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It took no time, and not even a script, for Jen­nifer Lawrence to sign up for the weird­ness of co-star­ring in Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror film, mother! That is “mother” with a lower-case “m” and a big case of mys­tery and vi­o­lence.

“It was an in­stant yes be­fore I even read any­thing,” Lawrence told re­porters on Sun­day at the 42nd Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, where the film de­buted. “He told me the ideas that were float­ing around in his head … and I thought they were bril­liant and chal­leng­ing and I said yes im­me­di­ately.”

Then Aronof­sky sent her the script, the Os­car win­ner re­called with a mis­chievous smile. “I threw it across the room and told him, ‘You’re a psy­chotic and this is a mas­ter­piece.’ So no, I didn’t have any hes­i­ta­tions.”

As an ex­pe­ri­ence, mother! is a mys­tery, Aronof­sky said. “As you watch it, you think you’re watch­ing one thing and it be­comes some­thing else. It shifts again and be­comes an­other thing. I like that, but I don’t want to give too much away about what it is. I en­cour­age peo­ple to avoid spoil­ers and, if you’re up for the roller coaster ride, come take it.”

But Lawrence dis­agrees with her writer-di­rec­tor that ev­ery­thing has to be kept se­cret. So she blurted out some in­for­ma­tion. “When he first came to me (with the script), it was al­le­gor­i­cal. There were these huge metaphors that are uni­ver­sal, Bib­li­cal, and he has cre­ated a nar­ra­tive through them. It was just in­cred­i­ble.”

The film co-stars Javier Bar­dem as Lawrence’s hus­band. They live in a beau­ti­ful house in a re­mote lo­ca­tion. Michelle Pfeif­fer and Ed Har­ris come to stay, seem­ingly strangers whom Bar­dem freely in­vites in. Things started to get su­per­nat­u­ral.

But the tone on-set was dif­fer­ent than on-screen, Lawrence said. “We had a blast,” she said of work­ing with her co-stars, Pfeif­fer in par­tic­u­lar. “I love Michelle. But it took me about two days to get over her beauty. She’s fan­tas­tic. She’s nor­mal. She’s warm. She’s a mom and re­ally a smart, great woman.”

And so it went on the whole pro­duc­tion, Lawrence said. “I know it prob­a­bly doesn’t seem like it but we had a re­ally good time film­ing it.”

The psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror el­e­ment of mother! re­quired Lawrence to be scared and alien­ated, but only tem­po­rar­ily.

“Re­ally, I don’t carry a lot around. It’s just work. Nor­mally, be­tween ac­tion and cut, you just feel it. At cut, I like to shake it off and not dwell in a re­ally hor­ri­ble place. There was only one scene in the whole movie that I had trou­ble kind of snap­ping out of — and, if you see the movie, you’ll un­der­stand what I am talk­ing about.”

In a more gen­eral sense, she also took a sig­nif­i­cant step in her al­ready stel­lar ca­reer.

“This movie kind of pulled me apart and put me back to­gether. It was just a com­pletely dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter from any­thing I’ve ever done.”

She also learned to deal with a cam­era in her face like never be­fore, start­ing in the three months of re­hearsals that Aronof­sky sched­uled (some­thing few Amer­i­can film­mak­ers get to do).

“Yeah,” Lawrence said, “I’ve never done any­thing like that. It was in­cred­i­ble be­cause ev­ery day we talked about our char­ac­ters.” They also re­hearsed cam­era moves. “The film has its own lan­guage. We had to learn the chore­og­ra­phy. So, by the time we got to the house, we flowed as one. And I’ve never been in a movie that has a lan­guage of cam­er­a­work be­fore. And where the cam­era was so close to my face.”

Aronof­sky ex­plained it fur­ther: “The whole film is ei­ther shot over her shoul­der or into her face. Sixty-six min­utes of a two-hour film are close-ups of Jen­nifer. And you’re never bored. You’re never claus­tro­pho­bic. And it all be­cause of Jen­nifer.”

So his mother! pushes the line in terms of con­tent, ideas and style — per­haps more so than any other film he has made, in­clud­ing the sur­real Black Swan.

“But the film does come with a warn­ing,” Aronof­sky said. “It is a very in­tense ride and only take it if you want to see some­thing very new and very dif­fer­ent.”


Jen­nifer Lawrence talks to re­porters about the film dur­ing the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. Di­rec­tor and writer Dar­ren Aronof­sky, top left, also spoke.

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