Jennifer Lawrence is seen poses for Vanity Fair, March issue to the gallery.
She may be the highest-paid actress in the world, but Jennifer Lawrence has had a tough year: an emergency landing, a romantic breakup, and her (reluctant) first nude scene, for this month’s Red Sparrow. It all has her looking to the next phase in her career—and life.
It is nearing dinnertime as I wind through the streets of Beverly Hills, passing the storied haunts Craig’s and Tower Bar on my way to the home of Jennifer Lawrence. She has offered to host, and who would turn down an invitation to hang out with this supernova? At 27, she is the highest-paid actress in the world and the youngest person to have earned four Oscar nominations (she won best actress for her work in Silver Linings Playbook) and three Golden Globe awards. Her potent combination of talent, beauty, charm, and chutzpah makes her seem like a throwback to an earlier era. And her authenticity is a refreshing, much-needed antidote for a world drowning in a digital sea of meticulously curated social-media accounts, photo filters, and sponsored tweets.
Yet, for all her successes—in addition to her critical accolades and awards she has starred in a pair of multi-billion-dollar franchises, The Hunger Games and X-Men—she is at a defining juncture, when youth fades and adulthood begins, a transition that has stymied many promising acting careers. Lawrence, however, is the rare prodigy whose next chapter could be more interesting than the first. Lawrence is imbued with insatiable curiosity, professionalism, a work ethic, and extraordinary natural talent. She may be the last true movie star to emerge from Hollywood before the industry stopped making them.
So, what does maturity look like for the world’s most famous ingénue? Let’s start by having her cook me dinner—roast chicken, to be exact. (I supplied the alcohol—wine and vodka, as I wasn’t sure what the menu or mood would be.) “I’ve done this a few times, but I’m not superconfident,” says Lawrence, casually attired, without a trace of makeup, in her kitchen. “I have ramen, so either way we’re fine,” she says, only half joking.
While the chicken is in the oven, Lawrence makes us martinis (my drink of choice) in the style that Michael Fassbender, one of her X-Men co-stars, taught her—a drop of vermouth swished in the glass, then tossed out before the vodka goes in. The French-style house is her first major purchase, made back in 2014, a perfectly appointed, comfortable environment and exactly what you would expect from this gal from Kentucky: vintage mixed with modern. A gorgeous custom curved long sofa in the den, we both agree, is what she should try to salvage first if a California fire were headed her way.
Lawrence admits that her style is ever evolving and that she is in the process of redecorating. “My bedroom looks like Vegas meets . . .” Her voice trails off. “Well, you never want to decorate anything before you’re 25.” A portrait of her dog and constant companion, Pippi, commissioned by her mother, hangs in the gym, which is well equipped but doesn’t run the risk of overuse from this openly disgruntled exerciser. As she takes me on a tour of the lush grounds outside, she admits having been in the pool only once, on her birthday—the downside of a career lived on the road.
This month Lawrence stars as Russian prima ballerina turned Soviet operative Dominika Egorova in Red Sparrow, a spy thriller based on the best-selling novel by former C.I.A. agent Jason Matthews. After an injury ends her dance career, Lawrence’s character is recruited by the government to join an elite squad of officers who use psychological—and sexual—warfare to extract secrets from state enemies.
About seven years ago, when Lawrence co-starred in Jodie Foster’s film The Beaver, the director told her that one day she would look back on her film roles and see a pattern. It was Lawrence’s good friend Laura (more on her later) who identified the archetype even before Lawrence did, noting that the actress tended to play “white trash with too much responsibility.” Sure enough, in her early films, including Winter’s Bone and the Hunger Games quartet, Lawrence embodied what she calls “the young-adult maternal figure.”
The character of Dominika presented Lawrence with an opportunity to break from her past in more ways than one. “Red Sparrow really scared the hell out of me because I get nude,” says Lawrence, who first balked at the idea. “I tried to do the movie without nudity but realized it just wouldn’t be right to put the character through something that I, myself, am not willing to go through.”
