INTERVIEW: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, STAR OF “WINTER’S BONE,” NEXT BIG THING
Jennifer Lawrence, the 20-year-old best actress hopeful for “Winter’s Bone” (Roadside Attractions, 6/11, trailer), received her first major nomination of the year last Monday when she was short-listed for best breakthrough actor at the Gotham Independent Film Awards (the winner of which almost always goes on to an Oscar nod). Lawrence’s personal involvement in the awards process, however, really only began this past weekend, when — during a whirlwind 48-hour trip to Los Angeles from London, where she’s shooting “X-Men: First Class” — she attended a BAFTA screening and Q&A, was feted at a cocktail party given by Roadside at Palihouse in Beverly Hills, and granted interviews to several awards bloggers, including yours truly.
Following are highlights of my 25-minute chat with the actress, who I reached on her cell while she was driving around Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon with a girlfriend who, she said, had told her that she was a fan of this blog and promised to show it to her later in the day…
I thought I’d begin by asking you a fun question because you get so many dark questions about “Winter’s Bone.” Did you go to the movies as a kid? And, if you did, were any films or actors particular favorites or influences?
I wasn’t a born film nerd — I mean, I am now — but I grew up in Kentucky on a farm, so I loved watching TV and movies; I also loved reading. But when “Pocahontas” came out in the theaters I saw it five or six times.
Was there a specific moment or turning point that you can recall when you first knew that you wanted to be an actress?
No. I don’t know, it’s weird. I have very useless skills that now come in very handy, but I didn’t know at the time would be useful, you know what I mean? I don’t know. People always ask if I’ve always wanted to be an actress, and the answer is “Probably,” but it wasn’t a possibility, you know? Because I grew up in Kentucky, so the possibilities were going to college, or being a doctor, you know, or things like that, not really going to Hollywood and being a movie star. Those things were great—every little girl dreams of them — but it wasn’t really a possibility. And I think when I was fourteen, and it became a possibility, and it was in front of my face– I remember reading a script one time, and I remember never understanding anything more. I don’t know what it was; I just loved it, and I knew it, and I knew that it would be something that I would try to be good at, and it was something that I couldn’t get enough of. And still, to this day, I can’t get enough of it; I really, truly love being at work every day, and I love what I do.
You mentioned that first time that you got a hold of a script, and I’ve read that that’s part of what led you to grab your mother and, sort of, force her to take you to New York. For people who haven’t heard the story, can you give a play-by-play of what took place during that trip that sort of led to your start in the business? Every once in a while you hear a great story of “discovery” — like Lana Turner being discovered while sipping a milkshake at Schwab’s drugstore — and this is one of those. It’s pretty amazing…
It really is. It’s one of those stories that people hate me for. The first time that my feet hit the sidewalk in Manhattan, I knew that I wanted to live there. I loved New York, and I think that my mom just, kind of, saw that I was an animal when I came to Manhattan. She loved it too, and, I mean, truth be told, we probably would have found any excuse to just go to New York for the summer, because I hadn’t really been too many places before. And it was gonna be fun, it was gonna be a fun summer thing; my parents would have never, ever let me do it if they thought something would come from it. [laughter in the backround] Thanks, my friend thinks that’s funny. But, yeah, honestly, it was supposed to just be a summer trip — it was gonna be a summer trip, and then I’d go back to school — but then, by the end of the summer, I was being flown out to L.A. for screen tests, and we had basically all decided and discovered that this was what I was meant to do. And my parents were still gonna bring me home, but my brothers actually called — my two older brothers, who were always really mean to me; you know, I didn’t even think they liked me — they called my parents and said, “You went to every baseball game and every football game, and this is her baseball diamond, and you guys have to do this.” So I have to thank my brothers, ’cause they convinced my parents.
Not to harp on this subject, but can you share the part about how you actually met someone [a talent agent] who could help you—you’ve joked that it was pretty “creepy” at the time…
I was watching street dancing in Union Square, and then somebody came up and asked to take my picture, and, I don’t know, I just said “Yes” without really thinking about it, like a fourteen-year-old would. I mean, he wasn’t like, “Hey, you wanna come up to my apartment?” So it wasn’t that creepy.
