With The Hunger Games about to take over our cinema screens, Stylist meets its star and the actress set to be this year’s hottest talent, the beautiful, intelligent and utterly charming Jennifer Lawrence
Whether it’s a post recessionary comfort, the “Harry Potter effect” or the fact that the quality of writing is simply so good it transcends age, one thing is certain: teen fiction is now a serious cultural contender.
Personally, the Twilight phenomenon passed me by; Robert Pattinson is not my type and I have little patience for “good vampires”. Which is why I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I had to read The Hunger Games, the latest trilogy to be spun into celluloid gold. However, one week later, I’d finished all three. The story of Katniss Everdeen – a 16-year-old girl selected by a lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one person can survive – had me gripped from the start. I began talking about it to my colleagues. So much so, I even started to detect eye-rolls.
But unlike other teen trilogies, there is a darkness at the heart of The Hunger Games. Author Suzanne Collins wrote children’s TV shows in the US, until a night of channel hopping between a reality show and news footage of the Iraq war inspired her. With elements of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Japanese action thriller Battle Royale, it is a powerful and compelling social commentary on how we care both for our children and our environment. There’s also the obligatory teen love triangle.
The first of four Hunger films will be in cinemas nationwide later this week. The much sought-after role of Katniss went to Jennifer Lawrence and she is riveting in the role – intelligent, brave and utterly believable.
On my last movie I was working a 21-hour day. You go into a hysterical state where you get a bit crazy
Years of poverty and fending for herself means Katniss is not terribly likeable at first; Lawrence is the complete opposite. I instantly love the preposterously pretty 21-year-old now sitting opposite me in London’s Soho Hotel. She’s charming, bubbly and excitable, lamenting her foolishness for walking from Trafalgar Square to The Old Vic theatre in five-inch Stella McCartney heels the night before (she’s head-to-toe Stella today; black skinny pants, wool jumper).
She has a warm Southern drawl and throaty laugh, exhibiting maturity that belies her years. The only time I’m reminded of her youth is when she drops a “dude” into the conversation, elongating the vowel like she’s waxing her surfboard: “Duuude, I thought I’d burst my spleen.” She’s referring to the bruising six-week training regime she underwent to play free-running archery expert Katniss.
A Kentucky native, Lawrence insists she “didn’t grow up in an artistic house,” and apologetically admits she grew up watching “things like Home Alone”. It was Charlize Theron’s 2003 Oscar-winning performance in Monster that convinced her to give acting a go.
Early success at 16 saw her as a regular on US sitcom The Bill Engvall Show before she was cast as the steely Ree in Winter’s Bone (2010), for which she picked up her first Best Actress Oscar nomination. Since then, she’s appeared in X Men: First Class (2011) – where she met her boyfriend, British actor Nicholas Hoult – and opposite Jodie Foster in last year’s The Beaver. Now she’s borrowing books from actor Donald Sutherland (he plays President Snow in The Hunger Games and couldn’t believe she hadn’t read Anna Karenina) and is on the cusp of superstardom. Is she ready?
You are aware of how big The Hunger Games films are going to be, aren’t you?
Completely. I’d read all three books and loved them; when I heard there was going to be a movie I was like, “Oh, great. Another great book about to be ruined by a film franchise.” I was so against it. In my mind, I went into the initial meeting with the director [Seabiscuit’s Gary Ross] just to tell him off. Everything I had prepared to bring up – the things that were so important about why making a movie of this book wouldn’t work – he agreed. He was a fan of the books; we all are, even the producers. It’s being made by fans. We didn’t want to change anything. We were like geeks – it was really quite weird.
It’s a physical role; the training sounds intense…
I never felt fully done. We had just six weeks to get me to the point where I looked like I knew what I was doing. I can’t actually climb a tree with my fingers, or run a log crossing a creek. We didn’t really pay attention to the weight aspect of it but I was packing food in all hours of the day. By the time we started filming I needed all that training just to be able to get through the days. Outside with the arena scenes, we could only shoot when it was sunlight, so it was a relatively easy 12-13 hours. But that was before we got inside for ‘The Capitol’ [a modernist city] scenes; the hours got very long.