Lawrence, who had personal photos stolen and uploaded to the Internet in a hack, in 2014, said that she was wary of potential criticism over her artistic choice. “My biggest fear was that people would say, ‘Oh, how can you complain about the hack if you’re going to get nude anyway?,’ ” Lawrence says, referencing the stolen photos, which were meant for her then boyfriend, Nicholas Hoult. (The man responsible for the hack was prosecuted and sentenced to 18 months in prison; Lawrence’s stolen pictures will live forever on the Internet.)
But the actress draws a big distinction between the involuntary release of her photos and her decision to shed her clothes on-screen. “One is my choice.” That choice ultimately proved to be empowering. “I got something back that was taken from me, and it also felt normal,” she says.
It helps that the director of these potentially uncomfortable scenes was Francis Lawrence (no relation), who has worked with Lawrence since she was 22 and started making the second film in the Hunger Games quartet. Though she was particularly nervous about filming a violent shower-room fight scene, she says Francis immediately put her at ease. “He looked me right in the eyes like I had clothes on and then all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh, O.K., it’s just like I have clothes on.’ Everybody here is professional. You’re still at work. One look just made me comfortable. It didn’t make me feel naked.”
Francis wasn’t the only person on the Red Sparrow set to watch Jennifer grow up—many on the production team were also Hunger Games alumni. “They all knew me since I was a baby,” says Lawrence. After wrapping the nude scenes she teased the camera team: “I hope you guys feel creepy.” (For all her dramatic accolades, comedic timing may be Lawrence’s true gift.) The director says he always had Jennifer in mind for the part. “First and foremost, she’s a terrific actress,” he says. “What excited me the most was just how different it would be for her—the way she looks and the way she behaves and the way she sounds . . . that was really, really exciting to me.”
“I get my happiness from my friends and my house,” Lawrence says.
“She is one of the most intuitive people that I know,” adds Francis. (Lawrence’s Red Sparrow co-stars include Joel Edgerton and acting icons Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons.) “She’s kind of a savant when it comes to human behavior. When she’s acting in a scene, it’s not something that’s been rehearsed or practiced—it’s really fun to watch, and it’s pretty magical.”
The director also sees an authenticity in the offscreen Jennifer Lawrence. “I think a lot of people think the behavior portrayed in articles and interviews—when she falls and all that kind of stuff—has been fabricated by her. It’s really not. She really is who she is and who she presents herself to be. There’s sort of a blunt quality. She doesn’t really hold back in terms of beliefs and being goofy and she just says what she’s thinking.”
Another thing that isn’t fabricated: Lawrence’s oft reported resistance to dieting and working out. To accommodate his star, Francis arranged to shoot the ballet scenes in Red Sparrow first, so that she would be in her best shape. (The movie was shot in parts of Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the U.K.) He adds, “She really trained a tremendous amount. She worked with a ballet coach for three months and did a lot of exercise.”
For Lawrence, the issue of body image and weight is a particularly sensitive one. Last fall, as the Hollywood sexual-assault reckoning gained momentum, Lawrence revealed in painstaking detail an incident in which she was asked, early in her career, to stand nude in a lineup of other actresses in front of a producer who judged her body and pressured her to lose weight. “I’ve always wondered what it would take to get me to really diet, to really be hungry, because I’ve never done it for a movie. For Hunger Games, they told me to lose weight, and then I discovered Jack in the Box. Red Sparrow was the first time that I was really hungry, and disciplined. I can’t be in character as an ex-ballerina and not feel like an ex-ballerina.”
Though she tried to maintain that dancer’s level of control, once she was done with the ballet sequences, all bets were off. “I can’t work on a diet. I’m hungry. I’m standing on my feet. I need more energy. I remember having a meltdown, freaking out that I had eaten five banana chips.”
