THE J- LAW PHENOMENON
Hollywood executives may dither over whether audiences will turn up for a ScarJo Black Widow standalone or if Gal Gadot can jumpstart the Wonder Woman brand, but via the Hunger Games saga Jennifer Lawrence has been proving that a female- centric action franchise is absolutely money in the bank. Make that 1.5 billion in the bank ( and counting) as global audiences can’t get enough of Lawrence’s reluctant but capable heroine, Katniss Everdeen.
While the saga launched with a built- in base of rabid book fans, the films work because Lawrence embodies Everdeen with the perfect mix of small- town girl relatability and commanding bravery and resolve. The character isn’t a far cry from Lawrence’s own humble Kentucky origins, in fact – and maybe that’s why audiences buy her playing an average girl with superior bow skills that were borne out of life- and- death necessity. Neither Lawrence or Everdeen are larger- than- life by intent and that makes both captivating to watch. We’ll see her in Mockingjay: Part Two a year from now – and then in 2016 she returns to her other fandom- friendly role as conflicted shapechanger Mystique in X- Men: Apocalypse.
On a typically glistening
summer day in Beverly Hills, inside a well appointed hotel room, director Francis Lawrence is grabbing a cup of tea and looking remarkably relaxed for a man who has essentially been toiling non- stop for the last two years.
After inheriting the Hunger Games franchise from director Gary Ross, who bowed out due to the tight production turnaround between the first and second instalments, Lawrence was handpicked by producer Nina Jacobson and Lionsgate to helm Catching Fire, the second film in their newly minted blockbuster series. Lawrence proved so adept at adapting the second book that before shooting was complete it was announced he would also stay to direct the two movies adapted from Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins’ hit series. That meant Lawrence went straight from Catching
Fire into pre- production of Mockingjay – which shot back- to- back for nine months in Atlanta and Europe – without a break.
On this August day, it’s only been about six weeks since principal photography finished and he went straight into the full- time frenzy of post- production on Part One. Yet there are no bags under his eyes or blank looks as he settles into his chat with SFX, just a sweet smile as he savours his tea. He’s feeling zen because as he puts it, “Post is really nice. It’s nice to be back at my house with my family. It’s more civilised,” he smiles.
Narratively, Mockingjay: Part One picks up right where Catching Fire left off with Katniss adjusting to life, along with a handful of survivors from District 12 including Gale ( Liam Hemsworth) and her family, in the hidden, underground compound of District 13. With national Panem rebellion being fomented by 13’ s President Coin ( Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee ( Philip Seymour Hoffman), the duo wants Katniss to become the symbol of their uprising, taking up the mantle of the Mockingjay. But it turns out Katniss is in no shape to do much of anything after two soul- shattering Hunger Games.
Figuring out how to split Katniss’s journey in the final book into two films was priority one for Lawrence and the producers, but not a difficult one according to the director. “There are definitely overarching themes through the whole series, but there are two distinct stories [ in Mockingjay],” Lawrence offers. “We knew there were two distinct stories we could tell so it was about figuring out where that end is for Part One that tells that story properly. So far, I have been primarily working on Part One, at least in post- production, and I am really happy about how the themes of that one are coming through.”
While reticent to talk specifics about those themes so as not to spoil the film’s splitting point, Lawrence and Jacobson have admitted publicly that Part One is about propaganda, while Part Two is about the hells of war all experienced from Katniss’ point of view. From an emotional perspective, Lawrence explains that Katniss “is more damaged at the beginning of this than she was at the beginning of Catching Fire just because of what she’s been through. The damage is exponential. I have to say Part One was probably one of the most complex movies I’ve done in terms of tracking a character’s emotional state. It’s so specific and you have to be so careful not to go down the wrong path and it would be so easy for the fine tuning of the performance to go off – not because of anybody’s fault – but it’s literally just been about making the right choices to go down the right path.”
Real, or not real?
Yet focusing on, and executing, that kind of precision storytelling has been indicative of Lawrence’s work during the entire Mockingjay production, producer Nina Jacobson tells SFX. Weathering the intensely tight production with its additional international shooting and escalating cast, while controlling the massively expanding scope and scale of the last book, and
even keeping momentum after the tragic loss of principal actor Philip Seymour Hoffman without losing focus would have broken plenty of other directors, but Lawrence never faltered. His quiet strength is a big part of why Jacobson bet that he had the right talent and temperament to keep The Hunger Games on a trajectory of success. With filming now in the rearview mirror, Jacobson is quick to confirm they were right.
“Francis brings an extraordinary balance of depth and emotion to the characters with scope and scale in his vision,” she says of the director’s work. “I think these movies manage to feel very expansive yet very personal. His instincts for that are displayed greatly in
Catching Fire, but he takes it to the next level in Mockingjay partly because one of the things that is so powerful about these books is how deeply these characters are affected by what they’ve been through. Katniss doesn’t just bounce back like a rubber band. Every event of the story takes a toll on her but you also see her growth.
“Francis has gone really deep with these characters,” Jacobson continues. “It’s manifested in the performances and in these jaw- dropping sequences where you see the impact of [ Katniss’s] actions on the country, as well as the behind- the- scenes between Plutarch and Coin as they try to figure out what to do with her. Katniss hasn’t shown up in great shape. She experiences a great sense of loss for having left Peeta ( Josh Hutcherson) behind. But this revolution is growing and great things are expected of her, yet she has profound feelings of guilt. By balancing out the intensity of these character stories with the scope of watching a country go from bits of rebellion to full scale uprising to revolution to – by the time you get to the last movie – a war between the Capitol and the Districts, Francis has managed to give all of those elements their due.”
Jacobson is also quick to give praise to Jennifer Lawrence who has to do a lot of heavy emotional lifting in Part One. “I am struck by the way in which Jen as an actress is able to
Francis Lawrence teaching the art of gesturing on set. Let this be a lesson: never get drunk at a tattoo party. Or even go to one. Ever.