Just 25 years old and on her way to becoming a Hollywood icon, Jennifer Lawrence has found herself thrust into the limelight at life-changing speed. Far from standing around blinking at her newfound fame, this talented performer has had to learn to navigate the ups and downs that come with it. The big question, though, is whether she can hold on to that off-the-cuff authenticity and fearless, funny-girl charm that makes her so darned likeable.
“I’m a goddamn miracle,” Jennifer Lawrence quips. She’s talking about being the only girl in a long line of boys, her almost dorky laugh continuing a little longer than it should. It doesn’t take much to crack her up. Fall up the stairs at the Oscars? Hilarious. Asked a question on Letterman? There’s a joke at the ready and hysterical laughter to go with it. This quick-witted sudden superstar is a curious mix of innocence, crudity, goofiness and unbridled talent, and so down-to-earth that she’s instantly relatable.
“I should have worn pants,” she says, when her mini skirt rides up in an interview. “I must be nervous. Look at the sweat under my arms,” she says in another. “I’m going to leave here and think, ‘Oh God, why couldn’t I just have been cool and confident?’,” she says in yet another.
She admits to googling herself, and to caring what people think. “I just can’t pretend I don’t care. I get really insecure about it. The world makes an opinion of you without ever meeting you. That worry should not bother me, but it does. It bothers me.”
Such confessions are refreshing in the movie business, where carefully curated public images are the stuff Hollywood dreams are made of. She likes reality TV, goes ga-ga over Brangelina, and is partial to a slice or three of pizza – she feels like one of us.
Lawrence didn’t grow up in the movie business but in Louisville, Kentucky, where her mum runs a day camp for children and her dad runs a construction business. Perhaps because she grew up a tomboy with two older brothers, Lawrence is not shy of using the f-word, and when she’s not putting on a funny voice or weird accent for laughs, she’s brash and to the point.
“It’s almost shocking how much she’ll say, you know,” says Woody Harrelson, her co-star in all four Hunger Games movies. “That’s super-fun, and also it’s shocking sometimes because it’s so on the edge. It’s like she doesn’t have a censor.”
But it’s not all fun and games with this standout actor – when the director yells ‘action’, she’s all business. So believable is she on set that it’s difficult to recognise her beneath some of the characters she plays. Playing Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, the natural blonde nails the part of a sensitive mahogany-haired sister caught up in an unbearable situation with subtlety and finesse, and the same goes for the other harrowing roles she’s taken on to date: a girl raped by her mother’s pimp in The Poker House, a daughter trying to piece together the shattered lives of her parents in The Burning Plain, and a teen trying to track down her drug-dealing father in Winter’s Bone, the movie that earned her Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and set her on the path towards stardom.
Her next roles clinched the deal. While making the movie X-Men: First Class, in which she played a mutant named Mystique, she scored the role of a lifetime in The Hunger Games series based on the popular trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins. The last of the four movies, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, was released last month (SUBS: Nov 19, 2015, in NZ and Australia.) Each of The Hunger Games movies cost an average of $100 million to make, but the box office takings more than made up for it – they are among the highest-grossing movies ever made.
Harrelson, who plays Haymitch Abernathy in the movies, admits to trying to make his fellow actors laugh during the shooting of a scene, but says Lawrence is unflappable. “You just can’t make her laugh,” he tells Vanity Fair. “The times I have tried to, it just shamed me because she was just so completely in the scene. She goes deep.”
Francis Lawrence, who directed three of the four Hunger Games movies, agrees. “Jen will joke, joke, joke, joke, joke, joke, joke, joke right up to the second you call ‘Action’,” he says.
Lawrence has never been to acting school; she just knew it was something she wanted to do and focused on studying the nuances of people’s characters rather than taking classes. As a child, her mother says Lawrence would watch TV with her face right up close to the screen so she could study everything that was going on. She snagged an agent at age 14 and fast-tracked her schooling to finish two years early so she could focus on her acting career.
Her determination has paid off – she’s the second youngest Academy Award Best Actress winner (after Marlee Martin for her role in Children of a Lesser God) for Silver Linings Playbook, and has won a BAFTA Award, two Golden Globe Awards and two SAG Awards.
Though people often say you know what you’re getting into when you seek fame and fortune in the movie business, Lawrence says that’s not really true. “You expect paparazzi to be annoying. You don’t expect them to be terrifying,” she says.
“There are wonderful, wonderful things that come with the job but there are difficulties that come with it too,” she says. “I have perspective because I didn’t grow up in this business. I’m not from Hollywood, I’m from Kentucky. I didn’t become successful until a few years ago and I’m very aware of what the real world is and how much a couch costs.”