Nourishment came in a European form of street food. “I discovered this Viennese kielbasa sausage in an uncircumcised French-bread roll, with pickle relish,” she says. “I had that almost every day in Budapest—which you can see, because I continue to grow in the movie,” she says, laughing. “Dieting is just not in the cards for me.”
Back in Lawrence’s kitchen, she plates a delicious meal: perfectly tender chicken with onions, potatoes, and green beans. And then we sit in the kitchen and talk about what almost everyone else is talking about around the table. “I’ve always thought that it was a good idea to stay out of politics,” says Lawrence. “Twenty-five percent of America identifies as liberal and I need more than 25 percent of America to go see my movies. It’s not wise, career-speaking, to talk about politics. When Donald Trump got sworn into office, that fucking changed.”
She’s joined the board of Represent.Us, a bipartisan grassroots organization that aims to root corruption out of politics. Fellow board members include directors Adam McKay and David O. Russell, who directed Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, Joy, and American Hustle, and the advisory board boasts a number of activists from all political stripes, including Democratic, Republican, and Tea Party leaders.
Now that she’s politically woke, Lawrence isn’t holding back her opinions. “It did steamroll, thanks to my personality,” she admits. “If I’m thinking something, I’ve made it very clear I’m going to talk about it. My family obviously hates every time I talk about politics because it’s hard to see your kid get criticized and they live in Kentucky, where nobody is really liking what I’m saying.” (Kentucky, where polls closed at six P.M., was one of the first states Trump won in 2016.)
Although Lawrence divides her time between New York City and Los Angeles, her southern upbringing gives her a different perspective. She maintains close ties to her hometown of Louisville (her parents still own a house there, and each Christmas she visits children at the city’s Norton Children’s Hospital), and she understands viscerally the reasons why Donald Trump’s candidacy resonated with many Americans. Here’s “a big powerful man in a nice suit, pointing at you and going, ‘I’m going to make you rich.’ It’s so appealing,” she says. “The Democrats made a huge mistake by chastising the Trump supporters, and that was disgusting to me. Of course they’re not going to vote for Hillary Clinton; they’re going to vote for Donald Trump. You laughed at them when their plight is very real.”
But she scoffs at the criticism of Hillary Clinton as a “career politician.” “I’m like, ‘I want a career politician!’ I wouldn’t hire an assistant if they didn’t have experience; we’re talking about the president of the fucking United States!”
Two thousand seventeen was a fitful year for Lawrence. It started with negative reviews for Passengers, her outer-space movie co-starring Chris Pratt. The film wasn’t a financial flop—it made $300 million worldwide—but Lawrence, who garnered a career-high $20 million payday, couldn’t distract from the movie’s troubled plotline.
In June a private plane she was flying on, from Kentucky to New York, at 31,000 feet suffered double engine failure and was forced to make an emergency landing. (No one was injured.) Over dinner Lawrence told me the terrifying experience sent her into therapy for the first time to combat the post-traumatic stress she was dealing with. And every time she got on a plane in the aftermath, to soothe her nerves she watched Disney movies on rotation. “Thank you, Emma Watson, for Beauty and the Beast,” she says. “I’ve seen it six or seven times. If anybody has any questions about it, come to me.”
She also ended her relationship with director Darren Aronofsky. The two met making the allegorical Mother!, a controversial film that critics loved—Lawrence won praise for her performance as a young tortured wife and mother—but one that audiences rejected as too complicated. “I thought it was genius, a masterpiece, and . . . a cry for Mother Earth seemed right and cool. He was the perfect filmmaker to do it with.”
Although they are no longer romantically linked, they are still friends. Lawrence prides herself on healthy relationships—and healthy breakups. “We have an amazing friendship that started before the movie, then we had a partnership with the movie, and then we had a romance that came from the movie, so when you strip the romance away, we still have immense respect for each other,” she says. “As cliché as it sounds, we were good to each other. I read stuff all the time that I think would be perfect for Darren. And I think we’ll work together again.”
