Oscar-Nominee Jennifer Lawrence Is In a League of Her Own

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Photo Source: Blake Gardner

Jennifer Lawrence has a good excuse for running late to our interview. The actor whom everyone wants to meet was on her way to the lounge of a five-star hotel for our appointment when she had the opportunity to be introduced to the creator-star of “Girls,” Lena Dunham.

“I had a total fan-girl geek-out,” Lawrence says, reveling in the experience. “I’m such a huge fan of hers; I kind of got really insane and put my arm around her neck. I forget I’m much bigger than other people, and I probably half strangled her.”

Meeting a personal hero is just another part of a good week for Lawrence. The day before, she earned her second Oscar nomination and picked up two Critics’ Choice Awards, one for playing the Girl on Fire in “The Hunger Games” and one for playing the girl who dances with Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook.” In two days, she will win a Golden Globe Award for the latter. Perhaps the biggest testament to her newly minted it-girl status: In a week she will be hosting “Saturday Night Live.” It’s a lot to take in, let alone for a 22-year-old self-proclaimed “dork” from Louisville, Ky. So let’s go right to the source and ask Lawrence: What is it like to be her right now?

“Confusing,” Lawrence says, then lets loose a long laugh. “You know when something is just too much to take in and there’s only a certain amount you can absorb as a human? Last night Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones were sitting next to my table, and I was like, ‘I can’t process this right now. So I’m just going to turn away.’ ”

Much has been made of Lawrence’s uncensored, refreshing attitude, a willingness to not take herself too seriously. Today is no exception, as she demonstrates the one imitation she says she can pull off—Michael McDonald—by singing a few bars from “What a Fool Believes.”

What is serious is her talent; few actors can hold their own with Robert De Niro, not to mention steal a scene from him. Lawrence so consistently disappears into her roles that it’s difficult to believe she is only 22. Perhaps even more difficult to fathom is that she could get even better. As “The Hunger Games” director Gary Ross told Backstage, “I don’t think she has any peers in her generation. I think we’re seeing the infancy of what’s going to be a huge, huge career, a historic career.”

Lawrence might be at the top of every director’s list, but she has had to fight for her most iconic roles. Her initial discovery is the stuff of fairy tales; she was visiting New York on spring break with her family at age 14 when a photographer asked to take her photo. Modeling agencies began calling, and “we didn’t really have anything better to do,” so she met with some.

“On the cab ride to my first meeting, I decided in my 14-year-old head I was going to be an actress,” Lawrence says. “I had never once thought of it before, really.” Her mother, Karen, helped her keep a level head. “I was being offered contracts, and my mom told me they were blowing smoke up my butt—her exact words—and just wanted my money.” But on returning to Louisville, Lawrence began begging her parents every day. That summer her mother took her to New York to try it out. “She was probably hoping I would fail and get it out of my system,” Lawrence says. “And it just kind of kept snowballing, out of control.”

Commercials (including a promo for MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16” that earned her her SAG card, as she revealed in her 2013 SAG Award acceptance speech) and a role on “The Bill Engvall Show” followed, and Lawrence broke into movies with two powerful roles in little-seen films in 2008, “The Burning Plain” and “The Poker House.” But it was her turn as tough, wise-beyond-her-years Ree Dolly in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” that changed everything.

At first, writer-director Debra Granik didn’t want to cast Lawrence, regarding her as too pretty. When casting moved to New York, Lawrence took a redeye and refused to sleep on the plane.

“I didn’t shower or brush my hair, just went in to the audition,” she says. “I ended up looking just bad enough that they gave me the part.”

She also auditioned for “The Hunger Games,” an experience Ross says “was like no audition I’d ever seen. It was one of the most powerful acting experiences I’d ever had.” And she auditioned for the role of outspoken widow Tiffany in “Silver Linings” over Skype, something the “least technologically inclined person in the world” hadn’t done before. Writer-director David O. Russell says Lawrence came in late in the casting process and simply blew away the competition, despite that in Matthew Quick’s book, Tiffany is in her 30s. Even Lawrence says, “With ‘Silver Linings,’ I totally get why I had to audition—I was way too young for the part.” After she won the role, an addition was made to the script in which Cooper’s character asks her about her age. Though Russell says the line was added, he notes, “But once she became the character, her age never really felt like an issue because she has such a timeless quality.”

Lawrence says she prefers to audition. “Being offered a part is very nice, but there’s something about feeling like you really went in there and earned it,” she says. “Then in times of doubt, you know they saw something in you and hired you for a reason. Because I have many moments of doubt, and that’s always been very helpful.”

Also helpful is her secret weapon and biggest supporter, her mother.

“My mom is a literary genius,” Lawrence says. “She read ‘Winter’s Bone’ when I was 15 and said I should play the part. She read ‘Hunger Games’ before it was a big hit and turned me on to that.” Karen Lawrence was also responsible for two of Lawrence’s upcoming projects. She read Jeannette Walls’ memoir “The Glass Castle” and recommended it to her daughter, who has acquired the film rights. And she read the screenplays for “Ends of the Earth” by “Argo” scribe Chris Terrio, which Lawrence is now attached to star in and calls the “most amazing script I’ve ever read.” Says Lawrence, “She’s been offered jobs in the industry but just does it for fun. Which is great—because I’ve got her! And I don’t even have to pay her.”

Before anything else, Lawrence already has “Serena,” a period drama in which she reteams with Cooper, in the can. She has a few days left on the “Hunger Games” follow-up, “Catching Fire,” and will soon start shooting the sequel in her other franchise, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” in which she reprises her role as Mystique. And then there’s Oscar night, which is just as sweet the second time around, particularly as three of her co-stars are nominated.

“I’m just thrilled to be in this movie with such an amazing cast,” she says. “I’ve never been through this; the last time, I kind of went through this alone and didn’t get to sit at the table with everyone from the movie. It’s a really incredible feeling.”