She may have paid more than US$7 million for her newly acquired five-bedroom Beverley Hills house owned at various times by Ellen DeGeneres and Jessica Simpson, but she shops at Ikea to furnish it. “It doesn’t matter how much money I make, unfairness in prices really fires me up,” she says.
Just how much she gets paid came to light in leaked emails between Sony and Columbia Pictures over her pay for 2013 movie American Hustle. The dollar figure wasn’t what attracted worldwide attention, but the fact that she wasn’t being paid as much as her less-famous male co-stars.
In a letter published on feminist newsletter Lenny, Lawrence writes: “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony, I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early… I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’.”
That seemed like a fine idea until she saw the payroll online and realised every man she was working with clearly hadn’t worried about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’.
“All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive. I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable! Fuck that.”
Lawrence has had the last laugh, however, because not only has the leak reignited debate over the gender pay gap (women earn about 77 per cent of what men earn in the same roles across most professions) she’s managed to negotiate a US$20 million fee for her next movie, Passengers, double what co-star Chris Pratt will earn. The sci-fi flick is in filming and due for release at the end of next year. Lawrence is also writing a movie with comedian Amy Schumer, whom she emailed after seeing Trainwreck, gushing “I’m in love with you”.
She may charm the pants off us with her real-world outlook and clumsiness – who can forget the Dior-clad star tripping up the stairs to accept her Academy Award and falling over on the red carpet at the same event a year later – but she’s definitely not a sheep following the Hollywood crowd.
On death: “For somebody to say that they’re not afraid of death makes me want to punch them in the fucking face.” On gluten-free eating: “The new cool eating disorder.” On conflict in relationships: “I find argumentative people the most annoying people on the planet … I would just rather have somebody that has the same taste in reality TV and, you know, isn’t afraid to fart in front of me.” On nude photos of her being splashed around the internet after her iCloud account was hacked: “It is not a scandal. It’s a sex crime. Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense. You should cower with shame.”
Lawrence is tight-lipped when it comes to her relationships (she’s dated actor Nicholas Hoult and is said to be with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, although she won’t confirm it) but says she took the photos during a “loving, healthy, great” relationship. “It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you,” she says.
The isolation that comes with being famous was not something she expected, and although she surrounds herself with people who are “honest and real”, Lawrence says most people don’t look at her like she’s real person anymore. “I don’t like yes-people, I don’t like lackeys, I don’t like people when they fake-laugh at my jokes,” she says. “I’m still the same and I don’t feel any different but when the elevator doors open and everybody gasps, it’s an alienating feeling.”
She admits to having nightmares about being trapped in a supermarket surrounded by people and not being able to get away. “Sometimes it’s easier to call one of my friends and ask them to pick up some bananas for me because I don’t want to go to the grocery store and have an event. But it’s important to stay grounded, so I don’t know. I’m figuring it out. Or trying to.”
Playing a heroine in The Hunger Games means she has become a heroine to young girls in the real world, too, something this self-deprecating laughaholic is still getting used to. “Being a role model is something I knew would come with this job and it’s something I have to be aware of. It’s not like I go out and go to discos and get crazy, but if young people are listening to me I have to be careful about what I’m saying, which is not my strong suit. So I’m trying to work on that.”
When Harrelson first met Lawrence, she was not yet famous but he’s watched her grow into one of the world’s biggest female stars in a short few years. “It’s staggering to me how much she’s been able to just hold on to her basic decency and her amazing, marvellous spirit,” he says. “You know, it’s not terrible, people telling you you’re great; what’s terrible is when you start believing it.”
What Lawrence is believing in more is her true self, and while once she may have worn clothes she didn’t want to wear or been willing to parrot the sound bite she didn’t want to say because she was afraid to speak up or sound rude, now she flat out refuses to be a puppet.
“Now I just speak up,” she says. “No, I know what my hair looks like when you do that, and I don’t like it. No, we’re not gonna just try it. I’ve already tried it.”
It’s hard not to become jaded when people look for any opportunity to make a profit from you at your expense, however. She’s been duped on more than one occasion by people pretending to be someone they’re not. Going with a friend to buy a dog was one such occasion. She got chatting with the store owner and they soon realised they had friends in common.
“It was a really great day but I didn’t realise he was taking pictures of me with his phone which he later sold online,” Lawrence says. “I don’t want to have to question every person that comes into my life but, at the same time, I have reason to. I don’t want to change but people need to stop being such assholes.”