During that first year in New York, I’ve gathered from what I’ve read that your dad was, sort of, hoping you’d come home and your mom, who you were with there, was hoping you’d stay. But, for you, what were those first days and months like?
Well, I mean, for the first couple of years — and now — I had no idea what I was doing. You know, I still don’t. I just, kind of, learned as I went; you know, I just, kind of, showed up.
Without having really formally studied acting, how do you explain the fact that you’re able to do so well? It’s sort of a rare thing to see—somebody who can just dive right into it and be good…
I don’t know. I’m lucky or blessed. I don’t know. I don’t think I can answer that question; I’m not sure, to be honest.
Before I ask you about “Winter’s Bone,” I hope I can quickly ask you about the projects that you did before it. I hate to rush through them, because they’re really great, but to begin with, “The Poker House,” which, I gather, you didn’t think you’d have been able to do had your mother known you wanted to audition for it. What can you say about that role and how it impacted your career?
[laughs] Yeah, I had to hide the script from her, and I didn’t let her read it until after I had already gotten the movie. I mean, really, it’s only now that I can really start thinking about my next moves and start really sculpting a career. You know, when you’re, like, sixteen, and you’re auditioning for everything, you’re lucky to get whatever you get. I think that that script really– I loved it, I loved the part, I loved the role, and it just came naturally. I don’t know, I guess it was just one of those things that was meant to be.
Did “The Burning Plain” [for which she won the 2008 Venice Film Festival’s Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actress] come directly out of people seeing you in that?
No, no, no. I’ve auditioned for everything up until– I’ve auditioned for everything. Nothing has come from one or the other.
Is it true that one of your early auditions was for the role of Bella in “Twilight”?
Everybody auditioned for “Twilight”! Of course I auditioned for “Twilight,” yeah.
The craziest thing that I’ve read is that your mother read “Winter’s Bone” a long time before you were ever up for it and had an interesting reaction to it…
Yeah. Five years ago, my mom read the book — I actually remember when she was reading it — and she said, “You know, if they ever make this into a movie, you’d be perfect for it.” And, you know, she’s my mom, so I didn’t listen to her, but I had to call her and tell her she was right.
So when they actually decided to turn it into a film, and they were looking to cast the lead, how did you hear about it?
My agent called and told me, you know, she read the script, and loved it, and– I’m sorry, I have a cold and I have to blow my nose — I know it’s gross, but if you suck it up then you get a sinus infection, so always better to blow! Yeah, so, she read the script, and she loved it, and then I read the script, and became obsessed with it — took it one level further — and then we got started on the audition process, the lovely audition process.
Can you talk about that process — how you received some criticism at the first audition, and dealt with it at the second audition? I think it’s kind of a fun story that shows what you’re willing to do to go after a part that you want…
Yeah. The first audition was in L.A., and I thought that they liked me. I think they brought me back — I think I auditioned twice in L.A., and then they went back to New York ’cause that’s where they were based, and then I found out that they didn’t think I looked right for the part. So I — like a psycho — thought, “I’m gonna chase you to New York on a red-eye,” so I did, and I showed up, and I think the red-eye plus the walking, like, twelve blocks in the sleet and snow, added up to me definitely looking right for the part. And I think by the time I got there they were probably just so terrified of me—that I flew all the way there — that they were like, “We better hire her because I’m afraid she’s gonna sleep outside my house!”
In addition to the flight and the walk, I’ve read that you took a few other measures to look right for that audition in New York. You can’t believe everything that you read online, but I’ve read that (a) you didn’t wash your hair for a week; (b) you didn’t put on any makeup; (c) you didn’t shower; and (d) you didn’t sleep. Are any or all of those correct?
That’s the sickest thing I’ve ever heard — that’s honestly probably the first thing that somebody’s told me they read something on the Internet that’s not true, ’cause everything else– You keep saying, like, “Oh, not everything on the Internet’s true,” and then in my head I’m thinking, “Yes it is!” And that’s the first time. No, none of that’s true; that’s insane! I’m not a yeti; my God!
