Calling Jennifer Lawrence a “Hollywood It Girl” doesn’t come close to encapsulating what the Louisville native has become in her short career. ”It Girl” implies an ingenue, untapped potential, an uncertain future. For a two-time Oscar nominee who also starred in a film that’s grossed $408 million domestically, “It Girl” doesn’t quite cut it—even if Lawrence is only 22.
In a week, Lawrence can further solidify her place in Hollywood’s highest realm at the Academy Awards, where she’s among the favorites to win in the Best Actress category. This go-round contrasts immensely from her first time in 2011, when she wasn’t even an “It Girl,” but an unknown actress who gave a surprisingly strong performance in a film nobody was talking about until it debuted at Sundance.
Lawrence now has the unique role of being a young actress with Oscar-nominee experience.
“I’m just trying to have more fun with it,” Lawrence told WFPL in a recent telephone interview. “I think before I was just so intimidated. I just kind of stood in the corner and stared at everybody. But, now, hopefully, it’s easier to kind of talk to everyone.”
Though she still falls back into fangirl mode, she added.
“I saw Tommy Lee Jones, like, yesterday and I was like 10 feet away from him and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I want to take his picture,” she said. “It’s a different kind of respect, because I do what they do. It’s not so much nervous because of, ‘Oh my God, look it’—it’s more of just because I respect what they do so much. It’s like, ‘You’re a hero and a legend and people who’ve inspired you your whole life are right in front of you and you’re having conversations with them.”
But now it’s Lawrence who has people lined up for photos. And it’s Lawrence who is starring alongside the film industry’s top names—a category Hollywood observers count her as a member.
In Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence portrays a struggling young widow who is entangled with a neighbor—played by Bradley Cooper, another star—who suffers a violent breakdown after his own marriage dissolves. Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) were also in the cast. All four actors are Academy Award nominees for their roles in the film.
Lawrence said they’re all like family now.
A ‘Small Ladder’ Found
Lawrence would be the second-youngest women to ever win in the Academy Award for best actress. She’s already the third-youngest nominee in the category, from 2010′s Winter’s Bone.
When I first interviewed her in 2009 for The Courier-Journal, Lawrence was a hardly known entity beyond perhaps a small circle of Hollywood industry insiders. She’d mostly recently co-starred in the film The Burning Plain, which got so-so reviews but had the perk of starring Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger.
But, at that point in her career, most people knew Lawrence for her role as the smart-alecky daughter on TBS’ The Bill Engvall Show—not exactly A-list territory. When I met Lawrence, the sitcom had just been canceled and she was out of a day job.
She’d previously starred in The Poker House—a terribly gritty small budget film. Next, Lawrence was set to co-star in The Beaver, starring Mel Gibson. She had finished shooting a small indie film called Winter’s Bone, another gritty indie that Lawrence was hoping would make it into Sundance.
“I think I’m ready to go a bit bigger,” she told me while sitting in the living room of her parents’ Indian Hills home. “I think there will be a small ladder to where I can pick the big budget movies that don’t suck.”
She seemed to have confidence that all would be OK.
The rest is well-recorded history. Winter’s Bone set Sundance abuzz, the film won critical raves and the Academy nominated Lawrence and several others from the film. She found that small ladder—signing on to the X-Men franchise. Soon after, she was picked for the starring role in The Hunger Games, the film adaptation of the hugely successful young adult novel series that was pegged to be the next Twilight or Harry Potter. And it’s lived up to those expectations.
Yet, here Lawrence is—the star of another indie movie with its fair share of sad moments.
And another Oscar nod, to boot.
She’s no longer doing the films that would have her. She has her pick. So what would she like to do next? A Meg Ryan-style rom-com? Slapstick comedy? A Woody Allen movie?
“I just kind of go script by script now. I don’t really shut anything out—like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do a kind of movie like that,” Lawrence said this month.
“It’s really all about the script. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to discover so many parts. I remember that that’s what was so appealing about X-Men, because I’d only done indies before. I was like, ‘I want to know what a big studio film is like, with CG and being a part of something that’s that massive.’ That was really interesting to me. And then I went back to indies, because I was like, ‘Yeah, seen it—think I like this more.’”
Dealing With Fame
She now deals with the toils of stardom. The photographers hounding her. The gossip magazines guessing at her personal life. It’s even followed to her hometown. Near the holidays, a newspaper item revolved around her shopping in Louisville for bedding.
“I think it’s gross,” she said. Later she adds:
“I was going to buy groceries last weekend and there was this new chain of paparazzi who just carry a video camera while they’re taking pictures of you—and they just video you and they start making fun of you to try to make you mad to get a reaction, so they can sell it. Like what you do to monkeys in the zoo, when you just bang on the glass to try to make them mad to get a reaction.
“It just hurts your feelings, because you’re like, ‘Dude, I just want to just buy some groceries and you’re making fun of me with a camera in my face.’ So I think it’s really gross. And it makes me feel like people don’t expect me to be a human anymore.”
The other aspect of stardom are talk shows—and Lawrence has been in high demand on the late night circuit.
Perhaps one reason is her penchant for being candid. She told Jay Leno—in vivid detail—about an encounter with an older stripper, for example.
These interviews, I tell her, seem to be well-received. They’re reliably written about by every entertainment website, rarely in a negative way.
“That’s good,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time.”
Is saying the wrong thing a worry before going on to these shows?
“While I’m talking I’m worried about it,” Lawrence said. “But I’m just like, you can’t take it so seriously forever. I mean, like, it’s a job. I guess the same anxiety where, like, I do a red carpet and at night I’m laying in bed and I just get that anxiety and I’m like, ‘Oh God, did I say something—did I offend somebody? It’s like high school.”
More to Come
Once the awards season ends on Feb. 24, Lawrence will get back to work.
The second part of The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, has a few more days of filming to go. This fall, she’ll star again alongside Bradley Cooper in Serena. Soon, she’ll begin filming the follow-up to 2011′s X-Men: First Class.
She rarely gets back to Louisville, but she’s taken care to thank her family when accepting awards such as the Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy. Her parents still have their home in Louisville. Her brothers, Ben and Blaine, still live and work in town.
They all talk frequently, she said. About their jobs, about her job.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere without my family,” she said.