People tend not to realise that about acting…
About how unglamorous this job is? Yeah, it’s a big misconception. During the movie I just finished filming at the end of last year [The Silver Linings Playbook – a comedy due for UK release in early 2013], I was working a 21-hour day. You go into a hysterical state where you get a bit crazy; everyone on the crew is that way. I don’t know what kind of acting results you get from that.
I hate people who say, Oh, I’m addicted to working out. I just want to punch those people in the face!
Do you give yourself a bit of a break between each project?
I try to. I only had two weeks off between The Hunger Games and The Silver Linings Playbook. I slept for 15 hours every day. I had to turn down one movie that I loved because I wasn’t going to get any break at all. Emotionally, you’re going through so much you wouldn’t normally go through everyday and physically, the hours are really demanding.
Are you thankful for The Bill Engvall Show for giving you the financial independence to turn down roles you weren’t interested in?
[Taking that show] was one of the best decisions I ever made. Even indie actors do a studio every once in a while because it means you can still go back and do as many indies as you want afterwards. I don’t think at 16 I really had the mindset of, ‘If I do that then I’ll be able to do this’, I just think it happened that way; but, yes, that show meant I could afford to turn down the crap movies and do what I loved.
So the quality of the script is important to you?
Yes. Sometimes I watch films that I can’t believe got made. Especially because I read scripts that are truly incredible, that will never get made. I don’t know who is behind those decisions. It’s like you just have to doodle something on a page about the underdog who finally gets the girl and the film gets made.
Ree in Winter’s Bone is quite similar to Katniss in that they both feel a sense of responsibility for their younger siblings. Can you relate to them?
I do have some kind of gravitational pull towards young characters with more responsibility than they should have. Jodie Foster told me something interesting when we were filming The Beaver. She said, “I look back at my career when I was younger and can connect what I was going through at the time with the characters I was playing. I see the similarities in them reflecting on my life.” It made me think, ‘Why am I choosing to play these characters?’ I’m the youngest in a family where I didn’t have to take responsibility for much. Maybe it was because I used to be a babysitter? I guess I like caring for kids.
The Hunger Games has been called the next Twilight and is predicted to bring in $170 million at the box office. Are you a bit nervous about the attention this is going to bring you?
I think anybody would be. I was scared before I said yes but I didn’t want to miss something I love. There’s not really a way to prepare for it, because I’ve no idea what will happen. I think I’m more scared of my personal life changing. I remember during Oscar season, the thing I hated most was being talked to differently; people treat you differently. And then I suddenly understood why celebrities can be so weird; it’s hard to act normal when no-one treats you normally.
When no-one’s challenging you…
You ask if you look good and you know people are lying. It was a depressing thing to experience. I was going to these parties where I used to be ignored and then all of a sudden people are paying attention to me. People’s behaviour changed. I have a feeling that [when The Hunger Games comes out], it will be like that but on a bigger scale.
Do you still get to see people who know you from before?
It took me years to find the friends I’ve got in LA. I’ve got five or six amazing friends that I trust and love, I know exactly who I am and don’t care about anything else. I think it’s so important to keep those people and family in your life. It’s so easy to think that this [celebrity] is reality; that people are lining up outside just to write down what I have to say. That’s not real; that’s weird.
Do you ever feel lonely?
Sometimes. You stay in these amazing hotel suites and I love the travelling and the people I work with, but yes, it’s a lonely lifestyle.
What kind of things do you like to do in your spare time?
When I’m not working, I am the laziest person. I can literally lie on a couch and watch television for 15 hours. I hate people who say, “Oh, I’m addicted to working out”. I just want to punch those people in the face [laughs].
There is a saying that everyone has a book in them. Do you think you do? Are there other creative outlets you would like to pursue?
I would love to direct. I don’t think I am ready. I’ve got a few more years of learning to do. I just love film making; all aspects of it. I love the idea of writing but I just don’t feel like I could really do it. I didn’t even graduate from school. Things seemed to have worked out quite well so far despite that… My career is one thing in my life that I don’t plan. Last night I was designing the interior of my condo that I haven’t even bought yet.
The Hunger Games is in cinemas nationwide from Friday 23 March
Words: Debbie McQuoid
Picture credits: Getty Images and Rex Features
Not read The Hunger Games yet? Catch up with our handy Hunger Games Cheat Sheet