[laughs] Well, I’m glad I asked…
Thank God you did! Will you please put this interview out way more than that one? That’s sick! I’m never gonna get a date again. [laughs]
I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem. [laughs] But, for the film itself, you did have to go through some things to leave you looking sort of plain—things involving your teeth, hair, clothes, and things like that, right?
Yeah—no, they did it all. I mean, obviously the clothes. And then my hair — oh, my gosh, it took, like, probably a year for my hair to get back to normal! And they yellowed my teeth every day, which sucked because I couldn’t eat, which, you know, of course I did anyway — like, every time I’d eat I’d just get, like, a dirty look from the makeup artist. But, yeah, they yellowed my teeth every day. They messed up my hair—they put something in it, I’m not sure– I want to say they put, like, straight mud in my hair. Yeah.
And the clothes were just clothes that didn’t fit well so that it looked like you’d been wearing them forever, or what?
The wardrobe stylist was actually pretty genius. She would trade the native people — I’m talking “native” like they’re freaking Indians; I mean, like, you know, the locals– She would trade them, like, new Carhartts for their used Carhatts — give them new clothes for their already-used clothes — and so I was wearing authentic, legitimate, been-worn-a-hundred-times jeans.
You mention the locals. How did you guys interact with them as a production? Were they welcoming? Were they resentful that you were there? And, also, how long were you out there?
They were very welcoming — everybody was very nice and welcoming. They couldn’t have been nicer. I was there for six weeks, and I had a blast. [laughs] I mean, we had such a small crew, so the crew, like, really, came together like a family, and we all hung out, like, almost every night, and got close. I don’t know, I really liked it.
In another of these interviews that I read — I’m almost scared to ask, because who knows anymore what’s true and what isn’t — you apparently said that the thing you like least about the filmmaking process is having to be away from home and your parents, and that “Winter’s Bone” was the first time that had happened because you had turned 18 shortly before the production got underway. Was there a degree of homesickness during “Winter’s Bone”?
Oh, yeah! No, I called my mom crying within, like, three weeks, sobbing, begging her to come.
And was she able to?
Yeah. She and my dad got in their car the next day or something and drove. They’re either that good of parents or I was that hysterical. No, I’m a baby; I am just not a very adult person when it comes to being alone. Now I am — I shouldn’t be speaking in present tense. I think it depends on where I am because I’m filming “X-Men” [she's replacing Rebecca Romijn as Mystique in "X-Men: First Class"] in London right now, and I love London, and I’m praying — I hope the producers don’t read this, but I’m praying—that the movie doesn’t wrap because I just really don’t want to leave London. But I think it may be the difference between, you know, like, the Ozarks in Missouri and London — or I’m just getting much more used to it, which is sad, but yeah. I still do miss my mom sometimes and call her, and cry, and just tell her that I miss her. [laughs]
Well, where you’re from is certainly not the Ozarks, but I wonder if Kentucky does share anything in common with that sort of an environment that you were able to draw upon and incorporate into your performance? It may be a stupid question, but I’m just curious…
I think it helped me in the way that it would have been harder if I was from, like, Philly or something. But, even if the cultures are the same, my life is completely different from Ree’s. You know, when you’re reading a script or you’re doing a movie, you can’t depend on having things in common with your life or else you’re just gonna be yourself in every movie.
And you’re not gutting squirrels back home, I assume…
[laughs] Believe it or not! Now I do it just for fun — no, I’m kidding, PETA’s already at my door! No, my life is completely different than that. I was familiar with the south, and I guess the accents were kind of familiar, but I was still learning about it as much as everybody else was.
In another interview, you said, “No matter how much success I find here” — meaning Hollywood — “when I go home nobody cares.” My question is: Has that changed yet? Are you starting to feel a little bit more like a famous movie star or anything like that, or are we gonna have to wait until “X-Men” for them to notice?