Lawrence has strong friendships—fellow actresses Emma Stone, Brie Larson, and Amy Schumer, to name a few, as well as a very tight group outside the industry she has known for more than 10 years. “When I was doing X-Men—that was right when Hunger Games was starting to come out—everyone just starts looking at you like you have something on your face, and the whole world starts reacting to you differently,” she remembers. “If I was not living with a best friend at the time, I don’t know what would have happened, because every day I came home, and it was the exact same: we’d talk about boy drama, and we’d talk about her [life].”
“She is one of the most intuitive people that I know,” says director Francis Lawrence.
One member of that group, Laura, whom she had met when she was 17, was with her when Vanity Fair photographed Lawrence in December. I saw something on that shoot I have never seen in 20 years of living in Hollywood. Upon arriving, Lawrence’s dog, Pippi, defecated on the property almost immediately after getting out of the S.U.V. Laura, who was helping Lawrence that day, reached in her purse, pulled out a plastic bag, and then did the unthinkable. She handed the bag to Lawrence, who proceeded to pick up her dog’s poop.
Hollywood is home to an egomaniacal industry where movie stars tend to be enabled and coddled, and at a certain point actors begin to surround themselves with sycophants and paid pals. I have watched Lawrence grow up in this community, and it gave me such a sense of pride that the world’s biggest movie star is still humble enough to pick up her own dog shit.
Lawrence provided some of her own insight: “Being an actor, you become a professional at talking about yourself,” she says. “And it’s not even our fault—we do it for months and months and months at a time. But I have my girlfriends and I’m genuinely interested in their lives.”
When Mother! was doing poorly, Lawrence initially was disappointed by the public’s indifference to the film. She remembers thinking, “ ‘Did you guys not get it? I gave my body, Darren gave his fucking heart, he bled for that script, and you don’t get it.’ It’s a little sad. And I remember letting it be sad for a couple of days, and then I was like, ‘You know what? This is not where I get my happiness from. I get my happiness from my friends and my house—they’ve brought me so much sanity.’ ”
Working steadily since the age of 16, Lawrence uncharacteristically has some time on her hands. She is signed on to star in a film with Italian director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name), but with the script still being written, there is plenty of time for Lawrence to explore other opportunities.
After our dinner we leave the dishes in the sink and head to her living room, where there are two stockings hanging from the mantel—one for her, and a miniature one for Pippi—and a Christmas tree. I ask about future projects. Lawrence has made no secret of her love for television—especially reality programming. She’s become unlikely friends with Kardashian matriarch and “momager” Kris Jenner, who posted on Instagram a picture of a mini toy Porsche she received from Lawrence. In November, Lawrence gave interviewers everywhere a run for their money when she grilled Kim Kardashian West as part of a guest-host stint on Jimmy Kimmel Live. (Sample questions: “Have you ever been cheated on?” And “Do you think it’s a coincidence that [ex-boyfriend] Reggie Bush’s wife looks just like you?”)
Over glasses of red wine I ask Lawrence, “If you could make your own reality show, what would it be?”
“I’m happy you asked,” she says, a Cheshire-cat grin crossing her face, “because I have actually been toying with the idea of becoming a billionaire and I’d like to start my own TV network.” Because of her viewing habits—heavy on Real Housewives, all things Kardashian—she declares, “I am pretty much a television professional at this point. And I have a brilliant idea for a reality show called Breakup Island.”
She goes on: “I can’t tell you the details, but there are very distinct cast members like The Bachelor, between the ages of 20 and 50, who you stay with and care about.”
Lawrence has obviously given this a lot of thought, but she plays coy. “That’s all I’m willing to disclose about Breakup Island because I really think it’s going to happen,” she says. “My agent was laughing at me when I told him. But I am clearly obsessed.”
Lawrence leans back on the fainting couch, her face lit perfectly by the natural firelight. She takes another sip of her wine, and after a beat, with the confidence of a mogul, she says, “Seems like a natural next step.”