Fresh-faced, sexy, and immensely talented, Jennifer Lawrence is perhaps Hollywood’s most notable acting discovery of the last few years. Whereas Kristen Stewart sulks and suffers, Lawrence still has a wide-eyed sense of wonder about her emergence as a major young movie star. Coming off the massive success of The Hunger Games, the ravishing 22-year-old actress is nonetheless pleasantly awe-struck whenever fans come up to greet her.
“It’s still strange to hear people screaming my name and getting followed by paparazzi,” Lawrence smiles. “Hunger Games has been such a huge event and it’s taken awhile for me to adjust to it all. I’ve always dreamed of achieving this kind of recognition, but the fame thing still hasn’t sunk in. I still go out looking like crap!”
She was just as candid and good-natured as ever, enjoying the limelight while promoting her latest film, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, a dramedy directed by David O. Russell (The Fighter) and co-starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.
Lawrence plays Tiffany, a volatile and sexually rapacious young widow who falls in love with Pat (Cooper), a bipolar teacher and former psychiatric patient who has just moved back in with his parents and is hoping to get his life back in order. It’s another emotionally demanding role for Lawrence, who first shot to fame with her Oscar-nominated performance in 2010′s Winter Bone. Critics have already touted Lawrence as an odds-on Oscar nominee for her work in Silver Linings, even though director Russell initially wanted an older actress to play the part.
Russell recalls how he ultimately wound up casting Lawrence instead: “We had the choice of a lot of terrific actresses (including Angelina Jolie and Michelle Williams – ED) and then Jennifer came in at the 11th hour and just stole it. She skyped from her parents house in Louisville, and it was one of those ‘Oh my God, who is this person?’ moments and we didn’t know that she had all that in her. It was very exciting… Then, once you see her on the set, you don’t think she’s paying any attention to what’s happening, and then it just works out.”
Lawrence, who currently lives in L.A. but has expressed a desire to move to New York of late, has been dating British actor Nicolas Hoult (About a Boy, A Single Man) for the past two years. She begins filming the second Hunger Games film, Catching Fire shortly. The daughter of a construction worker father and summer camp operator mother, Lawrence pushed her parents to take her to New York at age 14 so she could audition for commercials and modeling jobs. She began finding work as a model after a talent scout spotted her walking through Union Square in NYC. At the 2011 Oscars, Lawrence attracted tremendous attention for the sensational red dress she wore to the ceremonies.
Jennifer, what happened to your blonde self?
(Laughs) I know! But I’m getting ready to shoot the next Hunger Games movie and so my hair needs to be dark again. People get a little shocked when they see me with dark hair because I’ve always been blonde. And no matter how many times I dye my hair black for the movies, my family still can’t get used to it. Every time they see me, they’re like ‘Whoa!’ Even I think I look very different with dark hair. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night to pee I get scared when I see myself in the mirror. (Smiles)
You’re fast becoming one of the biggest movie stars in the business. How does that make you feel?
It feels good. This is what I’ve always wanted and I’ve been doing this for a long time already so I’ve been prepared for it. But you don’t expect to become famous when it actually happens to you. It’s happened very fast to me and I’m still wondering whether I should feel different in some way. But I don’t feel anything has really changed in my life except for meeting a lot of famous people and staying in great hotels! I think it’s simply that once you’ve actually worked on big movies, that’s when you feel you’ve accomplished something and everything else is just kind of secondary. I’ve also had the advantage of knowing what I wanted to do my life since I was 14 so that when your career actually does take off there’s a delayed reaction in a way. It hasn’t really hit me yet. Some of my friends have just graduated university and they don’t really know what they want to do with their lives, whereas I always knew that acting was my destiny.
Is it true that you nearly turned down The Hunger Games because you were concerned about the impact it might have on your life?
Yes. I loved the books and the screenplay but I was worried about how being part of a big film franchise might not just change the way I live but also how it might overwhelm the rest of my career and the other kinds of characters I wanted to play. But in the end I made the right decision and I’m proud to play Katniss and I feel very lucky to have had the chance to play in so many interesting movies even though I’m still pretty young.
Your new film, Silver Linings Playbook, is a comedy with some very serious undercurrents. How did you approach working in it?