Well, my family is never gonna care — I don’t ever have to worry about that. There is this thing that’s kind of started — I don’t know how to describe it — it’s kind of like people are looking at you through, like, a glass wall or something. That’s the only way to describe it. I’m like, “Oh, that person’s got ‘the glass’ now.” ’Cause they’ll say things like, “Oh, but you’re still the same Jen!” And I’m like, “Well, as soon as you say that, then that means that you’re not seeing me as the same Jen; like, you’re seeing me as a brand new Jen.” You know what I mean? Like, they’re seeing me differently. So, I kind of — I dread hearing that. It just makes me feel like they’re looking at me like — like everybody’s expecting me to change, when, like, my family, when I come home, they expect me to, you know, walk out the door and still, I don’t know, yell, and cuss at everybody, and fall down the stairs, and if I didn’t they’d be like, “What’s wrong with you?” I don’t think they expect me to behave differently. I think the most important thing is still, with my family, like, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter — it doesn’t matter what you look like, or how much money you make, or something, you know? Don’t be a douche bag, and, like, work hard. So I don’t think that they really care, but there are people that do care, and I’m starting to get — I don’t know — I can start to see it happening. I just call it “the glass.”
I think it’s a great metaphor. Well, I’ll just bother you with two more, and the first one has to do with “The Beaver,” which I think people are increasingly aware of and excited about. I gather that you really won over Jodie Foster when you — again — made an extra effort and went to meet her; and, you know, she’s said some very complimentary things about you, including the fact that she’s never met another young actress who reminded her more of herself, etc. So I just wonder what you make of the film generally, when it’s coming out, and also—only because you’ve commented in the past about this — what you make of the Mel Gibson situation. Everybody who’s been a part of the movie has said he gives a really amazing performance, but there’s also now the concern — which you’ve previously expressed — that people are now not going to be able to see it in the same way, if at all, because of what’s happened…
I don’t think I can answer any of those questions. I really don’t know when it’s coming out. I don’t know if people will be able to — particularly because I don’t think all people are the same; some people will, some people won’t. I think it’s sad. It really is heartbreaking because he really is– His performance in that is unbelievable; it’s remarkable. It’s sad.
Last question: if this whole acting thing hadn’t worked out, what do you think you’d be doing right now with your life, and going forward? Did you have an alternative plan, or was it always full steam ahead with this?
I mean, when I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor — and I still think I am a doctor, like, any time somebody gets hurt. I run to blood. I’m, like, really, really sick, and I eat food while I watch surgical shows — like, I’m really, like, a disgusting, sick person — so I could definitely be a doctor. But I just remember having — and I still have it — it’s a very, very dumb attitude to suggest to anybody — of, “I’m just not going to fail.” Of just not even considering failure. So once I decided on the acting thing, it was that attitude. Like, I can honestly say, “I did not even think about what would happen if I failed,” because I really just didn’t consider it. And I, again, don’t think that that’s, like, the attitude to have; I think it’s very irresponsible.
Well, it’s worked out…
Yeah. One time I actually did run to the ocean, when a woman was drowning in the ocean, and I yelled, “It’s okay, I’m a doctor!” [laughs]
[laughs] And did she make it?
Yeah, I gave her CPR! Like a real doctor! See, if I think hard enough that I’m a doctor, you know, I think that I can be a doctor.
That’s amazing—that’s good acting applied in a real-world situation, I guess
[laughs] Yeah, I’m a Method actor, so if I say I’m a doctor, like, I am a doctor. So don’t knock it!
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NOTE: The wording of some of the aforementioned questions — but not their overall meaning or any part of the responses to them — has been adjusted for clarity or brevity.
RELATED READING: “Where Does Jennifer Lawrence Fit in the Crowded Best Actress Category?” (10/11), “Young’ns: 30-and-unders Poised to Crash Oscars in Record Numbers” (10/15), “GIFA Breakthrough Actor Winners Almost Always Go on to Oscar Nod” (10/18), and “FLASH: Updated Awards Projections” (10/23).
Photo: Jennifer Lawrence. Credit: Unknown.
Tags: Bella Swan, Interviews, Jennifer Lawrence, Jodie Foster, Lana Turner, Marcello Mastroianni, Mel Gibson, Pocahontas, Rebecca Romijn, The Beaver, The Burning Plain, The Poker House, Twilight, Venice, Winter's Bone, X-Men, X-Men: First Class