost 20 years and I’ve never met anyone who seems as resolutely normal as Lawrence, and yet so obviously a star. You’d think the two would cancel each other out, but such is the magic of her personality that her ordinariness and her charisma seem to pass in and out of one another, like twinned but opposing waves. As our allotted hour turns into two, and our two comes up fast on three, we get hungry and I remember something I had promised my wife, who is four months pregnant: that I would eat a banana in honour of the size of our baby.
‘That’s some weird-ass shit,’ says Lawrence. ‘I support that.’ The only problem: there are no bananas on the menu at the Casa del Mar.
‘Just tell them I’m super-famous,’ she says.
I get the waiter’s attention.
‘Hi,’ says Jen, taking over, ‘Do you have any bananas in the kitchen? His wife is pregnant and the baby is the size of a banana so he wants to eat a banana in celebration.’
The waiter looks a little thrown. ‘Yeah… I think we got ice—cream, we got bananas. You want a banana split? I can have him make you one.’
‘You don’t think it was the Oscar?’
‘Either way, you’re welcome.’
Five minutes later, the waiter arrives back with a lobster club, a beet salad and a banana split. ’Was it the baby or the Oscar?’ I ask him.
‘My girlfriend’s five weeks,’ he says, and pulls out an ultrasound scan of his baby. We coo over it, an impromptu Iittle gang, and then he leaves.
‘What is it?’
‘I just really saved myself from something pretty bad. There was, like, a thing.’
‘I’m getting better.’ she says. ‘Can eat your cherry?’
At which point, I realize something with a pang: I’m going to miss this girl.
– Tom Shone for Bazaar UK