I liked the humour in it although my character Tiffany isn’t funny the way I am in my own life. What’s funny about her is that she’s so serious when she speaks yet what she’s saying is kind of nuts. The story itself is meant to be very unconventional when you think about it – Tiffany is an ex-nymphomaniac who falls in love at first sight with a guy who’s just been released from a psychiatric institution and just keeps pursuing him. But both of them are damaged people in some way and they’re trying to figure out how to live despite all the crap that they’ve had to deal with.
What was it like working with Bradley Cooper?
Bradley and I had really wonderful chemistry onscreen. I think the key to sexual chemistry onscreen is having no sexual chemistry off-screen. I love him to death and we’re really great friends.
Your character is supposed to be a very good dancer. Did you study dancing at all to prepare for your dance scenes with Bradley?
That required a lot of acting on my part because I’m one of the world’s worst dancers. Thank God I had an amazing choreographer because she needed to be very patient with me. I don’t have many talents on this earth except for acting and archery – if you give me a stationary target, I can hit it with a bow and arrow, no problem at all. But dancing is a different story. No talent for that whatsoever. My parents are just grateful that I have a gift for acting because I didn’t like school and was hopeless at just about everything else. But they’re happy for me because I’m happy.
You had to audition for this film because you were considered too young for the role..?
(Laughs) It’s not that I suddenly think I’m such a hot actress that I don’t mind auditioning and trying to convince a director that he should hire me! Even with Hunger Games, I was considered to be too old and too blonde to play the part. I’m pretty confident when it comes to my abilities as an actress and I knew I could play Tiffany. With Silver Linings, I was really anxious to work with David (Russell) because I’m a huge fan of I Heart Huckabees and I think he’s a brilliant director.
Now that you’re a big star, does it make daily life a bit more adventurous when it comes to shopping or hanging out with friends at clubs?
I really don’t go out to clubs very much. I don’t like staying out late and like I said I hate dancing because I’m so hopeless at it. So I’d rather go to a nice restaurant or have friends come over to my condo and watch TV with me. Shopping is more of a problem. The other day I went to Whole Foods (a popular L.A. café – ED) like I do every morning to my coffee and smoothies and there were 15 paparazzi waiting for me. I couldn’t believe it. So that’s one of the things I’m have a bit of trouble getting used to. It’s not that much fun realising you don’t have the same kind of anonymity you had before. Even when I go to the gas station, sometimes there will be paparazzi who have followed me taking my picture while I’m pumping gas. I don’t know how other actors get used to that.
How did a girl from Louisville, Kentucky realise your dream of becoming an actress?
I kept bugging my parents to take me to New York and let me go up for auditions and then finally my mom took me there. Then this talent scout spotted me when we were walking in Union Square and asked to take my photo. He wasn’t creepy, he was very professional. Then all these agencies started calling and I auditioned for a commercial and that’s how it got started. After that acting was all I talked about and my poor mother had to deal with my obsession. But I convinced her that we should move to New York and I had the best time of my life riding the subway and going to auditions and living there as a teenager. It was just a surreal and amazing experience for a Kentucky girl. Eventually producers started flying me out to L.A. for auditions and it’s kind of been a blur since then.
It will undoubtedly shock anyone whose seen your work in films like A Burning Plain and Winter’s Bone that you’ve never had any formal training as an actress?
I never did theatre or took classes, which I think has helped me. I just have good instincts when it comes to playing characters and acting is something I have a natural feel for. I loved watching movies on TV but it was only when I started doing some modeling that people began telling me I should also try acting.
What do you think makes you able to play such intense roles as you’ve played in films like Winter’s Bone or The Burning Plain?
Imagination. I’ve never been through anything that my characters have been through… My imagination is the most crucial part of what I do. I can’t look for roles that are identical to me in any way. I want the creative flexibility to imagine a life outside of my own. And I can’t go around looking for roles that are exactly like my life. So I just use my imagination. If it ever came down to the point where, to make a part better, I had to lose a little bit of my sanity, I wouldn’t do it. I would just do comedies.
Do you ever worry about how the pressure of being a movie star might one day catch up with you?
I suppose I could still have a meltdown! (Laughs)
Silver Linings Playbook opens in theaters November 21, 2012 and the next installment of the Hunger Games, Catching Fire is expected to be released November, 2013.