Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence on scary fame,
A small-town girl, Jennifer Lawrence has had a whirlwind introduction to Hollywood. She tells Tara Brady about her role in and why it could change her life
IT’S THE MORNING after the Oscars but Jennifer Lawrence, one of the Academy’s youngest members and the hostess of last month’s nomination ceremony, is at least one ocean away on a publicity tour in London. “I was fast asleep,” she offers, almost apologetically. “I turned on CNN this morning and I saw Meryl Streep and The Artist and thought ‘oh’.” What could be more important than being this year’s Oscar poster girl? Faithful Tributes, as Hunger Games fans are now officially monikered, will already know the answer.
Since its initial run in 2006, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games has shifted more than a million units. More importantly, the young adult publishing sensation has increasingly spilled over into the lucrative Twi-mom and Twi-spinster markets. The completed trilogy has appeared in more than 23 languages around the world. And that’s before the release of the $100 million movie adaptation.
“It’s a huge, scary thing,” nods Lawrence, who campaigned to land the role of Katniss Everdeen, the film’s 16-year-old heroine.
Critics may shrug and note the novel’s similarities to Battle Royale or dozens of earlier dystopian beat-’em-ups. But Hunger Games fans will tell you that Collins’s version of a televised, post-apocalyptic fight to the death is grungier and more nuanced than its nearest genre rivals. Katniss, Lawrence notes, could not be less like an action hero.
“Sure its bow and arrow wars but it’s a sad, sad story,” says the 21-year-old. “You need her to be vulnerable. You need to believe that she could die at any moment. There’s no point where she stands up and thinks: “Yeah, I’ve totally got this”. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in a movie that made her a badass. It wouldn’t have been true.”
The casting of Lawrence, who was a fan of the books before she knew she would be auditioning, was a foregone conclusion for author Collins, who addressed her readers last March with an online stamp of approval: “...after watching dozens of auditions by a group of very fine young actresses,” she wrote, “I felt there was only one who truly captured the character I wrote in the book.”
Lawrence, however, was initially less sure. Having won out over such notable talents as True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld, Emma Roberts, Saoirse Ronan, and Chloë Moretz, Lawrence took three days to say ‘yes’ when offered the role.
“It was too big of a decision to make in a day or over one phone conversation,” she says. “It was a decision that would change my life so I had to iron out every single thought or concern I had. I knew I had to accept every- thing that came along with it. It’s gigantic.” Lawrence may be a precocious red carpet darling but being this year’s Bella Swann is a new and strange business, “like joining ’N Synch” she says.
“It’s scary to think about being that famous. It’s scary to think about getting so famous that everybody starts disappearing. And there’s also a fear that no matter what role I do from here on in I’ll be this and nothing else.”
Little more than five years ago Lawrence was an ordinary teenager growing up in Louisville, Kentucky. Her father works in construction; her mother runs a children’s camp.
“We weren’t an artistic family,” she says. “We’re a sports family. And we weren’t into movies. My favourite movie probably prior to working in movies was Home Alone. Now I love the Coen Brothers and Guillermo Del Toro and dark comedies but I still have a lot of catching up to do. I’m the black sheep of the black sheep.”
At 14, with only a church play to cite as experience, Lawrence persuaded her parents to drive her to New York in search of an agent. Remarkably, she was impressive enough for the plan to come good.
“I can remember that feeling,” she says. “I remember thinking this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I think now it was just the stubborness and naivete of a 14-year-old that got me into this. Only a 14-year-old could sit there thinking well obviously if I try this I’ll be completely successful.”
She had already scored TV work in Monk, Cold Case and Medium when Guillermo Arriaga, the screenwriter behind Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, cast the teenager in The Burning Plain, alongside Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger. But Debra Granik’s 2010 Sundance-conquering thriller Winter’s Bone would be the film that made Lawrence a star. Her impeccable depiction of the film’s redneck heroine Dolly Ree was shortlisted for an Oscar and earned rave notices.
“I haven’t fully grasped it, or the importance of it, and I’m not sure I ever will,” she says. “We never expected it. We were just happy when it got into Sundance. Then all of a sudden there are Academy Awards involved. Its one of those things that still hasn’t set in.”
She’s worked steadily since shooting The Beaver, Like Crazy, X-men: First Class and the incoming House at the End of the Street back to back: “There hasn’t been more than a two-month gap between jobs since Winter’s Bone,” she says. “The problem was a boom of really great scripts. I kept meaning to stop working but great directors keep coming along with great projects. I’m on a six-week shoot in April and after that I’m on vay-kay. For sure this time.”
She has no formal training and can’t explain her extraordinary minimalist technique. “I don’t know where it comes from or what I do,” she says. “I couldn’t tell you. I find all the hype really terrifying because secretly I’m thinking I have no idea what I’m doing.”
She insists she’s still a small-town girl and that she intends to remain that way. “It’s much easier for my personal life,” says Lawrence. “I don’t get caught up in the industry at all. I hear myself talking about ‘my character’ in interviews. And I know what they’re going to say at home. It’s just a movie. I know they’ll all laugh at me when I get back.”
Living with a family “that are basically like a sports boot camp” was, she says, apposite preparation for The Hunger Games. She trained in archery, free running and close combat for the harsh North Carolina shoot.
“When I shot X:men it was like being on a